3 Guides for Story Telling Compositions

Story Telling Compositions

I like to think of a photograph as a story. Not just “Fine Art” photographs, all photographs. Every image tells a story. Sometimes the story is, “I’m eating pasta right now” as told by my iPhone. Sometimes the story is, “Buy this product and you’ll be happy and have lots of friends.” Sometimes the story comes together in a moment on the street, other times the story takes hours of preparation with models, lights, and props.

I’m eating this right now, as told by my iPhone.
All photos tell a story. Here are three ideas for telling your story well.

1. A picture’s worth 1000 words

You’ve probably heard that 1000 times, but let’s assume it’s true. This means that for every photo you take, every story you tell, you have ONLY 1000 words to use to tell that story. You need to use those words carefully, making sure that every single one counts. You wouldn’t turn in a paper to class with 600 words on the right subject and 400 words of gibberish. Don’t do that with your photo stories either. Get rid of everything that is not telling your story. If it doesn’t help, it hurts and it needs to go away. The strongest, most impactful photos use every one of their 1000 words to tell their story.

Story Telling Compositions
1000 words of hurrying through a rainy night in Venice


2. Use the right lens

Different lenses allow viewers to engage with the story in different ways. You could think of this as writing a story in the first person tense or the third person tense. When you get in close with a wide angle lens, you give your viewers the experience of being there. They are now part of the story you’re telling. It’s like writing in first person. When you step back a bit and use a telephoto lens, you give viewers a more objective perspective, that of an observer who isn’t actually participating in the story. Neither are right or wrong, just different ways of telling the story. A bit of thought before you snap the photo will help you decide which lens is going to give you the right perspective on the story you’re about to tell.

Story Telling Compositions Story Telling Compositions










One of these was shot in close with a wide angle, the other from a bit farther back with a telephoto. Can you tell which is which?

3. Don’t shoot flat footed

The height of your perspective is just as powerful as the lens you choose in determining how your viewers will interact with the story you’re telling. I’m 6’3” tall, so as I walk around, my camera tends to see the world from about 6 feet above the ground. This isn’t the only perspective on the world, and it shouldn’t be the only perspective in my photos either. A nice general rule is to shoot things at eye level. Not your eye… their eye. This is the strongest perspective for creating a direct connection between the viewer and the subject. Now, not everything has eyes, I understand that, but apply the principle. A car doesn’t have eyes, but if I want to create a direct connection between my viewers and a car, I need to get down at car level to create that shot.

Story Telling Compositions

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