006. Photography Tips: How to Tell a Visual Story

I want to do at least one weekly post that specifically touches on a photography tip or technique. For today I thought I would start with the most basic idea - how to tell a visual story with your photography.

Mountain Wedding on a Horse Ranch, 2014..

Mountain Wedding on a Horse Ranch, 2014..

As a wedding photographer, I was required to not only capture the important moments of the day, but to capture images that when viewed individually or as a whole, told a story. This was probably my favorite part about shooting weddings, because it allowed me to use my artistic voice in a unique way. Anyone can take a photograph of a dress, so what sets your image apart? What makes it special? Perhaps seeing it as more than a dress. It's the one piece of clothing the bride chose for the most special day of her life. It not only holds up the tradition of wearing a beautiful dress, but it represents part of her that she wants to share with her friends and family. So finding some special or unique about it, or hanging it somewhere that incorporates other elements of the wedding will enhance the meaning of your image.

You can apply this same idea to any genre of photography. 

My favorite genre is travel photography, and my approach to it is the same. To capture a landscape, you can take the obvious approach -  a wide angle view of the most interesting part of the scenery.

Wide view, showing the vast landscape. Scotland, 2016.

Wide view, showing the vast landscape. Scotland, 2016.

OR, you can think about what makes the place special - what elements are unique and have personality?

Closeup of grasses with the same mountains in the distance. Scotland, 2016.

Closeup of grasses with the same mountains in the distance. Scotland, 2016.

The example above approaches the landscape in a different way. It captures the mountains in the distance, giving it context, but focuses on the tall grasses blowing in the wind in the foreground, telling a story. Showing the viewer a small glimpse of what the terrain is like. 

The first step, is taking lots of photos (practice). The more you experiment, the more you will develop your eye for composition and exposure. Not every good image is perfectly exposed by textbook standards. Always ask yourself, "what am I trying to say with this image?"

The Bride, taking a moment to herself after an overwhelmingly emotional ceremony, 2015.

Tip for beginners: shoot in RAW format in order to capture as much data as possible. That way you can edit the exposure after the fact. This will give you a little breathing room when you're starting out! It is also a lifesaver for wedding and event photography, when the fast-paced nature of the day leaves little room for learning on the job.

It's easy to get caught up in buying new equipment, obsessing over clarity and levels and grain of an image. But don't ever forget, much like painting or sculpting, it is your unique vision that will make your images special. The stories you tell are what set you apart.