Are You Thinking About Storytelling in Your Landscape Photography?

When it comes to a genre in which you can't control the light or the placement of elements in the frame, storytelling can be a really tricky thing to implement in your work. Nonetheless, if you can successfully convey a story with a landscape photo, it can be what turns a very good shot into a top-shelf image. This excellent video tutorial discusses the topic and offers some helpful advice for storytelling in landscape photography.

Coming to you from Mike Smith, this insightful video tutorial discusses storytelling in landscape photography. One point from Smith that I found particularly compelling was considering not just your own imagination, but that of your viewer. With a genre like landscape photography, there is a lot more room in the image for the viewer to apply their own interpretation or to find their own connection. It is important to not get too caught up in applying your own interpretation, as that might not be something the viewer is aware of. Rather, try to leave them space to connect with the scene. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Smith. 

And if you really want to dive into landscape photography, check out "Photographing The World 1: Landscape Photography and Post-Processing with Elia Locardi." 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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I do not want to tell a story with my landscape images, nor with any of my other images, for that matter.

If I want to tell someone a story, I will use spoken or written words.

If I want to show something to someone, I will use a photo.

Why do misguided people keep telling us that we should be telling stories with our photos? Photos are for SHOWING things, not for telling things. We have words for telling things :)

I have always had a hard time telling stories with normal landscape photos myself. That being said, I think what telling stories in an image does is it makes your work stronger than those who simply "show things" in their photos. There are so many extra subliminal elements or even obvious elements you can add to a photograph that makes it way more compelling. Simply showing a scene will only engage the viewer for so long but making them stop and thinking about the scene can capture their attention a lot longer. For me, this idea of forcing a viewer to think about an image is the equivalent of the story telling trope we are all familiar with.

But technically, one can not tell a story with an image. It is impossible, because the very textbook definition of "telling" requires words. Hence, the only way an image could be used to tell something is if text was added to the image, or if the original scene included text, such as a written sign or a product label. Otherwise, we CAN NOT tell anyone anything with a still photo, because there are no words included in the image.

Fine, SHOW a story. Or how about depict, display, present, illustrate, portray, relate, or exhibit a story? Your semantic argument just illustrates (shows, displays, etc) that you've missed the point.

I'm not saying that people don't overuse the phrase, but you've taken it and run in the opposite direction. So, good for you, I guess. But stories don't have to be A, B, C... they can be abstract and still be stories. Plenty of movies have illustrated (depicted, exhibited, etc) this point. And before you point out that movies have words, the earliest ones didn't. And they still managed to "tell" stories.

Ever heard of the old adage "A picture is worth a thousand words?"

Yes, and I agree with that adage. It is usually much more efficient to show something to someone than to tell it to them.

Funny, but all my stories are the same. I was here, I took a picture, the end.