Telling Stories About Photos

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The key to having an interesting photo is to have an interesting story about the photo. Every photo has a story. The story just must be thought out and written. That’s the hard part. I’ve made a template that I use and would like to share it and my thought process with you.

Writing

Often I write descriptions in my notebook when I happen to think about my photos. This is usually when I am on a long teleconference and am daydreaming, thinking about being on vacation or when I took this photo or that one. It is rare that I reflect on the story of a photo when I am sitting at the computer. I wish it were that easy.

Later, I put my story into words on the screen. I use Grammarly to check the spelling and grammar of my work. I also use Hemmingway.  It is best if proper grammar and spelling accompany any story of a photo and these two programs help with that. Nothing loses a reader more quickly than bad grammar or spelling.

Even though the title appears first in the image or story, I do the title last or whenever I think of it. I don’t do it first. I put the technical details in later as well. I do the story first because it is the most important thing.

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The Story in Four Parts

I separate my photo stories into four sections:

  • 1. Opening and theme of the story. I try to get the reader’s interest in this section and start it in one of three different ways:
    • Start with something about myself then tell the story of the photo that reinforces that thing. “I’ve always thought forests are mysterious.”
    • Include a thesis statement up front then tell the story of the photo that reinforces that statement. “The woods in summer are magical.”
    • Let the reader in on a secret then reveal the secret to them in the story. “There’s a little-known secret to photographing waterfalls.”

In this opening section, I talk all about the feelings I felt and what moved me about wanting to take the photo. Often, early in this segment, I set the scene as well.

Here are some examples:

Example 1:
“Swimming with sea turtles is an incredible experience. We went to Tintamarre Island near the island of Saint Martin in the Caribbean where there is a sanctuary, and they are protected. They were right there swimming down to feed off the bottom and back up again every 20 minutes or so for air. We snorkeled over and next to them and for a half hour were able to watch them feeding.”

Example 2:
“The woods in summer are magical. This was one of those rare times when everything seemed just right. A humid July day. A little fog in the air and a bright sun piercing the forest canopy.”

Example 3:
“Grand Haven is one of many beautiful destinations on West Michigan’s coast. The sun was setting on a late summer day, and I was walking along the pier toward the lighthouse. People were walking out and back. Seagulls were swooping around and the air smelled of water. I could hear the boats and the sound of the beach behind me.”

  • 2. The photo process and the story of how I took the photo. This section is to appeal to the difficulty of photographing and getting the photo.
    • Describe how I positioned myself to get the photo. Include what I was feeling while doing this. Get them to feel what you were feeling.
    • Show the difficulty or the luck in getting the photo. Include some settings or techniques to make the reader more interested, but don’t be overly technical.
    • Reinforce the theme from part one by including descriptions that go along with that theme.

This second section is after you have the viewer hooked and into the story. You’ve set the scene and now is the time to tell them about the process.

Here are some examples:

Example 1:
“I photographed this one as he was getting ready to descend again. I snorkeled right over him and shot downward. It is not easy and sometimes not possible at all to see a camera screen underwater while wearing a mask and snorkel. I had no artificial light and relied on the bright sunlight to illuminate the turtle in the water. I tried flash, and it was not an option because it would illuminate the bubbles and particles in the water, obscuring the image. I was able to make out the screen of my camera when the light hit it just right, and I took the shot at that moment.”

Example 2:
“I was walking down a trail in the park, snapping a few shots of the plants and trees. I moved ahead a bit, and this whole scene came into view. The sun was just right, and the illumination was like something out of a dream. Just before taking the shot, I saw a fine mist just in front of me — water droplets in the air, slowing swirling through a shaft of light. I stood there and took the shot. Amazed, I kept standing there until a cloud passed overhead and extinguished the light.”

Example 3:
“The glare was bright, and I positioned my camera as I walked so I could avoid lens flare. It was not easy. Also, people were walking in almost every shot I took, except this one. This perfectly-timed shot not only was without people in the foreground but also caught a seagull in mid-flight – visible through the rigging at center left.”

