Storytelling Through Photography

When I read the description of most photographers' websites, I see them describing themselves as storytellers. In certain genres, like photo journalism, this makes sense. But how do you tell  a story with one landscape image. In this video, Colby Brown gives his take on storytelling and goes a long way towards answering my question.

In my 14 years as a photographer I've spent most of my time doing landscape, travel, or architectural photography. Most of the time, these genres do not lead themselves to storytelling in the traditional sense, especially if you're only referring to a single image rather than a series. When I saw other photographers in these genres refer to themselves as "creative, innovative storytellers", the cynical part of me thought, "oh, they're using storyteller as marketing talk, just like the previous two words".

In the video, Brown refers to some tried and tested subjects, like lead in lines, taking your time to get to know the subject and passion, but he does so within the frame work of storytelling. What I found particularly interesting about his talk was the implication that a photograph is an incomplete story in the traditional sense and the viewer fills in the reminder of the story from their own life story.  It is our job as storytelling photographers to help direct or lead the viewer into an informed interpretation of the story.

This is a 49 minute long talk, so it is a significant investment in time to watch it. Personally, after 14 years of photography, I found there was quite a lot to take away from the talk and I felt it was well worth the time investment to watch it. I will be making subtle adjustments to my architectural work going forward. If you find the talk helpful in both creating images and for interpreting other people's images, please let me know in the comments.

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1 Comment

It is a very good talk. I like the way he clarifies that story can be used as an analogy for what photos can do, instead of saying that it's the same thing as storytelling. Because I, too, studied and have written classic, three-act structure stories, and always felt that applying the term "story" to photos didn't make any sense. Using it as an analogy does make sense, though.