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The Storyteller’s Camera: How Photos Tell Stories – Wonderful Ones + Ideas

I am sure you have all seen a photograph that told you a whole story when you saw it; and maybe even taken one like that. If you did take one, then you are already a visual storyteller. In today’s post, in time for World Photo Day, I look into (to the best of my abilities) how photos tell stories. I also use my own experience and expertise (limited though it is) to share a few ideas on how you could use photos to tell stories.

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I just read in a recent IG post that the best souvenirs are photos and memories, and then this quote that talks about all of these from a cool perspective:

A photograph it a souvenir of a memory. It is not a moment. It is the looking at the photograph that becomes the moment. Your own moment. ~ David Levithan

So How Do Photos Tell Stories

They Freeze Moments in Time

Photos capture a single moment in time and preserve it for all time, making them memories and souvenirs and all that. That frozen moment contains within it all the emotions, actions, and details, and thus allows viewers to relive it.

A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away.~ Eudora Welty

The Emotions

That photo of the smile on your child’s face, or the smirk that can bring a smile on yours when you see it. That lone tear that is sure to tug at heartstrings, or shared laughter visible among a group of friends! In addition to the actual emotions, colors and other details in a photo can add to the feelings it can evoke, and thus allows viewers to connect with it, to see the story within.

The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words. ~ Elliott Erwitt

And the Details Matter

Photos help zoom in on the smallest of details, revealing nuances that would go unnoticed normally. These details add levels to the story, whether they are that wrinkled skin of a grandparent, the close up of a simple home-cooked comfort meal your mom makes, or the mess of your teen’s room too!

A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.~ Diane Arbus

Then the Rest

They effectively convey atmosphere (like the dim glow of a street light, or the warmth of a sunny day on the beach, or the coolness of a shaded grove). They also capture relationships (the joy of meeting friends at the airport), provide context (visual clues help viewers understand more), and spark imaginations (by what is left unsaid as well as staring us in our faces). Photos also document history and convey so many messages – powerful, heartfelt, sweet, and more. And last but not the least, they tell a little bit about the photographers themselves!

You cannot possibly hit the shutter without leaving a piece of you in the image.~ Joe Buissink

Think about the stories hidden in the everyday photographs you take. You don’t need stunning locations or special events or occasions to tell a story after all. It can be just the moments of the day, like that smile on your child’s face, those wrinkled lines on a grandparent’s skin, or the simplicity of a home-cooked meal. Yes, I repeated myself here, but all of these can be powerful stories waiting to be told.

Photography is the story I fail to put into words. ~ Destin Sparks

Photos That Tell Stories

Some famous photos that tell stories include

  • “The Afghan Girl” by Steve McCurry: One of the most famous ones on this list, this National Geographic cover photo from 1985 features the haunting green eyes of a young Afghan refugee named Sharbat Gula.
  • “Tank Man” by Jeff Widener: Taken during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, this image shows an unknown Chinese man standing in front of a column of Type 59 tanks leaving Tiananmen Square. It’s become a symbol of peaceful resistance against oppression.
  • “The Falling Man” by Richard Drew: This photograph, taken during the September 11, 2001 attacks, shows a man falling from the North Tower of the World Trade Center. It’s a stark and haunting reminder of the tragedy of that day.
  • “V-J Day in Times Square” by Alfred Eisenstaedt: This iconic photograph taken on August 14, 1945, shows a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square to celebrate the end of World War II. It represents the jubilation felt across the nation at the war’s end. Some stories say this was orchestrated, but does it matter? In the end, the feelings it inspires is still the same.
  • “The Blue Marble” by Apollo 17 crew: This photograph, taken during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, shows Earth from space. Magical indeed, and a reminder of how precious this planet we inhabit is.
  • The one you take.

So here is to creating those moments, those stories, those souvenirs of memories.

