Every time we see an image, our brains immediately begin filling in the blanks and creating a story behind the picture. As a photographer, one of our goals should be to help guide people to see the story we want them to see in our images. There are three easy steps to help us to start doing this.
Scope out the Scene
When I first arrive at a destination where I plan to take photos, the first thing I do is take a look around. I look at the general setting and identify potential photo ideas. The general setting is going to help me identify the story I want to tell about the place, and the individual photo ideas are the parts of the story I want to tell.
I try to make sure to get a mixture of both wide angle photos that show the whole scene, as well as close up, detailed shots, as a way of helping me refine the story I am telling myself as I photograph, and hope to eventually tell the viewer.
Isolate your main subject
Ensure you identify and isolate your main subject in your images. This makes it so much easier to communicate your story to the viewer and for them to identify it when viewing your photo later. If you don’t, people won’t know what is important, what that person is doing, and why.
The main subject can be as large as the entire city if viewing from an appropriate vantage point, or could be a single item or person in a crowded place. Choosing your subject will then lead you to the best way to create your composition and make the image interesting.
There are several ways you can add some interest to an otherwise ordinary photo composition. Simple techniques include trying to change your angle of view or perspective. Get down low (one of my favorites) or shoot from above to show more of the scene as it plays out in front of you.
Add something to the foreground that adds to the story such as shooting through a doorway or around another person, or a tree branch, or show part of the ground or sky.
If you are capturing movement and need this to tell your story then play with your shutter speed to freeze motion or slow it down to create a panning/motion blur effect.
In order to really engage the viewer, your photo must make them look twice and help them to understand what they are seeing.
Recently, I was walking around the harbour waterfront and I began to notice how the high-rise office buildings seemed to come right down to the waterfront and touch the sea. The day I was there the sea was crashing against the wharves and rocks creating lots of splashing. So my story became how the buildings were dominating the central city and were taking over the harbour. To help tell this story I created a multi-shot image to overlap the buildings so there appeared to be more of them in the photo and this also had the benefit of adding interest to the final image.
I hope these 3 ideas have started you thinking about you could create stories next time you are taking images.