Photographs are powerful storytellers. There are great photos that are pretty or interesting, but often the photo that tells a story tugs at most of us. The ones that make you laugh, feel happy or sad, or the ones that make you sit there and think. You might know the ones where you find you’ve stared at it and then wonder why. Or the ones that grasp you and hold you until suddenly you hear the seventh momma from your child.
Sometimes I wonder if a written day in the life would be different from my photography day in the life. One day – I think I’ll try it. For now though my personal project this year leads me to shoot a day in the life, once a month. I wanted to work on my storytelling skills with my camera, and figured this is one of the best ways to do it. So, once a month, I keep my camera closer to me than normal and shoot my day, no matter the mess, the moments, nor the camera (because sometimes it is my phone).
Visual stories are important because we view photos more often than read stories today. As a teacher I have to believe it unfortunate, but as a photographer I believe even more in the power of a storytelling photograph. I’m not saying the photograph has to be moving to be powerful. No, if a photo makes you laugh that’s pretty powerful.
So, how do you tell a story with photos? Much goes into a great storytelling photo and there’s different approaches. This month I wanted to focus on approaching it like a newspaper article.
When shooting your own day in the life, you need to look at your day as a story that unfolds. Do you remember in 5th grade when you learned the main questions to answer for an article were the 5 Ws? It’s the same with a photograph. First answer who. The who is your main subject and your supporting subjects. You have to decide how you’ll communicate they’re the main subject and supporting subjects. Are they highlighted with light, more prominent, or in focus? There are tons of ways to draw attention to a subject. You only have to decide how.
The what describes the action or moment. You decide how you capture that action or moment. What do you leave out that is implied, what do you include? Often, objects not related to the moment or action are unnecessary and shouldn’t be in the frame.
You answer when with more subtle clues for your viewer. A child in pajamas with a cereal bowl tells a viewer its morning. The light streaming through a window indicates early morning or late afternoon. Use light and culture cues to answer your when.
Your next question, where, is simple enough to answer but it’s a matter of knowing how to answer it. If you shoot a detail shot, or even a mid-ground shot you may miss your where. If the where is important to your story, make sure you include a wide, environmental shot.
Answering why is the final part of the story shot. Within the action, you will most likely also answer why someone is doing something. It may take a series of photos to get the why and the outcome so keep shooting through.
Keeping these questions in mind while shooting a day in the life will help you tell better stories of your day. Even more so, keeping these questions in mind helps determine how to take a better storytelling shot anytime.
My day in the life photos aren’t meant to be powerful, instead they tell a story – a glimpse into my life for the day. Some photos I find funny, others are the in-between moments, and others tell a little bit about our lives now. And at the end of the year, combined they’ll make a great year book for my family.