How to Tell Stories in Your Photography

eric kim photography hanoi-0007194
eric kim photography hanoi-0007194
Hanoi, 2017 #cindyproject

Dear friend,

Many of us are drawn to photography for the element of story-telling.

How do we tell better stories in our photography?

1. Create more open-ended photos

eric kim street photography hanoi-0003676
Hanoi, 2017

In photography, there are two types of photos:

  • Open photos (open-ended photos, open to interpretation from the viewer)
  • Closed photos (closed to interpretation, generally only one way to interpret an image)

If you want to tell better stories in your photography, the more open-ended your photos; the better.

The more open-ended your photos, the more your viewer can interpret your photo, and make up their own little story of the photo.

2. Create mystery

eric kim street photography hanoi-0004291
Sapa, 2017

A good novelist knows how to create mystery in their books. A good mystery novel leaves the door open to keep the reader engaged.

The same in photography — don’t tell and give away all the secrets.

To create more mystery in your photos, know what to leave out. Create mystery by cutting out faces, and only showing hands or body limbs. Create mystery by blurring your images, making them grainy, or out-of-focus.

Make your photos unclear on purpose, then your viewer will have to strain their eyes to make better sense of your image. Then, they will be more engaged.

3. Create a narrative

eric kim street photography beach

To tell a story, you need a beginning, middle, and end. Alec Soth says we cannot make stories in our photography with single images. Rather, we need a string of images, to make a story— to create a narrative.

So know that if you work on a photo project with several images (let’s say 10 images) — you can tell a better story.

Consider who the protagonist in your project is. Where is the drama? Who is the love interest? Where are they based? What landscapes will you include, close-up shots, and wide shots?

The photographer Jason Eskenazi did a great job with ‘Wonderland’ in putting together an open-ended love story.

A good way to create a narrative in your photo project is to print them out as small 4×6 prints, throw them on the ground, and re-arrange them. Know which images to pair together, and what sequence you want.

To study narrative and story-telling, I recommend watching classic films. Understand what the story-arc is, where there are ups and downs, when there is excitement, and when there are slow parts. Create a rhythm, a nice cadence to your story by alternating between ‘exciting’ images, and more ‘quiet’ photos.

Here is the story of my wedding with Cindy:


I still don’t know how to make good stories in photography. Therefore, I am starting to study literature, poetry, and film.

Photography as a story-telling medium is still relatively new.

Here are some of my favorite photo books, that tell a good story:

See more photography book reviews >