7 Tips For Visual Storytelling

You’re not just a photographer; you capture a story with a visual image.

The better you are at seeing the story unfold before you snap the shutter, the better your final product will be. That’s where the true art form comes into play. Some photographers look beyond the quick image, and look for a way to put a lot of emotion into one image.

If you want to improve your photography, improve your storytelling first.

1. The Who, What, Where, When and Why

The first rule of great storytelling is discovering the facts. Chances are you remember this assignment from your grade school days. Pick out any story in the newspaper, and you should quickly be able to pick out the 5 W’s – who, what, where, when and why. That’s the crux of a great story. It provides the details, and brings the reader in.

The same holds true in photography. What is your ultimate goal with a photograph? Center in on who you are photographing. What message are you trying to convey? Where are you going to capture the image? When will you be working with your subject? Why is this image important to you and to your subject?

2. Beginning, Middle, End

Every great story is complete, and has a beginning, middle and end. In many cases, your photography session should also have a beginning, middle and end. Choose your results ahead of time, and shoot with the end in mind.

For example, if you are photographing a wedding, go in thinking of the final presentation. How will you build an album for the couple? How will you start the album? How will you end it? Make sure you take those images, and set the scene for a great storyline in between.

3. Who is the audience?

Before you head into a shoot, determine who the major players are and what they expect.

A marketing director may hire you for a catalog shoot, yet the president may be the one who makes the final decisions. Do they agree on focus? Do they have the same vision? Try and determine the direction of the shoot before you head in for the day, yet remain flexible in case you have difference of opinions.

4. What does the final product look like?

What is the client coming to you for? If it’s a senior portrait, it may be for one large image to hang on the wall and a yearbook photo.

While they may be coming to you with one idea in mind, you are the expert. What is your ultimate goal for selling? The senior and her family may come in with one large photograph in mind, yet fall in love with the senior album you have lying in your reception room. They may equally love the wallet collage hanging in the sales room. Buy having your vision of what you want to sell, and making it readily available to your customers, you can easily increase your bottom line.

5. What are the essential elements of the story?

You are the photographer. You are the expert. Don’t be afraid to take your photography to the next level.

A new mom may come in for a simple baby portrait. But once she sees your work, and falls in love with a 24 page album that highlights the details – the baby’s fingers around their wedding rings, the baby’s toes, etc – its easy to sell her on the need to capture these memories and retain them for always.

6. Prepare ahead of time.

While much of photography is spontaneous, much of it should be thought about ahead of time. Big box photography studios are mechanical; they take subject after subject, stand them on the X, and shoot the basic images. There is nothing special about these point and shoot images.

Yet as a professional, each image can be thought about and completely set up ahead of time. Ask questions and dig deep into the lives of your clients. What do they love? What makes them unique as a person, and as a family? Then set up your shoot to showcase that information, and make the portrait experience truly unique.

7. Explain how you see the image.

Since you are the storyteller, explain how you see the image along the way. It can start in the initial meeting before you book with a client. Start talking about the vision you shared with other customers, and show examples.

Then when you move to the shoot itself, talk with your clients along the way and explain what you are doing. “You spoke of how your family loves hiking and the great outdoors, so I want to capture that essence in your family’s portrait.” You are setting the stage for the final results.

Then when your client sees the images for the first time, let them relish in what you’ve created. Slideshows to music are great because it sets the stage for emotion. Then explain how you see the final product, and the reason you photographed what you did. You may open up their minds to new ideas – and create more sales along the way.

1 thought on “7 Tips For Visual Storytelling”

  1. Another principle we could add to this good list is..READ INTO. Some of the greatest story tellers have been the ones who are able to allow you to ‘read into’ the story. This works well for stock photography where you arrange the the elements of the picture in such a way that the viewer is anble to read into the picture, that is,add to the message from her or his own expereince…and in a sense,become a collaborator with the image itself.
    When you accomplish this, you have created a memorable photo.


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