Storytelling with Photography

Storytelling example

Last post, I mentioned four elements of captivating photography. Light, composition, and subject are the more standard elements that are necessary for a photo that can really attract your audience. The fourth element I wrote about was impact. Since I’ve discussed impact previously, I’ll let you read the previous posts, What Makes A Good Photo and Elements of Captivating Photos, if you need a reminder. Beyond that, there are also a few other elements I think are important to capturing shots that really stand out. These could stand alone as suggestions to improve your photography. But they can also be applied to broader and very often important concept – storytelling with photography. 

Telling a Story: Single Shot or Series

Not everything can be understood from photos, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that a captivating photo has the ability to tell parts of a story.  Now, many people have heard this concept before. But what does it really mean and how do you get the photo to speak in place of words?

First, it’s important to decide if your intention is to capture a series or a single shot. A series gives you a bit more leeway to tell a story by piecing several photos together to construct a visual narrative. Whereas, a single photo can, at least partially, begin to tell a story. 

We are all looking to get that one “wow” shot. It’s the shot we post on social media or immediately upload to our portfolio. If done properly, that can work for a single shot story. However, when shooting a series, storytelling often involves capturing a variety of shots, bringing several aspects of the story together to create a more complete account. When shooting a series, this can include getting in close, focusing on smaller details, going for a broader scope and, of course, everything in between.

How to Tell a Story

Let’s start with a bit of a refresher from our school days. Think of writing. Maybe it will help to think of your favorite book. Thanks to COVID-19, during lockdown in Bulgaria I got into Harry Potter (I know I’m a few years late, but whatever). I’m going to think of Harry Potter, but you are free to think of any other book. But I digress…

The basic elements of a story include:

We can further expand this list with:

Landscape Sunset Storytelling

Storytelling Elements and Photography

These same elements can come together to create a visual narrative for photography, in particular a series of shots. Below are a few examples for each story element from the Harry Potter series since it’s currently on my mind (I just started book 6) along with a few thoughts for each of the elements. 

Think about what photos you would make to portray the elements. Or if you haven’t read Harry Potter, you hated it, or just rather think of some other story, then that’s fine as well.

The Basics

The Expansions


While you can certainly get away without covering all of these, since you aren’t actually writing a story after all, they can be beneficial elements to your visual narrative in a series of shots. 

So, with all that information to consider for a series of shots, you can imagine you would be less likely to capture all of this information in a single cohesive and comprehensive photo. This is not to say you shouldn’t just take a single photo, but you are likely to leave out bits and pieces of the narrative. That said, there are some truly amazing short stories and micro-fiction out there written by the likes of Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, Edgar Allen Poe, Ernest Hemingway, and Anton Chekhov (to name a few). So, certainly do what works for you, whether a single shot or a series, there are plenty of impactful stories to be told. 

Noive monk storytelling photo

Tips for Storytelling with Photography

So, now that we have discussed storytelling with photography here are a few tips to find and capture the above elements. Of course, they can be applied for single shot stories or a series.  

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.   

– Anton Chekov

If you’d like to share some storytelling shots tag me on Instagram@ted_stanton_photography, with your photos. 

Also, check out my free ebook, 5 Unique Photo Challenges, for some inspiration while practicing storytelling with photography. Sign up for the Photography Insight Journal using the form at the bottom of the page to receive the link to download a copy.

2 thoughts on “Storytelling with Photography

  1. David Cuhney says:

    Really great content! Lots of good advice.

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