Some shots are great without a story, some are great and tell a story, but occasionally, the story couldn't be told in one image. Which shot in your portfolio has the best story behind it, and what's the story?
You start out with the express intention of creating pleasing photographs. images that people like — even you. Once you can do that consistently, photographers tend to branch off in other directions that use that original aim as a foundation, but from which they reach higher. A common example of this is storytelling.
Photojournalism is the first genre of photography you might think of when it comes to telling a story with your photography; however, it isn't exclusive to it. Many of the greatest portraits, wildlife images, or sports photography also tell a story. And sometimes, the story it implies isn't what happened at all. I've been working on an article recently about mis- and disinformation on social media using photographs to tell a story that the photograph doesn't tell without added (and false) context. The use of images to put forward a narrative that isn't accurate isn't new though. In fact, just this week I shared a video on how Richard Nixon used a photograph to do just that in one of his presidential campaigns.
But this isn't an issue we're concerning ourselves with here. Instead, we're looking at those times when a shot of yours, which could be good — or even great — doesn't necessarily paint the whole picture. I often find that shots I'm attached to that others seem indifferent about are exactly this situation: I have more information than the pixels can give to the viewer.
What I want to know, is which shot of yours has the best story behind it, and what is that story? Share the images and the stories in the comments below.
While in Costa Rica on a trip for Olympus, a local told us about a house off the beaten track a little that has a large population of monkeys on the property. The lady who owns it was happy to take some cash in exchange for a chance to photograph the furry friends, but that wasn't the only trade we'd be partaking in. Once we arrived, it was explained to us that to have access to the monkeys, we would need to make an offering to the alpha. If he accepted what we offered, we'd be allowed to let the monkeys climb on us, feed them, take photographs of them, and so on. If we tried to do the latter without a deal in place, the alpha would attack us. We all laughed, but they were serious. Sure enough, we had to bring bananas to the alpha, and after some inspection, he left and we gained access to the rest of the troop.
I realize this image isn't much, and the photographer in me wants much more from it. But the moment is precious to me. My grandad played for his local London football team when he was a young man, and they even won trophies. 70 years after he last played for them (or even saw them play), they got in contact to ask if he'd like to attend their final game of the season, which we took him to. As he stood on the touchline, rolling back the years in his mind no doubt, I became acutely aware of time. He'd have run back out on the pitch given half the chance, but those days were long gone. He passed just over a year ago, and while I wish I could have done more with this photograph, it's important to me for the story nonetheless.
Following the Rules
When I got my first camera, I'd already spent years appreciating and enjoying photography. A forum I was a member of had some great landscape photographers living in the Scottish Highlands and New Zealand, to name a few. I wanted to emulate the quality of their images, but unfortunately, I lived in one of the flattest, most geographically boring places in the U.K. I had traveled out at sunset with my camera, tripod, lenses, and hope, many evenings that first summer, and everything I brought back was dull and forgettable.
Then, in autumn, there was a storm I could see was breaking and I excitedly head out with some locations in mind. Yet again, nothing was going my way, and I was running out of time. Out of sheer frustration, I grabbed a cardboard box and a Sharpie out of my car, and the above was born, making light of my constant failure. The irony is that despite how much is wrong with it, technically, it's more or less the only shot from my early days with a camera that has stood the test of time for me!
My girlfriend and I went to Iceland a few years back for just under a week. We rented a 4x4, and using a map of things to see, I worked out where we would go each day, which would end up at over 3,000 km of driving. Due to the tight schedule, we were somewhat at the mercy of Iceland's climate, and to make matters more difficult still, it was January. One of the locations I was most excited to visit was Gullfoss, a titanic waterfall that looks like the earth has opened up and everything is being sucked into the crack like a black hole.
When we arrived, a heavy blizzard started, and while few people were braving the weather to see the natural wonder, my girlfriend and I weren't going to miss it. When we were high enough to look into it, I crawled to the edge of a cliff to take the shot of the waterfall. It was spectacularly stupid of me, and to make matters worse, you can't even tell it's shot from any terrifying position, but every time I stumble across the shot again, it takes me back to being less than a meter away from nonexistence at a natural phenomenon in a blizzard.
What's Your Best Story?
My images and their backstories are lackluster compared to many, so let's hear some. Which shot of yours has the best story behind it, and what is it? Is there something the camera couldn't capture? Did the image become significant at a later date? Did the shot capture a seminal moment for you? Share your image and its story in the comment section below.