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THE

PHOTOGRAPHIC
STORY
HOW TO USE STORYTELLING TO MAKE MORE POWERFUL PHOTOGRAPHS

DAVID DUCHEMIN
*TWO NOTES
ONE This is a book about story as it ap-
plies to creative photography, not journal-
ism, and while the elements of story will be
the same for both, the needs, methods, and
ethics of a photographer telling stories as a
journalist will be different.

TWO This eBook has a companion vid-


eo. Think of it as a 40-minute conversation
with me, walking you through some imag-
es and talking a little bit more about some
of the ideas in this book. You can download
that video by clicking the iPad below.
01
INTRODUCTION
This book is about the power of connec- Story is the theme of this book, but I
tion through one of the oldest and most should remind you not all photographs
powerful means of human communica- must contain story any more than all
tion: story. Its a book about the way the paintings or books must do so. There
photograph can relay impact and infor- are powerful paintings that tell no story,
mation in one of the most powerful ways just as there are powerful poems; they
possible. have their own power. But if you hope to
tell stories in your photographs and use
Humans are storytelling creatures, and those to convey impact or information,
have been for millennia. Stories enter- understanding the elements of story will
tain us and inform us, give us hooks upon help.
which to hang the events of our lives,
and help us assign meaning to those We talk a lot about photographs that tell
events. We have told those stories in dif- stories, but there are times I dont think
ferent ways over the last few thousands we really understand what we mean by
of yearssometimes orally, sometimes that. Ask most photographers what the
written, and often visually. basic elements of story are and theyll
look at you like they dont understand
Photographers are heir to a long tra- the question. I hope to fix that.
dition of visual storytelling, beginning
with cave paintings that we can still find I hope youll finish this book with a better
today in the caves of France, and even- sense of why stories matter and how to
tually to more sophisticated forms of best incorporate the elements of story-
the same medium. Fast forward to the telling into your photographs. We all do
20th Century, and moving pictures and this differently, but the same elements
the photograph have become not only will play out over and over again to the
some of our most common cultural ex- same kind of powerful effect and con-
periences in shared story, but the most nection storytellers have hoped for since
powerful. we began telling stories in the first place.
Already a graphically interesting photograph, this image leverages setting, character,
relationship, and action to create a sense of story and engage the imagination of the
reader of the image. Who is the woman? Is that her dog? Is she meeting someone at the
cafe, or has she just left the same cafe, and with whom did she meet?
02
ELEMENTS OF STORY
CHARACTER
Im not sure its possible to rank the el- other characters and given a chance to
ements of story in order of importance. have an implied relationship, or engage
They all matter, and without them the in some implied conflict. A chair, in the
whole story suffers and will fail to con- right setting, can be lonely and aban-
nect; if it does that, then it fails to create doned, and imply a story. A dog waiting
the desired impact or communicate the mournfully at the foot of a coffin or an
information. Nevertheless, in most sto- empty doorway can imply a story. So
ries it is the characters you meet first. can a seedling pushing its way through
a crack in pavement, or a bloody knife ly-
Characters give us the chance to estab- ing beside a childs toy, to use a more ma-
lish relationships within the story and cabre example. All of them imply a story,
that allows us to createor showcon- as long as other elements are there.
flict (discussed in greater detail in Chap-
ter 6). They also give us something in the The questions you might consider about
story about which to care deeply. I think character in your photographs are these:
story succeeds largely because of the
human capacity for empathy. If we dont Who are my characters?
care about the characters in the story,
the impact is lost. But because humans Are they clear?
are, for the most part, hard-wired to em-
pathize, we can feel the pain that charac- Are they essential or do I have too
ters feel. many? Could I reduce the impact or
role of unnecessary characters with
Those characters can be human, cer- more intentional choices of depth or
tainly, but they need not be. Theres no field, lenses, or where I position the
reason why the main characters cant be camera?
wild animals or even inanimate objects,
so long as they are placed on a stage with
What am I revealing about my charac- sal those roles become, the closer they
ters? Am I doing so in a way that others get to archetypes, and the more readi-
will care about those characters? ly they will be identified at our deepest
level.
What role do my chosen characters
play in this story? Is that clear enough You can use your choice of moment
to engage the attention of the readers to portray emotion either on a face or
of my image? We dont have to reveal through body language: are they smil-
all (as the chapter on mystery will dis- ing, crying, slouched over, reaching for
cuss), but we need enough visual cues something, doing something that tells
to get invested in the story. us something is happening? Choice of
moment is important because while the
The questions others will likely ask when real-life person (i.e., character) in your
they see your photographs is this: who photograph might be doing something
are the characters, and do I care? very clear in one second followed by an-
other in real life, unless you choose the
You can do a lot to make others care moment that best powerfully represents
about the characters. You can be clear that thing in a still frame, you will create
about the role of that character, even if neither empathy nor understanding. Yes,
we dont know who they are: a soldier that character might be crying or angry,
rescuing a brother-in-arms, a firefighter, but unless you choose the moment that
a mothering figure, a nurturer, a protec- shows me that as clearly and powerfully
tor. These are roles, and the more univer- as possible, youll have failed to connect
with me, and failed to really tell the story.

