Tell me a Story
I spend much of my time on the web looking at pictures other people have taken, some spectacular, some meh. I find that the pictures that captivate me more and make me linger a few seconds longer are the ones that draw me into the picture and put me somewhere in it. The ones that don’t are missing something. A kind of connection with the viewer, a sense of bringing the viewer into the picture itself and making him or her become a part of it. A feeling of turning the page and wanting to know what happens next. A story.
I’m currently reading Peter Matthiessen’s “The Snow Leopard”, a powerful, evocative and magical book that reinforces the notion that it’s not so much about the mountains as about the people who live amongst them, not so much about the destination as the journey, a journey as much spiritual as physical. It’s a story that invites you in, and you find yourself walking along with Matthiessen through those treacherous Himalayan passes in search of that elusive creature.
It’s the same with every genre of photography. If you want to connect with your audience, to engage them and draw them into your work, you have to give them a narrative they would want be a part of. You have to give them a story. Even better: give them a role to play in it. And the more authentic the story is, the more your audience will want to be a part of it. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t even have to be technically accomplished. There is a place for technical excellence, yes, but it isn’t the end itself but a means to something more. The ability to capture an emotion, expose the truth, tell a story.
If you want to connect with your audience, to engage them and draw them into your work, you have to give them a narrative they would want be a part of.
So every once in a while, my shutter finger gets restless and the little voice in my head coaxes me out with my camera into the streets and markets of Pune. I like this sort of impromptu urban photography. There’s very little planning or preparation required. You just grab your camera and lens of choice and go. No tripod, no filters, no lights, no spare batteries. You go out and meet people, you talk to them, they tell you their story and reward you with a picture. Or you wait and watch for that right moment when subject, context and composition come together to tell a story, and if you’re really lucky you manage to get a keeper.
This isn’t meant to be a lecture, some sort of “listen to me, watch me and learn” instructional. Far from it. I struggle with this. Every time. The story is the difference between a good picture and just another snapshot, and I find it the hardest damned thing in the world to incorporate that difference into my work. Sometimes I get so engrossed in the composition that I miss the narrative. Is there a secret formula? No. Do I get it right every time? Hardly. Do I keep trying? You bet.
“Have you seen the snow leopard? No! Isn’t that wonderful?” Keep walking. Keep shooting. There’s a long way to go. And you have a story to tell.