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The Magic of Storytelling: A Rhetoric for Beginners

By Wesley Wong

The following is a collection of thoughts regarding the concept of a ‘story telling’ image. Rather than an in-depth instructional tutorial, the following is more of a rhetoric that seeks to persuade and inspire you to develop your creativity and to start taking shots that matter; shots that communicate something meaningful to the viewer. Creativity is something that we all possess; it is inherent and doesn’t need to be learned in the same way as the technical side of photography. Even though you may initially lack technical and editing expertise, I encourage you to use what you already have, your creativity.

The advent of digital photography has revolutionized the way we do things bringing unparalleled convenience into our lives. Despite the benefits, the ‘digital revolution’ has resulted in people putting less thought into their shots. Nevertheless, it is clear that our drive to create meaningful and powerful images stands the test of time.

This leads to the question of: what is a powerful image? That will depend on who you ask. In my view, a powerful image is one that engages and stimulates our hearts and minds. The key to a powerful photograph lies in its ability to tell a ‘story’. A story can be anything from something as complex as a social commentary to something as simple as a feeling or an emotion. A storytelling image engages us by speaking to our hearts. It stimulates our inherent curiosity and stirs our creative juices. It leads us not only to question what the photographer is trying convey but to also explore our own unique interpretations.

A powerful image is a work of art, not science. As an art form, an image is open to the creativity of our imagination. An image ‘speaks’ to us and we ‘hear’ the story we want to hear. The story we choose to hear is determined by a variety of factors including our values, experiences, culture, society, individualism, and artistic outlook. Most importantly, it is our imagination that influences how we understand and interpret an image.

As photographers, we endeavor to communicate a certain story. Although we can carefully compose a scene, it is clear that we lack full control over others’ interpretation of our work. The Arts encourage creative interpretation unlike science which is governed by rigid rules that lead us to absolute truth. When it comes to The Arts, it can be said that there is no right or wrong interpretation; however, it is clear that interpretation must be reconciled with reason. As such, it can be said that creative freedom is constrained somewhat by a degree of logic and reason. We live in the real world where creative freedom must coexist with rationality.

Arguably, storytelling is the easiest way to create a powerful image. Creativity is an inherent part of what it means to be human. As such, our story telling ability occurs naturally without rhyme or reason. In contrast, perfecting the technical aspects of photography takes significant time and requires learned understanding. As photographers, it is important for us to understand and master the technical, compositional, and post production aspects of photography. When used correctly, these aspects will bring out the story more effectively. However, it is important to remember that these aspects are merely supporting ‘characters’ that assist in the telling of a story.

A powerful image is one that engages us and cultivates creativity in our hearts and minds. What better way to achieve this than by telling a story? So go out into the world and use your camera to channel your creative flair. Put more thought into your shots and allow your imagination to unlock the magic of photography. Make an effort to master the technical aspects but don’t let your lack of expertise stop you from telling your own story and inspiring others to do the same.

The following photos are examples of how an image can tell a story. From a technical standpoint, these images leave a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, I believe that they tell powerful stories which transcend technical shortcomings. They remind us that everyone has the ability to tell a story regardless of the stage they are at.

The first image, titled ‘Radiance of the Heart and Soul’ tells a story. Specifically, it tells of an experience.

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The story: Sydney’s Opera House is larger than life; arguably, it is the physical embodiment of the city’s heart and soul. While the “heart and soul” is an intangible concept, we are able to sense its energy radiating throughout the city. It truly is a surreal experience.

The second image, titled ‘Religion in an irreligious society’ tells a story. Specifically, it is a social commentary. This image features Flinders’ statue with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background. Flinders is a historical figure who played a pivotal role in the early years of Australia.

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The story: In the past, religion had an overarching influence over the affairs of government and society. Over time, religion has steadily eroded and atheism has risen in its place. This image symbolizes Australia’s Christian past which can be contrasted with today’s irreligious society. Through this image, I am attempting to provide a social commentary on how our society continues to evolve over time for better or for worse.

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The third image, titled ‘Getting to know Him’ tells a story. It is an image of a girl reading and reflecting upon something. What that something is, is unknown and is for the viewer to decide. Is she engaging in devotional quiet time or is she reading a love letter from a boy? Whichever it is, the image evokes emotion in our hearts and minds.

Wesley Wong is an amateur photographer based in Perth, Western Australia. You can find him at Flickr.

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