Who are your


characters? Are they
clear? Will others care
about them?
A well-dressed gentleman in Italy. A grandfather perhaps, or a father?
His posture, his clothing, and his choice of restaurant all allow the read-
er of the image to fill in the blanks. His gesture and the curious gaze up
and out of the frame also directs our eyes there and engages us: at what
unrevealed character is he looking?
The man in this photograph is unidentifiable but that doesnt mean
you cant infer certain things about him, and most importantly that
you cant feel certain things about him; empathy for his loneliness,
perhaps, based not only on his solitude but his posture. Who is he?
Whats he doing? Why is he alone?
Creative
Exercise
Pull a dozen photographs something about him, and
that you think tell a strong about the possible relation-
story and study them. Can ship between him and the
you identify the main charac- others. He doesnt seem out
ters? Can you identify what to get the pigeon, nor does
role they play in the story? he seem to be making a get-
Why are they there, in this away in fleeing from the
particular story? If something soldiers. But the soldiers in
were to happen either to battle fatigues do suggest
them (or by them), would you something is up, and they
care? Why? Why not? Arent play a role in establishing the
you at least curious? setting of where and when is
this story playing out.
In the image on the next
page, there are four charac- Im curious about these char-
ters: two soldiers, one man acters. Wheres this guy off
on a bicycle, and a pigeon. to in such a hurry? Where are
The man on the bicyclehis the soldiers going? What kind
clothes, his bike, the easy-go- of threat exists that theyre
ing way he seems to have even present?
about himall of this says
03
ELEMENTS OF STORY
SETTING
Where your story takes place is a ques- Setting as Character
tion of context. Not many stories take
place without a settinga world in Setting can also play a more significant
which the characters interact. The ques- role in an image. A man in a rowboat on
tion isnt really, Is there a setting? The the raging ocean and fighting the waves
questions are: would be an example of man vs. nature
kind of conflict (discussed in Chapter 6)
How much of the setting or context do I and in this case the waves or the weather
provide? would become characters of their own,
How much of a role does it play, and spe- playing a much larger role in the story.
cifically, what role does it play?
Your Choices
What is the relationship between the char-
acters and the setting? We can include or exclude details about
setting to more clearly tell our story.
Setting as Context Knowing whether those details helps
tell the story or makes the story weak-
In many cases, the setting gives us infor- er is important. For example, does a shift
mation about the characters and tells us in your camera position allow you to in-
how to experience them. Characters can clude background signage in Arabic and
be consistent with setting, so showing therefore give more clarity, or would that
a man in a beret in Paris would give the only take away from the impact playing
reader a sense of where he is and would out in a human drama in front of you
tell one kind of story. Or they can be in wherein setting is irrelevant? Either way,
contrast to their setting; showing a Maa- your choices will change how we experi-
sai warrior in Paris would be a juxtaposi- ence the story in your photograph.
tion with the context and would show a
whole other story.
Setting need not always be specific, only enough to tell the story. If its important
that the story be told in one place and not another, its our job to provide the vi-
sual cues to indicate that. Here the setting is Antarctica, specifically, but generally
This is a sample
just caption
cold, remote, andtohostile.
expand on the where
Knowing pointsthis
made in theuspreceeding
is helps understandtwowhopag-
the
es. This is a sample
characters caption
