How to Improve your Photography with Storytelling

Movies have an average of 24 frames per sec, equaling 172,800 images to portray their story over 120 mins; from beginning to end. Now you want to attempt to create a similar level of curiosity, emotion and depth in the small series or even a single photo?

Up for the challenge?

Before you started, let’s address why you should even bother attempting it. Think about a good movie or book. A great story stays with you because of one of the following things:

  • It is masterfully done on many levels: emotion, composition, the usage of space, choice of symbolic context, motion and dynamics, etc.
  • It compels you to come back to look at it.
  • It spikes your interest by showing only the tip of an iceberg, yet somehow making you contemplate the iceberg’s entirety; allowing you discover many new layers of beauty in the subject matter and, by extension, the world around you.
  • It had an emotional impact on you.
  • You connect with it and can recognise a part of yourself in it.

Here are 5 tips to storytelling:

[Tip #1] Choosing what to include and exclude

[Tip #2] Series or single?

[Tip #3] What do you want them to feel?

[Tip #4] The power of lighting

[Tip #5] Attention to details

Tip 1: Choosing what to include and exclude .

What does creating depth do for your photos?

By limiting the amount of your image that’s in focus you can control where the viewer will focus on, and even the path they follow through the image.

If you choose to keep the whole image in focus using a narrow aperture, then the viewer will naturally follow any lines through the image. This is particularly using for landscape images.

Alternatively, you might choose a smaller depth of field in focus, emphasising a particular subject. This allows the viewer to focus on one particular part of the photo without any distractions.

How do I create depth?

The easiest way to create depth is by two very simple techniques; Layers and leading lines.

Many people make the mistake of not thinking through their image. What they want to include or exclude, what you want the viewer to think or feel.

Do you want them to feel like they’re sneakily peaking in, or flowing through it?  

Using layers in storytelling

By adding a foreground, mid-ground and background you add dimension to your photo, leading the viewer from one layer to the next. Pro tip: try framing your photo or shooting through something. Keep the foreground out of focus.


Leading lines are both visible and suggested lines and help lead the viewer through the photo. From paths, the gaps between objects or even line of sight can all help you guide the viewer through your image. This is an incredibly powerful tool in photography when used accurately. ?

A person’s line of sight is very effective in leading the viewer.

It’s always worth taking just 10 seconds to look around. Will changing your angle or perspective improve the photo by adding depth to it.

Tip 2: Decide between a single photo or a series

Cartier-Bresson reminds us that “Sometimes there’s a unique picture whose composition possesses such vigour and richness and whose content so radiates outward from it that the single picture is a whole story in itself.

Or simply a step along the journey.

Tip 3: What do you want the viewer to feel?

Evoking an emotional response in your viewer is more about them relating to your story than it is about the story itself, but you still need a idea of what feeling you’re trying to portray.  

This series hold special meaning for me, and sparks all kinds of emotions for me about my son Jack. It’s not simply because they grow up too soon, but it shows how far my little man has come already. I’m so proud of him.

The more powerful the emotional response it, the longer they will focus and appreciate it.

So how do you create a mood?
For many you can just go with your own gut emotional response to seeing it, however for those of you just starting out and are looking for a few pointers.
Think about the colours, what the main subject is doing, expressing.

If you had to put a piece of music to it, would it be upbeat, slow, or give you an epic feeling.
Still not sure, ask for feedback. How did the photo make you feel? Feel free to drop a comment below I’d love to know.


Tip 4: The power of lighting

Probably the easiest and hardest tool in storytelling.

The type of light you choose has a massive impact on the mood of your image.

You have to learn which types of light work in different scenarios and how best to find them or create them.

Tip 5: Attention to detail

It’s the smaller things in life that grab our attention. Don’t worry there’s no test, but some things will always stick with you. Your child’s first pair of shoes, their favourite toy. Sometimes, especially if you already know the story. A simple reminder or trigger is all that is needed. That’s exactly why wedding and portrait photographers will try and capture the details of a meaningful object as part of the story.

Can’t decide if it’s important. Just ask yourself can you tell the story without it. If the answer is no, try capturing just that detail as part of series. Not only will it emphasis it, but it will capture it’s emotional worth.

Experiment and don’t be afraid to explore your unknown, so of my best and worst works have come from relaxing and experimenting.


  • Plan your story.
  • Decide what your goal is
  • Create a feeling through light and composition
  • Be very selectiveCapture the significant details
  • Experiment and share.

If you found this useful, please save and/or share with your friends.