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How to Shoot a Sequence of Photos That Capture a Story

As a photographer, you’ll often concentrate on perfecting your art at taking one perfect photo. However, there are many occasions where you’ll need to string together a sequence of photos with differing styles. Whether you’re shooting a magazine article or making a personal project, knowing how to produce photos that show details, people, and the whole scene is a skill worth having.

Shooting a sequence of photos

In the example you’re going to see in this article, a traditional puppet show will be used to produce this sequence of photos, but any number of other scenarios could apply. There is always plenty to photograph and although my example shows detail, portrait, and scene-setting images, there are other photos that could also have been taken from the same event.

In the image below you can see the area’s that are boxed. They contain the photos you’d be aiming to get from a scene such as this. Let’s talk about each of these shots and why they’re all important.

Overall image

The scene-setting photo

This is the big picture that shows your audience what’s going on, you’ll likely be using a wide-angle lens here to get as much story into your scene as you can.

The image from the puppet show below is the scene-setting photo. In this photo, the viewer can see the stage, audience, and the performers. In this case, a 50mm lens was sufficient to get the entire story needed from this scene. The aim here is not to go in too close, but to tell the whole story. The photo should capture the scale involved, and often it is helpful to do this shoot from an angle above or overhead

sequence tells a story - scene setter

This photo is the scene setter, you can see the stage and the audience watching the performance.

You’ll notice the image is almost identical to the image used to set out the example at the beginning. The left portion of the frame was a distracting element that wasn’t needed to show the action happening in front of the camera. It’s important to remember that although you want to capture a large canvas when telling your story, too much could detract from the specific story you intend the scene setter to display.

The portrait photos

Portrait photos are a real mainstay of any sequence that seeks to tell a narrative, it’s the people and their story you’re looking to show. There are many types of portraits, though, from ones that just show the face, to those that explore more of the scene around the person (often called environmental portraits).

When photographing a stage production you want to explore as much as you can, that means photographs of the stage, and if possible backstage as well. If the production is small, getting backstage may be as simple as asking the performers on the night of the event. But for large productions or things like music gigs, getting permission to shoot backstage ahead of time is advised. A lot of this work can and should be carried out with lenses best suited to portrait work, which means using primes lens in the range of 35mm to 135mm.

Sequence of photos

The layers created by a shallow depth of field act to give this photo impact, with the main focus on the puppet.

In the scene, you see photographs C (above) and D (below) are of the stage. In photograph C the image needed some compression to fit both the puppet and the puppeteer into the frame. To achieve that you’ll need to use a longer focal length, in this case, a 135mm lens was used. When using prime lenses like the 135mm f/2 you have a lot of control over the depth of field, making it possible to make your subject sharp while the background is blurred.

sequence of photos

In this photo, the interaction on stage between the puppeteers is captured.

In this case featuring the puppet, but contextualizing the image with the puppeteer in soft focus, gave the image more story, and hence more impact. Photograph D (above) shows more interaction between puppeteers and more of the stage in general. This time, the image was shot with a 50mm lens allowing for a wide part of the scene to be shown. Once again, focus is on the puppets, and the rest of the scene is softer because a large aperture of f/3.5 was used.

The photograph taken from location A shows musicians performing backstage (below). In this case, some tarpaulin was used to frame the image and give context to the photo. The woman was playing the gong as part of the music that goes with the puppet show. So although the live audience can hear this music, in terms of photography this aspect of the show can only be shown by going backstage to photograph musicians playing their instruments.

sequence of photos

This photo shows the backstage area of the puppet show. The tarpaulin background and the area being a little too cluttered for the stage can deduce this.

The detail photos

On their own detail photos can look nice, but don’t show your audience what’s happening. When added to a set of photos they can be a vital component that complements the scene setting and portrait shots. These photos are best taken with lenses that can get close to the subject, in other words, macro. You might only include details, or you could show detail but allow some background into the frame for context as well

sequence of photos

Here a line of puppets awaits use. Lines work well in detail photos, as do patterns.

sequence of photos - details

The puppets are full of intricate details, as this photo shows. The use of a macro lens at closer quarters would have enhanced this photo.

In the puppet show detail photos were taken on stage as shown in picture E (below), and backstage with two pictures taken from location B (above). At location B detail photos of the puppet were taken using a 135mm lens. Usually shooting with a macro would be better. However, walking around backstage wasn’t possible, so getting close to the subject was also not possible. The first shot shows a photo where the face of the puppet is prominent, taken in a similar manner to a portrait. The second image shows the puppets where they rest backstage between performances.

sequence of photos

Here is a detail photo that shows context.

Picture E (above) is a detail shot of one of the puppets, but with a bit more context as you can see how the puppet is being used. The shot has a minimalist feel to it, which makes it ideal for adding text above the puppet’s face. The strong light on the subject allowed me to expose for the puppet, and make the background much darker, which gave this shot its minimal tone.

How this set could be expanded on

Okay, so above there are a set of seven photos combining a number of different photos of differing styles into the one grouping that shows a puppet show. This is a snapshot of a show during a performance, could this be expanded on though? Yes, of course, it could. You could also get images of the puppeteers preparing before the show begins, you could ask if they’d let you photograph the puppets in a much more staged manner where you use lighting and select a background that would compliment the puppets. Then there could also be some staged portraits of the puppeteers with their puppets to add to the mixture of images taken during the show itself.

Other scenarios

The list of other scenarios that you could shoot to create a sequence of images is endless; it could be a rock concert, a wedding ,or a sports event. In the next example scenario, you’ll see another set of photos how a green tea field can be captured.

The scene-setting photo of the green tea fields, taken from a wide vantage point. On the left you can see some white bags, this is the area you’ll find portraits of the plantation workers. The field also has lots of lines and patterns that are ideal for detail photos

sequence of photos details

The fields are ideal for taking detail photos. In this case, a macro lens wasn’t needed to capture the lines and details, as the tea field required a wider lens.

sequence of photos

An environmental portrait shows a plantation worker at work, now you can see how those white bags are used.

sequence of photos portrait

Another portrait photo shows a plantation worker with his basket.

Your turn

If you have any scenario’s you’d like tips on capturing in the way described in this article please add those and any other comments in the comment section below.

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Simon Bond
Simon Bond

is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in lensball photography, Simon is an expert in this field. Get some great tips by downloading his free e-book!
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