The most powerful photograph is the one that connects with both the heart and mind of the reader. It’s the image that our imaginations keep returning to, and keep asking questions about; the image that stirs something in our emotions. That captivation is what prolongs our experience of the photograph, it’s what grabs our souls and won’t let go. It’s more human. And more than ever we need photographs that are deeply human, empathetic, insightful.
We’re drowning in megapixels – beautiful, sharp, megapixels – by the billions. The more photographs that get flung into the world, mostly online, the harder it’s going to be for any single image to connect, to resonate, and to never let go. Our best hope is that we can push past the size of our photographs and create depth. Not bit depth. Emotional depth. Depth of connection. Those will be the images to which we cling, the images that resonate with us and stick.
Once you’ve got your exposure figured out, and can competently focus an image, two things the camera is getting very good at doing, the only thing left is to create something that connects. That’s the human task, the part that requires creativity, soul, and something to say. We do that with composition, with colour, with our choice of moments, and we do it with storytelling.
“Our best hope is that we can push past the size of our photographs and create depth. Not bit depth. Emotional depth. Depth of connection. Those will be the images to which we cling, the images that resonate with us and stick.”
Human beings are storytelling creatures. We find meaning there, we find hope. It’s how we change minds and stir hearts to action. And knowing how to use your camera won’t help you with this. This part of the photographic journey is done with the heart and the imagination, because it’s the heart and the imagination to which we speak on the other side of the image.
In all the gloom about how hard it is to make a living as a photographer, and how de-valued our craft has become, there is hope. That hope is that we have always, and will always, hunger for stories. That hunger is hard-wired into us. You couldn’t stop it if you tried. For the photographer wanting to find deeper relevance and connection to his audience, there are ways to do that powerfully, one of those is storytelling. The more human, the more honest and vulnerable the better.
What story does your work tell? With what bigger story do you feed your audience – on gallery walls, your portfolio, your Instagram feed? How could you tighten that story, edit it down, reduce it to its most powerful elements? How can we make it a little more universal and a little less about ourselves?
*Update: The Photographic Story eBook and Companion video are now available at Craft & Vision.
Next week I’ll be releasing my latest project, a resource I’ve been working a long time on called The Photographic Story, How To Use Storytelling To Make More Powerful Photographs. It’s an eBook and Companion video designed to help you understand the elements of storytelling and how they can be used to tell more compelling visual stories. I hope it’ll help you push a little deeper in your craft and spark some new ideas. The timing is intentional because the next day I get on a plane for Kenya. I’ve got a couple safaris to photograph then two weeks up north to continue my work with the BOMA Project. So you won’t hear much from me until I’m home and this will give you something to work through. When I get back I’d like to spend some time on Facebook answering your questions and discussing the book, so I’ve set aside February 23 for that. You write questions – about storytelling or any other photographic topic, and I’ll reply as best I can.
Share this Post, Share the Love.
Great article! Thank you David for this wonderful work.
I can’t tell you how much I really needed to read this today. Lately, I’ve been so caught up with learning the “technical” side of photography (ok, for ME this means learning EVERYTHING about my camera, etc. as I know almost zilch about anything except point and shoot). While of course I still need to learn that part in order to get my point across better in photos, I need to chill out and realize the REAL reason for my passion to become a decent photographer – stopping those moments in time and seeing those hidden treasures your eyes miss sometimes until you actually see the photo and discover those kinds of special gems, Thanks!!!
I really enjoyed your new book The Photographic Story (as I usually enjoy all your writings). I also like your comment in the Vision Collective that images don’t always need to be about a story but can just as powerfully be a poem. Unfortunately I was let down at the end of that because you chose only “stories” for your “Study the Masters” section. Who are the masters you’d point us to for the powerful, engaging poetry?
It is so vital for pictures to have a story. In the event that a man is incorporated their should be a signal and feeling that interfaces us to the picture. Tragically excessively numerous pictures don’t have the spirit and life you discuss. Feel your new book is imperative in today’s work of super pictures. Supports and good fortunes your voyages.
Looking forward to the photo stories ebook. It is coincidental that it is also my photographic focus in 2017. My two pronged focus is creating stories that say something and simplifying my photographic images.
Hi David, I agree with you, we are drawn to stories like a moth to flame. Spark to flame, flame to passion. We all have different passions, that started from different sparks, but storytelling keeps us focused on sharing. I’m looking forward to your next book(s) ! I love your writing and the photographs you make. Hope you have wonderful experiences in Kenya. David, you inspire me.
Thank you so much David! it is so imperative for pictures to have a story. On the off chance that a man is incorporated their should be a signal and feeling that interfaces us to the picture. Sadly excessively numerous pictures don’t have the spirit and life you discuss. Feel your new book is vital in todays work of super pictures. Applauds and good fortunes your voyages.
That is a fabulous image and really makes your point about “storytelling.” I can almost “feel” the humidity. Loved it the first time I saw it, great to see it again.
I have always loved this quote, as well.
“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
Thanks David it is so important for images to have a story. If a person is included their needs to be a gesture and emotion that connects us to the image. Unfortunately too many images don’t have the soul and life you talk about. Feel your new book is important in todays work of mega pictures. Cheers and good luck on your journeys.
I’ve pared down the blogs I read and whose thoughts I value, but your blog is always in the MOST WORTHWHILE category! I didn’t get into photography to spend hours bogged down in technical talk or behind a computer screen, my joy comes from the connection, the heart of the matter. Your values of honesty and vulnerability are the elements I most want to bring to my pictures. Can’t wait to learn more about your next offering on Storytelling!
Thank you, Donna. The hardest part about blogging is knowing whether what I write is relevant. If there’s ever anything you’d like to read more about, or questions you’d like to hear my response to, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
Very well said David! Thank you! Looking forward to “The Photographic Story”!
Thank you, Michael.