Telling stories with photos, six simple tips from a Croydon photographer

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Humans for centuries have been vivid storytellers, passing down key information through the art of narratives. Stories are important elements when hired as an event photographer to be aware of. As a Croydon studio photographer, get commissioned to cover events within the local community. In this article, I will be sharing some key principles that you can apply when taking photos of events you attend. These are principles you can all apply as you do not need to be a professional to achieve this.


Setting the scene

One principle I always apply when covering an event is setting a scene. This means showing the viewer what the environment is of where the event took place. This is most easily done with a wide-angle image that shows where the subjects are and what type of environment they were in. For example, If within an image, you can see signage saying Croydon bus station, along with bus stops and your subject within that environment, without having to explain the viewer will know that the series of images is occurring at this location.


Capturing the mood of an event is essential. It brings emotional context to a body of work. Primary examples of mood can be split in two categories. Formal which tend to be professional environments and informal which tend to be more community based events (on average). Sub-categories maybe solemn, jovial, restlessness, casual, fear, anger etc... The list goes on. At a funeral the tone tends to be quite formal and solemn, people tend to want to be allowed to grieve for their loss.


Remember everything links together. It is important to show the viewer why a person is in a certain scene. It helps to show the viewer what that they are doing, how they went about it. If you nail this you are half way there to telling effective stories with photography.


1) Show where the event is?

2) Show the mood?

3) Demonstrate how do the subjects relate to the environment they are in?

Funeral south london

As you can see from the image above, the setting is the graveside of a funeral. We can see a large group of people in funeral by gravestones, we can see that the sky was clear and we can see that a certain amount of people were in attendance.


Focusing on key people

It is good to make clear who the key people are at an event, this is something commonly done at events. It is quite subjective, I recall taking a photo of a couple I thought were important only for the client to not care about having their image included in their deliverables. Photos that highlight who key people are aid greatly in the retelling of an event.

One way of highlighting a key person is to find a way to isolate them. Here are some helpful tips.

An advantage on focusing on a key person is that the viewer can immediately see they are important or played a significant role at the event or moment. In a commercial sense if shooting a wedding I would want the bride to be the focus of most of my photos, because she is centre stage.


Placing a key person in the majority of the frame (taking up the main space in the photo) the the subject is emphasised. The viewer is led to think, what are they doing? They may ask themselves whether they think they are doing a good job at the event and even may be able visualise being present at that event as photos leave strong impressions.


The frequency of how many times a person is featured plays a good role. If a person is featured in 50% of the photos, you have no doubt in your mind that the person is important. This being said, be careful not to over represent subjects that may not have a significant part of the story when taking your photos. Try to have balance in your photos, if you feature the key person too much the images may become underwhelming after awhile.


1) Focusing the lens on the key persons face tells the viewer who is important

2) Having the subject take up a prominent part of the frame

3) You may wish to feature them in more photos than those who are of less importance

Jamaican independence Crystal Palace

In this photo it is clear that the female is the key person. All other subjects are out of focus, she is making good eye contact and her face is in good focus.


Prepare for key moments

Often key moments of an event can be lost. This happens for one main reason, a failure to read the situation. Sometimes key events happen unexpectedly and as a result a moment can be lost for a lifetime. Sometimes as a photographer I have to detach myself from friendly vibes and keep my eyes peeled on what is happening around me. Whenever possible I keep myself abreast with with a schedule and keep my eyes alert on key persons. I have learned to keep in close contact with the person calling the shots as their information can be vital to prepare for a significant event. From this I can know what is happening, when it's likely to happen and be prepared.

For photographers who who manually this preparation can be the difference between capturing an event and missing out. For example the throwing of a bouquet may require getting in a decent position and changing the shutter speed in order to capture the flowers as they rapidly travel through the air. "Prepare, prepare and prepare!!"


It is good to know what setting your camera is in. Cameras are very good at their automatic functions, in some situations this function is not good enough and a mode or specific settings may need to be adjusted in order to get a more desirable image.


There is an optimal angle to take certain photos. You want to be sure you can capture the key parts of a moment clearly (if it is possible to do so). This means figuring out where a scene is happening and where you can capture the key elements in a photograph.


Knowing when a moment is helps you to plan where you need be. If you know a key person is going to arrive in 10 minutes you know that you have some space before you need to apply the above points.

Proposal at event

At this event I was not the photographer but I saw that something fishy was happening. As I result I left my seat and took up a decent position and managed to be the only photographer to capture this moment (as all the hired ones were not paying attention to the stage). The couple were glad to receive these images.


1) What settings do you need?

2) What position do you need to be in?

3) How long until the moment is due to happen?


