3 ways to tell your story with photos instead of words

There are so many ways to help your viewer understand why you snapped the shutter at just the moment you did, from adding a title to your image that sheds some light on what was happening to writing some background for the image that you are sharing.  Many times I find that I have stopped to look longer at an image because of the caption or story the photographer added.  It helps me see something in the image that I didn’t notice at first glance. 

But, other times I enjoy looking at an image & imagining my own story line behind it.  When we are interpreting an image we all bring our own experiences and perspectives to the table.  While I do believe that the perfect caption or story can enhance the viewing of an image I often struggle to come up with them myself.  It can be hard for me to write short snappy captions for images on Instagram or tweet in 140 characters the reason why I was inspired to click the shutter button and take an image.  Which is why I have been pushing myself to improve my storytelling using just the images, to save myself from the creative writing part.  And that brings us to 3 ways to tell your story with photos instead of words.

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1.  Be sure to step back and get the whole scene.
I’m going to share an image from three different days that give the viewer the setting for the story below and a little behind the scenes for each.

In this image from El Capitan Canyon Campground I was using a wide angle lens (the Canon 24-70 II at 24mm) to get as much scenery in the image as possible.  I wanted to set the scene for the location of my story right from the start.  You can see the long road, the fence, lots of sky, and even a little of the ocean.  I got low to the ground to take this image to show as much as I could my point of view from being there, hoping someone might be able to imagine walking down the dirt path too. Based on this image the viewer can guess the setting is rural and outdoors.


For this image from Santa Monica Pier, I wanted one image that would show where we were right at the start of my story.  This image sets the stage for detail shots of the rides and the concessions along the pier once we got closer.  But, just from this one image the viewer can tell we are on the water (but close to some city life), on a pier, and there are lots of activities.  I shot this standing at eye level because I wanted to tell the story without any distractions in the foreground of the image.  I was using the Canon 50 mm lens for this image because I wanted to get enough in the image to show the location without having so much that it became a distraction (which I find sometimes happens for me when I am shooting with a wide angle lens).


When we went to the apple tree farm I knew I would come home with lots of images of apples on the trees, apple picking, and details from the day.  But, I wanted to make sure to start my photo story with the location of our day.  This particular farm has some wonderful white sided houses on the property and I tried to capture an image that showed some of one of the houses along with the fall leaves and some rows of apple trees.  My goal was for someone to see this image and know the season and have an idea of the rural location.

2.  Now step closer and capture the details.
When we were at El Capitan (the location of the first image above) there was so much to look at that it was almost overwhelming.  It seemed like every direction I looked there was something new.  The good part of this was that there were lots of details to capture.  The hard part was choosing which details could help me tell the strongest story of the place.  I decided that I wanted a mix of detail images that showed the place {like these flowers below} along with detail images that told the story of our stay there {like the key to the cabin and the sign}.  Using a macro lens like the Canon 100 mm 2.8, is a great way to get those close up detail images.  Although I also like to use the 50 mm lens for these shots as well because I find that I like the extra space in the image, like the one with the cabin key.  The texture of the table adds to the story so I wanted to include enough of it in the image plus it helps you compose the image when you give yourself a little breathing room in the frame.



This next image from Santa Monica Pier shows details of two things I found pulled me in while we where there.  I love the history behind things and this pier has a long history full of it’s own stories.  There was something about the way the light was falling in this empty space in the room nearby by to the carousel.  I felt like these images showed insight into the space & about my day there at the same time.


Last, details from the apple tree farm.  These are probably the most obvious details yet it was also a challenge to make it about more than just the apples themselves.  I wanted to find details that would be specific to this particular apple tree farm, something that was unique about it which meant I had to look beyond just the apple trees & apples.

Here are the apples.


And here is a detail image of something unique to this farm.  I was looking in every direction while we where there, not just at the trees but also behind us, looking for the story I wanted to tell.


3.  Remember to look for characters, connections, and moments.
These are two moments from our trip to El Capitan.  When I see the image on the left of the light it takes me right back to that evening.  It is the perfect moment of time.  Placing it alongside the open wine bottle also helps tell the viewer the time of day and something about what we did.

