How to Tell a Story in Photographs
Bringing powerful narratives to life sits at the heart of photojournalist Phil Hatcher Moore’s approach, whether it’s covering South Sudan’s independence referendum or photographing communities and their struggles in rural Wales. Here, the award-winning photographer shares three tips for creating a compelling story through images.
A story in pictures is no different to a story in words
“Crafting a series of pictures that tell a story requires thinking about the structure of the narrative, and guiding the reader through the arc. A photographer will introduce the subject, bring out the quintessential aspects, and conclude, with highs and lows along the way.
When shooting a story, you should bear in mind that you can only explain what you can depict in an image, and so must have pictures of each step or chapter of the story. This is not something you can make up for later in the edit, as there’s often no going back to reshoot.”
Make each picture count
“Each photograph should bring something new to your narrative. For example describing a different side of your subject, or delving into a detail. You should avoid duplicating information, even if you have two photographs that you absolutely love, but which tell the same side of the story.
“Kill your darlings” was a phrase I learned early on; sometimes you have to discard an incredible photograph because it does not fit into the narrative arc, or gives away the same information as another photograph you’ve used. Think of it in terms of a newspaper article: you wouldn’t expect to read the same sentence twice. Considering how you would caption your images often helps with the construction of the sequence.
By the same token, you are dealing in photography, so each image will be judged on its own merit. Try to make each photograph as strong as possible, and move the reader with each individual image.”
Use diversity in your photography
“When you watch a movie, you’ll notice a diversity in framing – from very wide shots that show an entire landscape, to very detailed shots, like focusing on a hand, an eye, or an object. The same concept applies to photo stories. Photo essays often begin with a wide, ‘establishing’ shot, which introduces the reader to a place or an issue.
Mixing action shots with portraits, landscapes with details, will ensure that your reader has a rounded understanding of what you are narrating. Remember that your photographic style is your voice. Maintain consistency, and a flow between images. Jarring jumps between images can disrupt the reader.”
And finally, don’t forget to find the hook. “When choosing a subject, identify what it is that interests you about the story itself. This will help you craft a compelling narrative. Fantastic photographs of a boring story cannot necessarily make it interesting. Think about what you are trying to say with the story.”