are and whattotheir
expand on theand
challenges points madeconflicts
possible in the preceeding
might be. two
pages.
Creative
Exercise
Not every story has to have a acters clear? Does the setting
strong setting. But when the act in some ways as a charac-
setting matters, especially as ter?
it relates to the characters, the
action, or the theme, youve In the image on the next
got to make it count. page, the setting matters. It
provides the juxtaposition,
Like the last exercise, I want and makes the action signif-
you to look at a handful of icant. But it doesnt matter
your own images. Why not that this is Italy, so those cues
use the ones youve just fin- werent important to leave
ished looking at? Start there. in. The man walking one way
against the implied direction
Which images have a strong of the signs is all we need to
sense of place? What visual read a story into this. Asking
cues give them that sense of yourself what role setting
place? Could you have made plays helps you decide what
those cues even stronger? to leave in and what to leave
Would that have helped the out.
story? Is the connection be-
tween the place and the char-
04
ELEMENTS OF STORY
ACTION / CHANGE
Something has to happen for story to it to someone or at someone? All these
take place. It might be just happening in change the story and its not just about
the present moment of the photograph, whats happening in the actual event,
it might just have happened, or it might its how well you make me feel or under-
be about to happen, but without at least stand whats happening.
the possibility of change or action, there
can be no story. Not only is your choice of moment ab-
solutely key, but how you best express
Showing action in a moving picture se- that moment. For example, where you
quence is easier than in a single frame. place the camera can change the way
We see the initial state, the action, and we interpret or feel about the action.
the resulting change. In a photograph, it A man is running. Place him on the left
is the choices of the photographer which coming into the scene and the action is
determine what we see, which details interpreted as arriving. Place him on the
we are given, and what raw materials our right, leaving the frame, and that same
imagination has to work with to fill in the action is interpreted as leaving. Same ac-
rest. Our choice of moment is import- tion, but potentially a very different sto-
ant: the action has to be given its best ry.
expression in the frame. Is the boy about
to throw the ball, is he throwing it, or has How can you make that action as clear
he thrown it? The story changes depend- as possible and give it enough informa-
ing on what is happening and you tell tion that to me, the reader of your im-
us that by which moment you freeze in age, that action has meaning? Dont tell
the frame. At what point in the action of me everything, but tell me enough. You
throwing the ball is the boy in the pho- might want to give me enough clues
tograph best interpreted as throwing it? that I can answer questions like why is
Can I see the ball? Is the throw hard and this happening, to whom, by whom, and
fast or slow and friendly? Is he throwing with what results?
The action in this image from a coffee shop in Istanbul seems clear, if subtle. Both men,
perhaps a father with his son, share a bench with their water pipes. One pays attention
to the other while that one pays attention to his phone. We dont know precisely what is
about to happen, but its imminent. Does he ask the son to put the phone away, does he
ask his son to give him his phone back, did an important call just come that will change
both their lives? What actually happened may not be important, but its the elements of
story that engage us and keep us interested, and perhaps invested, in the characters.
The gesture of the boy implies something is about to happen. Is he about to fall? Did his
sister push him? Is she going to hang on to him and stop him from falling?

