Facebook Pixel Telling a Story in a Single Image - Tips from a Photojournalist

How to Tell a Story in a Single Image – Tips from a Photojournalist

Photography is visual communication medium. You can follow and use some rules, through composition and technique – but photojournalism takes it a step farther and states facts and gives information that is true and real. You need to follow two basic pillars to be an ethical photojournalist. Those principles are: you do not manipulate your scene, and the information you are photographing must be real.

The best recipe you can use for getting a good photo that tells a story is by combining good composition, action, and emotions. If you are able to engage with your subject mixing those three elements you will be able to get a good photograph.

As photojournalist you can display facts and affairs but you will level up your work if you are able to evolve those facts in something emotional and touching. Then is when you photo stars to tell a story.


Suruç hospital receives Kurdish fighters from Syria.


Kurdish women cry for the wounded, treated in Suruç hospital.

Both photos describe real facts, something that is going on. In the first one you see some action, and some mood in the people waiting for the wounded fighters. But in the second one, the emotion is stronger and you see the action coming out from the other women crying around them.

“If you want emotions in your photos you need people around”

Include people in your frame. Look for the faces, not for the backs, but understand that body language in human beings is another way of communication so a full body can also express emotions.


Ukrainian army enters the eastern city of Mariupol leaving civilians casualties as result of the attack.

Firefighters are in action, the fire inside the personal armoured carrier is action too and the whole scene makes the tension of a probable incoming explosion. You need to make the action evident, so you need to get close. The action needs a bigger space in your frame. For that, use your feet – they are your best zoom. You could step back ant shoot the armoured vehicle on fire from the distance, but the main characters of the photo will be lost and the man handling the water and the fire in the foreground is pure action.

You can get a story going on in your photos too, if you are able to engage with your subject. A close portrait with the right attitude is it always good. In these photos you can see a little bit of action in the background but not much. However, you can replace that making a strong engagement with your subject. You can feel in these photos they are arrogant, they are proud of what they are, they stand up not ashamed, and look forward and straight into the camera and their body languages speaks for itself.


Pro-Russian sniper guards a checkpoint in Slaviansk, eastern Ukraine.


Pro-Russian militias patrol the main administrative building in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.

When you look for a story in your photos try different angles, do not be afraid of watching things from a different perspective. Get low, as a photographer you need to change your point of view. When photographing kids and animals you always need to get to their level, at the same level you make them to stand up and you give them the major role in frame.


Pro-Russian militia Vostock Battalion celebrates the independency of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

As you can see in these examples the action and emotions are the key. There is no better way to find those emotions than looking forward and getting close to the principal characters of the events.

A good indicator of whether your photography is good is if you do not need to explain anything. A photograph telling a story does not need to be explained. If you want to make the story more complicated you will need to put more elements in harmony in your frame, it is more complicated but is a challenging experience.

How do you tell stories with your images? What can you learn from these tips that you can use in your own photography, even if you do not do true photojournalism?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Felipe Passolas
Felipe Passolas

is a freelance photojournalist. He has been working covering crisis in eastern Ukraine and the Syrian Border. Most of his work is done in high-risk areas. He documents people, expeditions and adventures around the globe and has traveled almost his entire life. He also teaches and writes.

I need help with...