How I Used Writing to Weave a Narrative Into a Photo Album

little girl looking through fence. toddler on hands and knees outside. black and white photo of a child looking at two horses in a field.

I created a photobook with captions, for my sister, featuring her two daughters. I had never created an album or photobook before, so I wasn’t sure how to organize the shots. Added to that, the photos were taken over a four week period. So, how did I combine all these to make a cohesive narrative? I wrote a bedtime story.

Manny (Male Nanny)

Just over a year ago I was handed the daunting task of childminding my two little nieces for a month. Little did I know that four weeks later I would go home, worn and weary, sleep for three days straight, and have a self-diagnosed mild form PTSD. Anyway, the time spent with them was indeed very fulfilling. And, even though there was much filling of nappies, there were also many opportunities for taking some cute, candid shots of the Princess and the Poop Demon.

Photo album ideas. Documentary photography. family photography. child photos.

The one in pink is the Princess. The little one makes giant poops, and is very happy about it.

Morning tantrums, atomic nappies, snotty noses, and sticky fingers all play a part in the wonderfully chaotic symphony that is the daily life of a young family (if this sounds like you but you don’t have a family, please get rid of those cats, Mary). I don’t know how you “day in the life” photographers do it. It must be exciting work as a professional. Like a wedding, but with fewer tears and more poop (hopefully). Fair enough, I was living with this family and had the extra responsibility of actually looking after the children, but still, everything is happening so fast. And the screaming… oh, God the screaming. 

I took my opportunities, however, but trying to get the older one to stop posing with a forced smile, like all kids are trained to do, was proving difficult. I had to resort to covert tactics. Which sounds a lot creepier when I write it out loud. Let me clarify; I would shoot her, either with a longer lens or try to catch her while her full attention was taken by one of the parents or the Poop Demon. Added to that, as these moments were mostly spontaneous, I had to be quite furtive and frictionless while taking my camera from my bag. All I’ll say about this is: Damn you, Velcro. Damn you to hell. I’m sure any wildlife photographer can sympathize with me on that one.

cute little girl. photograph of toddler. shallow depth of field. child portrait. outdoor portrait of little girl in warm coat.

"How shall I torment my uncle, today?"

Album        

Throughout these few weeks, I had no intention of making an album, I just wanted some nice shots of the kids that I could give to the parents. It wasn't until afterward that my brother-in-law approached me, and asked me if I could make an album which he could then give to my sister as a Christmas gift. I, of course, obliged, thinking how fun it would be. My excitement quickly turned to frustration, however, as I realized that the task was a little more complicated than I had initially thought. Because I didn’t set out with a clear goal, there seemed to be no cohesion to the collection of images that I had amassed. I was also left with questions I hadn't anticipated, like: How many images per page? Should I write captions? Monochrome or Color? So, instead of curling up into a little ball and weeping, I made some coffee and wrote out a plan of action. 

The Plan

  • Using Lightroom, I 3-starred all the best shots and 2-starred the average ones. My intention for the average ones was to use them to help connect the good shots together if there wasn’t an appropriate 3-star to fit my narrative.
  • I re-edited the shots. I had done some basic edits, just messing around, but I re-visited them to try to get a more consistent aesthetic.
  • I organized all the shots from mornings to evenings so as to make it seem like they were all taken during the same day. I took some poetic license here,  because, obviously, the clothes were different.   
  • Some photos just worked a lot better in black and white, especially the low light shots (high ISO), so I figured I would start with them i.e. go from black and white in the morning, to color in the afternoon. This also forced me to do some culling.
  • I then found a reasonably priced online printer where I could design the album.
  • The hard part was the actual story. I ended up inserting captions to help create a narrative and soon realized that I could make a bed-time story book which the parents could then read to the kids.
little girl on trampoline. photograph of girl lying on trampoline. candid portrait of child.

The Trampoline aka The Tear Maker.

The Story

Because I had spent so much time with the kids, I got to know their little quirks pretty well. The Princess had a vivid imagination (shocking, I know) and the Poop Demon liked food so much that her favorite word was "om" (like "nom"). "Do you want a yogurt?" "Om!" "Do you want to watch a cartoon?" "Om!" So, the story centered around the little one looking for food and the older one pretending to have food. They both get tired, Daddy shows up, and then all they want is their Mommy. It's the first time in the album that the little one says anything other than "Om." Did I mention that they live on a stud farm? Yes, I had thoroughbred horses as props. It doesn't get much more whimsical than that. Princesses, Ponies, and Demons. Boom. I’m a genius. Well, at least I felt like one at the time. Feel free to lampoon my hubris in the comments below.

black and white photograph of a child and a horse.. photo of little girl and pony. monochrome image of young child and thoroughbred horse.

$30,000 prop

The Zone of Comfort Versus Creativity

I’m well aware of my photographic limitations. I’m not a wedding or a family photographer, but I stepped out of my comfort zone, I learned a huge amount, I enjoyed it, and most importantly, my sister and her husband loved the result. If I had had a clear goal, and more experience with this type of photography, I'm sure the photos alone would have spoken for themselves, but because I had to retroactively create a story I would not have created what is essentially a bespoke, bedtime storybook. Holy smokes, did I just invent a niche? *runs to copywriters office*

How Do You Do It?

I’d love to hear from any Day in the Life or Wedding Photographers in the comments below. How do you go about telling a story? Do you have a special recipe?  

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