the Proto Photographer

Tell a story with your photos


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[photo credit: Aaron Kaffen @]

Tell a story with your photos.

To anyone who’s studied photography, this might sound basic. Narrative is at the heart of photography. Many of the most engaging photos capture not only the immediate image, but allude to the events leading up to and following the shutter release, whether real or imagined.

To many of us, though, that fall under the title of “amateur photographer”, the concept of instilling narrative has either never been introduced, or we’ve simply never attempted it. Instead, our photos focus on the nuts-and-bolts of color, composition, and technical prowess.

For my part, it wasn’t until I started shooting in a studio that I realized the power of narrative. Primarily because a studio, in and of itself, is nothing. It has no story.

When you’re strolling around downtown, stories are all around you, waiting to be captured. The best of those shots will convey to the viewer where they are in that story, what has led up to it, and what’s expected to follow. But even the worst will capture some part of the story. It’s hard not to.

A studio, though, demands that you craft your story from scratch.

Taking a beautiful picture of a man can be interesting. But if his clothes are dirty and worn in the image, you’ve given a glimpse into the man’s life leading up to the photo. If you give him a gold pocket watch as well, he could be presumed to have come from money at some point. Or maybe he’s a thief. Then if you have him grinning knowingly, the viewer can guess that the man knows his plight’s about to change.

With a few planned narrative elements, even on a plain, white background, the viewer can extrapolate an entire world around a simple picture of a man. The man can have a future and a past and a reason for the viewer to care about either. At that point, as the photographer, you’re no longer simply capturing reality, you’re creating new one.

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