PhotoMojo: Visual Storytelling

Jan 16, 2019 View Comments by


Let’s say there’s something you want to photograph—a mountain, a motorcycle, a bacon cheeseburger, whatever. Most of the time in this situation we behave like Pavlov’s dog: the instant the idea “I want to take a photo” enters our mind, we whip out the camera and begin shooting right then and there. This is especially easy to do nowadays, since many of us carry our cameras with us at all times (thanks, iPhone). But before you snap that photo, I recommend taking a breath first. Pausing to consider the following will help you take better photos, and bring you closer to capturing the images and experiences you want to share.

PhotoMojoTell a Story
Before you even begin arranging your first shot, ask yourself, “What story am I trying to tell with this photo?” This is arguably the most important step, because it determines not only what you will include in the photo, but what you will exclude from it, too. For example, the story, “This is a great- looking bacon double cheeseburger” is different from “This is a funky little restaurant that serves a great bacon double cheeseburger.” And the more elements there are to your story, the more complex your photo can become. Do you wish to say, “This is a funky little restaurant that serves a great bacon double cheeseburger,” or is there more to the story? For instance, “I rode with friends to a funky little restaurant that serves a great bacon double cheeseburger.” Suddenly you have multiple elements to incorporate in the shot. At this stage, a little time spent thinking about composition can really help. Your photo must include all of the “actors,” of course, but how you fit them in can make the difference between an adequate photo and one that is unforgettable. In the example of the burger, you have many options:

PhotoMojo1. Have everyone look up and smile at the camera before they dig in. This is the standard pre-chowdown shot. If you decide to capture this moment, make sure you do it well. Get up from your seat and find the best angle that includes your smiling friends, their food, and some interesting part of the restaurant interior. Pay attention to the light in the room and try to have the strongest light at your back if possible. Position your friends’ heads in the upper half of the photo, but not too high. Experiment with high and low angles, while also testing your camera in landscape and portrait modes. Fill the shot with interesting things, and eliminate dull or blank spaces of ceiling or sky from the shot. If the restaurant isn’t visually interesting, then prioritize your friends and the bacon double cheeseburger. You’ll notice that every time you adjust something you change the relationship between your friends, the bacon cheeseburger, and the restaurant. Some angles make your friends the focus, others draw attention to the food or restaurant interior. The story you’re attempting to tell should determine the best angle for your shot.


2. Bring the burger outside near the bikes and the exterior of building. This is a literal—and some might argue, unconventional—interpretation of the story “I rode with friends to a funky little restaurant that serves a great bacon double cheeseburger.” Play around with the idea, and don’t rule anything out. Have someone sit on a bike with a cheeseburger in hand and the restaurant in the background. Move a bike or two around if it helps you achieve a better shot. Who knows? If the exterior of the restaurant is interesting, you could end up with a fun series of photos. You have the luxury of trying out as many different ideas as you want, because you don’t have to worry about processing film anymore.

PhotoMojo3. Play. Think of other ways to tell your story. Incorporate some of the tips that I’ve talked about in previous PhotoMojo columns. Maybe it’s a closeup shot of a friend about to take an enormous bite of a bacon double cheeseburger with a neon restaurant sign in the background. Maybe it’s a reenactment of the Last Supper. Each time you take a photo, look at the result and ask yourself, “Does it tell the story that I want to tell?”




PhotoMojoIf you haven’t done this before, be patient. It takes time to get into the flow, and it takes time to evaluate your own photos objectively. Sometimes you’ll discover new stories as you go through the process. (On second thought, maybe your first attempt shouldn’t be with friends eating bacon double cheeseburgers, because if you get too wrapped up in taking photos, they might blame you if their food gets cold.) But the more you do it, the more natural the process will become to you, and over time you’ll become a better visual storyteller.

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