Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Building the Visual Narrative

The Visual Narrative

When photographing a picture story, there are several important elements that you need to be looking for while shooting. These will help you to build a coherent story as you edit.

The Lead Picture:

All stories need a picture that sums up the essence of the message you are trying to communicate about your subjects. Keep asking yourself, while you spend time with your subjects, what is the story here? What, in a few short sentences, describes the arc of these people’s lives and how can I show that? Give your story a title, this will help you sum up what your story is about.

The Scene Setter:

We need to have a sense of place in every story. Where are we? Where is this story taking place? A farm, hospital room, a street a kitchen?

The Portrait:

If your story is about people, as most of them will be, we need to get a good look at their faces. A portrait can be something captured in the course of covering their daily lives or it could be something more formal with or without eye contact.


This is the meat and potatoes of most picture stories. We need to see spontaneous moments where your subjects are interacting with their families, friends, environments, pets, or even themselves. These should be telling moments that give further information supporting what you are trying to say about your subjects.


In all of your pictures look for moments. A moment is a place in time when the action in a photograph reaches some kind of resolution or peak. All the elements in the frame converge for a split second to reveal the essence of that particular situation. Look for moments that reveal the inner story of our subjects. How do they feel about their lives, their partners, friends and their situation.


You can add texture and visual variety to a story with a telling detail of personal objects, a pair of shoes, an old wedding photo, dirty hands, a tattered hem, a treasured toy, etc.

Shooting any idea or assignment as a picture story will give you an organized way to cover any subject. Even if ultimately only one photograph will be used from your take you will know your subject better and give editors more options which may lead them to run more of your pictures.

This technique is also useful if you aspire to do longer projects for magazines or books. Working to create visual narratives will help you organize your approach to a subject and you will begin to create a body of work that is about something and goes beyond a collection of unrelated single images.

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