Story telling with images

Could you tell a visual story in just six images? Andrew James reckons you can and has his own mini-project to help get your creativity flowing...

You will often hear me or Andy R talking about storytelling with your images but what do we actually mean when we come out with this phrase? There’s the old adage that a picture paints a thousand words and while, to some degree, this is absolutely true, we’re more referring to the idea that by building up a series of images (a project) on something specific you can help to visually create a narrative that other people can understand.

Andy R is often looking for a group of images that when viewed together, perhaps in a book, will deliver a message about a species or simply reveal insight into how they live their lives. For example, let’s take Andy’s book Gorillas, Living on the Edge as an example. If you have a copy grab it now and flick through the pages. What you will see is a set of very different images dealing with different aspects of the daily lives of the Mountain Gorillas, their habitat and the things that may threaten that existence. Each image has been carefully selected to help the viewer understand more about these things. While the subject remains the same, the images are very different each time you turn the page.

I was talking recently to a well-known landscape photographer called Colin Prior who is embarking on a mammoth project to photograph a mountain landscape in Pakistan. His ultimate aim is to create a book that does justice to the epic scenery he encounters when he goes there. What’s the biggest hurdle to this, I enquired, expecting the answer to revolve around the basic difficulties of having to trek and climb a glacier and carry everything with you for a month long stay in the wilderness. But no, this was just mere logistics. The biggest hurdle is having the variety of images that make a coffee table book worthwhile. Otherwise, he said, the viewer simply gets mountain fatigue and by the end of the book one stunning view looks very much like the other. Essentially his task was to look for the details about the landscape that can be slotted between those breathtaking vistas to break up the pace.

Okay, so a book is a very grand project that may not be on your list of things to achieve any time soon. But the point is well made. If you look at a species of animal or a landscape from only one viewpoint then you will only ever tell one page of its story. Now apply this thought to anything you photograph and you can start to develop your photography further. A project can take a day, a week, a year, or even a lifetime to achieve but if you set out to tell the story of something with your images then you will inevitably start to shoot with greater variety and discover avenues you had previously ignored.

Let’s put the concept of books, mountains and mountain gorillas to one side. I go to France several times a year and there is a place I know well that interests me. And for the purposes of this article I decided I wanted to try and spent a few days capturing a series of images that, at least, tells some of its story. But to make me think even harder about every images I took, I set myself the challenge of trying to tell the story in no more than six images. Of course I took more than six and that has meant a lot of editing down of the images afterwards, but it still stopped me from simply pointing and shooting at everything. Choosing just six images to deliver a narrative isn't easy. It's taken me almost as long to whittle down a shortlist of 18 to the six I am going to show here. I've even had to leave out a couple of my favourite images from the sessions because they didn't seem to fit well enough with my short visual story.

Coming up are the six images I chose, with some commentary on each one to tell you why I chose it as part of my mini-story. There’s not a huge amount of instruction here, just some food for thought that will hopefully inspire you think about what it is you are trying to say with your images.

Click on the audio button for some commentary on the thinking behind each photo.

Shoot your own mini-project

Have a go at creating your own mini-project. The subject doesn't really matter, it's the intention of trying to tell a story with just six images that you will find a challenge but a rewarding one that you can definitely learn from. My guess is that if you do this it will even help you think harder for the next FotoMission!

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