We talk about telling stories through our photography, but how does that actually work? The classic idea of a ‘story’ is a narrated sequence of events, but how is it possible to fit a series of events into one image?

Screenwriting teacher Robert McKee talks about finding the hook to capture the interest of the audience, the hold to keep them interested and the emotional payoff of their interest. Thinking about telling a story through a hook, hold and payoff in our images as we shoot will help us fit those stories into our images.

A few years ago I was inspired by a chapter in the Shutter Sisters book Expressive Photography to portray stillness in my images. I discovered that I can use stillness to tell a story. I will try to show you how, but it must be said that analysing the stories in my own images is easy; after all, I was physically present in the scene and remember what happened and my emotions at the time. The true test is this: do you see the story – or a story – in this image?storytelling-stillnessThere is a hook here on the left side of the image, the railing, which leads your eye into the image and towards the right in the same direction as the view from the bench. Hopefully there is a hold on your interest through the things you see as your eye is lead back along the snow to the bench: you see the footprints in the snow, but whose are they? Who was sitting on the bench, and what was she thinking, in the cold, facing the sun like that? And if I’m really lucky,  there is also an emotional payoff in this image in the sense that it triggers an emotional reaction in you.

I’ve been browsing the Mortal Muses flickr pools for stories, and you ladies sure know how to tell one! This lovely image, by Beth Lehman, is one of many more examples. I’m hooked here by the lines on the left of the image. The lines lead my eye to what holds my interest – the knitting and the lovely light – and the emotional payoff is a sense of relaxation, curiosity about what she is knitting and a wish to be in that story, that sunlight. 10:30:365

Let us know in the comments – how do you tell stories in your images?

~ All the best from Jenny.