Telling a Story through a Series

by SPS Grads Team member Sarah Bednar

Last summer, I had the amazing opportunity to photograph a home birth.  The family was having their fourth girl, who will probably be their last baby.  When I arrived at the house, the first thing the mom told me was that she wanted me to capture everything, so that she could remember all of the details.  The approach that I took was purely documentary, meaning I did not impose myself on the scene or subjects at all – no prompts, no asking the subjects to turn towards the light, no opening curtains or turning on lights.  My job was to be strictly an observer who clicked away and captured real life.  

One of the greatest challenges during this shoot was that a very dark storm rolled in right as I drove into their driveway.  I had to deal with high ISO and shallow depth of field at f/1.4 in order to get enough light.  Most of the photos that I took would not be considered “perfect”.  Sometimes I missed focus, the white balance was wonky, and I had no time to set up beautiful compositions.  And you know what?  None of that mattered, because this series tells a story – a beautiful story of new birth into a loving family.

Through this experience, I learned a few things about telling a story through a series in photography.  Here are just a few of the images I captured that day along with some of my takeaways:

Do your best with settings.

Sometimes in a documentary situation, light won’t be ideal.  Remember that the STORY is the most important part.  So don’t be afraid to jack up the ISO in order to get the shots.

Position yourself to first capture the story, then work with the light. 

Don’t sacrifice the story you want to tell in order to work with ideal light.  If you can, move around so that the light falls better on your subjects, but remember to use your perspective to primarily capture the story.

Include details.

Remember that a story doesn’t just include main subjects.  Telling a story needs to include who was there, the setting, and other details to help the viewer understand the scene.  Photograph little details that will help tell the story.

Capture emotion.

One of our greatest privileges as photographers is being able to document real, raw emotion.  What a gift to be able to save a little piece of that to view in the future!

Remember that a story has a beginning, middle, and end. 

When photographing using a series of photos, remember to include all three parts in storytelling.  Leaving one of these parts out will be confusing to the viewer.

Use your unique perspective.

Keep in mind that no one can tell the story exactly like you do.  Move around the room and capture the scene in the way that feels right to you.

Telling a story through images preserves memories in a way that a single image never could. Don’t be afraid of imperfection. Embrace the conditions of unscripted real life and shoot the story.

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