The 5 Step Framework for Storytelling Photography

In today’s blog post, I’m going to give you some tips for storytelling photography, PLUS a framework that you can shoot to that will help tell your story through your images.

But, first, what exactly IS storytelling photography?

For me, storytelling photography is when we go deeper with our photos to not just show a scene, (for example a landscape) but when we actually use our images to tell a story, from beginning to end.

Although in many cases you may be able to tell a story in just one frame, there are many times when we want more than just one solitary picture of an event or activity, or we NEED more simply because one photo just couldn’t possibly get the full breadth of the story across.

This type of photography can be used for absolutely anything - it definitely isn’t limited to “big” days like weddings, birthdays or big adventures! (Although of course those are fabulous times to use this too!) Even the smallest everyday moments like breakfast or bath time can be turned into a story, so without further ado, let’s first go over the 5 step framework for telling a story in your images….

Learn storytelling photography with this 5 step framework! | Storytelling Photography Ideas | Storytelling Photography Series

Step One: Set the Scene

This first image is where you can set the scene for your story, and show your viewer where it is taking place.

You usually want to step back a bit here (and slap on a wide angle lens if you have one) so that you can show the area in full.  

So for example, this could be a shot showing your kitchen, or a wide angle of the beach you are on, or it could easily just be a picture of the pots and paints lined up and a blank sheet of paper in your dining room - whatever helps establish where the activity is happening. 

I personally don’t tidy up too much around my subjects when I’m telling stories of daily life, but if you were using this framework for something more special, like a wedding day, take a moment to move any stray elements out of the scene.

If you feel that the background is too messy or cluttered, you can simply use a shallow depth of field to get that blurry background like in the image below. (Not sure how to do that? Be sure to grab my free Aperture Priority Mode Cheat Sheet - it gives you all the info you need, broken down step by step. Go here to grab it!)

For this little story, we are in my back garden, on a snowy afternoon….

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Step Two: Introduce the Character/s

For storytelling photography, you need some characters!  This just helps us give a face to the people in the story. 

So as part of  your storytelling photography framework, try to take some images that show who the people in the story are, either in portrait style shots, or just ones where you can clearly see what they look like.  (Bear in mind this doesn’t need to be a person - if your story is simply about your horses, then they are the characters!)

This definitely does not have to be a posed shot - in fact, for storytelling photography it is probably better that it is NOT posed or directed in any way. However, still keep in mind things like light direction, and getting catchlights in the eyes, so that they look good :-)

Again, you may also want to blur out the background for a pleasing portrait style shot.

You could go close up….

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Or from farther back….

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Step Three: Capture the Details of the Story

I’m a complete sucker for detail shots, so I always have more of these than is strictly necessary!

Detail shots are anything that simply focus on one small element of the scene, such as the paintbrushes, or little hands tying their ballet shoes - this is your opportunity to show specific things within the scene, so get in tight and let those details shine! 

Try to shoot from different angles so you can get a whole breadth of story across - so get down low, get close, and go around your subject, always keeping in mind where the light is and how it is hitting your subject. A great angle for a storytelling shot is from above, so if possible, try to incorporate that too!

You can get some helpful hints about capturing these details in this post: 7 Tips for Capturing the Details in Lifestyle Photography

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Told you I always take more than is strictly necessary :-)

Step Four:  An Action Shot

Try to also include images where you can see some of the action - this doesn’t need to be a full blown James Bond style action shot , just something where you can see something happening. For example, this could be a connection between two people, a final flourish of any activity, or just where the action is!

These photos below could all work as “action” shots.

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Step Five: The Closer

This final photo should add a full stop at the end of the story, and ideally, leave the viewer with some kind of emotion - whether that be joy, sadness, a feeling of hope, inspiration or just nostalgia. 

Remember that using light effectively can bring an everyday mundane situation and make it feel more magical, so as with all the images in your story, think about how you use light you have to make the scene look more interesting.

Here’s my closer to the snowman building story….(after my son had stole back the hat!)

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4 Quick Tips For Storytelling Photography

Now that we have our simple framework to shoot to, I just want to go over some quick tips that will help your storytelling images look more professional, and less like snapshots!

  • Try to use different types of images within your story - shoot from different angles, and from near or wide. In the framework you general have a wide shot, a medium shot, a close up shot, a portrait shot and an action shot, but be sure to experiment with different viewpoints too! You can read this post Get Creative with Angles for More Ideas

  • I’ve taken far too many images in the examples (firstly because I’m a chronic over hooter and secondly so I could give you more examples!) so once you have gotten your images back and onto the computer, be sure to cull them so that you don’t have too many images that basically tell the same thing. I personally always think in photo book spreads when deciding how many images to keep!

  • Always keep in mind the light that you are using, and where best to place your subject in relation to it. Making sure that the light is good in your image is one sure fire way to lift your image from snapshot to great shot, so try to use the light available as creatively as you can.

  • Composition doesn’t go out the window just because you are telling a story! Use different composition tools like framing, rule of thirds, negative space or anything else you can think of to create interest in your images.

Over to you! Practice storytelling photography with this 5 step framework.

If you’d like to take me up on a little challenge, I’d love to see you use this framework to tell your own stories!

Don’t forget to download your FREE Aperture Priority Mode Cheat Sheet if you need help with the technical side too!