digital photography tips with Digital Photo Mentor Darlene Hildebrandt

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What is your message? Storytelling photography

Locally I teach a travel photography class and I often ask my students what they've learned or what they've gotten out of the class. The answer I got from one of them made me feel really good, that my message was getting through. He said he wrote down:

What is my intention?

That's exactly our topic today. Why did you take a photo? What did you see that you wanted to convey to others that see your image?

When you slow down and start to ask yourself these kinds of questions, you will also likely find that the photographs you create have more meaning and more appeal to other people as well.

Is there a story or message here? What is it?
Is there a story or message here? What is it?

Getting “wow” reactions to your photos

Would you like people to “get” your images, see what you saw and maybe offer you a “wow” or two? There are a few keys to getting that kind of reactions, let's take a look:

  • have a point to creating a photograph, why are you taking it?
  • what do you FEEL as you are taking the photograph? Use all your senses: what do you smell, hear, see, feel and taste if it's applicable at the time?
  • what is your message, what is the story you want to tell?
  • what is drawing you in to take this image?
  • what do you want the viewer to understand and get when they look at your image
What is the story you see in this image? Why did I take it?

I can probably guess what you're thinking right now. Something along the lines of – “oh no now I have to get all the technical stuff right, apertures, shutter speeds, etc – AND I have to think about my feelings?!” Am I close? It is a lot, I get it, especially if you're still new to taking pictures and more interested in the basics of photography. But trust me on this, even if you have to stick your camera on Program or Auto for a while and focus on this . . .

Think about WHY, as you photograph

I've also heard more than once from my students that their photos were better before they started learning about camera settings and shooting more in Manual mode – can you relate to that too? So what's wrong with taking a step back and focusing on the other part of photography for a while – the aesthetic side!


Great photography is a balance of technical and artistic!

You need to develop both parts of that equation. The best in their field produce storytelling photography that is both technically sound, and interesting enough to draw the viewer in to their images.

Part One – the technical. Yes you'll want to master the technical stuff so that it's second nature for you and you can change settings without consulting the manual or even taking the camera away from your eye. Ideally you want to get to where it's second nature and you hardly think about settings, you just do it. That only comes with practice and familiarity with your camera.

Part Two – the artistic. This too needs to be nurtured. Looking at things differently and thinking about the WHY as you photograph is part developing your artistic abilities. Some people believe such talents are inherited and you either have it or you don't. I believe creativity can be learned and developed and, just like Part One above, only comes with practice. As we grow up and become adults we often lose touch with our creative side, but it's there if you are willing to uncover it.

Take a look at the two images of the dancers below. Both are technically well done, would you agree? They're in focus and well exposed. But which of the two tells more of a story? Which has more feeling? Which one gives you a better idea of what I was thinking, and my intention, when I took it?

storytelling-photography-1024px-08 storytelling-photography-1024px-04

Action plan for this week

You probably already know what I'm going to say right?

Get out there and photograph something, but this week, go out with more intention. Slow down, pause while you're shooting, and think about your reasons for doing it. Photography is a journey, use all your senses and try to capture that in your image.

Then – share then with us here and tell me about your experience. Did you notice a difference in the resulting photographs when you shot with intention? Did you use Auto settings and let the technical fall where it may and focus on the artistic? If so how did that feel? Was it successful in your opinion? Most importantly did you get any “wow” comments yet?

Secondly, what stories, if any, do you see in the images in this article? I'd love to hear what you see and what you get from my photographs and how close that comes to my intentions when I took them.


Until next time, keep shooting!

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