What’s the Deal With Storytelling?

Mon, Apr 5, 2010

Blogs, Fearless Creativity

What’s the Deal With Storytelling?

Things begin to go awry when I have no point of view; no opinion, no specific observation, nothing to reveal. I spend most of my time trying to uncover the problem, though once established, the rest is hard work that is relatively relaxing. I’ve discovered that most of my restlessness lies in finding the story not telling it.

I’m used to seeing life happen through a viewfinder; it’s my job, and probably why I leave my camera at home when on vacation or spending time with friends. I want to feel it without the camera framing it for me. The camera can keep me from seeing if I’m not careful; as soon as I raise it to my eye, I’m a professional and my craft dominates.

This whole “telling the story” thing has stalked me.  Photography, greeting cards, marketing, branding and advertising all tell stories. In my off hours, music, socializing, reading, listening – all involve stories. FaceBook is one big story made of short anecdotes from a select cast of characters.

I have a stream of self talk as I interact with anything. Looking at a photo or artwork creates a story in my head clarifying the memories it evokes, the emotions it churns or the actions I will take as a result of including this image in my life. Creating art is speaking the narrative.

A good photographer understands the craft of storytelling.  I think making a successful photograph usually incorporates at least some of these:

Slow Disclosure:
Like in films, each element of the story, revealed all at once, will cause the viewer to move on faster than it took you to take the photo in the first place. Framing, composition, angle of view, selective focus all contribute to the pace with which the viewer understands the story your telling with the image; too fast and their gone, too slow, and they’re bored.

Power of unanswered questions:
Learn to love the questions – there is power in the unresolved chord. Sometimes the story is in the details of the moment but the question it leaves behind can be equally as compelling. The best movie you saw left you talking about it long after you left the theater. Same goes for a photographic image.

Empathic Engagement:
The image isn’t about what you’re feeling, it’s about what your viewer is feeling. Cognitive and emotional integration of surprise, satisfaction, beauty, horror – or whatever the story’s point – needs to be empathic to be engaging.

It’s the discipline of storytelling that helps us build more meaningful experiences for the viewer.  Storytelling is deeply embedded in the way we understand things. Our world view helps us build expectations of our story’s plot, and the effectiveness of the spectacle can actually change the world view of others through a surprise resolution.

It all starts with a point of view.  Scott Simon tells us how it’s done.

emotional, marketing, Photography, Storytelling

4 Responses to “What’s the Deal With Storytelling?”

  1. Laura Packer Says:

    Love this post! By telling an effective story you connect, engage and provoke your audience. It’s the single most powerful way to build empathy between two people or a person and a myriad. The right story told well becomes the listener’s story.
    Organizations need effective stories too, that are authentic and believable.
    I blog about this at truestorieshonestlies.blogspot.com would love to talk w/ you about it further.

    • Bruce DeBoer Says:

      By approaching visual message using storytelling techniques, it is easier for me to understand an enduring art form through the upheaval of our digital transformation. Nothing is going to replace good storytelling.

      • Kevin Halliburton Says:

        I loved this article Bruce. I just posted a link to it in the comment section of a guest post I wrote for Jason D. Moore recently. I thought it added a lot of value to the discussion over there.

        Two key quotes from my article tie in well here:

        “You are not a photographer. You are a story teller. When that sinks in it will transform your work.”

        “The photographer’s job is rarely to create a technically perfect reproduction of a scene but rather to illustrate a compelling story as clearly as possible.”

        I also noted that, “there is a massive volume of quality training available to today’s emerging photographer but most of it lacks an emphasis on the how-to and why of compelling story telling. That is surprising, because it is the single most important element in creating engaging and enduring images.”

        Your post today goes a long way toward filling that void. Thank you.

  2. shannon Says:

    Love reading your site, and timely article for me this weekend while volunteering at full frame doc festival. The images the filmmakers choose to put on film tell powerful and compelling stories that always move me and are compelling and powerful to create conversations that hopefully create social change. Also, I was recommended a short film that is fun and a powerful story that helps a creative young boy that was willing to create even while no one was watching, until someone did. http://cainesarcade.com/


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