Thinking Like a Visual Storyteller: Seeing Light

IMG_7241.jpg

Back in October at the Eddie Adams Workshop, Visual Journalist Tom Kennedy gave a presentation in which he said, “photography is writing with light.” Though I knew light was the most important element in photography - because without light, there is no photo - I had never thought about it so poetically.

In the last year, I’ve been documenting light any time it catches my attention. This has made me appreciate it much more while also learning new and interesting ways in which it interacts with objects and people. 

To do this, I’ve been using one of my favorite Instagram features - Stories - where I am able to quickly share snapshots of light when I see them. Doing this over a period of time has helped me build a mental archive, allowing me to control light in my professional work.

I was recently talking to a professor who told me that what he appreciates most about photography is that it taught him how to see light, and in-turn appreciate the world in a different way.

Even if you’re not a visual storyteller, I would challenge you to start paying close attention to light everywhere. The intensity, the color, the shape it creates, how it interacts with the world. There is gratification in understanding this small part of life.

Here is my current light journal, which you can also find on my Instagram page:

Thinking Like a Visual Storyteller: Connecting

Yesterday I shared a story that I worked on with the Southern Durham Football team. It was an in-depth look into their season. For four months, the team allowed me to be present at every moment. They trusted me - for which I will forever be grateful.

Southern Spartans head coach Darius Robinson celebrates with his players after winning the last game of the season against Millbrook High School, 21-14. On the first day that I met Head Coach Robinson, he took me to the team locker room and introduced me to his players: “this is Bryan, he will be photographing our season. He is now part of the family.”

Southern Spartans head coach Darius Robinson celebrates with his players after winning the last game of the season against Millbrook High School, 21-14. On the first day that I met Head Coach Robinson, he took me to the team locker room and introduced me to his players: “this is Bryan, he will be photographing our season. He is now part of the family.”

How did this come about? As visual storytellers, how do we make this connection, gain this trust, and tell the story to the best of our abilities?

Though it varies by story, the one common factor is being human.

Let me explain.

My favorite quote throughout my time as a photojournalism student at Syracuse University says:

“We tell stories of people - not ‘subjects.’ Honor their humanity. Our language sets the tone.”

I think it’s very important to always keep this in mind because this is the level at which we connect with those whom we are fortunate to photograph. It is not a photographer-subject relationship but a human one. We gain trust by being genuine, listening, being present, and by truly caring about the story.

Telling these stories is a collaborative process. Explaining this is a good way of building these relationships. Don’t take control of a story that isn’t yours. You’re simply helping share this narrative with your storytelling ability. Ask the people you are photographing “what do you think your story is?” and be prepared for the answer. Chances are it might not be what you thought it was - it’s much more meaningful.

Be respectful and feel situations out. Go with your gut instinct. Sometimes the best move is to put your camera down and be present. This is still hard one for me too, because I don’t want to miss a frame. But when the situation calls for you to be present and you are, this goes along way in the trust you are building. Being present and asking questions is good way of making images - even though you are not pressing the shutter button - because you will be constantly learning about the person and the different layers to their story.

Once the story is complete, maintain that relationship. Whether that’s through social media, mail, text messages, etc. These are human beings that entrusted you, allowed you into their lives, and shared with you. Don’t take this for granted. Honor those relationships.

Even if you’re not a visual storyteller, I would challenge you to start thinking about the relationships you create and how you honor them. As I mentioned earlier in this post, we connect not as subjects-photographers but as humans. Meet new people, ask questions, listen, and most importantly, be genuine and care.

Care.

Listen.

Be Genuine.

Be Present.

Be Respectful.

Honor the Relationship.