Storytelling is something you likely hear photographers talk about. For so long, I did not understand what that meant. Images I created in my 20 years in photography had to adhere to certain parameters! Very technical and no room for creativity.
What is storytelling in photography?
An example we are all familiar with is the selfie photo at a destination where you want to share where you are. The intention is to communicate where you are. Instinctively, you will likely position yourself off to the side of the frame to include the background. This is a compositional technique referred to as Off-Centre or The Rule of Thirds. The story is what context you include in the frame and how you make it clear to the viewer to interpret your story.
A snapshot photo taken at a child's party or wedding is photographic storytelling. The smartphone eliminates barriers to entry for everyone to add to the stories being told every day.
A photo for journalism requires pre-planning to identify the narrative. The photo needs to provide the absolute, complete story providing all the required elements, leaving no unnecessary room for imagination.
Storytelling in every genre
My favourite smartphone photography genres are landscape and long exposures. I was often wondering how do you tell a story when it is just scenery. You too, maybe thinking this storytelling concept does not apply to you either.... but it does, in every photo.
As an enthusiast smartphone photographer, you can create insinuated stories. These are photos that provide glimpses and visual cues that are open to interpretation to the viewer. A compelling photo will elicit involvement from the viewer to complete the story filling in the blanks from their own experiences, culture and biases. The missing pieces can create a sense of mystery, tension or drama in the photo.
Unlike video, in photography, we need to provide a narrative. Similar to writing, this can include characters, settings, subplots, drama and tension. Storytelling does not need to be dramatic and completely intentional or having layers of complexity including contextual subjects in the scene. It can be as simple as asking the question of what is happening in this photo.
The one consistent element in storytelling is the moment it is captured. Imagine the paused moment (photo) of a person walking along a waterfront. It already has us attempting to fill in the gaps of who are they, where have they been or where are they going? What are they wearing? What is the weather like?
In a nutshell, the narrative is the open question you have asked the viewer to answer using their own experiences and imagination.
Remember, the viewer can also be yourself in years to come, enjoying your own photos of travel and loved ones. A clear story helps for instant recollection and further enjoyment.