To me, this image is about play, but I was there so I know the fuller story that existed
both before and after the moment. You will have the luxury of being able to play this
story out in several ways, all of them creating an engagement with the photograph that
would be less likely to happen if there was no story here, no characters you care about,
and/or no imminent action or change.
05
ELEMENTS OF STORY
RELATIONSHIPS
Being clear about the relationships be- is it something more complicated than
tween characters will help you tell your that? The characters can also be inani-
story. And if the relationship itself is im- mate, such as an old church building re-
portant, finding ways to show the nature flected in the newer mirrored surface of
of that relationship will be key to a story the building of a financial corporation.
that is not only shown, but also felt. It might be a story about cooperation,
competition, or even the power of the
The best wedding photographs do this one eclipsing the fading power of the
well. They go beyond an image of a bride other. Moment might play a less signif-
in white and a groom in black. They do icant role here, but what you imply with
more than show you a picture; they tell perspective and lens choices might tell a
you a story. They show you stolen mo- powerful story.
ments that are about intimacy, or shared
laughter that tells us how the couple One of the best ways you can tell (or
plays together. They can show deeply imply) your story is through the rela-
human things like how they trust and tionships of characters. Who they are to
nurture. Those things are a matter of each other will suggest the kind of ac-
moment and knowing the power of that tion or conflict (discussed in Chapter 6)
choice as a photographer. that drives the story forward; its the tool
that helps us understand what the sto-
As mentioned, the characters do not have ry is about. As with everything, its not
to be human. For example, they can be enough that you are clear on the char-
animals, like a photograph of a dog and acters relationships to each other; you
a cat. Which moment you choose and have to make it clear to the reader of
which action you show reveals that rela- your image. You dont have to spell it out
tionship. Is it a story about the friendship for me, but give me enough visual clues
between a cat and a dog, or is it a story that I can piece it together.
about the animosity between them, or
The relationships in this story seem pretty clear: the sharks relate to each other as hunt-
ing partners, and to the small fish in the lower right of the frame, as predator to prey. In
the end, the sharks showed no interest in this fish; they all seemed to be focused on oth-
er things. But by leveraging the imagination of the reader, a different story within this
frame is implied, giving this image its emotional strength.

We bring to the reading of this image things no photographer can control. What you
know about sharks, what you believe about them, and what kind of history you may
have had with them shapes how you read the story. But that there are enough clues for
you to engage with is the power of understanding the elements of story.

This is a sample caption to expand on the points made in the preceeding two pag-
es. This is a sample caption to expand on the points made in the preceeding two
pages.
Who are these men to each other? Theyre so close but so distant from each other, backs
turned to each other. The contrasts between them seem to provide clues about the re-
lationships: one runs a chaotic shop filled with speedometers and odometers, the other
runs an orderly shop filled with nothing but ball bearings. If theyve fallen out with each
other, what caused them to do so? Will their proximity force an eventual conflict? Re-
member, its not knowing thats important (at least not in the context of non-journalis-
tic work), but the engagement. Do your images prompt that engagement and curiosity?

This is a sample caption to expand on the points made in the preceeding two pag-
es. This is a sample caption to expand on the points made in the preceeding two
pages.
06
ELEMENTS OF STORY
CONFLICT & CONTRAST
Think of the stories you best remember, ular vs. sacred. They do not all have to
the movie you most recently watched, or be at odds with each other. In fact the
the tales you told your kids at bedtime story might be how unexpectedly well
last night. All of them revolved around they work together, but in the still frame
a central conflict, whatever they were of the photograph, they help drive the
about, whoever and wherever the char- sense of story.
acters were, and no matter what those
characters were doing. Contrast is where photographs get their
interest, be they wedding photographs,
Conflict is the driving force of story. A sports images, landscapes, wildlife, or
little girl in a red cloak against the wolf. street scenes. If you increase the sense
An old man in a boat against the forces of that contrast, you magnify the sense
of nature. A boy and girl in love against of the story. You can do this in so many
the wills of tradition and family. A man ways: shutter speed can increase the
struggles against his inner demons or feeling of stationary, permanent things
the decisions of his past. in a sea of movement; longer lenses can
isolate a particular juxtaposition and ex-
There are classically three kinds of con- clude distractions. Your choice of camera
flict: man vs. man, man vs. nature, and position and framing can also do that.
man vs. himself. Many photographic sto-
ries contain these elements. But told in a Remember, not every photograph has
single frame, some stories might not be to tell a story. If theres no conceptual
so adversarial. But if they are to tell a sto- contrast and its a photograph of a flow-
ry, they will still have a conflict at their er with only contrast of tone and line, it
heart, if only a conflict of ideas. Photo- might be a poem, and a beautiful one
graphically, we represent that as jux- at that; its just not a story. Add a bee,
taposition. Big vs small. Old vs. young. though, and it might be.
Serious vs. silly. Modern vs. ancient. Sec-
To me, this is a photograph about the intersection of ancient and modern worlds. And
depending on what you know about the setting, characters, and whats going on, it
might also be about faith, as this was made at a Christmas mass in Ethiopia. But its the
contrasts that make the image, and the story, interesting.

