5 Simple Ideas to Start Your Own Photo Story
While designing my free email course Create A Compelling Photo Story In One Week, I started thinking about what kinds of stories offer a good chance for learning. I want those of you who took a look at my photo course but felt overwhelmed by figuring out who to photograph to know it’s not as hard as you think to find a fascinating subject to focus on. The goal with the course is to find someone that’s easy to get permission to photograph, so you can focus on the storytelling. Without further ado, here are 5 simple ideas to start your own photo story. You could start any one of these projects tomorrow!
#1 Find a family member
For many of us, focusing on a family member is a great way to practice photography. ( I do want to recognize that this is not possible for everyone, however.) If you do decide to photograph a family member, perhaps you focus on your children, taking photos of their development, or the things they like to do. You could focus on their firsts, like first steps, first swimming lesson, or first time feeding themselves.
Becs Viveash, who owns Viveash Photography, makes beautiful photographs of her children.
Or maybe, you start photographing your partner. I will always remember this project that a wife made following her husband’s depression (some nudity). Aside from documenting his struggle, she used photography as a tool for dealing with a difficult situation. In the Feature Shoot article about her work, she says she wasn’t sure if photographing him would be the right choice since he was really struggling with depression. “She was hesitant at the onset, fearing she would “isolate him further by picking up the camera.” When she did, she found it became a lifeline tying them together.”
I agree that photography can be a tool to bring people together if you use it right.
Another interesting project by Pixy Lao (some nudity) explores gender roles. Her portraits of her boyfriend and herself have shocked some viewers because she subverted the power dynamics people are used to in heterosexual relationships. But she says of how the work affected her relationship, “The project has made us partners. This project is based on our relationship and grows with our relationship.”
Perhaps you would like to make photos of an aging parent. There are many impressive photo series chronicling aging parents earthly goodbyes, and yet there is still room for more good work. When we strive to make our work and vision deeply personal, it can only add to a specific genre because no two experiences are the same.
#2 Almost like family, focus on your pet
When I was a kid, cats would just show up at our rural home in West Virginia. I don’t remember a catless time, in fact. We had a cat who’d been caught in a bear trap and limped, another who had only three legs (aptly named Tripod), but who could climb a tree at full speed. We found Puss in Boots at a canal, so hungry, my parents were able to lure her to their car with prunes. Later, after getting healthy, she became a trick cat who stood on her back legs swatting at the gnats around her head.
What I’m saying is, there were copious cats around and that hasn’t changed. Photographing animals is a different task than just loving them, though. Sure, we see tons of photographs and videos of animals online; many of us spend more time than we’d like to admit watching cat videos. So, there is something undeniably entertaining about pets. But how do we create quality images of animals that really convey their unique qualities?
When photographing animals, how can you get show their personality? How will you make them sympathetic and dynamic characters, and let their stories emerge? Will you document their relationship with a human or another animal, or will you focus on only one pet? These are some of the important questions to consider when photographing them.
As for an in, animals are usually ok with photos. That being said, some may be shy and uninterested, like my cat Olifur. For some reason, if I try to take his photograph, he usually turns his head. I am not sure what’s exactly ‘right’ or ethical when considering whether animals are ok with photographs, but I guess not causing harm is the key. All in all, I think animals are a good bet for a photo project.
#3 Someone who hand makes things
It’s human nature to want to watch someone do something interesting, especially if it’s doing something with their hands. I always think of a bunch of guys (or gals) gathered around a car, watching someone repair the engine.
You can use your camera as a tool to satisfy your curiosity about how people do the interesting things they do. In Indonesia, there are so many tradespeople, artisans and small business owners who focus on creating things from scratch and creating handmade products. I wanted to learn more about these Indonesian micro-entrepreneurs and that’s why I created a series photographing them named Odd Jobs.
Many people that make things are open to being photographed. After all, it can be flattering to have someone interested in learning more about how you make something. When you approach a possible photography candidate, stress why you’re interested in making photographs of them. What exactly do you want to photograph? How will you portray them? And, what makes them unique?
Assuage your potential subject’s fears. Perhaps they feel they are not photogenic. If your potential subject isn’t open to photographs of their face, for instance, ask if you can make images of just their hands working. Perhaps once they’ve seen the resulting photographs and have learned that you’re not threatening, you can revisit taking photographs of their face.
The more vulnerable you are with your potential subjects, the more they will trust you.
