Narrative Storytelling

This week we were looking at photo essays and photographic narratives.

Stories can be both linear and thematic.

Linear photographic essays follow a subject and their/its actions sequentially throughout the series of images such that it creates a story. Whereas a thematic photo essay picks a topic and follows various subjects throughout the images yet holds a similar theme or issue within all of them.

Many photographic essays include a specific series of shots to convey the progression of the story. Some of these storytelling framing setups include

  • Establishing shots
  • Wide shots
  • Detail shots
  • Process/action shots
  • Portraits
  • Closing images

An example of a great thematic photo essay is Renée C. Byer’s “Living on a dollar a day”. The photographer travelled to 10 countries to capture the faces of poverty.


Class Exercise

Looking good Looking bad

Our first exercise asked us to capture an individual in different ways such that we can change the audiences impression of them. This was done using lighting and framing.

Photographing my subject to make him look bad I wanted to play with harsh under lighting and low angles to make him seem ominous and scary.

To contrast this and make him look friendly I got the model to act a little silly and have a kinder looking face. I also used a warmer light source and shot him from straight on such that he is on level and equal with the audience.

Looking bad f/3.5 1/8 ISO6400
Looking good f5.0 1/60 ISO1600

 Narrative Storytelling Exercise

For this exercise I decided to tell a linear narrative surrounding the journey of a piece of litter.

Establishing Shot f/11.0 1/250 ISO400
f/10.0 1/250 ISO100
f/32 1/100 ISO400
f/25.0 1/50 ISO2500
f/4.0 1/8000 ISO10000
f/7.1 1/8000 ISO10000
f/4.0 1/8000 ISO10000
f/5.6 1/8000 ISO10000
Closing Shot f/5.6 1/1600 ISO6400


I really enjoyed the task of capturing a story through images. The hardest part was coming up with and idea that could be photographed in a short period of time within the surrounds of the college. Once I had picked to follow the story of a drink bottle however, I had a fun time coming up with the different images I could capture to tell the story.

The biggest mistake I made while completing this task really epitomised the pain of a photographer. It was a cruel reminder and reality check that made me feel pretty dumb as soon as I realised what I had done. I got out to the location. Bought the prop and got the model in position for the photo. I began shooting… and then I realised… I had forgotten the memory card!!! Luckily I wasn’t too far from the classroom where I had left it, but it was not a good start to the shoot and was a good little learning curve for me  ‘,:-\

Once the memory card was in and I could begin shooting I liked playing around with quick shutter speeds to capture the fleeting moments in the story such as a bottle falling or soft drink spilling out. I did, however, forget to re-adjust the settings to take standard photographs and as such there were several still shots that I shot at 1/8000 with an ISO of 10000, and as such the quality of the last couple images wasn’t perfect. The still worked nicely though.

It was a day of silly mistakes but at least now I know to check my memory card is in the camera and the settings are returned to whatever is best for capturing images in the environment.


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