Being able to tell a story with your digital photography is a sure sign that your skills are improving. The next step is to be able to tell that story with 10 pictures or less, much the same as a pro would have to do to satisfy the requirements of a photo editor at a travel magazine, for example. If you’re a photography hobbyist or enthusiast, then an excellent exercise is to pretend you’ve been given such an assignment. A mock assignment will also help a serious photographer or semi-pro to be better prepared when he or she is presented with that kind of opportunity.
The location of your mock photo story assignment could be as large an area as your state or province or as small as the immediate neighborhood where you live. Both have their challenges. The larger the geographic area, the more time will be required to find, explore and capture the elements that distinguishes that place from all others. With a very small location, such as your backyard, you must be able to identify and photograph, from a limited number of elements, what makes it different than all other backyards in the neighborhood, and does it in a story format.
Of whatever place you are trying to tell a story, the distinguishing elements could be the natural environment and landmarks, people and their dress, food, architecture, arts and attractions. This two-part PhotographyTalk.com article presents a few tips to help you recognize those elements, whether you’re on the street where you live or the other side of the globe, and then record the images that tell an interesting story.
In a larger place, such as a city or even a district within a city, there are typically attractions (landmarks, buildings, parks, monuments, etc.) that either immediately identify the location or present you with an opportunity to provide viewers with new information about that place, exciting them to know more of the story. Travelers are attracted to the Statue of Liberty in New York City, Big Ben in London, the Coliseum in Rome, etc., and millions of them have shot those landmarks from every conceivable angle and view. Your challenge is to capture new, fresh images of those places. They are important to your story, but you don’t want to present the magazine photo editor with just another tourist snapshot.
Transpose this tip to your neighborhood or backyard, and it’s unlikely you’ll find a universally recognizable landmark; however, that doesn’t mean some “attractions” in your background can’t generate interest too. The landmark in your backyard could be as simple as a birdhouse or bird feeder, a trellis filled with colorful flowers or the pleasing arrangement of lawn/patio furniture. The major items there are all important parts of the story of your backyard.
The Power of the People
An excellent argument could be made that the most distinguishing element of any place is the people, especially considering their dress will be included in any photos and, often, whatever activity has their attention when you take their picture. Generally, you’ll find people wherever you may be shooting other elements to tell the story of a place. Including the guide at a landmark, the wait staff at a restaurant or the crowds during a street fair, combines more than one story-telling element in a single photo.
The Culinary Experience
Often, food, locally grown and displayed in a market or as prepared dishes in a restaurant, are also strong symbols of a particular place, and critical to telling its story. For example, your mock assignment could be narrowed to following local foodstuff from the field or pasture to the market, and then to a restaurant that specializes in local, sustainable and fresh ingredients. A particular restaurant or dish may be the highlight of a place, making it instantly identifiable to people throughout a city, state or country, or even the world. Think of a cheese steak sandwich in Philadelphia, fish and chips in London, phu in Vietnam or lamb kebobs throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Read the three-part PhotographyTalk.com article, Photography Tip—Recording the Restaurant Experience, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, for specific tips and techniques for shooting in restaurants.
Read Part 2 of this PhotographyTalk.com article to learn more about how to recognize the elements that reveal the story of a place. (Coming Soon)