Conversation with ChatGPT
I’m trying to learn to get better at photography. I keep reading that my photos should have a clearly defined subject, and should tell a story. I’m still struggling with understanding what that means. When I look at the photos I’ve taken, I think many of them are just pretty compositions with no real subject and no real point.
Understanding the concept of a clearly defined subject and storytelling in photography is a crucial step towards improving your skills. Here’s how you can approach these concepts:
1. Clearly Defined Subject:
When someone looks at your photo, their eyes should be drawn to a particular point or area — the main focus of the image. It’s what the picture is ‘about.’ The subject can be anything — a person, a building, a tree — but it should be clear what the viewer is supposed to look at.
Here’s how to achieve this:
- Focus: Use depth of field to your advantage. A sharp subject against a blurred background naturally draws the eye.
- Composition: Techniques like the Rule of Thirds or leading lines guide the viewer’s eye to the subject. Placing your subject off-center can often create a more interesting composition.
- Lighting: Ensure your subject is well-lit or highlighted. Contrast and lighting draw attention to your subject.
2. Telling a Story:
Photographs that tell a story go beyond being merely ‘pretty.’ They evoke emotions, suggest a narrative, or convey a message.
Here’s how to infuse your photos with a story:
- Context: Surround your subject with context that adds to the story. A lone person in a vast desert instantly tells a story of scale and isolation.
- Emotion: Capture expressions, interactions, or scenes that evoke an emotional response — joy, sadness, an air of mystery…
- Moment: Sometimes it’s all about capturing the right moment — a fleeting expression, a bird in flight, a raindrop about to fall. These can suggest a before and after, adding a narrative quality.
- Review and Analyze: Look at photos by photographers you admire and analyze them. What is the subject? What story does the picture tell? How do the elements in the photo contribute to that story?
- Practice with Intent: When taking photos, ask yourself, “What is the subject here?” and “What am I trying to convey?”. This conscious practice will gradually make these considerations a natural part of your photography process.
- Feedback: Share your work with others and ask for their interpretation.
Remember, the ‘rules’ in photography are more like guidelines. Breaking them can sometimes lead to the most compelling images. As you continue to learn and practice, you’ll develop your own style and storytelling techniques. Keep experimenting and reviewing your work, and over time you’ll find your photos becoming more impactful and expressive.
I don’t think I understand the concept of a photo telling a story. Can you give some examples of stories that might be told by an excellent photos?
Certainly! The idea of a photo telling a story is about conveying a narrative or evoking a specific feeling or thought in the viewer. Here are some examples of stories or narratives that photos might tell:
1. The Journey:
- Visuals: A winding road stretching into the distance, a person with a backpack looking out over a vast landscape.
- Story: It suggests adventure, exploration, or a journey into the unknown.
2. Human Connection:
- Visuals: Two people embracing, an elderly couple holding hands, a child looking up at a parent.
- Story: These capture relationships and emotions, telling stories of love, friendship, or care.
3. Conflict or Tension:
- Visuals: A clenched fist raised in a crowd, a stark contrast between wealth and poverty, a face in a crowd with a different expression from all the others.
- Story: These images can tell stories of societal issues, personal or public conflict, or any kind of struggle.
4. Tranquility or Peace:
- Visuals: A serene lake at dawn, a person meditating in a sunlit room.
- Story: They convey a sense of peace, solitude, or contemplation.
5. Triumph or Achievement:
- Visuals: A marathon runner breaking the tape at the finish line, a climber reaching a mountain peak.
- Story: These moments capture achievement, success, and the culmination of effort.
6. The Decisive Moment:
- Visuals: A bird taking flight, a splash as a stone hits the water, a street performer in mid-motion.
- Story: These are often fleeting moments that, when captured, suggest a before and after, telling a story of change or transition.
7. Cultural or Social Commentary:
- Visuals: People in traditional attire at a cultural festival, a lonely person in a crowded urban environment.
- Story: Such images can reflect cultural identity, societal issues, or the human condition within a specific context.
8. Absence or Loss:
- Visuals: An empty chair at a dining table, a wilted flower, abandoned places.
- Story: These can evoke feelings of nostalgia, loss, or the passage of time.
9. Daily Life:
- Visuals: People commuting, a market vendor selling goods, kids playing in a street.
- Story: These images capture the essence of everyday life, often finding beauty or interest in the mundane.
10. Mystery or Curiosity:
- Visuals: A shadowy figure, a closed door, an object out of place.
- Story: Such images provoke questions and draw viewers into a narrative, making them wonder about the backstory or what will happen next.
The story isn’t necessarily a complete narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. Instead, it’s about capturing a moment that suggests something larger — a glimpse into a broader story the viewer can imagine. The best storytelling photos often leave space for the viewer’s own thoughts and emotions, allowing them to engage with the image and create their own narrative.