The next one is of my husband & son riding the roller coaster at Santa Monica Pier.  I was standing below them with the shot already composed in my head waiting until the coaster got right where I wanted it then I clicked the shutter.


Last one of the moments I wanted from our trip to the apple tree farm was of my son actually picking the apples off the tree.  I loved that the image shows the size of his hand this year and how he still has to reach up to get the apples.  For an unknown viewer, the black marks on his wrist may be a distraction but for me they tell the story of the time of year & his love of running club (they get a mark for each lap).  This would be something that might require some words for background if you wanted to explain it but I was taking them image for our family albums so including that detail in this moment added meaning to the image for me.


My goal when shooting this type of family outing (and it would work with lifestyle family sessions too) is to think about getting the images I need to tell the story from beginning to end.  I try to get the location, the details, and the characters in my images just like I would need if I was writing about it.  Then I keep these things in mind when I am culling, editing, and planning my blog post.  Did I include the setting?  Are there details that are unique to the location?  Did I get some images that show the moments of the day or the characteristics of the place?

Have You Met Ashley Berrie

Excited about our Have You Met series where I showcase YOU, the photographers of our community. We had over 400 photographers apply for the series in less than a week. I can’t wait to showcase the talented photographers. There is a mix of hobbyist and business owners as well as full-frame and crop sensor users. This may be my new favorite part of the site.

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks in advance for supporting Click it Up a Notch. I am not longer accepting applications for this series.

1. Tell us a little about yourself and your photography journey.
I grew up using a Polaroid camera and having “photo shoots” with my baby sister, dressing her up and taking her picture in front of the shower curtain (perfect backdrop right!?). As a teenager, I carried a disposable camera with me everywhere and would wait impatiently for the one hour photo man to hand over my envelope of 4x6s. In 2010, I was engaged to my husband and he gifted me my first DSLR (Nikon D3000). When I pulled the camera out of the box, my heart was racing I wanted to know what all those buttons could do and how the heck do I make the background blurry!?!

I began taking Photography 101 classes at a local photography school and pretty much became infatuated with learning more. I couldn’t get enough. I finally figured out manual mode in Photography 102 and discovered Clickin’ Moms and Click it up a Notch. I took course after course on Clickin’ Moms and every time a new breakout was released, I bought it. When I had my son in 2013, I realized that this thing, this hobby, was what I was meant to do. I made it my job to document my son’s little life. I began photographing other families too and capturing their lives in the most genuine way possible. I always tell people, I didn’t mean to start a business! But I did. And I can’t imagine being happier than I am right now.

35mm f/2.2 | ss 1/320 | ISO 250

2. What is the best advice you received so far on your photography journey?
Do not try to copy another photographer’s work. You will never truly love your images if they are just like someone else’s. Be yourself, everyone else is taken.

3. What is your favorite thing to photograph?
What I really love are unplanned moments of real, raw emotions, especially those of a parent and child. I love stepping back and letting life just happen and then freezing that moment with just a little click.

85mm | f/2.8 | ss 1/640 | ISO 500

4. Where do you find your inspiration?
New places and beautiful light! I am very spontaneous and will often pack up my son and my camera to head out on an adventure. This could be as simple as going to a grocery store or taking a detour through the mountains of North Carolina to see a Christmas tree farm… yes we really did that!

5. What type of background do you have? Self taught? Formal training? Mentor?
I took my first classes at a local photography school, from there it was a lot of trial and error. I have taken several classes on Clickin’ Moms. I read tons of tutorials and blogs and read through the CM forums constantly. Last fall I asked Liz LaBianca to be my mentor, and she said yes! We chat over the phone about things I want to work on and things I can do to improve. The most I will probably ever learn is by experience though, so I try to shoot and edit every day.

5. Are you currently doing any photography projects? If so, what?
I started a 365 project this year, but am calling it 365ish. ISH because I am way too spontaneous for scheduled shooting and it takes the pressure off! So far I have shot every day, I just don’t post on my blog every single day. “ish” took the pressure off, but I still want to shoot!