  • 3. What I did after I got the photo back to the darkroom or computer. I describe a bit about the post-processing and finishing of the photo. I try to get the viewer to feel the process I used by describing it in light detail.
    • I tell what I did to process the image. I include cleaning, reframing the composition, and any sharpness or color changes.
    • I am honest with the viewer and tell them anything I changed in the photo. This would include removing items, replacing backgrounds, or any significant changes.
    • I tell of technical difficulties or techniques I used.

This section should give the reader a behind-the-scenes look at what you do to process the image. It also has to keep them intrigued so do not make it overly technical. Most readers will skip this part or skim it. They will go right to the next section. Keep this section small in order to keep the reader reading.

Here are some examples:

Example 1
“I cleaned up the photo in post-processing. I removed many bubbles in the water around the turtle that detracted from it. I also sharpened the image selectively, allowing the sunlight to soften portions of the turtle and the background.”

Example 2
“Not much post-processing went into this photo. The camera caught everything just about perfectly. I reframed it a bit for the composition, but that was all.”

Example 3
“I cleaned up the photo in post-processing. The sun washed out the picture, so I had to bring back some of the colors as well.”

  • 4. Closing and support of the theme. Everything already being described, this sections is to close and wrap-up the description.
    • Return to the feeling that was described in the opening. I usually describe again the feelings that support the opening theme. I do this in a way that is not mere restatement but is a new description of the same feeling.
    • Evolve the feeling from the theme. A story is a progression of events but can be a progression of feelings as well. Keep this in mind and tell how you were changed after taking the photo or during the process.
    • Pull in the viewer by asking a question or getting them to think further about the image. Make them think along with you by talking to them like a friend. Know that they will be viewing the image immediately after reading your story and tie the story into the image.

The closing is very important. It must bring the story full-circle and end on a good note.

Here are some examples:

Example 1
“It was difficult to keep from smiling the whole time I was swimming with these sea turtles. Smiling would have broken the seal between my mask and face and allowed it to fill with water. But I was smiling inside the whole time I was there and now even afterward whenever I see this photo. I hope it brings a smile to your face as well.”

Example 2
“Forests are amazing any time of year, but especially in the summer. So green and full of life. And photography is really all about the light. This photo proves it. I think I learned that lesson (again) on that day.”

Example 3
“Being on or near the water is always relaxing to me. It makes me feel good to have the sun on my face and smell the water in the air. Michigan is a perfect place for that experience.”

Length

I try to make my stories short. First I write it out long, then I remove whatever does not add to the reader’s interest or that does not help the viewer feel what I felt. Lots of sites allow only short descriptions, so I really work on making my stories short. Attention spans are short. I don’t want to lose my reader and viewer of my photo.

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Title and Brief Description

It may seem weird to write the title last, but the title should, in my opinion, not be the focal point. Maybe you will think of the title first. Sometimes I do. Write it down when you think of it, but I would advise not to get too in love with it. Your story can sometimes make your title change. That is a good thing. The worst you can do is write a story around a title. Work the other way around, and it will not only feel much better, but the title may write itself.

Along with the title, I always include a brief description and my website.

Here are some examples:

Example 1:
“Sea Turtle | A sea turtle near Tintamarre Island in the Caribbean Sea. | http://www.larslentzphotography.com |”

Example2:
“Sunlit Woodland Path | A walking path through the forest, lit by sunlight. | http://www.larslentzphotography.com |”

Example 3:
“Grand Haven Pier | Summer on the pier at Grand Haven, Michigan. | http://www.larslentzphotography.com |”

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Technical Details

I like to include the technical particulars of a photo. Some photographers do not. I believe in giving the accurate details of the equipment I used and the settings that I had on my camera. Some aspiring photographers may want to emulate my settings and technique, and I want to give them that capability. By having nothing to hide, I gain the trust of my reader and viewer of my photo.

Here are some examples:

Example 1:
“Camera: Olympus Tough TG-4
Lens: 4.4-17.8 (25-100 mm 35 mm equiv.) (f/2.0 – 4.9)
Filter: none
Settings: 1/1000 s at f/3.5, ISO 100, 6.4 mm, 0 EV, Underwater Mode, Pattern Metering.”

