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Pretty Good Hat

Telling stories


Robert Boyer seems unfairly prolific at the photography-writing thing. I cribbed from his post about Fujifilm X100S settings and found his tips a great starting point.

Another influence was a forum discussion about telling stories through photos; that thread (dpreview?) is lost to me now — should have saved to pinboard — but a google search led me to another of Boyer’s recent posts, Fuji X100S - Story Telling Device:

If we bottom-line this whole photography endeavor the entire exercise boils down to telling a story. With all the pigeon-holed genres the one thing in common is that inside each an images success or failure is ultimately based on how effectively it tells a story or maybe part of a story.

This is so key. Debates over bokeh and pixel-peeping, smeared foliage and focus speed (all weighed against price and/or status as a “real” camera/photographer) fill the internet with noise but so often the technical details leave out the quality of an image to tell a story.


I won’t claim to be any good at this, but I’m trying to keep this all in mind.

So. We went on vacation the past week or so, road-tripping through southern Utah and on up to the Salt Lake City area, and man I shot a ton of photos. At one point in Bryce Canyon, stopping to shoot every hundred feet or so along a trail winding up the rim of an amphitheater, I self-consciously noted that I really didn’t have any idea what would make one of these photos better than the others. Deepening sunset was changing the light, and as we walked our angle changed, too. I made some in black and white, did some panos, experimented with depth of field and persuaded my exasperated wife to stand for just a few more portraits against the canyon background.

(A note on black and white: There’s a lot to love about the out-of-camera JPGs from the X100s. The great flexibility I get from shooting in JPG+raw is that I can work up a raw image if I don’t like the JPG so much; and if I shoot a black and white JPG and start to wonder what it looks like in color, well there’s the raw.)

(But, and this aside is becoming less of one, using film modes such as the BW setting gives me a valuable intent. This one’s black and white I tell myself and the X100S chimps at me to prove it after I click the shutter. The same goes for the other film mode settings: Great sunset, let’s try it in Velvia, etc. I’m eager to get those full-size JPGs off the card to see how they match my vision at the time and my intent with the film mode. Thinking about those film modes becomes part of the telling of the story — If I have the presence of mind to compose it, of course.)

In his post, Robert Boyer lists a handful of storytelling questions to ask of his photos, and I love how detailed he gets in this inventory:

  • What’s going on here at the image at the top?
  • Girl or boy?
  • How old?
  • What’s the time of day?
  • Time of year?
  • Hot or cold?
  • Modern or antique?
  • Sunny or cloudy?
  • Indoors or out?

So anyway I’m thinking as I take photo after photo of this spectacular landscape something to the effect of “I don’t know what will make this one of the tree more interesting than this one with just the hoodoos, so I’ll keep shooting lots.” Later, in Lightroom, comes trying to filter the photos and look for some keepers with questions like:

How did we get way up here? What’s it feel like to stand in that spot? Can a photo hint at the smell of rain way out there? (Also: Am I focused where I want to be? Should I adjust exposure? DOF?? Was that lightning? The signs at the trailhead said to get the hell off the ridge if there’s lightning.)

I think the point as I do this more is to try to front-load the picture-taking itself with those questions (the same way that using a film mode begins to hint at the intended effect of a photo), and then compose the photos accordingly. But one step at a time, right?


After all that, did I get a story? Well hell, hard to say. I do know that I really love trying. Right now, figuring out the balance of right technical elements and narrative components of the photo is just a great ball of fun.


Did you notice you can click the images in this post to bring up a lightbox view of all the images from the post? It’s something I’m trying out, using the lightview toolkit.