10 Tips -Visual Story Telling with your Images
So, you have been taking photos either professionally or just as a hobby. You probably already understand lighting, composition and all the technical stuff. But how do you get your images to stand out? To tell a story, to make someone pose and view them for a few seconds in a sea of billions of images?
As a lifestyle, documentary and sports photographer, most of my work involves story telling, and what better way to tell stories than using photography? after all, “a photo is worth a thousand words”.
An image should be utterly infectious to the viewer. As Leo Tolstoy said, “it should be utterly infectious, where it infects the viewer with the feelings he or she has lived through, so that other people are infected in turn by these experiences.” If you can draw viewers into your frame and make them think deeper, and try to read the story you are telling, then you are on the right track.
Today am sharing 10 tips accompanied with my images that would help you in story telling, wherever you are in the world.
1. The Magic is in the details
Lets say you are just from an amazing trip and you are telling a young boy about something he has never seen before and you would like him to picture the scenes as you saw them, vivid description would be key, right?
Well, in photography, visual story telling involves including the small details in the scene and using them to at more flesh and layers to your images.
Image below: This photo of a street cook preparing mandazis in the streets of Machakos, Kenya in an early morning. The sun was already heating him hard making his face shine. In the frame, you can see the status of the cafe behind him, where he sells the mandazis, there is flour all over his overall, the dirty ground next to him, the hanging bulb on the wall, the knife he uses to cut the dough. All this details help in telling the story of this cook, and make it more than just an ordinary portrait.
2. Plan ahead, or fail.
Planning is an essential part of the process for visual storytelling. The documentary photographer Kaushik Ghosh, once said: “What your mind does not know, your eyes can’t see.” This is probably most important when planning your photo essay. You must plan well ahead to visualize the story. Taking these steps beforehand will give the structure you need for your narrative.
Select a topic, research on it, plan the shots. If possible, do a previsit. Best way to shoot a photostory is to stay there longer and shoot chronologicaly as things happen. So, you have to know when and how to capture. If it is in sports photography, you have to understand the sport, and know where to position yourself and when to take photos.
In the photo below: It is 6:30am. Fishermen at the shores of lake Victoria, kisumu, Kenya, are busy selling fish from last night’s catch to fish mongers and distributors. I was in Kisumu with my friend Greg to Capture a sports event and also capture images of the local fishing culture. So on arrival the first thing we did was to inquire where fishing goes on, time fishermen arrive at the shores and also get a means to ride to the shores, at Dunga beach. One of the Tuk Tuk riders we talked to told us fishermen dock at 6am so we needed to leave for the beach by 5am since its a 30mins ride there. We were awake by 4:30 am haha and we arrived there at 5:30am, Captured dawn photos, sunrise, fishermen arriving and the trade. Had we not planned, we would have missed on this beautiful shot.
3. Be Original, Don’t chase images
With a huge number of images created every day, originality in photography seems to be becoming secondary for some photographers. And with apps like Pinterest and with the power of Google, we can easily find inspiration from images that have been done before. However, what would make your images stand out from the rest is how unique it is, something that has not been done before; may be from a different angle, a different time or a different subject. Don’t go to Paris to shoot Eiffel tower the way you saw it in a post card, try giving us a different view, your own masterpiece.
The image below: Mt. Kilimanjaro. Every tourist that visits the Amboseli national park or Loitokitok, love capturing Africa’s highest peak adjacent to wild animals. Having grown up for most of my childhood at the slopes of this magnificient creation, I wanted to show the world a different view, my view. This is a photo of Mt. Kilimanjaro in the dry season of July as seen in Illasit town. It is however a double exposure of two different angles, creating a whole new image that has never been taken before. Beautiful, isn’t it?
4. Capture Emotions.
Well, with emotions, we are definately relating to life, animals and most importantly, human beings. To capture emotions, we focus more on the faces and body language. What do the emotions tell us: Joy, Happiness, excitement, pain, horror, love and more. Your Images should tell us all this. Here is a quote for this; “The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.” – Elliott Erwitt
The Image Below: May 26 2018: Neymar Jr National Finals, Nairobi, Kenya. Reactions after the final whistle at the Neymar Jr 5s finals. The winners have just won a ticket to Brazil and the losers have nothing. This image was the cover of the Finals. It tells the stories of Jubilation for one team and the story of pain and heartbreak for another team. This is the power of emotions in story telling.
