Using Emotions to Take Storytelling Images

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A forgotten woman and her daughter – tips for storytelling

If you travel to remote places you will be sure to get extraordinary photos. Be brave, take a risk, and allow the warm winds of far off places take you on a journey you won’t forget. I’m always looking for opportunities that allow me to visit people and places that are off the usual tourist trail. I travel with an open mind and heart, and am often rewarded by meeting extraordinary people in the most unlikely places.

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My interest is photographing landscapes and portraits. I especially look for people that are indigenous to the countries and the remote areas I visit. Their faces and traditional dress tell the stories of their ancestors, and I want to capture these people before they are no longer able to live as their forebears.

Traveling along the rough, dusty roads on the border between India and Pakistan you are immediately reminded of just how volatile these two countries still are. You take a great risk to visit these regions where many armed soldiers are seen in camps, at river crossings, and in long convoys of trucks as they continually patrol, ready to defend their respective countries.

Have patience and wait for opportunities

If you are able to travel in this area during October you will be rewarded with the magnificent autumn colors on display throughout the countryside. My intention was to capture these colors in all their glory, and photograph the natural beauty of the landscape. However, I arrived a little too early. I had a choice: I could stay and wait another week or two, or I could return home. I decided to stay and take the opportunity to have some time to relax, and see what other stories might present themselves.

It was the last day of my visit and I decided to take a walk, as I often do, to see if I could find a story by keeping an open mind, and a keen eye while I strolled.

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I knew that in the next few days, this area would be totally cut off for six months during winter. I was feeling a bit low as I hadn’t taken any photos that I felt were of any substance. As I walked I noticed a lady sitting in the window of a very humble wooden house. She looked very sad and I felt drawn to go and speak to her.

Note: To shoot in this region you need permissions and local guide, which I had. My first image of the story has shows me shooting from outside of her house. Next to me were people of that village and my local interpreter. She was watching me shoot from above. My objective was to talk to her and cheer her up. 

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Allow the story to unfold and follow your instincts

As soon as I entered the house I thought why not test my new camera in this low light. Once inside, I’m sure you would get the same shock I did. In one corner was a small fire for cooking. The rest of the room was dirty and in complete disarray. Upon seeing me enter, she looked quite stunned, and started to use sign language – I realized she couldn’t speak or hear. I also had a feeling she was mentally challenged, so I thought I would give up the idea of taking some portraits of her. She was trying to talk and constantly moving her body.

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I smiled and sat opposite her trying to show her my camera. I wanted to explain that I was a photographer so she wouldn’t be scared of me. Normally most of the strangers in this area are suspected militants, or a threat. As I tried to communicate with her, she continuously tried to sign violence and killing, which she must have experienced since birth. In sign language I tried asking her if I could photograph her, unfortunately it was my first try with sign language and she did not understand. Something inside me pushed me to take a few shots and leave. Somehow I managed to take some photos despite feeling low after spending time with her.

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Then her mother walked inside the house and told me the story of her daughter. She was deaf, and mentally challenged since childhood. They were living a very difficult life and there was nobody else in family. I listened and took one shot as she broke down. All I could do was put my hand in my pocket and give her whatever cash I had.

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Look for the emotion parts of the story

When I left the house I felt heavy hearted. I looked back and saw the daughter smile as she was looking out from her window, and I smiled back at her. I clicked the picture as a memory and it turned out to be the best photo I had taken on this visit. If you keep an open mind and follow your instincts you may well find a story such as this.

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As I drove back her powerful smile did not leave my mind. I kept thinking about her, she had left an impression.

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Look at your images after you take them as I did. It’s only then that you will realize how powerful they are.

Her smile started growing on me and I thought that perhaps I had made a small difference to her life. Her smile was so genuine. Even before arriving back home I decided to write about, and share her story. This story provoked my thoughts, altered my ego, and forced me to approach everyone with her story, whether they are my admirers or critics. I wanted to let the world know of her existence and those like her, as you will when you take those rare and unique photos and experience what I did. There are many such people on this earth for whom life is a day-to-day existence and there are only fleeting moments of happiness.

Take a risk and go for it

So… be brave, take a risk, and allow the warm winds of far off places take you on a journey you won’t forget. Trust me you won’t regret it!

Do you have any images that you took that inspire you and tell a story? Please share them in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Aarief is a professional photographer based in Singapore. His work encompasses various genres including nature and travel. His personal favourite is "Portraiture", as he feels it helps him to connect more with the people he meets during his travels. His aim is to photograph each individual in such a way as to reveal their unique identity as well as reveal something of their inner selves. View more of his work at here.

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  • Christo Thomas

    Nicely done Aarief. Thank you..

  • Gregg Hasenjaeger

    I say have fun with it. When your subjects enjoy the shoot you will have good results.

  • Gregg Hasenjaeger

    Have fun.

  • Gregg Hasenjaeger

    Have fun with it.

  • Gregg Hasenjaeger

    Always have fun with it.

  • Steven

    Very absorbing story and some powerful pics.

    Thank you.

  • Neha

    Unfathomable emotion oozing out actually. Hope you didnt forget to know their names.

  • Manuela Durson

    What is your method of getting model releases from these people?

  • elmer

    caption:

  • Marian Murdoch

    You don’t have to go to faraway lands to capture emotional images. This was taken by me in NY on the ferry to Ellis Island:

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