© 2013 Jill Hobson

What’s Your Story? Telling Beautifully Illustrated Stories with Your Photographs

Photo of an old schoolhouse in Western NC

Photo of an old schoolhouse in Western NC

I’m an amateur shutterbug. I’ve always love photography but the advent of the digital camera, I really became enamoured of the process.  I’ve spent years practicing at all the details of shooting with a digital single-lens reflex camera (DLSR).  I can explain the exposure triangle and I do regularly review the histogram of my shots.

And I know that there can almost be a caste system among photographers. Those who use the manual settings may look down their noses that those who leave everything on automatic and those with DSLR cameras may look down their noses at those who use the camera on a smart-phone. Well, I’m not one of those people!

In fact, though I enjoy all the aspects of shooting with a highly technical camera and I salivate at the thought of acquiring an EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM lens, I really believe that everybody can take a better photo just by paying attention and by focusing on telling a story with your photos.

I had the great pleasure to take a workshop with photographer Kathryn Kolb that really helped me to “see differently”. While what we do with the camera knobs and dials cannot be discounted, what we do with our eye is at least as, if not, more important!

Photography as Storytelling: Storytelling as Photography

Listen as photographer Douglas Kirkland talks about telling stories through photography.

 Enliven The Story Through Well Chosen Images

Which of these two shots better tells the story to the concept of a deep snowfall?

Isn’t that a fun game? Here are two more. To make it even more exciting, what’s the concept and which better tells the story?

Eight Strategies for Taking Better Photographs

These ideas come from a huge variety of readings, workshops I’ve taken, fellow photographer friends and my own personal wrestling around with taking pictures.

  1. Change Angles – Shoot low or high or turn the camera 45 degrees. This photo by Matt Maness is a great example. And this one by Steeve Le Gal is good too.
  2. Use Your Foot Zoom – Yes your camera may have a zoom function on it and you might have one of those 500mm lenses that I dream about. That doesn’t excuse using your feet to move in closer to your subject. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.
  3. Move Around – Directly related to getting closer is moving around.  Not just a couple of steps either. It’s a good idea to move completely to another spot to see if you get something more interesting.  I had that experience shooting one morning at the beach. Trying to get shots of the pier. It wasn’t until I started moving that I realized what the reflection was doing.
  4. Macro Photography – This is an art form all of its own and it offers some great stories.  How would you caption this one by Fabrice Chevrier? Could you write a six word story for this awesome photo by Erik Roland Grooten?
  5. S Curves – These really help the eye move through a photo. Here’s an example of one by Scott Baldock Photography. And a classic one from Mike Danneman
  6. Leading Lines – This is related to the S curve and rather than forming that serpentine movement through the photo. These are lines that move the eye from one place to another. Here’s an example and another of my own.
  7. Rule of ThirdsDarren Rouse from the Digital Photography School does an excellent job of explaining the rule of thirds so I’ll let that speak for this concept.
  8. Patterns – We naturally love to see patterns and make order even where there isn’t any.  Keep your eye out for times when you can tell the story through a pattern. Here’s one I took at the Denver Botanical Gardens. Another excellent example is provided by Rob Travis.
App-y To Edit

While I think most professional photographers would suggest editing with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, for the rest of us the explosion of tools available for the smartphone and tablet are worth investigating.  There are too many to talk about all of them and those available change very quickly. My criteria for this list were that the app had to be available on iOS and Android, it had to be EASY, and it had to add unique value. So here goes:

  1. Be Funky – I love the online version and the app version is just as awesome.
  2. My Sketch – This is a very specific tool that creates interesting effects.
  3. Snapseed – A wonderful all purpose photo-editing tool.
  4. Adobe Photoshop Express – Here’s your chance to try the pro tool for free.
  5. Photo Editor by Aviary – One of the only tools that is available for just about every platform.

Sometimes, we aren’t able to be our own photographer. That’s when it’s good to have some places to go for images that are royalty free. Just remember to always give credit where credit is due! You would want the same with your photos. Here are some that I like to use.

Photography Assignment Choices

The Mystery Macro Photography Assignment

The inspiration for this activity actually goes back to an old magazine called Games Magazine which had (has) an activity in it called Eyeball Benders.  See a sample here. Another site with a similar concept is MysteryPhotos.com.

The Six Word Story

This exercise involves telling a story with only one picture and creating the six word caption to go with the story.  See this Tumbler site for some examples. There is a flickr pool for six word stories as well.

Place Based Photography via Windows and Doors

Here’s a great article on the value of Place-Based Education from Edutopia. The idea of photographing windows and doors as a exercise in improving your eye for great photos is not new.  Here’s one assignment along the same lines. Here’s another one from Digital Photo Academy. The goal I have is that your photos will capture the essence of the place. So if you take a photo of a door that could be in any city in the world, that’s not quite hitting the mark. And here’s a photo of a door in Italy by Helen that really tells the story of Italy. And look at this French Door from Judith Montano.

Other random Digital Storytelling Resources


The bottom line is to have fun and enjoy the journey.  Be sure that you are capturing the story in every moment as you take your photos.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Skip to toolbar