Photography Tips

How to Tell Stories with Your Images

November 15, 2021

I’ve seen tons of truly stunning photos over the years – but the images that have stuck with me for the long haul were those rare snaps that take things from “stunning” to storytelling.  Isn’t it amazing that as photographers, we have the ability to tell stories without saying a word? We get to do […]

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I’ve seen tons of truly stunning photos over the years – but the images that have stuck with me for the long haul were those rare snaps that take things from “stunning” to storytelling. 

Isn’t it amazing that as photographers, we have the ability to tell stories without saying a word? We get to do so much more than take pretty pictures. We get the honor of capturing the most memorable moments and milestones. We are so lucky. 

But you and I both know storytelling takes some serious intentionality. How can we capture great stories from behind the lens? Well, here are a few tips I like to keep in my back pocket – you can go ahead and stick them in yours, too, girl. 

Pregnant mom-to-be standing on the edge of a mountain over looking the ocean on a cloudy day

1. Plan ahead. 

Before you ever snap a test shot, you can start crafting the narrative. What story does your client have to tell? Maybe they’re just starting out on a lifelong journey of love with an engagement shoot. Maybe it’s a family, capturing the sweet chaos of  life with four littles. Maybe you’re shooting a portrait series for a college graduate, preparing to walk proudly across that stage to grab their degree. Maybe you’re even capturing a new corner of the world on a travel photo trip or unique products for an editorial shoot. No matter why you’re behind the lens, there is a story waiting to be seen, and when you learn a little bit about your client, you’ll be able to capture it.

2. Focus.

I mean, *literally* focus on the right things in your shot. For some portraits, this might mean filling the frame and eliminating the background. For shoots in a meaningful location, this might look like capturing essential background details, even if they aren’t the technical focus of your shot. Don’t be afraid to think small! If a great photo story is a cake, every captured detail adds an extra sprinkle. And who doesn’t love sprinkles? 

3. Choose your composition. 

Sometimes, our own creativity gets the best of us. Yep, I said it. I will be the first to cheer you on for taking creative shots! I’m alllll about a unique angle. But don’t forget your ABC’s. Those foundational rules of photography are our friends. They aren’t there to box us in; they exist to help us dazzle the world. For example: there are lots of ways to incorporate the rule of thirds—just don’t neglect ‘em! And don’t forget to give every photo some depth. Set up your details and select your background so that the whole thing comes together in an interesting way. You’ve got this!

4. Get comfortable.

In a way, your clients are the ones sharing their story—you’re just capturing the magic. But have you ever heard someone tell a story when they were veeeery nervous? Yeah. It probably wasn’t cute. The best way to make your clients comfortable? Be comfortable yourself. When you’re relaxed and chill, they’ll settle in and absolutely shine. Never underestimate the power you have to set the tone!

5. Make this thang multiple chapters. 

Sometimes, one image isn’t going to spin a whole narrative – and hey, that’s totally fine! Shooting a series of images is a perfect way to capture a full story, especially when it comes to those once-in-a-lifetime moments like a pre-wedding first look or the moment older siblings meet a family’s new addition. Don’t feel the pressure to capture it all in one shot. Let that story spill out with every photo you snap! It’ll give you time to focus on different angles, subjects, and emotions. 

6. Shade the story.

No, girl – not shade like people throw on the internet these days. We gotta talk about editing. Even after you’ve finished shooting, you’re not finished storytelling. Different tones evoke different emotions, so keep that in mind as you’re selecting warm or cool tones in your edits. Remember: every good story needs editing, and the same goes for photos. You get to finesse this story into its best version yet as you edit your final images! You are the storyteller, the editor, AND the publisher – look at you go, you triple threat!

Whew! If you read that list and thought, “storytelling takes some serious work,” well… you can’t say I didn’t warn you in the beginning of this little chat. But let me encourage you—it is toooootally worth it. From pre-shoot prep to getting those technical details right to finding that perfect edit, your clients are going to be head-over-heels in love with the story you just helped them tell. And there’s nothing better than happy clients. Well, except maybe the sense of pride that comes from knowing you just made something beautiful.

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Looking for more support when it comes to storytelling, getting top-notch with the technical stuff, or growing your photography biz? I gotchu, girl. 

I offer 1:1 coaching to help you boost your business plan, create art you love, and build the career you’ve always dreamed of!

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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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