What Tells a Story in a Series?
So what tells a story? What exactly makes something work? What makes a story come together and makes it believable? And I believe that one of those things is interactivity. How is the subject interacting within the scene? In my opinion, that's one of the biggest things that story benefits from is having your subject truly integrated into the scene that they're in. So if you're going to have a character in an image, how can you make sure that character is believable within there? So what I try to do with my images is to make my subjects interact with their surroundings in some way. Maybe it's like this. She's just laying there, but she's not looking at the camera and that's really important to me that she doesn't look at the camera, that she truly believes that she is there in that space and that that space is a real space that she exists in. That's the distinction for me. And then believability. So what makes it believable? Yes, interactivity does, of course, because if the subject is ...
interacting. But what else makes something believable? One thing you could say is time period. Making sure the wardrobe matches the location, matches the subject, all of that stuff works together. Another thing that you could say is the lighting looks smooth and clean and consistent. Another thing might be, I don't know, what can you guys think of? Story elements, like okay time period, wardrobe, colors. Making sure that the colors look like they belong in that scene and in that space that they're in. And then we have emersion. So making sure that your viewer feels emersed in the scene. Making sure that whoever is looking at this piece feels like they're in the right place in relation to the image, where they're supposed to be. Not physically like okay I'm standing here and looking at this picture, but what head space am I supposed to be in when I'm looking at this picture? Don't point with your middle finger, friends. That one. So what am I supposed to feel here? What am I supposed to think about this picture. What am I supposed to know about the artist who created this picture? And how do those answers immerse me into this image that I'm creating? Are you capturing an important moment? Are you capturing something about that scene, the character, the location, the wardrobe, something that's important? Really, what is the moment that you feel most compelled to capture? Let's say we had a model standing right here and she's wearing a tutu, she's a ballerina. What would be important for you to capture? Would it be the moment that she hits her perfect pose in the air? Would it be the moment after that when she's falling to the ground? Would it be the moment when she's preparing herself to do that pose? What's important to you? What moment are you trying to tell people about? And then the details. Details tell a story. I often shy away from details in a lot of ways. I love simple, clean looking images. I don't like very cluttered images generally. So it's hard for me with details 'cause I wanna put details in, but I don't want my image to look cluttered with different things. So in this series, for example, the detail was in some of the things that you might not notice right away, like how that yarn was put down on the floor line by line, like how I shot through those cameras. Things like that you're not gonna know right away. I might put these online and people might skip right past them. Maybe they're like, you know what, not visually very interesting for me. I don't wanna know anymore about it. That's okay, but the story is in the details for a lot of those images. So for this image here, where is the story involved? What is the story here? And how was it developed? That's really what I wanna talk about. You have doors, you have a person, you have a forest, you have fog. That's all the information you're getting right now, right off the bat. So what story can we find in this picture? My goal, when I'm planning a photo shoot is to ask myself in the moment that somebody else looks at this image, in that one moment, probably a fraction of a second that they're going to take on Instagram to look and scroll right past it or not scroll right past it. What story do I want them to see in this picture, in that moment and how can I communicate it really fast to them? So if you had to say what the story is here or just what general feeling you get from it, what would you guys say? Anybody?
Choices. Easy right? Because there are three doors and we all know from a multitude of (mumbles) like game shows. People saying what's behind door three? You know, like it's engrained in us, in our society. So we've got three doors and she's sitting there and she hasn't walked through any one of them and you might have an opinion of which one she should walk through. Maybe you don't.
I took it to Alice in Wonderland.
Alice in Wonderland, yeah totally. Alice in Wonderland is a theme or I should say a character that I love to play with in a lot of my images and there's obviously a door theme in Alice in Wonderland. So you can take it there completely. Either way, it probably comes back to choices, right? It was for Alice, it is for me, it is for us. We all have a choice in life. We can take this just way down the line and say, okay you have a choice. You're who you are right now, tomorrow you might be someone else. You might walk through that door instead of that door, who knows. And that's why this is relatable in some sense. You might not think so, but in general, it's relatable because in a moment you understand what this image is about. That doesn't mean that you understand everything about it. That doesn't mean that there's isn't more depth to it. And maybe there's not. I'm not saying there is, but maybe. And then we have this image. So this one is a much more cinematic image than I usually create. So if you had to say what's happening here what would you say? Relationship and connection, totally. So then think about why are they reaching for each other and I don't have an answer to this, by the way. I created this with my sister and we had a very complicated relationship in a lot of ways and I created this with a lot of ambiguity. I didn't answer this for myself of why are we reaching for each other. Will she get away or will she not? Will we touch hands or will they not? And this is to me what story does is that it puts questions in your mind. Is she trying to get her hand or is this the moment that they've just broken away? You know, like what moment is this for them and why is it significant and who are these people and why are they on this beach and why are they wearing these clothes? And these are all the questions that we should ask when we're putting an image together for ourselves. This one we've got, we'll I won't say, because the moment I say what is happening, you understand the theme of this image. 