3 Elements of Great Storytelling Photography

The purpose of taking a photograph, commercial or personal, is simple: to tell the story of a subject.  That’s it. Tell me a story. Americans alone consume over 100,000 digital words every day but interestingly, 92% say they would rather brands tell stories via images amongst all these words. (New York Times, Your Brain on Fiction)

We are all of us visual creatures by nature.

Our brain processes images 60 times faster in comparison to words, so it only makes marketing sense for brands to use amazing photos and videos when delivering compelling content for digital marketing and collateral.

There is a difference, however, between “snapping a shot” and creating a storytelling photograph that jumps off the page or screen in a conscious and intentional way. 

I have come to the conclusion over the years that it’s not the camera that takes the great shot. Some of my favorite photographs were taken with an iphone. The camera is simply a tool. The best visual instrument you own is within you- in your mind’s eye.  I agree with Henri Carter Bresson who said:  “What the camera does is simply to register upon film the decision made by the eye.”

Here are a few common elements behind a compelling photograph:


The person behind the camera lens is passionate.

The best piece of photographic advice I ever received was to follow your passion and excitement and to shoot what excites you. If you can capture your own excitement, you just found a good image. All great visual storytellers create stories that matter to them. What excites you? In some people, it is the story of the land; for others the story of people and capturing their humanity.  Ask yourself what it is about your subject or brand that is exciting, unique or authentic.


The subject is simple.

By zooming in and including only the essential elements in your shot, the viewer sees only what you intend them to focus on. That’s known as shallow depth of field and photographers employ it frequently in portrait photography, as well as when photographing things like food. It’s a way to draw the eye’s attention to the subject in a photo and minimize any distracting background objects. It can be handy to know how to create the effect whenever you want. Crop out the clutter and distractions and you’ll find yourself with a clean and intentional photograph. If an object in your frame does not contribute to your story, eliminate it. Be mindful of color and light sources, too. If color does not contribute to your story, you may want to shoot in black and white.  


The photo captures emotion.

The photos I often find myself most drawn to are the ones in which some emotion other than happiness was captured.  Don’t mask an authentic mood by forcing your subject’s expression. Phony emotions always ruin a picture.  Let your subject behave naturally by making them feel at ease. Oftentimes, they will forget about the camera, allowing you to capture the perfect shot-The one that will portray the true story of your subject.

photo credit: Audrey Gotto

photo credit: Audrey Gotto