Storytelling with Your Photography

March 20, 2013

in Photography Creative Team, Photography Tips, Photography Tutorials, Susan Keller

Storytelling with Photography Tutorial via

Today, our I Heart Faces Creative Team Member Susan Keller Photography is sharing tips on how you can tell beautiful stories with the photos that you capture.

sto•ry•tell•ing (from noun – the telling or writing of stories.

Wikipedia expands the definition/description … “Stories have been carved, scratched, painted, printed or inked onto wood or bamboo, ivory and other bones, pottery, clay tablets, stone, palm-leaf books, skins (parchment), bark cloth, paper, silk, canvas, and other textiles, recorded on film, and stored electronically in digital form. Oral stories continue to be committed to memory and passed from generation to generation, despite the increasing popularity of written and televised media in much of the world.”

I’m going to expand a bit more and make it personal: I try to capture my own family’s stories and culture and events and milestones in photographic images. I’m not someone who enjoys writing, journaling, keeping up scrapbooks, or otherwise putting in written documentary form the happenings in the lives of my family members.

But I surely love taking pictures. And capturing our story.

It’s all about the details.

It’s my opinion that storytelling photography looks very different than a traditional, beautiful portrait. A storytelling image includes more details. Is more authentic and honest. Sometimes is messy. Sometimes is funny. Sometimes is sad. It is not posed. Or manipulated. Or forced. It lets the moment speak for itself!

Let me show you what I mean by storytelling photography. I’ll start with a film scan from 1998 – a picture of 15-year-ago me and my oldest son (who’s now receiving college invitations – ack!).
I Heart Faces Storytelling with Photography

This picture totally, completely transports me back to this time. This time back when summers in San Jose were swelteringly hot. And we made regular trips to the library, because even way back then, my son loved books. And the cat (peeking out from behind the futon) was never far from me. And the purple REI diaper-bag-backpack went everywhere with us. And I studied cookbooks because I was all about cooking once-a-month and freezing meals for “convenience” sake. This picture beautifully documents life.

Let’s fast forward 15 years … exhibit B:
I Heart Faces Storytelling with Photography

Here’s my youngest son. On the brink of turning 10. But with every ounce of boyhood imagination left intact. My couch is fading and the slip cover is shredded. But Littlest Dude doesn’t see or mind that. He’s got his eye on his target. And his K’nex assault weapon is locked and loaded and ready for action.

And exhibit C:
I Heart Faces Storytelling with Photography

These are my dudes. Out late at night. With flashlights and bug-catching paraphernalia in hand. It was a hoot. They were all 100% engaged. I want never to forget that silly moment in time.

What about telling the stories of my clients? What does that look like? For me, it looks an awful lot like this:

It’s what life in their backyard currently looks like – with football throwing/catching while the dog runs interference, with sisters competing to see who swings the highest, with mom looking on, happy and amused by all of it… I did not need to stage or “pose” or manipulate this. This dear family just went outside and did their thing.

Here’s a big part of the secret to storytelling images: be patient and wait for the moment as it unfolds. Don’t be afraid to let the “clutter” into your frame. Stop down your aperture (f/4, f/8, even f/11 if light allows) to keep more of the details in focus. Use a wider angle perspective (24mm, 35mm). Shoot wide. Shoot deep. Observe minutely.

Use a series of photos to tell the story.

Storytelling photography doesn’t need to be limited to merely one image. More often than not, I use a series of photos to narrate the story. Like in this blog post:

Storytelling in a series of photos is especially easily & conveniently done with a phone camera, since it’s nearly always with you. And added bonus is that phone cameras don’t have narrow DOF, so everything will already be in focus for you ;-). Embrace the details! Embrace the “mundane” parts of life.

This photographic series below reminds me of the weekend when the dudes and I took a bike ride by the beach in the not-summer-time and the sights we saw along the way, and the goofy things we did…
I Heart Faces Storytelling with Photography
There’s a beautiful quotation by Elliott Erwitt: “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place … I’ve found it has little to do with things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

Now, go grab a camera, find something interesting in an ordinary place, and tell a story.

Susan Keller for I Heart Faces
Susan Keller is an Orange County Baby, Child & Family Photographer who loves coffee, good books, big landscapes, her dudes, and using ellipses instead of words… You can find her on Facebook and blogging at Short on Words.  Susan is also a member of the I Heart Faces Creative Team and will be a featured speaker at our upcoming Photography Conference for Women!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

HeruLS May 16, 2013

Insightful for me.
Thanks for sharing, Susan.


Mary April 2, 2013

Great post! It’s helps me to remember that there’s always a photo to be taken as long as there is a story to be told..and that’s almost always the case! It’s all about what “life in their backyard currently looks like”…




Courtney March 22, 2013

I really enjoyed this post! Thanks for sharing. It’s great to be reminded to capture the details and stories of our lives!


Joanna March 21, 2013

This is a wonderful piece. this is my style. I have alwasy looked for resources about storytelling. Thank you for this.


susan keller March 20, 2013

Krista – I’m a fellow klutz; the only picture I took while riding was the first one :-). The rest, I stopped first before snapping. My phone camera is a samsung galaxy. My “big girl” camera does not come on bike rides with me – I’m terrified I would fall and break it!


Krista March 20, 2013

Thank you! I really enjoyed this post.

Out of curiosity, what kind of camera did you use on your bike ride? And how did you not crash?

Sincerely, the klutz in the crowd


Lisa March 20, 2013

“something interesting in an ordinary place” – love this!


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