Here’s a photo I just took outside in Williamsburg Brooklyn in the snow. I’m concerned that most of them have no real point and don’t tell a story, even though they’re aesthetically pleasing.
The photograph you’ve shared has several elements that can contribute to
a narrative or evoke a feeling, suggesting the beginning of a story
which the viewer can interpret or continue in their imagination.
Here’s how this image could be seen as telling a story:
- Atmosphere: The snow creates a sense of winter’s chill and evokes
feelings of warmth and coziness as a contrast, suggesting a story
about seeking shelter or enjoying the beauty of a snowy evening.
- Location: The scene is set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which may
invoke thoughts of urban life, community, and the unique character of
- Time: The image appears to be taken at night, which can suggest the
end of a day, the quietness of streets after the bustle of daylight
hours, or the intimacy of nocturnal activities.
- Weather: The falling snow can symbolize tranquility, a quiet moment
in a usually busy city, or the transformation of a familiar scene into
something magical and transient.
- Human Element: The presence of street signs and lights implies human
life and activity, even if not directly shown. There’s a story in the
implied movement of people through this space, now absent or seeking
- Color and Light: The warm glow from the windows contrasts with the
cool blue of the snow, creating a visual story of warmth in the cold,
of indoor life during inclement weather.
In storytelling through photography, the narrative doesn’t have to be
explicit. It’s often about the mood or questions the image raises. For
instance, one might wonder about the people who live in these buildings,
the quiet moments they are having inside, or the contrast between the
festive lights and the cold snow, suggesting a holiday season amidst a
This photo invites the viewer to pause and reflect, to fill in the
blanks with their imagination, which is a key aspect of storytelling in
Here are some more:
Each of the photographs you’ve taken has its own unique elements and moments that start to weave a narrative. This is the essence of storytelling in photography.
Let’s explore the potential stories each image could be telling:
- Intimate Conversation in the Snow: The photo of two people under umbrellas in the snow could tell a story of companionship and shared experiences in the midst of a serene, snowy evening in the cit.
- A Glimpse of Daily Life: The image showing individuals walking through the snow, with one person holding groceries, speaks to the routine of daily life and the perseverance of city dwellers in spite of challenging weathe.
- The Warmth of a Local Business: The shot of the pizza place with people inside offers a narrative of community gathering spots providing warmth and sustenance, a haven on a cold nigh.
- Urban Solitude: The individual leaning against the car, seemingly waiting or watching, might be a commentary on urban isolation or the solitary moments we all experience even in busy environment.
- Vibrant Nightlife: The photo featuring the bright neon sign of the bar on a snowy night could represent the enduring vibrancy of city nightlife, regardless of the weather, inviting stories of social interaction and escap.
- Moments of Transition: The image of the pedestrian crossing the street at night, with the snow falling and the city lights blurred in the background, could tell a story of transition, of moving from one chapter to another, or simply the transition from work to hom.
- Enclosed Warmth: The snapshot of people huddled together under a sheltered area suggests a story of seeking refuge and shared warmth in a cold environment, a temporary community formed by circumstanc.
- Reflections of the City: The photograph of the snow-dusted trees with the urban backdrop might reflect the interplay between nature and the city, highlighting moments of beauty in unexpected place.
These moments you’ve captured are slices of life in Williamsburg, each telling its own story about the people, the environment, and the feeling of the place. The viewer can sense the atmosphere of Williamsburg during a snowfall—the quietness, the resilience of its residents, and the warm glow of community spots offering refuge from the cold. The human element, whether directly shown or implied, adds depth and relatability to each image. Through these photos, you invite the viewer to contemplate the narratives behind the subjects and the settings, to wonder about the lives and stories unfolding within the frame.
How could these photographs be improved? What can I do better next time?
Your photographs already have strong atmospheric elements and capture candid human moments, which are great for storytelling. To further enhance your photographs and their narratives, consider the following tips:
Composition and Framing
- Rule of Thirds: Position key elements of your photos at the intersections of an imagined grid dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and verticall.
- Leading Lines: Use natural lines in the environment to lead the eye to your subject or through the scen.
- Framing: Use doorways, windows, or street frames to create a natural border around your subjec.
- Emotion: Capture expressions and interactions that convey emotio.
- Context: Include elements that add to the story of the environment or the subjec.
- Angles and Perspectives: Shoot from different angles and heights to find unique perspectives that tell a story in a compelling wa.
- Timing: Wait for the ‘decisive moment’ that captures the essence of the story you want to tel.
Practice and Review
- Analyze Your Work: Review your photographs and ask yourself what you like about them and what you might do differentl.
- Seek Feedback: Show your work to others and ask for their honest opinion.
Each photo opportunity is unique, so consider these tips as tools in your toolkit to be used when they suit the scene. Photography is a continual learning process, and each shot is a chance to refine your skills. Keep shooting, and with each photo, you’ll hone your ability to tell stories through your lens.