August 19, 2016

Storytelling with your Photography


Every picture you shoot tells a story.

At a wedding I was shooting with my wife, I headed outside of the reception venue to capture some exterior shots of the venue. While I was shooting, one of the videographers working the wedding approached me and he said, “Sometimes I wish I did photography instead of videography. You guys have it so easy, because you don’t have to do any storytelling.” I just smiled in response, but in my head I was sighing in exasperation.

Every picture you shoot tells a story. Some pictures will tell multiple stories. Make sure that one of those stories is that you are a great photographer. As a photographer (who used to be a videographer), I have spent a lot of time working on making sure I can light shots well, focus well, and that I can compose shots well. If you are a professional photographer, then lighting, focus, and composition should be natural to you. If they are not natural, then shoot more until they are natural. This way your mind is freed up to think about the story that you are telling throughout the shoot. Your real goal when you shoot is to capture compelling stories. Focus on trying to capture the essence of your subjects whenever you see that bubble up to the surface of their skin, to capture the way they feel about each other, and to capture the way they feel in relation to those around them and their environment.

If every picture tells a story, then as the photographer you are the author of that story. If you do not capture a good story, then someone else will. They will capture it on a phone or camera or just as a memory that they tell to their friends. A good story is better than a pretty picture or a beautiful video. A good story lives on in the memories of everyone that comes into contact with it, so make sure every picture you shoot is telling a great story.

The important part is that there was a vision.

So here’s one of my favorite images from 2015 that my wife and I captured. Think about what it conveys to you, and the story its telling, then I’ll go into a little bit of detail below about the photo and what it meant to us.

What we hoped to capture in this photo of a flower girl having lipstick applied by the bride, is the flower girl’s desire to be older. With the lipstick, does she look older? Does she look more beautiful? Is the bride, her aunt, proud of her? Does the bride see herself in the flower girl when she was younger, yearning to be older, to be married, to love and know that she is loved? The way the flower girl is looking into the camera signifies that she’s aware of the camera and that she’s curious about how she looks. This vanity is both childish and mature. It’s adorable. At some point in time, we were all this kid, wanting to be older, wanting to grow up, seeking love and attention. Also, at some point in time, we have all been or will be, this bride, indulging a small child’s fantasy of maturity and reveling in how adorable it is for someone younger to desire to be older.

That’s the story as I see it. Either you see that, or parts of that, or you do not see it. The important part is that there was a vision. The way the shot was composed was meant to bring that vision to life. As you shoot more, many times this will happen in a matter of milliseconds. Hopefully the storytelling will become second nature, just like lighting, focus, and composition.

Stories are what matter most to us.

Here’s another one of my favorite photos from last year.

This is a photo of the bride and groom kissing. I used a prism to make the reflection. What I hoped to portray is how beautiful the reality of marriage is through the portrait of the kiss, and how when we romanticize marriage we end up with this dark reflection of it, which while being beautiful emphasizes the fantasy over the reality. It is upside down (literally and figuratively). Their kiss is reflecting over onto itself, and the reflection ends up like many memories, distorted, beautiful, and misleading. The important part of the wedding day is the couple and the future they are making together, not the way the sky looks or whether the decorations were perfect or whether the DJ played the right songs at the right time. I wanted them to look like they were rising out of that fantasy captured in the reflection, like they were more than that romanticized version of their wedding day. That is in itself romanticizing the photo, but that’s the story I was trying to convey.

I hope when Jenn and I shoot weddings that we always capture stories, and not just pretty pictures. I do not care if we are shooting the venues without any people in them, details that will just be included in the blog post and the wedding album, or if we are capturing the bride and groom and their guests. The goal is to always tell a story about the wedding day. Stories are what matter most to us. They matter the most, because they resonate deeply with us and make our work relatable to other people.

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