On the following page, a grandfather wraps his hands around his grandson. Theres sto-
ry here in the contrast between the old, textured hands that have worked the land and
lived a long life, and the small, gentle hands of the little boy. The difference between
young and old, the implied relationship between the characters, and the ambiguity
about the identity of the older man, all create an engaging sense of story.

This is a sample caption to expand on the points made in the preceeding two pag-
es. This is a sample caption to expand on the points made in the preceeding two
pages.
This is a sample caption to expand on the points made in the preceeding two pag-
es. This is a sample caption to expand on the points made in the preceeding two
pages.
07
ELEMENTS OF STORY
THEME
The theme of a story is much easier to it better. It helps you choose the visual
flesh out in a movie, a novel, or a longer tools to best convey not just the infor-
photo essay. In a still image it can be hard- mation, but the impact. You do that with
er. Think of this as the conceptual heart the position of the camera, the choice
of the story: what is the story about? of lens, the light, the moment. A bride
and groom may be very happy indeed,
A photograph that is merely of some- but if you catch them in what appears to
thing is not often as powerful as one be a tense moment, in the wrong light-
that is about something. The difference ing, from the wrong angle, in black and
is in the interpretation, or in giving the white, the story you tell will not be one
reader enough visual clues to engage of great joy and intimacy. You may have
his or her imagination in interpretation. a clear sense of what the story is about,
This is where and how we give meaning but unless you use the visual tools well,
to our stories. Lets return to the cat and it will be the imagination of the reader of
the dog example. Photograph them one your image that provides the interpreta-
way and its just an uninspired photo- tion of what the story is about.
graph of a cat and a dog. Theres no sto-
ry, no meaning. Its not about anything. Hands down, the readers imagination
But photograph them another way in a is the most powerful tool in assigning
stronger moment, one that reveals their meaning to a story; we can either give
relationship, shows action or change, them the best possible clues to make that
and, depending on what those are, you interpretation or we risk letting them do
give meaning to the image. You make that entirely on their own. Knowing as
it about something. Enmity perhaps. Or soon as you can what the story is about
companionship. will help you choose those visual clues,
(and use your visual tools) as intention-
Understanding what the story is about ally as you can.
as it plays out before you helps you tell
Whats this story about? Boredom? Distraction? Disconnection? It
might be about different things to different people, but the elements
are there to make it about something, to give us a hook on which to
hang the meaning.
Is this a story about faith? About exclusion? It could be about either,
or perhaps both at the same time. On its own its a little ambiguous,
which isnt a bad thing. In a longer series, other images would clarify
some of that ambiguity. Either way, there is enough here to tap into
your empathy.
Creative
Exercise
What is the image on the fol- What does the implied rela-
lowing page about? Whats tionship in this image do to
the theme? communicate the theme?

What makes you think so? Would a different gesture


from the baby elephant po-
Are there enough visual clues tentially change the theme of
to convey that theme effec- the image? How important is
tively? the choice of moment to this
story?
Would more context have
made that stronger or would
it have made the image weak-
er?

