Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How to create a narrative with your photos

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

I take pictures because I love to hold on to memories and my favorite thing about photography is that I can capture moments that actually happened.  I like to save things and photography is the best way for me to do that.  Narrative photography has to do with selecting images and scenes to create or tell a story.  Instead of focusing on one key moment of an event, narrative photography captures moments throughout an event that allow the story to unfold. 

We went on a lot of walks in London when I was there to visit friends last week and one afternoon, on our way to the Tate Modern, we found ourselves crossing the London Bridge and then wandering over to the Borough Market.  There was so much going on from the delicious goods for sale, to the people working there and the folks hanging out at the pubs.  I started to make up all these stories as I made my way up and down the aisles in the market and into the street.  I used the photos to create a small narrative about my visit and here are some tips on how to develop and evolve your own story-telling skills with your photographs.

1.  What is the story you want to tell?

The first question to ask yourself is "what is the story that you want to tell?"  Still photographs, like all art, are able to draw emotion and convey stories and this is what I love so much about the medium.  Think about what you want your photos to do and how you will create the story that they are purporting to tell.  Keep in mind how you want people to feel when they look at them. 


2.  Think about what the photos might be.


This is a simplistic road map that I like to use:
Introduce the location, give a face to the story, add context to those stories.


Do some research and make a list of ideas for shots before you go to a particular location and take a lot of photos once you're there.  I tend to take way too many pictures and then have a really hard time narrowing down my images so I always say not to worry about editing the shots until later.  This is a process and it's something that takes practice and I'm definitely honing and developing (photographer pun!) my editing skills on a daily basis and you will too.  Once you've edited your shots (I took about 50 photos of this place) organize them in a way that constructs the story you're telling, which brings us to step 3.

3.  Construct the narrative.
 
Like all stories, narrative photography will have a beginning, a middle (the plot) and an end.   I'm always thinking about this basic linear construct when ever I am out shooting and plot shots will probably make up the majority of your photographic story, like they do mine. Plot, or middle, photos not only show what is happening in a particular scene but they also explore themes and ideas and these tend to be the photos that really evoke the most feeling.  For example, can't you imagine how fantastic it would be to smell one of those colorful flowers or taste that paella?  Does the fish stink and are the tomatoes really that red? 

Since this is just a road map I don't think that the story needs to be completely flushed out before you go out with your camera (unless it's an assignment, obviously, and you have a directive).  Good stories examine ideas, evoke feelings and provide an experience.
 
Having said that,  I love that even though you as the photographer creates the story lines, narrative photography allows the viewer to draw his own conclusions about what they think the story might (or should) be. 

Do you have any tips that you can share?  I'd love to hear...

Copyright Monica L. Shulman
Crossing London Bridge with a view of Tower Bridge and the Olympic rings!

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman
I purposely left the woman about to walk in the shot to convey the slight chaos of the scene.  Also, I love that in London people go to the pub in the middle of the day and just drink pints out on the street during their lunch hour.  These were taken on a Friday afternoon.
Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman


Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Check out digital photography school for some more great tips and this really helpful post for learning more about photography and the theories behind creating a narrative.


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7 comments:

Cupcakes and Cashmere said...

LOVED these shots and your advice on how to create a narrative (especially how you kept that women in the shot to show the chaos). So beautiful and makes me want to visit! xx

Monica L. Shulman said...

Thank you! And you should absolutely visit London one day. I think you would love the sights and never mind the food and the shopping:)

José Angel García Landa said...

Made me think of a post I wrote on the narrativity of photoblogs (in Spanish): http://vanityfea.blogspot.com.es/2009/12/narratividad-del-fotoblog.html
I'm turning it into an article in English, I think I'll be quoting this post.

Amy said...

Hey! It's been a while since I've commented, as I've been out of the blogging loop for a while, but I'm loving loving your London photos, I spent 5 months there a few years ago, and these photos are making me ITCH to go back! Thanks for sharing! XO - Amy

Monica L. Shulman said...

Jose, gracias por pasar y seria buenisimo incluir este post. Te agradezo.

Monica L. Shulman said...

Hi, Amy! Thanks so much for your visit. It's so nice to see you here again. I hope all is well and so glad you like the photos. I think a return trip is definitely in order for you:)

Elisa @ Globetrotting in Heels said...

I LOVE London! It's one of my favorite places in the world, I never ever get tired of it.

Nice photos!