How to tell a story with photographs

8.26 Making breakfast-1.jpg

Let's face it, you're not going to have a professional photographer with you every day. Your handy cell phone does most of the every day photo taking. Me too! To me, pictures matter. It doesn't matter what camera takes them as long as I'm capturing the moment. 

Storytelling is one way to photograph your every day. Storytelling take a series of just a few images that tell the story for you. Instead of taking just one photo of an event or moment, snap 5-7. 

Your perspective is what will add interest to your story. For this example, I am using a morning where my daughter wanted to help me make breakfast. Actually it started with her wanting to play on the counter with the eggs! But I refocused her attention so that it turned into something productive instead of just a mess! (and yes she is wearing a unicorn bathing suit. She's 2 and she does what she wants!)

This is an everyday moment. This is not a major event that requires planning or staging of the scene. You could use your cell phone camera or grab your DSLR. (I keep my DSLR ready to go on my counter so that I can grab it at a moment's notice.)

When shooting for storytelling, I work like a story: set the scene, tell me what's happening, tell me some details, and show me how it all turns out.

I typically work with wide-angles and I like to get a lot into the scene. So that is typically how I start out. For our breakfast chef morning, I started with Maddie on the counter with the bowl of already cracked eggs. (Remember safety and sanity first when working with kids! She's on the counter so I did remove hazardous items. And I didn't take any photos of the actual egg cracking because it was too hands on with her.)  I also kept the authenticity of the story by not tidying up the sink. Remember this is your real life!

Next I went closer to get some detail. She was grinding the salt and pepper into the eggs. I also added some variety by including black and white images. Remember, light is important even in everyday photos. The light is going to tell your eyes where to look. In my detail for the story, I wanted it to focus on the salt and pepper shakers. I focused the light on the shaker and her hands. Don't be afraid of faceless, it add a certain mood to the story. Squat down and stand on your tip toes - how does it make the story change? What does it add to the story?

Move your body. Look straight on your subject, go above your subject, shoot looking up at your subject, focus on the object while looking over your subject's shoulder. These different perspectives add dimension, interest, and mood to your story.

Next, take the human element out of the frame. Add a detail to the story that adds a different perspective. Here I photographed the egg shells. To be honest, I added in the dish towel for a pop of color and texture. :) Try different angles with your still life shots as well. Shoot from overhead or straight on. You can even convert them to black and white to add contrast.

Now let's start to give the story some action. Move past the set-up and give me the why and how! Remember safety and sanity first when photographing kids! The oven is off while I had her stir the eggs. Once the camera was out of my hands and I could stand with her, I turned the oven on and we cooked them together. Notice how I shot on both sides of her. They give different perspectives and the angles reveal something different about the scene in each photo. The first one I wanted to show my tiny baby girl in the grown-up kitchen. It's a nice juxtaposition which adds interest and emotion. The second one starts to give me closure to the story and the pops of color add interest.

Finally we complete the story. Breakfast made by a 2 year old. This part of the story adds closure and reveals more of our every day life at this point in time: the personalized placemats, the photos on the table, the yellow chairs, etc. It is meant to be a point of reminiscing and elicit emotion as we remember our time in this home.

To finish it all off, put your favorite 4-5 photos into a collage to share and print! I use Blog Stomp on my desktop and I like Collage Maker for Fun app on my iPhone (it's free!).

But the whole point is to take those photos! You don't have to share them with the world, but please at least get them off your phone and to a place you can show the kids when they are older. 


Jenelle Botts