Telling a story in photos

Humans have a natural tendency to create stories without even realizing it. We don’t see things in isolation, we build relationships between them to create meaning. Whilst we can’t control the story people tell, we can influence it by being clever with the way we contrast images.

This is, in fact, how comics work. We have a row of three or four picture boxes, but the whole functions by us bridging the (quite literal) gap between them:

Bill Watterson, “Calvin and Hobbes” (1985 – 1995)

Let’s imagine you’re writing a blog post about a recent event important to your project, maybe a conference, a performance, or workshop. A single photo, taken from one point of view might not capture the spirit, but a couple of well chosen ones might. In a case like this, a photo of a speaker, performer, or teacher paired with a shot of someone in the audience will likely convey the connection felt by all participants.

Similarly, if there was discussion, a photo of a participant apparently asking a question and the event leader appearing to answer would communicate that. Note that you’re allowed some sleight of hand here: the photos of both people don’t literally need to be from a particular conversation; they’re symbolising an overarching experience, not necessarily documenting a specific exchange. Do of course tread carefully here: people at the event will know if there’s dishonesty. Lets say you have two photos of a comedy event, and one shows the performer, who, no matter how animated he looks, wasn’t having a good gig. You could pair that with a shot of the audience cracking up, but anyone there would know it was taken during another comedian’s slot. So even though the evening as a whole was successful, and even though no-one would really care if it was a pairing from two different, successful performances, that bit of dishonesty might not be worth it.

Imagine you want to illustrate a workshop, for example beginners’ lino printing. You could chose three photos to illustrate the event, one of the tutor appearing to demonstrate something, a second of a participant appearing to be listening, and a third, close-up of a tool cutting out lino. This is much clearer than a shot from the back of the room trying to capture everyone in it, because in the end, although we can see practically everything, we don’t really see anything. Even though three photos add noticeably to page-load time, this single photo is more likely to be the liability, because it’s adding to page load and not communicating much.