Do you need to know where


this is in order for it to be ef-
fective, or can we infer some-
thing about setting without
needing to see more?
08
ELEMENTS OF STORY
MYSTERY
If Ive just spent the last 6 chapters argu- The very best stories dont tell us every-
ing for the most intentional use of visual thing. The scariest monster movies are
clues and the choices of the photogra- the ones that keep the monster mostly
pher to create those to tell a clear story, hidden, showing only glimpses and im-
this is where I remind you again that the plications and the gory results of its ac-
most powerful tool you have is the imag- tions. The imagination needs the mystery
ination of the reader. How you engage to flex its muscle. Its the rookie filmmak-
that imagination could be an entirely er who thinks the monster he creates is
separate book, but there is a good start- scarier than the one in my mind.
ing place: mystery.
Photographically, this means showing
You know how so often someone will see less, not more, and being selective about
a movie based on a book and when you it. It means leaving (if not creating) ques-
ask them how it was they say, inevitably, tions. What are they looking at? What
It wasnt as good as the book? There just happened? Whats about to happen?
might be many reasons for this. It might What would happen if? Luckily photo-
just be a really poor movie. But its more graphs can be very good at not show-
likely the case that the book allowed ing everything, but as the storyteller its
the readers imagination to fill in details: important to choose which information
what characters looked like, what the you leave the viewer without. Leave out
villain smelled like, what the pacing was something important that might oth-
like. No matter how large the budget of erwise help me care about a character,
the film studio, our imaginationsun- understand whats happening, or oth-
hindered by the realities of physics and erwise hook me, and youll lose my at-
budgetscan do it better. And in order tention and with it the willingness of my
for that imagination to really work, it imagination to engage your story and
needs some room to move. It needs to take it further than you can yourself.
not be told everything. It needs mystery.
Who is the second character implied by the shadow? What is the man
in the hat thinking? Whats about to happen? This kind of ambiguity or
mystery engages our imaginations in ways not possible had I just in-
cluded it all in the frame and told you everything. Sometimes the reality
is much less interesting; mystery protects us from that.
09
LONGER STORIES
Ive been discussing story in a way that and theme all in one image, the photo
assumes a single frame. As limited as it is, essay does it in several, allowing each
the single frame remains a powerful way image to be more powerfully about one
of telling stories, perhaps because of its particular element or aspect of the sto-
very limits. They allow the imagination ry. In a photo essay, the reader gener-
room to move. But that very strength ally comes away knowing more about
is also its weakness in the sense that each of these elements or gains greater
the reader will assume or imply a great knowledge about the background or
deal that might not be true of the story. context.
Sometimes more is needed and its here
that the photo essay has played a long Good wedding photographers excel at
role. this, showing details of the ring, clothes,
behind the scenes preparations, key
Sometimes accompanied by longer text moments, and people. When done well,
or captions, sometimes not, the photo its a classic photo essay. But you can
essay has been the defacto format of use the format well outside weddings
magazines like the National Geographic or journalism. Consider making a short
for over a hundred years. It does what series of images (perhaps three) that al-
the single frame cant: it provides greater lows you to put a little more meat on the
context and detail. bones. The images on the next few pag-
es are from Ethiopia and Italy, and while
Traditionally, the photo essay has includ- not classic essays, together they tell a
ed wider shots meant to establish con- fuller story than one image alone could.
text (or setting) as well as closer detail All the images must be strong and suc-
images, portraits, action images, and ceed on their own merits, but any story
POV (point of view) shots. In other words, can usually be strengthened by telling
where the single image story seeks to it from different angles while still main-
show character, setting, action, contrast, taining some of the mystery that makes
them so powerful.
The images on the preceding page are
vignettes from the Christmas pilgrimage
to Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia, an event
full of great characters who all come to
express their faith in one way or another.

