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How to tell a compelling story with a series of images. ​ - Fujifilm Story telling Workshop 2019

Fujifilm has invited us to do a talk on how to tell a compelling story with a series of images to kick of their 9-in-90 storytelling challenge in Wellington. Read more about the challenge here: https://www.fujifilm.co.nz/promotions/World_Photo_Day_2019

Photo of Hemi in his element in case you missed seeing him in person.

Photo of Hemi in his element in case you missed seeing him in person.

Hemi is going to be giving a 20-30 minute presentation. Sharing a bunch of tips and inspiration for cohesive storytelling. So if you missed the talk, or are at the talk and want to follow along on your phone - here is a summary for you of the main points (minus Hemi’s excitable hand gestures and the epic presentation and snazzy technical drawings).

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We are wedding photographers and videographers. We travel all over New Zealand photographing one of the biggest milestone’s in our couple’s lives –and what is, quite likely, the great party they will ever get to throw.

Something we established early on, is that we would rather be great at a very narrow set of things than average at a huge number of things. So we don’t photograph babies, beer companies, or sports. We photograph people in love. Weddings and couples. That’s it. By being selective and doing fewer genres of photography we can tailor our website, our brand, our processes and everything our about our business to give our couples the very best experience they can have.

Shooting a series of photos is similar because photos are visual communication. So just like doing less has helped our brand communication, creating a cohesive series of images will help your visual communication.

Once you have multiple images, every single image wants to do less, not more. So let's dive into how to create a cohesive set of images, that together are much stronger than the sum of their parts.

Tell one story

I believe there are two keys for creating a strong image series; tell one story and keep as much visual consistency as possible. Your image series should only try to tell one story or idea –the more concise the better!

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Visual Consistency

I love this project from French Photographer Robert Doisneau in 1948. It is a really a great example of what it means to tell a narrow story because its power is in how little it does. The photographer set up a hidden camera and was capturing the reactions of people passing by to a “salacious” nude art work hung in the window of an art store.

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Because the photographer kept just so many visual elements the same - the tone and colour, composition, scale, and subject, the viewer is left looking at just the interesting part -people’s weird and wonderful reactions. And this makes this series so much stronger.

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Keeping visually consistent is a very powerful way to communicate a single idea. And there are four variables we suggest thinking about here: Tone & Colour, Composition, Scale and your Subject.

The more of these four things  that you keep the same - the more obvious any  little subtle change will be.And the less distracted people will be by things that don’t matter.

1. Tone & Colour

Tone in this case, is referring to the light and darkness overall, particularly the difference between the lightest and darkest parts of your series. Colour is referring to the palette and range of colours you are using in your series.

A consistent dark tone and muted colour palette really helps tie this work together even as the subject, scale, and composition change.

A consistent dark tone and muted colour palette really helps tie this work together even as the subject, scale, and composition change.

There are so many ways to play with tone and colour to create consistency or contrast between your image series, such as mostly dark, or mostly light. Or keeping a muted palette or Monochrome.
Or keeping an overall pastel tone or even a single highlight colour.

William Sandberg had a rule that every poster had to have red in it - showing a single Highlight colour is another way to tie together a series.

William Sandberg had a rule that every poster had to have red in it - showing a single Highlight colour is another way to tie together a series.

2. Composition

This is about where you place your subject or subjects in your frame and how they relate to other elements. Will you place your subject in the center? in the top corner? in the foreground or the background?

It’s also about how to position your camera: it is square on? is it high? Or is it low?

How you move yourself or your camera to look for different perspectives and opportunities can dramatically change your composition and how powerful the image is.

In this case, we used a door and a fireplace to frame this bride in a sliver of light.

In this case, we used a door and a fireplace to frame this bride in a sliver of light.

Be aware of whats around you - what can you make use of in the space you’re in? Look up high and see whats above eye level. Then look down low, or even get down on the ground with your camera to find new perspectives.

In this example Michelle was lifting the camera above her head to frame the couple against the leading lines of the plowed field.

In this example Michelle was lifting the camera above her head to frame the couple against the leading lines of the plowed field.

3. Scale

This variable is all about what scale are you telling your story - is it a human sized scale? Is it the scale of a building? Is it the detailed scale of a flower? Using different scales can be a powerful way to give context or emphasis to different aspects of your story.

We have a mantra; ‘close, near, far’ that we repeat on wedding days, to help us remember to step back or step in to make sure we are capturing all the context of a moment. By keeping the tones, composition and subject similar between photos, and only changing the scale, you can build a nice little series.

Using different scales can be a powerful way to give context or emphasis to different aspects of your story

Using different scales can be a powerful way to give context or emphasis to different aspects of your story

4. Subject

This is the 'what' in each photo - it is what each image is a photo of. It could be an object, a car, a building, or a park bench, it be a person or animal; it can also be a part of something larger. Following the principal of ‘less is more’; You should aim to have the fewest subjects possible in each photo. One subject per frame being ideal.

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Often the subject will change from photo to photo. Like this ‘Beards of Wellington’ series by Michael Valli. By keeping tone and colour, composition and scale almost perfectly consistent the only thing changing is the beard and the human its attached too.

You can also tell a fantastic series by keeping the subject consistent, but by letting other variables change.

subject island bay 365.jpg

Conclusion

Shooting a series is a bit different than shooting a single frame. You really want to adopt the principle that ‘Less is More’. By having a one clear story you are trying to tell, and by keeping as much visual consistency as possible, the more impact, and the stronger your visual communication will be.

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As you can see there are a range of different ways you can create a series to tell a story. By carefully thinking through how you can be consistent and the more of these four things that you keep the same - the more obvious any little subtle change will be. And the less distracted people will be by things that don’t matter.

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