As photographers, we’re storytellers. Even a single photograph can tell a story. A series of photographs can tell a more detailed story, however, revealing different chapters of one’s experience, if you will. That experience might be a photo safari to Africa, a photo tour of a national park, a photo trek to a nearby city and so on.
In this article, I’ll share 10 tips on storytelling for photographers, using photographs that I took on a September 2014 photo safari to Kenya’s magical Masai Mara. Jonathan and Angela Scott, known and respected around the world as “The Big Cat People,” organized the trip. If you’ve ever watched Big Cat Diary on TV (or clips on YouTube), you’ve seen my good friend Jonathan in action.
Each tip has something in common: setting a goal. If you set a goal, you’ll have a better chance of telling your story with compelling photographs because you’ll envision the end result, which is one of the keys to making a good photograph.
1. Think About The One Key Shot
If I could only share one image from my trip, it would be this photograph of the Great Migration crossing at the Mara River. It’s the “main event” in the Masai Mara, consisting of thousands of wildebeest and zebra (we saw about 5,000 one morning) crossing the river over a period of a few months. Each year, this awe-inspiring event draws people from around the world to the Mara, September being the midpoint of the migration in Kenya.
While planning your trip and while onsite, think about making the one image—the key image, or “main character”—that tells the most important part of your story. Use that photograph as an opener for a slideshow, the cover of your photo book or even the lead image in a magazine article.
Shoot the scene vertically and horizontally, and see which one you prefer when you get home.
2. Get Up Close And Personal
Use your telephoto lens to get close-up photographs. When combined with wide-angle shots, your story will have variety. When you think you’re close, get closer. Watch your aperture very carefully, and shoot wide open to blur a distracting background. When photographing a person or an animal, shoot at eye level so the person looking at your subject can feel as though the subject is looking directly at him or her.
After cropping this photograph of a leopard from a full-length shot to a head-and-shoulders shot, I darkened the edges using the Darken/Lighten Center filter in Nik Color Efex Pro.
Cropping offers a second chance at composition, so crop carefully. Darken the edges of the frame to draw attention to the main subject.