Visual storytelling: How to create strong narratives in your images

Taking pictures is storytelling; only instead of telling stories with your words or your voice, you paint them with light.
And even though there obviously is no single “correct” way of doing it; there are ways of making your story clearer and stronger.

Here’s how I tell my stories:

1: Prepare and plan the shoot
– Create a Pinterest board with inspiring images, make a shoot list; bring them with you in your minds eye (or easily accessible on your phone). (Often they will help you and guide you, but know that some times you’ll have to put them aside and forget all about them.)
– Find a location that allows for a bit of variation. Preferably one that offers shade if it’s the middle of the day and sunny. Also, some locations are simply swelling with storytelling potential; like roads and paths leading into the image/into the future; and basically anything that’s covered in fog.
– Help your clients choose clothes that work well with your aestethics, so the clothes don’t mess with the feeling of the shoot (avoid clothes that steal attention, e.g. sweaters with letters, words, big patterns or pictures on them).

2: Be mindful, but also playful
– Pay attention to what comes natural to the people you are shooting; it’s their story you are telling! Even if you’ve memorized a bunch of really nice poses; these will not help if they do not fit the people you have in front of your camera. Are the kids super shy? Steal emotional images of closeness as they seek comfort in their parents’ arms. Are the kids running around? Run after them, hide behind a tree with your camera.
– Plan an activity; just sitting around doesn’t usually interest the kids much. Invite them to do things together. Twirling, dancing, playing hide and seek, gather wildflowers, surprise attack-hug their parents.
– Always remember the moments in-between. That’s where the gold is.

3: Think like a director:
What images do you need to tell a story through this shoot?
– For variety I often try to shoot in three dimensions; far away (for big, epic pictures with lots of negative space), aproximately 2 metres away, and super close (for details).
– Remember you need “mood shots” too. These include pictures of the landscape without anyone in them; pictures of details, hand-holding, arms carrying, hair blowing in the wind, blurry shots (like e.g. a focused grass foreground and blurry legs running in the background), details of flowers etc. These will be essential for the “silent” parts of your story, the moments where those who are viewing it catch their breath.

4: Beware of distractions
– When you are trying to tell a story, stick to the story. Be careful with including a bunch of props, be careful with using a lot of different colours at once (unless that is part of the story you want to tell):
Less is always more.

5: Emotions over perfection
– Nothing tells a story like images filled with genuine emotion. Do not leave an image unused because it’s not entirely in focus, or because it’s not “technically perfect”. Come grain, blur, bad lighting and lousy compositions; raw emotions will always save the day.

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The burning pen

Way back in 1999, I started blogging (although I wasn’t familiar with the term back then) at a members-only forum, together with a handful of other mildly-disturbed adolescents. I’m not sure we had a very good impact on each other, but nevertheless; we had a gentle kind of kinship. And I was starving for connection with people who felt more like myself, people I could relate to.

We did not yet have an internet connection in my home, so in the very beginning I only got to write and read at this forum when I was visiting my grandparents. – I remember so clearly the room on their second floor, with the squeaky floors, and the smell of old wood. My grandfather’s neatly piled Rotary catalogues, the dark red floral wallpaper. The sound of the modem as it dialed me into the world. My grandmother would make me a cup of steaming hot rosehip tea, and I’d sit there for hours, hiding from my physical world, while discovering my very first online friends and their beautiful minds.

And so I discovered there were other people out there who didn’t fit into small-town boxes. There were people who created, boldly; with words and light and tones. And they grew to be my tribe.

I remember someone saying, at my local school, that a friend is not a friend unless she is with you physically. Because over the internet you can pretend to be whoever you want to be. – This, to me, – just did not make any sense. And so I argued, heatedly, that the opposite was the case: That exactly because the internet offers you the chance to be whoever you want to be, the people you meet there will be truer to their own potential. (This of course has a great many sad exceptions, especially the ones where some one says they are somebody else for exploiting purposes.)

I can’t remember if I lost the argument, but I do remember it birthed this thought in my mind: Maybe, to some people, relating to other people comes more naturally without all the distractions of the physical world.

I was amazed at how easy it was to convey my actual thoughts and opinions, without losing them in the labyrint of worries that is my mind. Writing was a short-cut that allowed me to express myself in ways that I could rarely do when talking.

Today I’ve come to realize just how much I’ve been missing that sensation; the burning pen, the feeling of being written. And so I’m carving out this tiny piece of the web to be my personal playground. And although I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be writing about just yet, all these possibilities are such a sweet breath of air in my lungs. And like Williams Wordsworth once said; “to begin, begin.”

Second time around

0A5A3782red Det er vinterhøst og jeg venter. Verden er bar og åpen, den rusker i meg i takt med vinterstormene (nærere, så fjernere), men jeg hviler og venter.

Det er lenge siden sist, alt er annerledes og alt er likt. De første månedene i dvale, maten som smaker aske, forventningen som vokser, drømmene. Nærheten til verden, søvnen. Å kjenne de små føttene mot mitt indre, kan det finnes noe skjørere, noe mykere.

(Lille e lurer på om den lille ikke kommer snart, hun synes det tar alt for lang tid. Jeg på min side kan ikke forstå hvordan det kan gå så fort denne gangen. April er så nær, og enda nærer ved hvert lille hjerteslag.)