Storytelling and Emotion: A Day in the Life

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The photos throughout are the result of my day in the life for September. This is a year-long project for me where once a month I capture my day. It’s not easy but I’m learning the art of storytelling.

Lately I’ve considered why I love photography, and I know in my heart it’s the art. I’m drawn to the fine art or artistic side of photography. It’s only recently that I’ve come to recognize the power of storytelling as an art.

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I have to admit, two years ago I would’ve said I had no interest in photojournalism. Today, I feel different. There is an art to photojournalism that draws me in. With any art though you have to tell a story, or make a statement. Without this, your photos fall flat. 

A story or statement can be about anything. They can be an event, the personality trait of someone, a remark on life, or even the intricate details an artist puts into her embroidery. As a product photographer, I always thought of the story I wanted to tell with each product.

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Yesterday, a friend of mine and I admired a large piece of pencil art by an eighth grader. I knew why I loved it – it was my style, I immediately saw the story, and it was a dramatic and intense story. I could sense the fear the artist portrayed in a single eye. 

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My friend loved it for another reason – the emotion of fear she immediately saw and recognized. The image drew her to stop and look at it because the art depicted a powerful emotion. That emotion amazed us and that the artist created it by drawing only an eye. But there was more to the picture than the eye. I saw the rest of the story and pointed it out to my friend – there was a dark figure looming as a reflection in the eye. It made the story come together and the emotion of fear increase. The emotion and the story worked together to create a powerful piece of art.

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Here is what I think I’m trying to say: storytelling is imperative if you want to connect with your viewers. Work on your storytelling, make it speak clearly through your images. But, your great images will include emotion. Make your viewers feel something for the most impact. If that artist had not expertly drawn fear into her work, then we might’ve glanced at the picture without a second look and missed the entire story. But because the fear depicted wowed my friend, we stopped and read the story. 

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How do you insert emotion into a photo? First you have to feel. Connect to what you are shooting. Draw out the emotions then find the best way to represent them as a story. 

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I’m not sure if my storytelling improved this year but I realized, as I went through a deep valley of hating my own work this summer, why I hated it. Much of it was good, but it lacked emotion. Now, I’m hoping to pull out of the valley and begin capturing more powerful photos with emotion. Not every image will include lots of emotion, but if I can begin to represent more of it in my work, the more I’ll love it.

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Next week I begin mentoring 8th graders in their photography. I have many objectives with them; how to tell visual stories, how to take better photos, how to tell a good story, how to read a story in an image, how to tell stories about our community, and how we capture emotion. I think this all applies to everyone who creates photos.

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The students are only using the tools they have, an iPad, but with that tool there’s a lot they can say. I’m super excited because I get to show them they have a voice with that one tool, how to use that voice, and the importance of their voice in our community. The tools I’ll teach them are storytelling and emotion.

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