Anything Photoshop or Photography

Storytelling with Your Images

This is a topic I struggle with since it seems that most images that tell a good story are those of people – and it is hard for me to take people shots that are interesting. So I have been working on this. Several photographers have written about storytelling within an image. David duChemin, one of my favorite authors and photographers, has written several great books on photography including one called Within the Frame – the Journey of Photographic Vision where he discusses storytelling. Basically he states “….two aspects of storytelling come to mind. The first is the study of themes that tie the image to our deeper, more universal human experience. The second is conflict, revealed in the frame by contrasts.” Another important point David states is “….the more deeply they [the viewer of your image] care, the stronger the story.” I am no David duChemin when it comes to photography, but I have tried to represent some of his ideas in my blog this week.

The gentleman above just popped out at me when I was in Steak n Shake a few weeks ago. I can imagine all kinds of stories – like he sneaked out to get a nice treat, or he didn’t feel that great and this ice cream really cheered him up, or maybe he just felt like ice cream! Any way you look at it, I felt something when I looked at the older man and nostalgic Steak and Shake pictures – it made me want to take the photo. The image is a good example of both aspects of storytelling – I see a basic theme that most people understand as to whether we should be eating this kind of food (as in that never ending diet or health issues) and are we spending too much in order to enjoy one of life’s little pleasures. I can relate to this experience and conflict! The colors and pictures around him also played an important part in this image – black, white and red create a very strong color palette. (See end of blog for details on how each image was processed.)
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I thought this image is a good example of a story – the way the trainer seems to be interacting with one of the Killer Whales at SeaWorld-Orlando. Then my husband looked at the image and said it reminded him of “Jaws” – it is reminiscent of the tragic trainer accident with a whale a few years ago (see Tilikum Wikipedia link). Goes to show how each person creates a totally different scenario in their mind. But it does serve its purpose – it tells a story and makes you think! I see conflict in this image – the small trainer vs. the large whale, humor vs. drama, man vs. animal, texture of water vs. smoothness of the subjects – all implied opposites.
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Here is another image I thought had a story associated with it – people seem to enjoy the beach no matter what the weather is. Here is Ormond Beach, Florida, and a young lady is having fun just playing on the beach. It was major windy and overcast as Hurricane Sandy had just missed Florida and gone up the coast much earlier in the morning. (See this incredible aerial view slideshow of a blacked-out New York City after Hurricane Sandy came inland.) I tried to convey how large and out-of-control the waves were vs. the smallness of the young lady. There is the conflict of the rage of the water and lightheartedness of the girl. I believe the way the image is colored gives the water a foreboding feel while the young lady is still in summerlike attire. What was she seeing?
…..Now that there are so many good plugins available to help create an effect, it does make it easier to convey a story. This image has a nostalgic feeling even though this man was making Satay Chicken Wraps in London during Scott Kelby’s Photowalk of 2008 (several of my PhotoWalk images are shown at this site). I think the effect makes the story more obvious and interesting. I believe this photo makes you want to know more about the cook – how good is the meal he is preparing, does he like to cook, does he own the store, etc.
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John Paul Caponigro, who does gorgeous fine art photography, creates images with stories without people present. He has a lot of interesting photography links on his website including this excellent short article on Storytelling. (Become a member for free to download his many interesting articles.) He states in this article that single images have a beginning at the “point of visual entry.” A series of images begins with the first image, and follow with a middle and an ending, as any story has. “The frame sets the stage. So, set a scene. You can think of anything that enters it as an actor of an unfolding drama. Then, introduce your characters. There’s lots of room for creativity in how you do this. Next, develop a theme.” In the image below, I took advantage of this concept and used a template that would place several images into a single page.
I really enjoyed the expression of both the porpoise and trainer in this series of photos from Marineland. The story began with just the image of the adorable dolphin as the main character. By introducing the hand of the trainer, the story begins to develop. You can see the interest of the dolphin increasing with each hand gestures. Finally the trainer is introduced and you start to see her reaction to the dolphin and dolphin’s willingness to perform the trick for her. The end shows the connection that has developed between our two main characters. There is no conflict in this story but there is a strong conclusion or outcome for our characters. And for some reason the dolphin’s bubbles were intriguing to me!

Rick Sammon, known especially for his wonderful HDR photos, did a blog series on storytelling that contains some different tips to accomplish this. Check out A Week of Storytelling – the link has days out of order, but they are all there. Craig Tanner, of the unfortunately inactive The Mindful Eye website (which is still one of the best places to learn about everything photography – especially how to use space effectively in an image) has several links to his short videos on Storytelling. One from the Daily Critique of 7/16/09 describes how to make an image convey a story more effectively with proper cropping and negative space use. And perhaps one of the greatest storytellers of recent times is the wonderful Joe McNally – everything he shoots tells a story as far as I can tell and every image is interesting. Just check out his blog to see what he is doing – and all his books are interesting. I still love his first book The Moment It Clicks. Another very inspiring photographer of recent times is Steve McCurry, best known for his National Geographic image of the Afghan Girl, has a wonderful blog and website.

