Story

The Single Most Important Ingredient in Image-making

NOTE: The term "story", as used in this text, does not mean "storytelling", "narrative" or a full chronicle within the confines of a single still image frame.

 

It is used here with the meaning "a grouping of elements which, together, convey a fuller or more cohesive concept than the elements themselves have separately."

by Robin Griggs Wood

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Pretty silly, right?

 

However, this same thing happens with photographs all the time!

 

(Not bananas, mind you … ;o), just unrelated elements included in the image.)

Everything that you include within the frame of your shot should have a reason to be there in the final work. If an element within your work doesn't support the work, it will take your viewer away from the work.

"Every picture tells a story" goes the old saying.

 

However, before you think I am way off base, citing examples of abstract and textural-based images, allow me to expound on that notion –– every picture tells the photographer's story. The more "you" that you put into your images, the more you move into the realm of becoming a remarkable photographer.

 

What is your story, your cohesive concept, that you wish to tell with an image?

 

What did you see, feel and experience that caused you to take the shot in the first place; and, when you finally display it, how can you get your viewer to see it, too?

 

Now, the following is the single most important ingredient to making a photograph that is remarkable and telling your story effectively:

Whatever you include within your image,

 

 

→  if it doesn't support your story,

 

 

→  it pulls your viewer out of the story.

Imagine for a moment that you are watching a movie, some great crime drama where the evil-doer is about to be revealed. Imagine now––that at the very moment the door creaks open to unveil the face of the dastardly villain––a banana goes flying through the scene. In that instant, you as the viewer are thrown out of the story and mostly all that you can think about is, "What the heck … a banana?!"

 

At that point you have left the story. 

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Cohesive Concept

It is typical that we view something we have shot, or the work of another, and it has some good elements, but something is "a little off" that you cannot quite put your finger on. What happened was, that while you were looking at the image, your eye hit upon something that threw you out of the "story" within the image.

As example, the image below: the photographer took the shot because of the beautiful sky and the graceful lines of the rollercoasters. However, the parking lot, fence, parts of the rollercoaster that create lines which point away from the subject and the smaller elements all tell a "story" of the outside area of a theme park. It is true that all those extraneous things are part of the context of the place where the image was taken, but they are not part of the cohesive concept of the photographer's "story" and what drew them to take the shot.

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It is difficult sometimes to cull the elements in your final images when you have many things in it, especially times when some of those elements may mean a great deal to you for various reasons. However, ultimately, it comes down to whether or not others will see those things in the final result, or become lost in a quagmire of

"information overload".

 

Show the viewer why you took the shot. Give them the same feeling you had while you were there using a strong, cohesive concept in the final result.

Copyright-RobinGriggsWood-please-do-not-

All content at this site is protected by international copyright law. Use without permission is illegal and will result in legal procedures against transgressors. All articles and images (where indicated) are the property of Robin Griggs Wood and may not be used wholly or in part without the prior written permission, including copying, duplicating, manipulating, printing, publishing, reproducing, storing, or transmitting by any means.

 

Story - part  2

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Your "Characters"

 

 

 

 

Now, where were we?

 

Oh yes, I remember …

we were watching a movie ...

Continuing with that analogy for this next segment on "Story" (as a "cohesive concept"), I will go into one of the elements of a well-crafted image––the subject.

 

"Subject" is something we all know well; it is an apple, a car, your kid, etc. However, instead of thinking of it in standard terms, I want to take you back over to the idea of story within a movie. You have characters in a movie––actors and their supporting actors that play out roles that help us to understand and involve us in the story.

 

The elements of your image can be viewed in this same way. The main "actor" is your subject, the elements that reinforce it are the "supporting actors". If you put too many actors as a main actor, your story becomes difficult to follow––there is no central point to keep one's attention on.

 

Have you ever seen these gardens where there are garden gnomes and little stone rabbits and plastic flowers––and, and, and––absolutely everywhere?!

 

When you try to "feature" everything, you end up featuring nothing.

 

(And, my apologies to any of you who have an enormous garden gnome collection in your yard–-but there you have it; that's the cold, hard truth of the matter. … ;o))

That is the image you took, which you cannot quite decide on. It has "that great tree over there on this side" and "this great waterfall here in the middle" and "that bright green bird is too cool to crop out". However, if you can find a way where, e.g., "bird" and "tree" somehow support "main-actor-waterfall" when you compose your shot, or find a way to diminish "waterfall" and "tree" in post-processing to steal less attention from

"main-actor-bird", then your story will be told effectively. If not, then among all those features, nothing will be featured.

Therefore, you are going to have to do some judicious pruning or pre-planning. Crop it out, or frame it in camera––after deciding what are the MAIN actor and the SUPPORTING actors of your scene.

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So, how do you decide?

 

You can remove anything NON-SUPPORTING and not change the story (cohesive concept) at all.

 

You cannot remove a SUPPORTING actor and still have the same story. It's like removing Dr. Watson from Sherlock Holmes; the whole story changes. Watson, our SUPPORTING character makes Holmes the MAIN simply by being less intelligent and making Holmes stand out more.

 

Think on what the word "support" means on its own. Pull the support out from underneath a building and it falls apart; the same is true of SUPPORTING elements in an image.

Additional notes:

 

Along with apples, cars and kids, we also have Main and Supporting Actors which are:

  • light,

  • shadow,

  • texture,

  • blur,

  • form,

  • motion,

  • etc.

 

When crafting your image, you need to decide if, for example, the light rays in the distance are your Main Actor or merely a Supporting Actor to your trickling stream in the foreground.

 

As you learn more of the Art Basics, those standard design principles that many visual artists rely on for guidance, you will get a better idea of how to compose your image or feature a specific Main Actor. 

 

For now, it is about gaining the ability to decide what it is first.

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I feel I must point out the obvious––in case any of you are reading this with insufficient sleep or insufficient caffeine in the system––that if you have a dozen birds, or five trees in the scene, you don't have to single one out as your Main Actor.

They can be considered as a single element

––a flock or grove, if you will––and used in that way. As long as they work within the scene as a singular element.

 

 

 

This is also true for a large collection of garden gnomes … ;o)

Copyright-RobinGriggsWood-please-do-not-

All content at this site is protected by international copyright law. Use without permission is illegal and will result in legal procedures against transgressors. All articles and images (where indicated) are the property of Robin Griggs Wood and may not be used wholly or in part without the prior written permission, including copying, duplicating, manipulating, printing, publishing, reproducing, storing, or transmitting by any means.