What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce. ~ Karl Lagerfeld

Ideas to Inspire Photos That Tell Stories

How do we go about taking photos that tell stories? How do we find inspiration? Here are a few ideas to help spark that creativity:

365 Day Challenge

Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality…One can’t possess reality, one can possess images–one can’t possess the present but one can possess the past. ~ Susan Sontag

Get started on it, regardless of whether you think you can go the complete mile or not. Even if you just do a bit of it, it is still going to be more than what you would have if you did not plan to do this challenge. I am contradicting others who say that you should see it through, but I say dip your foot in the water and see how far you will go. Here are some themes/or not for you:

  • Pick one color a month (or for the whole year/or any other time-range). Only yellow things, or maybe a combination of colors – like black and white.
  • Same subjects: could be buildings, wheels, food, clouds, trees, specific people or places (you might have seen photos of the same location over the year through a time-lapse type of pic)
  • Selfies!!
  • Anything you choose – quirky or not
  • Or you can join in on any of the photo challenges all over social media. Each of them offers a photo prompt/theme for the day/week. I routinely participate in a few on IG, including rebels_united, gramoftheday, photomission, picturethis365, among others.

If 365 is too daunting a number, then here are a few other ways to challenge yourself.

Weekly (or Monthly) Themes

Choose a different theme or concept for each week, such as “reflection,” “texture,” or “motion,” and capture images that fit the theme.

 The best images are the ones that retain their strength and impact over the years, regardless of the number of times they are viewed. ~ Anne Geddes

10 is the Number

  • Pick one thing or person, and take 10 different photos of it
  • Take 10 different photos from the same spot, while ensuring there is no overlap of features across them. Look up and down, left and right, zoom in on details, or use that popular 0.5 mode.
  • Write down 10 different words and put them in a bag. Pick one at a time, and make that the theme of taking photos for that day. Use any other point here to further work on this.
  • Document a day in your life using just 10 photos to tell the story.

The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.~ Andy Warhol

Some More to Round This Up

  • A-Z Challenge: Find objects or scenes that represent each letter of the alphabet in order.
  • Storytelling with Objects: Select three random objects and create a photo story that connects them in a meaningful or unexpected way.
  • Reverse Engineering: Start with a photo and craft a fictional story or essay or poem around it, or capture an image inspired by a short story or poem or essay.
  • Reverse Your Steps: Take a walk on a route which you will have to retrace on the way back. Ensure you take photos of the same things in both directions but make them different (not just the fact that you are approaching them from the opposite direction).
  • Travel Story: Whether it be a vacation or a staycation, you can work to create a series of photos that captures the essence of the place and tells stories.
  • Children’s Book: Think of a favorite children’s book, or the one you have been planning to write, and take photos that could be right out of the pages from that book.
  • Dream Sequence: Create a series of surreal or dreamlike images that flow together to create a visual dream story.
  • Perspectives and Frames: Take photos within a frame of some sort, be it a window, a door, or even the mirror. Take photos from different vantage points and perspectives.

The pictures are there, and you just take them.~ Robert Capa

Books Where Photos Tell Stories

While not all these books are photo-novels, photographs included within add to the story significantly, and lend atmosphere, mood, or enhance other aspects of the story easily.

And Now, the End of This Post

Dear reader, share a photo you think tells a story, or share one of your own that does so. Or maybe let me know which one of these aspects of visual story telling appeals most, and which challenge might you take on? What about the books/famous photos/quotes? Your favorite there? And of course, your recommendations?

9 thoughts on “The Storyteller’s Camera: How Photos Tell Stories – Wonderful Ones + Ideas

  1. I am a visual person and I need the photos with reading. Maybe that is why I like watching movies better than reading.

  2. Such an engaging piece on the power of photos as storytellers! Your insights and creative ideas to capture moments and emotions through photography are inspiring. Loved the book recommendations and challenges. Keep igniting our imaginations through your wonderful words!

  3. This is absolutely amazing! There is always something magical about using pictures to tell stories and taking a look at other photographs.

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