50mm | f/2.5 | ss 1/320 | ISO 250

6. If you could only use one lens for a year, which would you choose?
My Sigma 35mm 1.4. This lens is my sharpest lens and is wide enough to capture the environment, yet the focal distance allows me to stay nice and close to my subject. (Like my wild child who will run away if I have to be too far back with my 85mm 1.4, just sayin!)

35mm | f/1.6 | ss 1/250 | ISO 640

7. Share links to 3 of your favorite photography tutorials and tell us why.
This is how I learned to back button focus! (Come on kids run to me!! I betcha I will nail my focus! ;)) Back button focusing tips

This is excellent. Do everything you can to make your subjects comfortable in front of the camera, that’s when the authentic connections start to show. Cracking the Mr. Boring test: Getting real emotions from clients

And then I shouted from the rooftops, “I am a photographer!” (Insert awkward dance with fingers pointing to the sky here) When to call yourself a photographer

35mm | f/2.8 | ss 1/320 | ISO 250

8. What is your favorite image right now?
The image of my son at the beach holding his red fishing net. He woke up unusually early (like 5am) while we were on vacation and I decided if we were up that early we were not going to miss the sunrise. So I packed him in the car and with my camera around my neck we headed to the beach. I love how much fun we have together in new places. This image reminds me of those moments, where it’s just the 2 of us, exploring this big world together.

35mm | f/2.5 | ss 1/250 | ISO 640

9. What type of camera and lenses do you shoot with?
I have a Nikon D610 (love, love, love it!) I actually had the D600 when it first came out, but exchanged it for the 610 after lots of talk about oil spots on the sensor. I have not had a problem with spots on either model though. Nikon 50mm 1.4 (this one doesn’t come out much any more, but I still hang on to it!), Sigma 35mm 1.4 (this is one sharp lens y’all, perfect for lifestyle shots), Nikon 85mm 1.4 (My favorite outdoor lens, it gives me that creamy dreamy look I love) Nikon 105mm 2.8 (This is the newest addition! I use this for my little newborn babies and their squishy little faces and most recently to capture my son’s fluttering eyelashes.) I heart this lens.

85mm | f/2.5 | ss 1/1250 | ISO 125

10. Let’s light someone else’s candle, who is a photographer you think we should check out?
If you haven’t already, you must do your eyes a favor and check out my mentor, Liz LaBianca. She photographs her children daily, which I don’t think a lot of photographers remember to do! Her recent trip to NYC with her children had me drooling. Grab a napkin and check her out Liz LaBianca Photography.

11. What is your biggest challenge when it comes to photography?
My biggest challenge is taking so many pictures every day and not having the time to edit them completely. I am hoping my 365ish project will help me stay on top of editing my own images.

35mm | f/2.8 | ss 1/640 | ISO 125

12. What’s the strangest thing you carry in your camera bag, and why is it in there?
My strangest thing is actually not strange to me, but everyone else who sees it always says “What the heck is that thing!?” It’s a rocket blaster dust removal squishy thing. It blows dust off lenses! Sometimes I will pull it out during a session and let a toddler play with it if they need a distraction.

35mm | f/2.5 | ss 1/100 | ISO 200

13. What is next on your list of things to learn this year in photography?
I want to have a better understanding of correcting skin tones using the CMKY numbers method in Photoshop! I have avoided this method because I am not a numbers kinda gal, but I want to give it a whirl in 2015.

14. If people want to follow more of your work where should they go?
Come and follow along on my photography journey at Ashley Berrie Photography and on Facebook.

35mm | f/2.8 | ss 1/400 | ISO 1000

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Have You Met Christina Klahn?


Excited about our Have You Met series where I showcase YOU, the photographers of our community. We had over 400 photographers apply for the series in less than a week. I can’t wait to showcase the talented photographers. There is a mix of hobbyist and business owners as well as full-frame and crop sensor users. […]