5. Never forget about Compostion and Lighting
These two are the main pillars of taking a good photo. They are all too easy to fall out of touch with, especially when you’re starting out. Focus too much on adding storytelling elements and you may well start paying less attention to composition and lighting. Now that you know it’s a possibility, you’ll be better armed to make sure it doesn’t happen. A friend of mine, Simon Chege from Lines Photography, always says ” Get it Right on Camera”. I can’t put it in any better way.
The image below: Fomo Party 2017. The classic Man, Jidenna performing at Carnivore, Nairobi. In this image, Jidenna was dancing to his song, Classic Man, and I wanted to capture his Towering image as the fans lifted their hands towards him, celebrating as if reaching out to a god. The idea was to make him appear like a god among the crowd. So I had to be at a lower position than him and also compose my shot to show the contrast between him, the mic and his fans and I waited just for the moment when the flood light shone on his body and got this beautiful image. Composition and lighting combined.
7. Be ready to shoot & Trigger happy
One way to get it right especially in wedding, concerts and sports photography is to always have your finger on the shutter button and take continuous shots. This narrows down the possibility of you missing out on that important shot, and the advantage is you can also use the series of shots to tell a story.
Ever watched a football match duing a corner kick? The moment the ball leaves the foot of the player hitting the corner, you will hear camera shutters clicking till the balls hits the net or goes out of the box. That way, sports photographers are assured atleast one good photo of the moment incase something interesting happens.
Image below: Freestyle footballer performs a trick during the Redbull Neymar Jr, Finals in Nairobi. In order to freeze this moment, I had to lie down on the ground and take a series of quick shots. I was shooting at 6.5 frames a second and from a series of 25photos, I settled for this. Remember, the more the clicks, the more the chance to get one right.
8. Get into the scene; Interact with your subjects
When most photographers start their journey, they are usually obsessed with the big zoom lenses they don’t have and believe that the moment they land their hands on one, all of their problems are sorted. Well, if you are one of them, am sorry to disappoint you. Its not about the gear but more about you as a person and how you interact with and interpret what you are shooting.
Unless shooting wildlife and sports, of which it’s insane to get close to your subjects physically, I would prefer you use Prime lenses. For what they lack in zoom, they are known to reciprocate in sharpness and Low light performance. My favorite lens is a 50mm lens. It is a mid range Prime lens giving you close to a human eye view. What I like about it is the fact that it allows you to get into the scene and shoot closer. It is my favorite lens for street and people documentary photography. An advantage of getting into the scene is the fact that you interact with the environment you are shooting and get to feel the ambiance and emotions. Trust you me, this plays a big impact on the images you will get because its not just about what you see but also about what you hear and feel.
Image below: Child admiring food at an Indian wedding at Oshwal Centre, Nairobi.
I was the photographer at this beautiful Indian wedding, and when it was time for food, I switched to my 50mm lens which allowed me to shoot quickly and at a closer distance to my subjects. When I reached where the catering team was, I could hear this boy asking for a particular sauce he was admiring, I immediately decided to capture the anticipation in his innocent face. If i hadn’t moved closer, I couldn’t have heard him, and I couldn’t have thought of it as something worth capturing. Oh! as a bonus, his parents decided to pose for a photo with him. haha
9. Be patient and Go Candid
“Telling a story is about letting a moment unfold. As the photographer, it’s important to have patience. Pause and wait for the magical pose, expression, or moment to happen. Be the fly on the wall, have your camera handy, and be ready to snap at any time.” Beryl Ayn Young
Image below: Looks like a coca-cola advert, right? It wasn’t. I was on a roadtrip working with Cheetah Safaris as their travel photographer. As we were walking to a boat, I noticed these two members of our team having a conversation. Immediately when they saw me, they pozed for a photo, but I told them I wasn’t ready yet.(I was but i wanted to catch them unawares) When they had forgotten about me, I waited for the perfect moment. Snap!! I got it, a moment frozen in time.
10. Have fun while shooting.
It is never that serious, even under high pressure, learn to enjoy photography, have fun while at it, don’t be scared of critics or those who are better than you at the moment. Someone once said that the difference between Here and There is the letter “T”, which stands for Time, you will get there. I am better than I was 1 year ago.
Even when it is past your working hours, go out there, take a stroll down the streets and continue shooting, most of the times while on assignment, especially documentary photography, my best photos are those that I took during my free time.
That’s all I have for today, hope it was informative. Have you learnt something? Or do you have more tips? please drop them at the comments section below, I would like to learn from you too. Share with your friends too.
Yours Photographer, Billy Miaron.
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