How I go From Snapshots to Storytelling with Three Simple Questions Part 1

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Photographic storytelling is what we all aspire to achieve.  Our photographic journey seems to begin with snapshots, maybe even a little spray and pray, and then ultimately getting to telling a story.  So what exactly is storytelling. Storytelling has been described as the effective use of  

"Mood, Emotion, Narrative, Idea and Message"

For me this definition really struck a chord with what I was trying to achieve with my photography.

As I progress down the path towards storytelling, I use three simple, but powerful questions.  Using these questions gives me the best chance of increasing my success rate of capturing the feeling and story rather than just a snapshot.  I try to always ask these questions:

  1. How do I feel right now?
  2. What do I want the viewer to feel?
  3. How can I capture that emotion?

How do I Feel Right Now?

When I come to a photo shoot, a location or just get ready for a Saturday morning photo excursion I'm feeling something.  When I first see or experience a location I have a feeling or at the very least a reaction.  Just taking a second to formally ask myself what I'm feeling helps me formalize and identify the feeling.

Once I have the feeling identified I can now focus on how to convey that feeling.  Just understanding the feeling and knowing what it is helps me work on expressing that feeling with a two dimensional medium.  Does the location, or shoot make me feel excited, down, optimistic, pessimistic?  No emotion is right or wrong but rather valid and should be explored.  I try not to fight the emotion but rather identify it and immediately ask myself the next empowering question.

 

What do I want my viewer to feel?

Hopefully the answer to this question mirrors my answer to the first question, but maybe not.  If it does then I move right on to Question #3.  If not then I have a quick little internal debate to decide what answer is more compelling or important, and why they would be different.  If they are different then I tend to lean towards what I am feeling.  I find if I shoot for myself I have a better chance of succeeding and producing quality art.  If the answer is the same then this just helps reinforce the answer as I go into Question #3.

 

How can I capture that emotion?

For me, just the exercise of asking, and answering this question, gets me focused and provides a single purpose to pursue with the image.  For me limiting the alternatives is always best.   With this one thought I then bring the camera to my eye and start capturing.  I am able to also decide, will this convey the message better in black and white?  Do I need HDR?  What do I include or exclude from the frame?  This is when the tough, and exciting part begins.

Another quick benefit - 

An ancillary benefit I have gotten out of this is when I go back and cull my images down in Lightroom I am able to ask myself the same general questions to see if I was successful, and just as important, what could I have done to be more successful.

Summary

Like any muscle, exercising this thought process with these questions, helps improve the answers I get.  For every question you ask yourself you will get an answer, the key is to get good, positive, productive answers.

Do I get it right each time? Absolutely not but I think my success rate has increased since I have started this quick pre-planning processing.  To give myself the electronic slap in the face I have these three questions on my IPhone in the Notes app.  This is what I try to do and hopefully is helpful for you as well.

 

In Part 2 I will offer a practical example of how I use this approach on a travel location shoot.