Example 2:
“Camera: Sigma DP2 Merrill
Lens: 30mm, f/2.8
Filter: none
Settings: 1/30 s at f/2.8, ISO 400, 30 mm, 0 EV, Aperture Mode, Center-Weighted Average Metering.”

Example 3:
“Camera: Canon G9
Lens: 7.4 – 44.4 mm
Filter: none
Settings: 1/2000 s at f/8, ISO 200, 7.4 mm, 0 EV, Program Mode, Center-Weighted Average Metering.”

All Together

Here is one example of what it looks like all together:

Sea Turtle | A sea turtle near Tintamarre Island in the Caribbean Sea. | www.larslentzphotography.com | Camera: Olympus Tough TG-4 Lens: 4.4-17.8 (25-100 mm 35 mm equiv.) (f/2.0 – 4.9) Filter: none Settings: 1/1000 s at f/3.5, ISO 100, 6.4 mm, 0 EV, Underwater Mode, Pattern Metering. Swimming with sea turtles is an incredible experience. We went to Tintamarre Island near the island of Saint Martin in the Caribbean where there is a sanctuary and they are protected. They were right there swimming down to feed off the bottom and back up again every 20 minutes or so for air. We snorkeled over and next to them and for a half hour were able to watch them feeding. I photographed this one as he was getting ready to descend again. I snorkeled right over him and shot downward. It is not easy and sometimes not possible at all to see a camera screen underwater while wearing a mask and snorkel. I had no artificial light and relied on the bright sunlight to illuminate the turtle in the water. I tried flash and it was not an option because it would illuminate the bubbles and particles in the water, obscuring the image. I was able to make out the screen of my camera when the light hit it just right and I took the shot at that moment. I cleaned up the photo in post-processing. I removed many bubbles in the water around the turtle that detracted from it. I also sharpened the image selectively, allowing the sunlight to soften portions of the turtle and the background. It was difficult to keep from smiling the whole time I was swimming with these sea turtles. Smiling would have broken the seal between my mask and face and allowed it to fill with water. But I was smiling inside the whole time I was there and now even afterward whenever I see this photo. I hope it brings a smile to your face as well.

Sea Turtle | A sea turtle near Tintamarre Island in the Caribbean Sea. | http://www.larslentzphotography.com |

Camera: Olympus Tough TG-4
Lens: 4.4-17.8 (25-100 mm 35 mm equiv.) (f/2.0 – 4.9)
Filter: none

Settings: 1/1000 s at f/3.5, ISO 100, 6.4 mm, 0 EV, Underwater Mode, Pattern Metering.

Swimming with sea turtles is an incredible experience. We went to Tintamarre Island near the island of Saint Martin in the Caribbean where there is a sanctuary, and they are protected. They were right there swimming down to feed off the bottom and back up again every 20 minutes or so for air. We snorkeled over and next to them and for a half hour were able to watch them feeding.

I photographed this one as he was getting ready to descend again. I snorkeled right over him and shot downward. It is not easy and sometimes not possible at all to see a camera screen underwater while wearing a mask and snorkel. I had no artificial light and relied on the bright sunlight to illuminate the turtle in the water. I tried flash, and it was not an option because it would illuminate the bubbles and particles in the water, obscuring the image. I was able to make out the screen of my camera when the light hit it just right, and I took the shot at that moment.

I cleaned up the photo in post-processing. I removed many bubbles in the water around the turtle that detracted from it. I also sharpened the image selectively, allowing the sunlight to soften portions of the turtle and the background.

It was difficult to keep from smiling the whole time I was swimming with these sea turtles. Smiling would have broken the seal between my mask and face and allowed it to fill with water. But I was smiling inside the whole time I was there and now even afterward whenever I see this photo. I hope it brings a smile to your face as well.

Summary

A good story can make a photo more interesting and can even lead to more sales. By telling how you felt while taking a photo and expressing a theme, you personalize the image for the viewer. Let the viewer in on what you were thinking and feeling during the photo process. This gives them a sense of being there with you. You want to be in this friend position with your viewer, and nothing does that better than a well-crafted story about the photo.

 Thank you for reading what I wrote — I hope you enjoyed it!
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Links to The Examples Used in the Post
Links to some books that helped me learn about telling a story

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