As photographers we’re responsible for telling the story of a moment or series of events in a single image. It allows the viewer to take a mental trip through our photographs. No matter what your focus is in photography, being able to convey a story will help add impact to your images. One of the ways to do that is through creating multi-dimensional or multi-layered images.
I’m not referring to any fancy Photoshop move so back away from adding yet another background layer in post. No, the layers I’m referring to are points of interest throughout a photograph. They can either be a different and fully complete second focal point to your image, or an action/object/idea just hinted at. Either way, they can lend a sense of place or of action yet to happen or already occurred.
Think of your entire frame
The first step in creating multi-layered images is to be aware of what’s in your entire frame. Every part of your photograph can and does tell a story or impact how a viewer connects with an image. Do you focus on every layer of your photographs?
A great landscape photograph could be completely destroyed by a big piece of trash in a corner of one of the frames. On the opposite note, that piece of trash could be a very big statement to the image. It’s all in knowing what you’re trying to say and being able to frame your image or place items in it that evoke your vision.
Concepts trump “single” photos
A key tenet in advertising and editorial photography is to create images that tell a story around a specific concept. An entire idea or series of photos need to be compressed into one single image. It’s how an ad in a magazine for a resort or hotel makes you say, “Man, I’d really like to go there.” It’s the emotions and feelings that one photo draws out.
It’s possible to do that by creating layers in a photo. For example, a resort photo might show a woman getting a stone massage under a tropical leaf hut and in the background windsurfers are cruising the waves on the clear blue ocean. That image creates a feeling of relaxation and adventure all in one, and a greater appeal to viewers who might value different activities in a vacation.
Motion is yet another way to create a multi-dimensional image. It can lend the sense of an impending action. Whether you freeze a single moment, say a group of friends jumping off a rock into the water, or create some blur as a cyclist streaks by on an adventure, both make you wonder what’s next.
Plan and scout
If you’re photographing for journalistic purposes, you won’t be able to plan ahead or arrange any of the elements in your image. However, what makes a great news-telling image is the ability to convey a story through noticing even the tiniest details.
If you’re shooting commercially you’ll have the advantage to fully plan out your photo shoot. Try to scout the location to determine the best time to shoot, write down shot ideas and plan different layers of your image. How can you help tell a complete story using all the layers of a photograph?
Start thinking beyond the primary subject of your photograph. When you do, you’ll be on your way to creating richer, story-telling images.