Photography Tips

5 Steps to Master the Art of Storytelling in Photography

January 16, 2024

I approach every session and wedding that I photograph with the intention of getting to know the people I’m photographing and telling a small piece of their story. Whether it’s the day they get married, welcoming a new baby to the family, capturing their kids’ unique personalities and age every year, or documenting a sweet […]

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I approach every session and wedding that I photograph with the intention of getting to know the people I’m photographing and telling a small piece of their story. Whether it’s the day they get married, welcoming a new baby to the family, capturing their kids’ unique personalities and age every year, or documenting a sweet engagement — every couple, individual and family I work with has a story as special as they are. And being the one capturing their special moments comes with responsibility of carrying out the art of storytelling.

Storytelling in photography can elevate the quality of your work exponentially. It sheds light on the people in front of your lens and documents real emotion in a way they’ll treasure forever. But how do you actually capture stories in your photographs? I want to share some of my best tips and tricks for mastering the art of storytelling in photography today!

5 Steps to Master the Art of Storytelling for Photographers | Jillian Goulding Photography

01. Know your clients.

The best thing you can do to tell stories with your images is really getting to know your clients. That might mean a formal client questionnaire and phone calls/meetings with bigger contracts (like weddings) or just spending 10-15 minutes chatting before regular (and even mini) sessions. Don’t just ask them what kind of photos they want (because they probably don’t know exactly), but ask them about their hobbies, interests, favorite songs, favorite foods, etc. Ask about any major happenings in their lives recently. Knowing your clients on a personal, almost friend-like level will help you to demonstrate who they are in your images. Its the first (and arguably the most important) step in the art of storytelling.

02. Pick a theme for your narrative.

Once you know a bit about your clients, you can choose a theme for their story. For engagements and weddings, the theme might be something like love, connection, joy, or commitment. For family photos or new baby sessions, it could be a theme like growth, togetherness, or play. Choosing one or two words to encompass your clients’ story will help you take images reflective of that theme.

03. Plan your shots.

Knowing your clients’ personalities and the theme for the session will help you to map out a general course for the shots you want to get. I always aim to get a variety of shots no matter what — some photos with more movement, some with more stillness, some more serious, some more joyful. Come up with a general idea of the different backdrops and vibes you want to capture that will demonstrate your clients’ story well. Storyboarding can help with this aspect — collect some inspo photos that you can reference and use as creative fuel during the session.

04. Capture real emotions and natural moments.

It’s great to go into a session with a plan, but it’s also super important to let magical moments and emotions unfold on their own. Kids giggling and playing, dad planting a kiss on little one’s head, a couple holding hands and talking about their future… These kinds of natural moments are so beautiful and happen when clients feel really at ease and comfortable with you and the environment. Do what you can to keep the atmosphere fun and lighthearted so these types of interactions unfold authentically.

05. Play with light and colors.

Much of the emotion in photos relies on the subjects themselves — but some of it also relies on the environment and lighting around them. An image of your clients in a field of wildflowers with the golden sun setting in the distance will evoke a different story than a moody, overcast day at the beach with giant crashing waves. Consider the time of day, lighting obstacles, and setting that will best capture your clients’ story.

The awesome thing about utilizing storytelling in photography is it creates a beautifully diverse and well-rounded portfolio of work for you. It also makes this work so much more meaningful and interesting as you’re faced with the challenge of portraying each client’s unique story and season of their life. I love this photography strategy and know you’ll be able to master it with some practice, experimentation, and continual refinement.

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I’m Jillian Goulding, a photographer and educator raising babies and building my life in Sacramento, CA.

Over the years, I’ve transformed my side hustle into a thriving photography business that has taken me and my camera to the beaches of San Francisco Bay, the pages of People Magazine, and the screens of Extra TV.

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