Telling a Story with Just One Photo

There is an art to making a story out of your photos. Let’s learn how to do that.

Photography is an art in itself. It has many different categories that a photographer can choose to become good at. You can become a good portrait or wedding photographer, or you could be a master at scenery and landscapes. I recently wrote a blog on how to take good street photos. In a way, street photography is very close to being a “story telling” category. You will often take photos of people on the street; sometimes, as you look at these photos, you can try and figure out what that person is doing. Are they just going to work? Are they feeling sad? Can you see anxiety in their face?

Let’s take a look at storytelling in photography.

Storytelling involves eliciting feelings from the viewer.

telling a story in one photo

Photo by Senjuti Kundu

This photo above could have been shot differently, but it tells a story—one that forces you to think about what the child is doing, and picture in your mind what kind of mess she made. The photographer could have taken a photo of just the girl doing nothing, or simply posing for a portrait; or they could have taken a photo of her art. But, when you get a great photo of a child in action, it becomes a storytelling portrait. Would you hang this on your wall? Absolutely. What is the reaction of the viewer?  “Oh my gosh, this girl is so cute.” And people will love the action or playtime she is involved in.

Finding a person in any mood gets your mind going into the story:

Photo by Ben Hershey

Want to easily capture a mood or story in a picture? Find something sad. Looking at the picture above. What do you feel? What is going on with this man? Did something happen to him? When you look at a photo and wonder what happened to set the scene, you’ve got a great storytelling photo.

Can you tell a story with landscape photography?

Photo by Nagy Arnold

Moody or eerie landscape photos are probably more popular ways to produce a storytelling photo. What happened when this photo was taken to create such a mood? Why is the lighting that way? Why is there not more light? Why did the photographer create such a photo? See how it can get your mind wondering what is going on. This type of setup will create the best storytelling photos.

Certain animal photos will create a real feeling from within:

Photo by Jamie Street

I think this type of pet photo can nicely tell people about the character of an animal. Yes, you can spend hours getting portrait-style of photos of your pet, but the type of photos you see—where the pet is engaged in their favorite activity—is better for storytelling.


Look around yourself and find different ways to create a story with your photography. Watch and see the reaction of your clients, friends and neighbors. Photography needs to change from the ordinary. Think about telling a story with your photos!

About the Author:
Lanny Cottrell has been involved in teaching photography for more than 25 years. He has worked as a manager of a photo store in Utah, and now has started to do the things he loves the most—training photographers to be the best they can be.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever