Storytelling and photographic intention in smartphone photography

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Storytelling and photographic intention in smartphone photography
Storytelling is something you likely hear photographers talk about. For so long, I myself 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.

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.

Unlike video, in photography, we need to provide the narrative. You need to explain to the viewer or yourself in years to come (memory photos) why you captured the photo. This requires a clear subject and intention that does not need further explanation. A clear narrative is quick to interpret and engage the viewer.

Emotional connection
Storytelling in your images can create an emotional connection with the viewer. The context can evoke a universal memory that we all share. It could also be something surprising or shocking. Telling part of a story will encourage the viewer to use their own imagination to fill in the blanks

How the smartphone camera has made storytelling easier than ever
We live in an exciting time where you no longer have the obstacle of the technical side of photography. You can learn how to recognise your photographic intention and concentrate on storytelling.

Your smartphone camera allows you to capture anything in front of you at a moments notice. Combined with posts like this or a structured course you can speed up learning to be creative.
Single image storytelling in 6 steps
Providing a narrative in a single photo is more challenging. However, the first two steps below make it much easier.

The intention of the photo – ask yourself why are you taking the photo?
Context – what secondary supporting subjects and items need to be added to help provide the context. These provide visual clues to the storytelling
Composition – how the subject and supporting contextual elements interact with each other. See related articles on composition - here
Lighting – create a mood aligned with the intention. See related articles on lighting - here
Aesthetic experience – pleasing to view, fascination, appraisal and emotion
Editing – further enhance all of the above. This formulaic approach can be applied to almost any image, even landscape and long exposure images!

Multiple image storytelling
Sometimes the narrative of a sequence of events may have taken place over time and in different locations. These images can be placed alongside each other in a collage to create a story. In the below example, we can see the day we picked up our new puppy Lucy, setting up for the drive home and introducing her to our son. A series of three images is referred to as Triptych.

Photographic intention
The intention is the motivation and reason for taking the photo. Knowing the intention will ensure that when you look at the photo, you will know exactly what it is about. If you are like me and have to work hard at creativity – you are going to LOVE that there are guidelines to help us out!

Have you ever noticed people who take a photo to record what is happening in front of them? Being intentional in your images will result in better memory recall in years to come when your memory has long faded. You may have even experienced this yourself. Travel photos benefit by capturing the image from a storytelling perspective.

This involves:
- A clear purpose (subject);
- Context (surrounding area); and
- Visual narrative (story)

Before taking a photo - pause to consider what motivated you to take the photo.
Subject clarity allows you to experiment with different ways to capture and communicate that subject. You will start to really think like a photographer now, by:

  • Focusing your mind (pun intended) to find more creative angles and perspectives
  • Avoiding a cluttered background
  • Looking at how light is falling on the subject
  • Consider other elements in the photo.
  • As you can imagine, a happy snap without intention will struggle to evoke some sort of emotional or physiological response.
Knowing the intention of a photo will also be invaluable when it comes to setting up the image and the later editing process. You will know exactly what to introduce, remove, reduce and enhance to re-create the authenticity of the scene or moment as you saw it.

As you can see, editing an image requires a basic understanding of the above principles. There is so much more to creating a great image than using a filter. Different filters can enhance tones and colours. However, filters do very little to help storytelling.

Passionate - Creative - Curious

- Mike
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