Telling a Story

Alpha Tutorial :1 - Telling a Story

We all love a beautiful photograph, but photos which linger in our mind’s eye are the ones that transcend being just a pretty picture.

They do more than convey an aesthetically pleasing combination of line, form and color; they appeal to us on an emotional level. They are the photos that tell a story; they draw us in; make us look a little longer, think a little deeper. One way to think about shooting a story is through the combination of fact, moment, light and vision.


Photographer Stu Maschwitz writes about how the best photos sit at the intersection of fact, moment and light. Facts are what we photograph – I was here and this is what I saw. Facts in a photograph are important; they can provide context and help a viewer understand a photo. But most of us don’t want to shoot just facts; we want to capture what emotion and have our viewers feel it too.

Fact image

Photo by Shinya Morimoto.

To photograph more than fact, we have to distinguish between what our eyes see and what the camera sees. Our eyes take in an event, and color it with our own impressions and feelings. A camera doesn’t, and so we have to manipulate the visual language to create a deliberate frame and evoke an emotion. And that happens when we capture moments.


Photography comes in frozen moments, and not all moments are created equal. Often, the difference between a great moment and an average one can happen in fractions of a second, and a great moment elevates a straight photo of fact into story.


Photo by Kazushi Momoi.

There aren’t any guaranteed ways to capture a moment; there are only best practices to help you get a better chance. Always have your camera in your hand and ready when you’re out shooting. Keep watching, keep observing, and unless absolutely essential, don’t check your previews while on a shoot – you might just miss something while watching TV.


Once you’ve mastered capturing the moments, you might start to notice that some moments look better than others, just because of the quality and direction of light. Photography is nothing more than the capture of light, with horrid lighting conditions the best shots are diminished, with beautiful light, moment and fact a photograph becomes a wonder.

Light image

Photo by Masumi Takahashi.

How do you train yourself to see great light? One way is to shoot in black and white, which removes the distraction of color and forces you to observe how light affects the elements in your shots. Another is to simply observe the color of lights around you and the direction of light, even during those moments you’re not shooting.


Capturing a combination of fact, moment and light already makes for a wonderful photograph – what elevates this is your vision; your unique take on the subject you’re photographing and the story you want to tell. If fact, moment and light are the ‘how’ of a photograph, vision is the ‘why’, something photographer David duChemin emphasizes when he says “gear is good, vision is better.” Your vision, being a personal subject, cannot be taught, but it can be discovered.

To help you refine your vision, boil down how you feel about what you’re photographing down to a few words. A snapshot of a metropolitan street is just a photo of a metropolitan street. But if the ‘busyness’ of the moment is the idea you want to convey, and you shoot with a slow enough shuttle speed to make the whirling crowd a blur, you’ve transcended a photograph of fact into a photograph of an idea; from a photograph of something to a photograph about something.

Combine the perfect moment of a fact with beautiful light and a unique vision and you have, with all luck, a photograph that tells a strong, emotional story.

Vision Image

Vision transforms a photo of something into a photo about something. Does this photo give you a feeling about something instead of just being a photo of something? Photo by Katsuhiko Mizuno.

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