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Are You Telling a Story? Check Again

By now we can agree that the point for many of us in slinging a camera around our shoulders is to tell a story with our images. Everyone who attempts this part of the craft does so at varying levels of aptitude, interest, and quality. Some of us may notice two older men having a chat on a park bench and decide that would simply make a nice picture, while others may spend a month researching and photographing a series of images on what occurs inside a denim manufacturing facility. Intentionally or not, we’re saying something with our images. The question at the end of the day is, what are we trying to say?

To experience growth as a photographic storyteller requires one to be a bit reflective. This may come on as many levels as you would like, but it ultimately resides in looking back on how you achieve telling a story each time you trip the shutter and where you go from there. There is no ten-step process to learning how to tell a story, but I would wager that many folks with a hankering for photography have already benefited from examining their own work.

Remember the time you were shooting a pristine farm landscape and, after making several images at standing height, you lowered your perspective to emphasize not only the vastness of the land but the dense barley crop that flowed like green ocean waves? That was literally being reflective in the field. How about the time you were driving away from your first paying assignment from the local newspaper featuring a local barber and you thought to yourself, “Why didn’t I get a shot of him sitting in his own chair with a shoot-through umbrella feathered past him to the right?!” That is also being reflective. And you can’t forget the blog post you wrote about one of your all-time favorite images, what it felt like the day you made it, why it was important to shoot, the image’s backstory, and why you still consider it a keeper. Yep, you guessed it: reflection.

Reflection is only part of a culmination of photographic insight, processes, and lived experiences that make us better visual storytellers. However, it’s one that we can continually employ, whether we’re deciding on an f-stop during a shoot or editing our images later on the computer. The more we do it, the more it becomes second nature, just like figuring exposure equivalencies and focusing for maximum depth of field. Reflection need not be a time-consuming task added on to each shoot’s editing process, and there are no rules about keeping a diary (although I know several successful photographers who do in an effort to detail a shoot or inspirational experience). Reflection, though, is a valuable component to improving your storytelling ability, both technically and conceptually.

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