How I Tell Stories

As children, we try to make sense of the world as we are learning it. During that process, we use advanced mediums of communication like linguistics, written words, movement, and exaggerated emotion in order to share exactly what we may be thinking or feeling. If you were like me as a child, you used a combination of those – plus the addition of hand-drawn scribbles – to make EXTRA SURE that people understood. Through the collective power of drawing, writing, and too much imagination, I was able to create stories. Throughout elementary school, we were handed blank books and tasked to create our own fantastical saga, complete with novice illustrations. Nearly twenty years later, I still have these sentimental novelettes tucked away in the bottom left drawer of my white oak desk. 

From those diminutive hardcovers, I discovered my love for visual art, photography, and graphic design. Graphic design as a whole is a blend of artistic whim and precise science. This enchanting balance became the focus of undergraduate education. It was here that I truly learned what visual communication and storytelling are. Upon discovering four pillars of visual storytelling, I realized why I loved this study so much. With storytelling, information was conveyed in ways that were authentic, sensory, relevant, and displayed a definitive point of view. Combined, these pillars echoed my emphatic personality. I loved storytelling because, in a way, it was a part of me. It’s arguably part of everyone else too. With the accessibility of cameras at an all-time high and the ubiquity of sharing on social media, everyone has some sort of memoir they are communicating through photos – whether they be through iPhone or DSLR. 

 A photo can be defined as a captured moment. In his book Multimedia Storytelling for Digital Communicators in a Multiplatform World, Seth Gitner states, “Capturing moments in still photography requires almost instinctive situational awareness. The photographer must be a keen and patient observer of the world and life, watching and waiting and able to anticipate what will happen next – what must happen next.” This statement sang to me, as it separated the true photographers from the selfie-taking, button-clicking masses. While having taken a few photography classes in my day – including darkroom – I land somewhere in between a good photographer and a narcissistic, food-photographing millennial. A true no man’s land, but sometimes I capture nice things!

In the past week, I’ve captured some moments to share with you. For me, life is about the little things and this theme transcends throughout my series.

Keep reading to hear their stories.

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While working on the yard, my significant other heard sounds of distress over the noise of a lawnmower next door. After investigating, he found this little guy yelling at the top of his lungs, petrified for his life. Max carefully picked up the rabbit, calling me over to help. As people who are familiar with small animal care, and with local wildlife, we looked the creature over and made sure he was healthy. I snapped this picture before we returned him to a safe nearby nook.

The picture uses scale and sensory elements in order to create a warm environment. Shot with a shallow depth of field so that the bunny is the subject of the photo, Max’s hands provide a measure as to how small this animal was. The encircled fingers make the viewer feel like they could touch the softness of the fur. The animal’s mixed expression adds a certain charm – making the viewer question what exactly is going on. For those worried, we can assure you this little guy was examined by knowledgable hands and happily munching on the veggies growing in Max’s backyard.   

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Out of all the little things in this world, this one is my favorite. My little sister, Vanessa, has always been an inspiration and muse to me. Acting as a model for many of my projects, she has learned how to appreciate the artistic process – but she appreciates it even more when she gets a free dinner at the end of it. As a person, she is kind, somewhat sarcastic, and a steadfast friend. These qualities make her fun, leading to her popularity at both work and school – and she’s SUCH a ham in front of any camera lens.

I feel that this candid photo of her at the ice cream shop captures her essence beautifully. The setting, styling, and captured pose scream Instagram. Is has a vintage aesthetic due to the muted color palette, retro-inspired clothing, and cluttered window display. Here, contrast plays a big part in making it a successful photo. The white wooden planks of the bottom half of the picture provide just enough balance to her floral shirt and the display behind her. The white spoon also helps to draw her out from the background. Overall, this image oozes a “cool factor” that only she can provide.

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During this same excursion to the ice cream shop, we went along the waterfront. It was here that I discovered this mussel shell. Its unique texture and coloration caught my eye as I was walking past. Upon taking a closer look at it, I was surprised to find that this little shell was once a host to even smaller organisms. How cool is that? Although this treasure was a great find, I left it sand for someone else to find and appreciate.

What makes this photo successful is its authenticity. How many of you can recall a moment like this on the beach? I bet most of you can. By taking something relatable and zooming-in on that moment, we have been able to make something mundane, fascinating. The textures and colors of the shell provide interest, while the inclusion of my hand allows this to feel personal and close. Focusing in on the barnacles covering the shell allows the viewer to understand why I thought this shell was interesting. It is that moment of connection that inspires me to keep sharing.

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That connection I just mentioned is also why other artists create. In a visit to Grounds for Sculpture, I came face to face with an onslaught of them. Inside of one of their galleries, there is a piece consisting of a giant log, a set of directions on the wall, and a few hammers. After reading the instructions, it seemed apparent that the artist (whose name I, unfortunately, cannot recall or find) wanted us to make a wish by hammering a coin into the tree trunk. At this moment, I looked at Max and we both scrambled to find a coin. We managed to find a nickel and then spent the next 20 minutes attempting to secure it in the wood. If you look at the brightest coin in the picture (the quarter with a shield penny on top), directly to the right you can see our special nickel with two large dents in it. 

This piece spoke to me because it showed you had to put in effort before you can be rewarded. The photo, while void of my context, still holds to be emotional. To capture viewers, the overall macro texture of the small coins creates an interesting pattern. Upon further investigation, the viewer can then see these as bent or dented pieces of currency. If you grew up like me, coins are largely associated with wishes through rituals made at fountains. This piece of cultural information helps to contextualize what they may be inferring from the photo. There is something special about thousands of people lodging money into a piece of wood. Just like the people themselves, the coins are diverse and yet they display a sense of unity – of hope.

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What keeps me going the most is the fact that there are always new beginnings, new adventures, and the ability to choose your desired direction. With this photo, I tried to capture that very essence. During a visit to a local park with my family, we reconnected as we walked together along the concrete path enjoying the simple things we saw. Upon stumbling upon this scene, I was hit with nostalgia. Although I had never been to this park before, this moment felt familiar and poignant. To get this picture just right, I had to shoot a few times to capture the sun’s rays and the elongated shadow of the bike. I think I’m pleased with the results.

This particular photo is effective in evoking emotion because it is of a simplistic scene framed in a meaningful way. At face-value, we know that something is happening. The cars in the lot and the lonely bicycle imply the means of motion/development, while the path implies direction. In addition, the sun contributes calming, refreshing energy as it lights up the mountaintops and illuminates the lake’s water. For those seeing the picture for the first time, it might be hard to tell if the sun is rising or setting. This missing information changes the narrative ever so slightly but confirms that we as viewers feel there is something coming next. 

I hope you enjoyed this look into my life. Which photo told you the strongest story? Drop me a comment below. I look forward to reading your responses.

Works Cited

Gitner, S. (2015). Multimedia storytelling for digital communicators in a multiplatform world. New York: Routledge.

Worth 1,000 Words: The 4 Principles of Visual Storytelling. (2018, July 26). Retrieved from https://actiongraphicsnj.com/blog/4-principles-visual-storytelling/

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