Storytelling photography is the art of capturing a scene or a passage of time in a series of frames. When these frames are presented together as a photo essay, one after the other, sometimes as a collage or an album, they can tell a story in a much more emotive way than a single shot can.
Storytelling photography can be used for lots of different life events and milestones. Weddings or parties lend themselves well to this style of photography where the entire event can be shown visually from beginning to end. Lots of photographers like to be use storytelling techniques for long-term projects such as capturing the growth of a baby over an entire year, or travel photo diaries.
However, storytelling photography can be applied to much simpler experiences, such as a “day in the life” type of project, broken down into a series of moments from morning coffee through to watching the sun set at the end of the day. The trick to capturing a series of simple (or perhaps even mundane) moments in an artful way is the variety of shots you take, the viewpoints you use, and the way you choose to combine images to give the observer a sense of “being there” with you, the photographer.
See below for a list of shots that are commonly used in storytelling photography, and remember just like a written story, there should be a beginning, middle and end - whether the story you’re telling occurs over a matter of minutes or months.
1) Pullback/wide shots
This helps to show the setting where the story is taking place and the world around the subjects in the story. A few wide shots are best presented as the opening images in a story before moving in closer for later shots to pull focus towards the subjects at the centre of the story, like the photographer has done in the proposal story below.
Images taken by Ryan Polei
2) Portrait photos
Shots of the subjects you’re photographing are as crucial to a photo essay as character descriptions are in a book. Try to show your subjects in relation to their environment as well as using portrait photography techniques, to capture on their facial features and expressions. Subjects can be people you know, or several different passers-by in a lifestyle photo session street scene. Without a human element, storytelling photography lacks soul, and is basically still life or landscape photography.
3) Details photos
This requires shooting smaller aspects of the story that might otherwise go unnoticed. For example you couldn’t tell the story of a child’s birthday party without taking photos of the food and decorations, but the close up shots below provide a much fuller picture of the party theme, than if the food and decorations were only featured in wider party shots.
Image taken by Stephanie Richter
4) Unexpected photos
Having at least one photo that adds an extra layer to the story you’re telling will draw people looking at your photos into the story in a powerful way. For example the shots in the collage below taken the morning of a wedding, all show items in the home where the couple share their life together, but the photo with the note written to the bride by her husband-to-be about how he can’t wait to marry her adds an emotional impact to the story and an intimate insight into their relationship.
Images taken by Brooke Tasovac
5) The final photo
The last photo in your story should be an image that sums up the tale and leaves the viewer with a sense of closure, not wondering what happened next. For example in the photo below, which was taken as part of a "buying our first house” photography story, a shot of the couple settled and happy in their home has been used to wrap things up effectively.