The images on this and the following


page are from a fishing village in Italy, all
shot within about 10 minutes of each oth-
er as the days catch came in to harbour
to get unload and packed.
Creative
Exercise
Grab your camera or your or challenge to overcome?
iPhone. Choose a subject, What action or change exists,
something easy. A day in the either now or imminently?
life of your cat. Morning in What is the result of that ac-
your home. Happy Hour at tion?
the local pub. A jam session
with your son and his friends As you do the edit and
in the garage band. Just pick choose the 12 images, consid-
something. Now make a se- er the flow. Does one image
ries of 12 images that tell that connect to another in some
story and make sure these way?
questions get answered:
Dont forget about composi-
tion and choice of moments.
Where is the story occurring? Photographically, the best
Who are the characters? story can still fall apart if you
What are the relationships be- forget that the way we tell
tween the characters? that story is in the way we
What are they doing? arrange the elements and
What kind of conflict or con- choose our moments.
trast exists? Is there a problem
10
YOUR TURN
The following six photographs all con- What is the relationship between my
tain elements of story. Youll notice characters and their setting? Could that
many of the same questions at the be clearer?
foot of each image. This is the part of
the book many will skip, but like those What is the central conflict or contrast
creepy team building exercises they in the image? Is that clear?
made you do in high school, the only Is there action or change, either now, in
way to learn from them is to do them.
the past, or about to happen?
Sit down with each image and spend Is that action clear?
five minutes studying them before an-
Have I given sufficient visual clues to
swering the questions for yourself. Then
open some of your own photographs help the viewer understand the story?
and ask yourself the same questions. If Have I given enough room for mystery
you feel like pushing yourself and there to allow the imagination to fill in the
are images that dont tell the story you gaps?
want, ask yourself any of the following
questions, all of which you can slightly Is the moment I have chosen the best
reframe and use while youre making moment to tell this story? What might
your photographs in the first place: have happened if I had waited a little
longer or acted sooner?
What is this story really about?
What emotional quality does the light
Have I included enough information bring to the story? Is it consistent with
about my characters? Too much? the mood or the theme?
Have I included enough information Is my framing appropriate for the sto-
about my setting? Too much? ry? Should I have considered a different
What is the relationship between the orientation or aspect ratio?
characters? Could it be clearer?
Who are the characters? What do you know about them based on the set-
ting? What are their relationships to each other? What contrasts exist in
this scene? What is this story about? What decisions were made with the
camera to strengthen that story?
Who are the characters? What are their relationships to each other? What
contrasts exist in this scene? What might this story be about? What action
or change is implied by the moving rock? Is it moving towards something?
Away from something? Why?
Who are the characters in this story? What can you infer about them
based on the setting? What are their relationships to each other? What
contrasts exist in this scene? What is this story about? Why is the one boat
so empty while the other is so full? Does that ambiguity strengthen your
engagement with the image or weaken it?
Who are the characters? What do you know about them based on the set-
ting? What are their relationships to each other? What contrasts exist in
this scene? What is this story about? Does not knowing who the woman
is, or even being able to see her face, say something about the culture or
setting in which this story is told? Would you have chosen to include that
womans face? Why?
Who are the characters? What do you know about them based on the set-
ting? Why are they there? What are their relationships to each other and
to the buried dead? How did those people, now dead, meet their ends?
What contrasts exist in this scene? What is this story about? Would more
or less information make this a stronger story?
Who are the characters? What do you know about them based on the set-
ting? What are their relationships to each other? What contrasts exist in
this scene? What is this story about? What decisions were made with the
camera to tell this story and give you suggestions about what it is about?
How was ambiguity or mystery created in this image?
12
Conclusion
Most of us know how powerful stories Style and the Principles of Screenwriting,
can be. But its one thing to know an im- by Robert McKee; The Anatomy of Story:
age tells a story and another thing alto- 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller,
gether to know how to create that sense by John Truby; and The Writers Journey:
of story in your images. I hope you are Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christo-
now one step closer. pher Vogler. All three of these have been
of immense help to me. And of course
I was taught in a high school journalism there are the incredible archives of sto-
class that to tell a story you needed to ries in the National Geographic, the ne
cover the 5 Ws: What, When, Where, Who, plus ultra of visual storytelling for 100
and Why. Those are another way of look- years.
ing at the elements of story, and might
perhaps give you an easy mnemonic Only you know why you tell the stories
handle by which to remember the es- you want to tell. For some, its strictly the
sential elements. conveyance of information; for others,
the desire to have the readers of their
Remember, however, that stories are not images connect more deeply. It is the
only understood, but felt. The 5 Ws might latter with which I resonate. I want my
comprise the story that is told but have images to be felt, to connect with the
no bearing on how it is told. That is up to experience I had while making them to
you and the choices you make with the be felt beyond myself, like ripples on the
visual tools at your disposal. The 5 Ws do surface of a lake. But more-so, I hope I will
not generally care much for theme or not only tell great stories, but live great
mystery or the more poetic elements of stories. The ripples from that will go fur-
storytelling that make stories so power- ther than any photograph. But with luck,
ful to us. those are the stories youll tell with the
most conviction and creativity.
If you want to read further about story, I
suggest you look at these books, written
for writers: Story: Substance, Structure,
THE PHOTOGRAPHIC STORY
HOW TO USE STORYTELLING TO MAKE MORE POWERFUL PHOTOGRAPHS
David duChemin

Editor in Chief / Publisher


David duChemin

Executive Editor / Production Manager


Cynthia Haynes

Designer
David duChemin

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