The physical components of almost any digital story are these: narration, score, images, and movement. As you improve as a storyteller, I think it’s important to sometimes isolate one of these components and hone your skills for the sake of that particular skill. One of your most readily available media elements is the collection of photographs you already have. But no matter how extensive that collection might be, there will come a time when you want to tell a story for which you have no existing photos. Or you might be working on a story, and you find yourself with no image for a particular part of your story. In almost all cases, it will be a terrible idea to search the Web for something that might “work.” I’m not saying it’s an impossible task, but your odds aren’t very good, and it will likely take you a lot of time to find just the right image, and then you have questions of copyright to consider, too. Just imagine how nice it would be to know that you’ve developed your creative and documentary photography skills enough to know you can make the photograph you need all on your own. I’m not saying that you should develop your skills to compete with professional photographers. Instead, I think it’s a good idea to start practicing and developing your photo skills so you can draw on them when needed.
[epq-quote align=”align-right”]As far as hardware goes, don’t worry about buying a dedicated camera for this work. Your phone is more than capable of producing beautiful images worthy of your best stories. [/epq-quote]As far as hardware goes, don’t worry about buying a dedicated camera for this work. Your phone is more than capable of producing beautiful images worthy of your best stories. As you get more comfortable with your phone, you might start getting ideas beyond the capabilities of your phone. You might have an idea for a tracking shot, so you snag yourself a small gimbal. Or you might want to tell a story using a 360-degree shot. That’s fine. If you have a purpose in mind for the gear, and you can afford it, there’s nothing wrong with buying what you’ll use. But before you do, make sure to spend some time exploring the limits of what your phone camera can do. Most iPhones and a lot of Android phones can capture panoramic shots, produce stop motion video clips, capture slow-motion clips, and use all sorts of different filters to meet your needs. Your phone camera is a powerful tool if you take the time to learn to use it. But that’s just on the hardware side.
A much more important element of photography is learning to SEE the photograph you want to take. This skill takes practice. And it takes time to internalize it enough that different types of shots will occur to you at opportune moments.
The other element of photography—some would say the most important element—is learning about composition. How much of the visual frame do you want your subject to occupy? What do you want in the background? Where is the best place for you to position yourself when you take the photo? How do different perspectives for the same subject affect the meaning of the photo you’re taking? When is the best moment to take the shot? I could go on and on with these questions. And ALL of them will play a role in the way your photos add meaning to your story.
Don’t worry. You don’t need to keep all of this in mind when you’re taking photos for your story. The more you practice your photo skills, the more naturally and unconsciously they will play a role in the photos you do take. Maybe you don’t have a ton of confidence in yourself as a photographer. Don’t worry. Just get out there and practice. Even if your photos don’t look exactly like you’d hoped, you can still tell a fantastic story with them.
That said, I wanted to offer a collection of links you might find useful if you want to start improving your photography. They’re useful whether you’re rocking your phone camera, a decent point-and-shoot, or a pro camera. The whole thing is about training your brain and your eye to see in creative and expressive ways. Here’s a list to get you started:
- How to Take Great Photos in Boring Locations (VIDEO) | Shutterbug
- How I Got Better at Photography
- 30 Composition Styles for Taking Good Pictures
- This One Thing Will Make Your Photos Better: Storytelling
- 3 Techniques to Improve Your Photo Compositions
- The Importance of the Photograph
- How to Avoid Being Overwhelmed When Learning Photography
- How to Take Interesting Photos in Uninteresting Places
- Improve Your Composition by Changing Your Point of View
- 7 Photography Exercises To Help You Be a Better Photographer
- How to Create a Center of Attention for Better Storytelling Images
- 6 Creative Composition Techniques to Boost Your Images
Did I forget anything? If you know of any other resources your fellow storytellers might find useful, make sure to point us to that resource in a comment below. It might be a web page, YouTube video, or even a print book. If it can help, let us know about it!