'Cause if I say she's reaching for a star, that in itself is a theme is it not? Reaching for your dreams, reaching for your goals, looking for something beyond what you already have. And then we have this one where that's my creepy self being dead in the ground. Not really, I'm not dead, but that's me laying in the ground and so this is all about cultivating a new version of yourself. You know, there's a little flower in the ground. She's got a little bucket and she's watering what is her new self underneath the ground. This one's a little weird, I guess. I've never said that out loud, but still it's there, the story is there. And then we've got this one, which we're going to talk a little bit about universal symbols a little bit later on. But we have an umbrella here, which is a symbol that almost anybody would understand. You have an umbrella, you know what it means. It means that there is rain and you're trying to protect yourself from the rain. Easy, easy. So anybody looking at this image knows that there is an umbrella and that it's trying to protect her from the rain, but what is the point because she's already sinking in the water. So there's this dynamic of irony happening in this story, which we won't go that deep into story elements or anything like that, into irony and ways of playing with different elements of story. But it's really important to think about how are you telling stories? The way that I do it is through symbolism and theme. That's just my personal way of trying to create a story. So if I actually go back to the image of the doors there, I'm doing it the same way through symbol. I didn't say what is the door a symbol of, but the door is a symbol of choice here and so on and so forth. So the star is a symbol of dreams. The watering can and the flower is a symbol of new life. Then we've got our umbrella, which is a symbol for protection. So that's how I like to tell stories. That's how I like to communicate my stories. Then I wanted to ask you how do these images fall short in the ways that we tell stories? I want you to be really honest. Like I really want you to answer this because in my opinion these images fall short in storytelling. In my opinion, these images are not my best images. I look at them and I feel like something is missing from them. And you may not agree. You may agree, it doesn't matter. But let me just use this one, for example. Down here we've got this girl standing on the water and what else? Nothing, she is just standing there. And this is my problem with this picture is that there is no interaction. There is no intent. There is no symbol. So you could say, yeah there's some story. She's standing on water, of course there's something happening. But to me, you could have gone so much further, Brooke. That's what I'm telling myself. You could have gone so much further with this. You could have really had her doing something or put something more provocative in this image. So if you guys had to say for any of these, what happened? What did I not do? Please tell me. I'm serious I want you to tell me. You can critique me. I love being critiqued.
I see less symbolism than in your other work so maybe other than the butterfly one or leaves, I can't tell exactly.
But there's not kind of like clear messages of symbolism and that could be taking away from any sort of theme.
Exactly, thank you. I do appreciate it (laughing). And if you guys have anything else you wanna say, please feel free. I love being criticized. It's very helpful. But I think that these images do fall short and it's good to recognize when something falls short, isn't it? It's good to just be able to step back from your work and say, you know what, it's not working and it's okay that it's not working. It's good if it's not working. It means that you tried something and it didn't work out and so what. I mean, why are we putting that pressure on ourselves? Who cares if it didn't work out. So what if I've released this picture and I don't think it's a good picture? It doesn't matter. I'm not gonna be judged on one image. Well actually I probably will be by many people, but who cares. Who cares. More people will come. That won't be the end all, be all of your career. So in terms of storytelling, in terms of really creating a photo shoot that will mean something to yourself and to somebody else, it all comes down to the individual elements that you're putting into that shoot. You're putting in every single element. There's lighting, there's a prop, there's a person, there's a wardrobe, there's a camera angle that was chosen, a certain lens that was chosen. All of these things that go into this and in these cases, I didn't think about all of those elements. I created every single one of these images on the spot without thinking a lot about it. I remember I created this one out of desperation. I had had that photo for so long that one day I was like you know what, forget it, I'm just gonna do something. Make it look cool with the colors and put it out there. And I was just frustrated that I had never done anything with it. And it wasn't well thought out. So the more we think about in depth, every single element of what we're trying to do, the more impactful, the more story people are going to see in what we're trying to create. And that is what I hope that you can get out of this lesson, which hopefully the guide will help. We've got lots of questions in here regarding what we're trying to do with our images, how we're trying to do those things, and what choices will be most impactful for us. So I'm really hoping that the worksheet will be really helpful just in terms of summarizing how we build a photo shoot and how we can make that even better than it was before.
Bonus Materials with Purchase
Guided Daydream & Writing Exercises Workbook (Lessons 1-11)
Creating an Original Narrative Workbook (Lessons 12-18)
Finding Your Target Audience Workbook (Lessons 19-27)
Planning Your Series Workbook (Lessons 28-34)
Set Design Workbook (Lessons 35-41)
Compositing Workflow Checklist (Lessons 42-49)
Editing Workflow Checklist (Lessons 50-55)
Location Scouting Workbook (Lessons 56-60)
Stock Image Downloads for Practice (Lessons 61-72)
Organizing Your Portfolio Workbook (Lessons 77-81)
Pricing & Editioning Your Work Workbook (Lessons 82-89)
Writing Contracts & Licensing Images Workbook (Lessons 90-98)
Gallery Best Practices (Lessons 99-106)
Pitch Package Workbook (Lessons 107-111)
Writing Your Brand Workbook (Lessons 112-117)
Marketing Workbook (Lessons 118-122)
Social Media Workbook (Lessons 123-127)
Printing Methods Checklist (Lessons 128-133)
Self Critique Workbook (Lessons 134-137)
Bonus Materials Guide
Image Edit Videos