Storytelling and photographic intention in smartphone photography

Storytelling is something you likely hear photographers talk about. For so long, I myself did not understand what that meant. Images I created in my 20 years in photography had to adhere to certain parameters! Very technical and no room for creativity.
 
Storytelling in every genre
 
My favourite smartphone photography genres are landscape and long exposures. I was often wondering how do you tell a story when it is just scenery. You too, maybe thinking this storytelling concept does not apply to you either.... but it does, in every photo.
 
Narrative
 
Unlike video, in photography, we need to provide the narrative. You need to explain to the viewer or yourself in years to come (memory photos) why you captured the photo. This requires a clear subject and intention that does not need further explanation. A clear narrative is quick to interpret and engage the viewer.
 
Emotional connection
 
Storytelling in your images can create an emotional connection with the viewer. The context can evoke a universal memory that we all share. It could also be something surprising or shocking. Telling part of a story will encourage the viewer to use their own imagination to fill in the blanks.
black and white photography storytelling in your android and iphone photos

How the smartphone camera has made storytelling easier than ever

We live in an exciting time where you no longer have the obstacle of the technical side of photography. You can learn how to recognise your photographic intention and concentrate on storytelling.
 
Your smartphone camera allows you to capture anything in front of you at a moments notice. Combined with posts like this or a structured course you can speed up learning to be creative.

Single image storytelling in 6 steps

Providing a narrative in a single photo is more challenging. However, the first two steps below make it much easier.

  1. The intention of the photo ask yourself why are you taking the photo?
  2. Context – what secondary supporting subjects and items need to be added to help provide the context. These provide visual clues to the storytelling
  3. Composition – how the subject and supporting contextual elements interact with each other. See related articles on composition - here
  4. Lighting – create a mood aligned with the intention. See related articles on lighting - here
  5. Aesthetic experience – pleasing to view, fascination, appraisal and emotion
  6. Editing – further enhance all of the above. Read more about the mobile photo editing course - here

This formulaic approach can be applied to almost any image, even landscape and long exposure images!

Multiple image storytelling

Sometimes the narrative of a sequence of events may have taken place over time and in different locations. These images can be placed alongside each other in a collage to create a story. In the below example, we can see the day we picked up our new puppy Lucy, setting up for the drive home and introducing her to our son. A series of three images is referred to as Triptych.
photography storytelling on your smartphone as triptych or single image narrative
Triptych - series of three images

To combine images like this, my two favourite apps are PicsArt (iOS and Android) and FrameMagic (iOS). Like most photo editing, you can create this grouping of images instantly on your phone ready to share within seconds.

Puppy playing example:

Once you know the 'why' you will start to become better at the 'how' to capture and edit the image.

The intention of the photo is to capture the excitement and motion. Therefore, get down low and close to the action. The bright orange toy and centralised puppy (Lucy) is obvious as the subject. The angle of the toy and blur articulates that motion.

The Struman Optics fisheye lens adds energy and fun in a unique distorted perspective. The crop is also wide enough to provide the context of the puppy playing inside a home.

A wide angle lens is a great attachment for photography storytelling

In the second photo, the intention is to show the size of the puppy. Shooting from a higher angle and small garden rocks in the scene provides a relative scale.

photography storytelling in smartphone photos

This article is part of the course: 'Strategically edit WOW images on your smartphone.'

We cover photographic intention below. Learn more about composition, lighting, aesthetic experience and photo editing here

Photographic intention

The intention is the motivation and reason for taking the photo. Knowing the intention will ensure that when you look at the photo, you will know exactly what it is about. If you are like me and have to work hard at creativity – you are going to LOVE that there are guidelines to help us out!

Have you ever noticed people who take a photo to record what is happening in front of them? Being intentional in your images will result in better memory recall in years to come when your memory has long faded. You may have even experienced this yourself. Travel photos benefit by capturing the image from a storytelling perspective.

This involves:

  • A clear purpose (subject);
  • Context (surrounding area); and
  • Visual narrative (story)

 

Before taking a photo - pause to consider what motivated you to take the photo

 

Subject clarity allows you to experiment with different ways to capture and communicate that subject. You will start to really think like a photographer now, by:

  • Focusing your mind (pun intended) to find more creative angles and perspectives
  • Avoiding a cluttered background
  • Looking at how light is falling on the subject
  • Consider other elements in the photo.

As you can imagine, a happy snap without intention will struggle to evoke some sort of emotional or physiological response.

Knowing the intention of a photo will also be invaluable when it comes to setting up the image and the later editing process. You will know exactly what to introduce, remove, reduce and enhance to re-create the authenticity of the scene or moment as you saw it.

Summary

As you can see, editing an image requires a basic understanding of the above principles. There is so much more to creating a great image than using a filter. Different filters can enhance tones and colours. However, filters do very little to help storytelling.

Join our Smartphone Photography Club to be part of our education community learning photography on that camera you always have with you!

These articles are great to learn a mobile photography specific technique or tip. The fastest transition into the confident and creative smartphone photographer is this structured course 'Strategically edit WOW images on your smartphone'
 
The Smartphone Photography Club is where you can hang out with like-minded photographers. Club members take part in weekly photo themes in our closed Facebook group. You also get the full course, tutorials,  photo critiques and club sponsor discounts.
 
Storytelling in images not making sense? Know why you took the photo and apply techniques to visually communicate that intention -  learn more at https://smartphonephotographytraining.com/capturing-photos/storytelling