Capturing expressions


Another important aspect in key moments are the expressions and the dynamics. In other words how people are reacting to a key moment is just as important as the key moment at times. For example a Father crying as he walks his daughter down the aisle tells shows powerful emotions. Even a baby crying at their own birthday is a story worth keeping for the future. How people are reacting to a moment is very important.

Protestor on bus stand

In this photo you can see a protestor focused on their mission, first in the air and a look of determination.

Half way point 2019 London marathon

This photo was taken at one of the official Scope cheer points. Each Scope runner needed to be spotted, cheered and photographed.


Expressions are a physical way to show emotions people have. Learning to capture people's expressions can add a layer in your photos. The viewer can now begin to feel what your are capturing. Emotion is a powerful tool to use when capturing a photo. It brings a level of engagement that is almost un-reviled.


1) Take your images to another level by capturing emotion

2) Connect with your audience through emotion


How the photos relate to each other


When taking photos at an event, it is great to consider how do the photos relate to each other. As a Croydon photographer, I have realised that clients truly appreciate when a body of work feels complete. Good event photography is like turning the page of a story. Each image adds a layer to let the viewer know what happened during an event.


The order in which the photos flow makes a massive difference. Chronically events help the viewer have a clear understanding of progression and development. Randomly shuffled images are likely to confuse the viewer as they will struggle to interpret the series of images.

  • In this series of images, you can see that this no pants day started off at a location with a leader guiding a group of people.

  • We then see this leader start this unusual event in a tube, followed people his followers.

  • Moving on to the group posing for pictures outside Canary Wharf.

  • Finally, we see interactions with local law enforcement.

Your body of work should have a form of structure. Setting the scene can work as an intro, showing what happened as the main body. Showing the result/impact or the closing of the event as the ending. The viewer then feels complete as your story makes sense. This will minimise the queries of whether you had any more images.

If the scenery changes, show the transition of how you got there. For example, a bride exiting a car tells the viewer that there has been a transition. The subjects are no longer in the same location they were in before this scene. Another of doing this is showing an entrance into a facility. There are many ways to achieve this, it all depends on the setting, think about how you can do this.


1) Every tale as an introduction, middle and end. Try to show this in your images

2) If scenes change, then reflect this in your image to bring context


Capturing difficult moments

Some stories may be negative in nature but may be an important part to document. Being honest means capturing uncomfortable moments. Documenting an incident, capturing the emotions of people crying, and sensitive topics are tricky. In these circumstances how you take the photo is fundamental. I believe it is possible to capture a bad moment in a way that does not bring shame to a person but reflects a moment in a dignifying way. It is your role to achieve this.

Capturing difficult moments sensitively is a subjective area and can often clash with social etiquette. At the moment a situation documented may seem inhumane and insensitive but can show the viewer what, how, where and why something happened. This is important when telling stories. You may feel uncomfortable however upon reflection after time has passed the images may later be valued as a memory of a life-changing moment. They can alternatively serve to give a balanced depiction of a moment in time. Face your fears and don't be afraid to capture difficult moments.

A compromise around taking a photo of a difficult situation is to not have a face the subject in view but at the same time showing what happened. This is good when taking photos of people you don't know. This will not work in every situation. It can serve as a brilliant way of capturing a moment that may cause embarrassment otherwise.

Having a wide-angle shot of a situation can serve to humanise a situation by giving context to a difficult event. It also tells the viewer something has happened but at the same time does not take from who they are. For example in the photo below an athlete is unwell after a race. However, the image of him in the context of people coming to his aid helps the viewer to be compassionate towards him. It serves to highlight the difficulty in pushing your body to the limit. Now when people see this image they are reminded of some of the challenges they may face when competing.


There is invariably a fine line when capturing tragedy. An image has the power to change the perception of an event. Your photos are more powerful than you think. Taking images with negative bias can misinform the viewer and evidence ill-informed thoughts. For example, if I capture a protest but only post images of a few minor incidents, the viewers will presume the whole protest was horrid. It is therefore important to have a balance in your images and think about what these photos might mean to others who see the image. Context is everything.


1) In some cases opting not to get a clearly recognisable image is useful

2) Humanise the subject

3) Think of the consequences

Runner unwell at the finish line

Summary

Humans will always be storytellers. Photos are great tools in telling stories if done correctly. Hopefully, you have picked up some simple and useful tips that support you to take better photos. When capturing an event try to remember these tips. The infographic below summarises the main points to consider when telling stories. Feel free to download and share.

If you need photos at your event, we would be happy to offer a service, you can contact us by visiting www.blaqpix.com or emailing blaqpix@gmail.com we are a Croydon based photography service. Also, subscribe like and share. We will continue to post useful content on this platform.


Croydon Photographer Blaqpix@gmail.com © 2020 by Christopher Bovell.