In this age, there are a lot of videos of people making things (waffles, coffee, whatever) floating around social media. So, it may be easy to get permission (whether explicit, or implied with a smile) to photograph once, however; creating an ongoing relationship where you continue to document your subject takes more care. But it’s possible!
#4 A farmer or farmer’s market worker
I recently wrote about how endlessly fascinating I find fruit and veggies. Judging from the response, I am not the only one.
There are a few great things about photographing at farmers’ markets. First, they are colorful, with interesting people and bright colorful produce. There is a cornucopia of shapes and textures, and great backgrounds for human interest shots.
Also, farmers’ market goers are usually in a festive mood because the markets often feel like festivals. Therefore, many of them are open to photographs. Also, the people working the stands are there to engage with people, and the vibe is markedly different than visiting most grocery stores. That’s why gaining access to photograph people at farmers’ markets isn’t usually that difficult.
I’d consider farmers’ markets a strong contender as a simple idea to start your own photo story
Similar to people who work at farmers’ markets, farmers themselves, especially those involved in organic or community farming initiatives, are often interested in getting to know people from their community. Farmers offer sustenance, and many are glad to share information about their farming practices. They enjoy educating people about where their food comes from.
Do some research and find out what’s being grown in your area. Next, see if you can visit the farm. I enjoy the work of Yolanta Siu who is currently documenting farming projects in Jeju, South Korea.
When the corn gets to about waist-high, the bottom leaves are removed to further encourage growth in its height. The taller the stalk, the more space there is for corn production. We did this every day for about 2 weeks, which had left me with some pretty terrible knee pain. I was ready to call it quits, but since the weather has been so hot, we haven't been working outside. Stay hydrated, folks! . . . @hemp_soul_life 예고삼베 평창 Pyeongchang, South Korea . . . #iamamodernfarmer #귀농 #귀농스타그램 #헴프 #삼베 #예고은삼베 #hemp #ethicalfashion #평창 #pyeongchang #wwoofkorea #wwoof #theartofslowliving #slowfood #koreanfood #귀농이야기 #photogsinkorea #korea #modernfarmer #arkoftaste #terramadre #farmtotable #organicfarming #organicfood #유기농 #ig_korea #localfood #indiefarmer #everydayeverywhere #everydayasia
#5 Start a self-portrait project
Depending on your personality, you may think this is either the easiest or the toughest photo story idea on this list. To me, defining important moments in my life and how to convey them visually with images is not easy. But I took a self-portraiture class in fine arts school and it was a great learning experience. There is something about seeing yourself immortalized in photographs that can make certain aspects of your life more clear.
There are tons of ways to approach self-portraiture. You can focus on really honing your concept, or decide to use the portraits as a chance to really study light. Luckily, if you are documenting yourself, you already have your own permission. However, sometimes it takes time to warm up and really feel like yourself in the photos. The important thing to remember is that you’re in control!
You don’t need a lot of tools, but learning how to set your camera up on a tripod or shelf will be useful. You will be using the camera’s self-timer a lot, unless you set up the photographs and then get a friend’s help with holding the camera. I enjoyed this project by Jim Allen Abel which makes social commentary using self-portraits in different Indonesian official uniforms with Abel’s face obscured. Jimbo told me that he prepared and posed all the photos, despite not owning a camera at the time.
Besides Jimbo’s project, there are tons of photographers who take photographs of themselves. If you need examples, do a quick Google search.
So, there you have it, 5 simple ideas to start your own photo story. Are you ready to get out and photograph? Or do you feel like you need more of a plan first?
Well, that’s where I swoop in to help you like a photo coaching superhero. Earlier in the article I mentioned a FREE email course I designed called, Create A Compelling Photo Story In One Week.
My course takes you through the planning to steps to really hone in on who you’ll photograph, what story you plan to tell, and how you will structure it.
I’m hearing good things about the class so far. Gillian says, “I’m a writer and blogger, but I use my Instagram feed heavily, and I’m loving this course and thinking about telling a story visually rather than in words.” And Mira, a photographer herself, mentions that she likes the way the course explains the difference between a photo story and photo essay. And she says, “so far [the course] is extremely clear, insightful and helpful even as a photographer!”
There is a big difference between taking one great photo and being able to tell a story through photography. That’s why I felt there was a need for this course, which walks you through step-by-step, to plan and execute your own engaging photo story. The best part is, at the end of the week, you’ll have a finished body of work to submit to an exhibit or publication, share on social media, or just enjoy for yourself.
So, want to sign up? Here’s a link to the free email course.
After reading this blog, do you know who you’ll be photographing? In the comments below, I’d love to hear!