I wish I had just get 1% of the talent of any of the individuals mentioned here. There is a lot to learn in this area but it is worth the time to understand what it takes to create a great image. Some work, some don’t, but eventually there will be that one shot that says it all! And don’t be afraid to crop or perform changes in Photoshop to make it more interesting. Take some time when shooting to find the story – they usually are the most powerful shots you will ever take!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Unsharp Mask Filter In LAB Mode
Humorous Shots Are Sometimes the Best

Image Processing Information:
Image 1: This image was processed in Lightroom – Matt Kloskowski’s (a major Lightroom guru and one of the Photoshop Guys) preset Focal Point (Portrait – Bottom Right) just lined up perfectly for this image. Since this was a jpg image (my Kodak point-and-shoot took the shot), the noise was pretty bad so the first thing done in Photoshop was to apply Topaz DeNoise 5 JPEG Strong preset (see sidebar for website link at my Tidbits Blog) was applied. Next Nik Viveza 2 was used to sharpen the ice cream and man’s face while the edges were darkened a little in all the corners. I still did not like the noise, especially in the red areas, so I applied Topaz DeNoise 5 again using my own settings – Overall Strength 0.24, Adjust Color – Red -0.18, Recover Detail 0.54, Reduce Blur 0.18 and Add Grain 0.11. Some clean up to remove distracting glare, sharpening to just the ice cream using a black layer mask on a High Pass Filter, and a Curves Adjustment Layer where only the red channel was increased slightly to add a little more red color back into the image. My B&W Border Frame was added to finish up.

Image 2: This image was first processed in Lightroom. Noiseware was applied to the image once brought into Photoshop. Then Nik Color Efex Pro 4 was applied using two of my favorite plug-ins, Detail Extractor just on the trainer and whale – the overall opacity was set to 0% so only the trainer and whale show any of the changes, and Film Efex Vintage using Film Type 11 – this gives the beautiful illustration type effect. A Curves Adjustment Layer and Vibrance Adjustment Layer were added to get the colors right. Some whale clean up and sharpening was done and a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was applied to lower the saturation of the blue water. A Selective Color Adjustment Layer was added to make the tongue pinker – the adjustment layer was filled with black and the tongue was painted back in. My Thin Double Edge Frame was added sampling colors from the image to create.

Image 3: This image was mainly processed in Lightroom. The poles were slightly tipped out so they were corrected in Lightroom’s Lens Correction Manual tab (although the ones in Adobe Camera Raw or Photoshop would have done the same correction) using the Vertical slider set to -6 to adjust them. Since the bottom corners were drawn in, the image was taken into Photoshop and the corners cloned back in. Then back in Lightroom I decided the image would look good with Matt Kloskowski’s Wedding Fairytale (Bright Edge) applied, but at a lesser amount. That is where I used The Fader, a plug-in that lets you reduce the amount of the preset effect (or more – up to 150%) – see my Fun Photoshop Blog Great Free Plug-in for Lightroom – The Fader! I applied the Fader slider at 119% to get the pretty light colored waves and sandy brown beach. Next the image was brought back into Photoshop and Noiseware (I use both Topaz DeNoise and Noiseware – just grabbed this one) and Nik Viveza 2 were applied to adjust the noise and sharpness of the image. Frenchkiss’s free Glorious Grunge Overlay was applied and a Color Fill Adjustment layer was clipped to it (ALT + Click between the layers) and the color changed from black to a cream color.

Image 4: Loved the vintage feel on this not so perfect image. In Lightroom a preset was applied that I call Gritty Preset by Michael Rather – it was created by listening to a video called True Grit and I use it all the time! In Photoshop Nik Color Efex Pro 4 was opened and two of my favorite filters were applied: Detail Extractor (Detail Extractor 57%, Contrast 6%, and Saturation 6%) with a (-) Control Point placed on his face and set to 25% opacity, and Film Efex-Vintage (used Film Type 15 and adjusted the vignette to 39%). A (-) Control Point was placed on his coat to make it whiter just a little (25% opacity). The image was sharpened in LAB Mode using the Luminosity channel and the Unsharp Mask. A Curves Adjustment Layer was added to increase contrast. My Thin Double Edge Frame Layer Style was added using the default colors.

Image 5: To create this image, it took a little more effort. The template is a free photo grid from PhotoRadar. 17 photos were added – essentially all but the large one were selected in Lightroom, cropped to the same size, then Edited in Photoshop -> Open as Layers. Once stacked in a file in Photoshop, the template was placed at the bottom of the stack and all the images were clipped to this bottom layer (ALT+click between the layers). Each one had to be Free Transformed (CTRL +T) to line up correctly in each of the openings. To create the large opening, the template was selected and the 4 bottom image openings were painted together. The large photo was placed at the bottom of the images so the overlap of the larger photo edges would not show in the other openings. A layer style was added to the bottom layer using a Stroke and Inner Glow so each image was outlined. A Curves Adjustment Layer was added on top to add contrast to all images. A Gradient was applied on the template to add the blue glow. The top text has an Outer Glow Layer Style added to it.

3 responses

  1. Pingback: Digital Lady Syd’s Top Ten Photos From 2012 « Digital Lady Syd's Fun Photoshop Blog

  2. Pingback: WHAT ABOUT THIS FOCAL POINT ISSUE? | Digital Lady Syd's Fun Photoshop Blog

  3. Pingback: HAVE SOME FUN WITH YOUR PHOTOS | Digital Lady Syd's Fun Photoshop Blog

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