Tips from the Pros

How to Master the Art of Storytelling with Your Photography

Guest post by Featured Pro Jennifer Tonetti Spellman

 

In-home photography session by Jennifer Tonetti Spellman

 

“I am beginning to really understand the value of the story within the shoot. Before, I paid scant regard to the story and kept thinking it’s about the shots but I now know the story is the shots.”

 

 

It was that above feedback from a recent student of my in-home business class, Coming Home, that prompted me to write this piece for Artsy Couture.

 

 

We all know that every picture tells a story.

 

 

When shooting for clients, however, we as photographers must be able to conceptualize each shoot as a story, one with a beginning, middle, and end. My goal is to string each picture together to tell the complete story in such a way that someone who doesn’t even know the family will understand the essence of the family through the images.

 

 

It’s that intention in shooting and presenting the images so they flow like a storybook that separates a ‘good’ session from a true storytelling session.

 

 

As an in-home photojournalist, I have trained myself to take a documentary-style approach to my shoots. That translates to being an observer and recorder of a part of a family’s daily life as it unfolds.

 

 

That said,  even though I’m capturing mostly candid photos, I never lose sight of the fact that at the end of the session, I need to pull together an album that tells their story. Like any storybook, there is always a beginning, a middle and an end.

 

 

Let’s break that down a bit and illustrate what I mean with this in-home session.  Rather than pull from a bunch of sessions, I wanted to present highlights from one single family session to give you a better idea of my view on storytelling.

 

 

The Beginning

 

 

From the first minute I step out of my car I am “on” and I’m looking for the beginning shot that is going to open the story of the family. Heck, I’m observing the home itself – Is there is a window open with a child greeting me? Is there is a gravel driveway with bikes thrown on it? Is there is an interesting welcome mat, or a sunburst peaking through their old oak tree on their lawn? Is there a piece of artwork that a child drew on the refrigerator? All of these everyday images serve as a good jump off point. 

 

 

In-home photography session by Jennifer Tonetti Spellman

 

The Middle

 

 

Then we get into the heart of the shoot, the “meat” of the session. The middle of the story is all about sharing different perspectives, trying different compositions, and, most importantly, working the scene.  

 

 

If a child is in the kitchen waiting for a snack, I work the room. I get up, get down, shoot through things, etc. As another person enters, I start to think about the layers in the image and what the most compelling way to capture what is going in that particular moment.  I make sure to shoot the details of the home, like children’s artwork hanging on the wall, sticky fingerprints on the windows, their hair tie collection, the book on the nightstand they are currently reading.

 

 

These are not only important details to their life as it is right now, but also what I call “eye palette images” that add to the story and cleanse the eye.  Finally, for the meat of the story, don’t forget the transition shots. When a child moves from one room to another, I don’t stop shooting.  Up the staircase, down the hall, going through a doorway – all of these transition shots will continue to pull the viewer through the story in a cohesive way.

 

 

In-home photography session by Jennifer Tonetti Spellman

 

In-home photography session by Jennifer Tonetti Spellman

 

In-home photography session by Jennifer Tonetti Spellman

 

In-home photography session by Jennifer Tonetti Spellman

 

In-home photography session by Jennifer Tonetti Spellman

 

In-home photography session by Jennifer Tonetti Spellman

 

In-home photography session by Jennifer Tonetti Spellman

 

In-home photography session by Jennifer Tonetti Spellman

 

The End

 

 

When wrapping up a shoot, I always look a good shot for the end of the story. For example, if it’s a breakfast shoot, I may shoot the kitchen table without anyone sitting there, with pancake syrup and messy dishes laying there (the “aftermath,” if you will).  

 

 

Or maybe it’s the long hallway leading to the front door that the little girl in the house just opened for me signaling the end of our time together.

 

 

In-home photography session by Jennifer Tonetti Spellman

 

When you think in terms of telling a story with all the images, versus just one storytelling image, you suddenly will have a session that becomes a true slice of life told by images.

 

 

Jennifer Tonetti Spellman is a New York-based photographer specializing in in-home, documentary-style photography and is co-founder of Illuminate Classes.

 

 

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