Guest Challenge: How to Tell a Story through Colour Photography

 allan hamilton

Allan Hamilton (The Mofman):

Finally!  I get to present this challenge.  It’s no fault of Paula’s, she asked me to guest post a long time ago.  I just haven’t been able to make time to commit to this opportunity, and I’ve really been looking forward to doing it.  In fact, I hope that this is the first of two of these posts.  Thank you Paula.

This challenge-slash-tutorial is about storytelling with photography.  I’m sure that you’ve heard many highly successful photographers place emphasis on being able to reach others by using photographic skills to convey a story.  Whether it’s with a series of pictures, such as a photo essay or even harder, with a single image, we can’t reach anyone without effectively conveying a story.  Although there’s a long list of photographers who have proven to be exceptionally gifted at this, it is definitely easier said than done.  If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a challenge now would it?

In this challenge we’re going to make the effort as easy as possible by shooting in colour.  That’s not to say that storytelling through colour photography is easy, it’s just a little easier than doing it through monochrome photography.

What’s the usual way we try to tell real or imaginary stories through photography?  We rely on the usual physical and technological techniques that pretty much everybody has heard or read about by now.  Things like:

  • Careful equipment selection;

  • Use of talented models;

  • Use of filters and other accessories;

  • Timing;

  • Exposure settings;

  • Composition;

  • Carefully selected natural or artificial lighting or shade;

  • Cropping and post-production editing; etc.

Good.  Hang on to those dearly.  You’re still going to need them.  As useful as they are; however, they only get us partway to our goal of making a mental impact on others.  You’ll have to apply them with other more sensatory considerations; aesthetics and emotion.  Get ready to apply those to whatever type of photography you prefer to express yourself with.

Portrait photography; you probably don’t want your shots of someone’s likeness to be flat and emotionless by having them stand before your lens looking straight into it blankly or with some artificially induced reaction.  You look at the work of Steve McCurry and Annie Liebovits and instantly recognize how they naturally captivate you.  There before you are profound glimpses of personalities coming at you from a two-dimensional medium.  It’s amazing.  A personality could be saying my story is that I am someone’s grandmother, and I have survived war, extreme hunger and malnutrition since the age of five.  One maybe saying, I just graduated from high school, and I’ll soon be leaving home for the first time to start university.

Street photography, rural photography and photojournalism; oh yes, those of us who engage in these genres and field itch to capture those personalities but also more.  We try to convey the importance or significance of the circumstances that those personalities are subject to at specific moments in time.  We do this in order to make statements about communities or society at large.  It’s not enough to photograph just anyone walking down a street; we’re trying so hard to show how a subject and what’s going on in their environment reveals a way of life somewhere near or far.  A story could be why some seventeen year-old drug dealer brandishes his 9 mm Glock with the cockiness of a seasoned gangster.  The story might instead be how people can be so comfortable doing personal things in public that a man is willing to nonchalantly floss his teeth in a restaurant, in full view of other patrons.

Urban and landscape photography; you’re driving along a highway in Colorado when suddenly, snowcapped mountains glistening in the evening sun seem to rise up on both sides of you and scrape the threshold of outer space.  The light and colours are so perfect that you need to stop, grab your camera, jump out of your car and quickly compose a shot because you are determined to show everyone back home how you know that you have experienced God’s power out there in the great frontier.  Ansel Adam’s landscape work is so incredible because he had an ever so strong passion for nature and conservation.  He was also a humanitarian.  You may be familiar with his landscape work but have you seen the portraits he published in “Born Free and Equal: The Story of Loyal Japanese-Americans?”  It’s so eerie; downright uncomfortable, to see the happy, smiling faces of people being forced to live in fear.  Perhaps there’s a long abandoned and dilapidated baseball stadium that’s been in your town since 1901, and you have the chance to go in and feel the nostalgia that has gone unrecognized for decades before the city has a demolition contractor blow it to bits.  You want to make every old time baseball lover sense the ghosts of the now unlit stadium through your imagery.

Wildlife photography; you’ve spent all week in some African national park waiting to see some interesting creature.  Just before your time is up, you spot a lion brazenly stalking an adult male giraffe.  Knowing that this is truly undocumented behavior, you stick around long enough to record how the giraffe makes one kick with a hind leg and drops the powerful lion motionless in the dirt.  A viewer will connect more with an image depicting natural animal behaviour than a picture of a beautiful animal just looking beautiful.

Sports and action photography; at a local shiai, you get to show how a skinny 14 year-old sparred valiantly in her last a 5-point karate match.  A crowd of parents begin to protest loudly, and you zoom in on the young girl’s face as tears start to flow down her cheeks the moment she realizes that she will lose no matter what she does.  With the spectators crying foul, she just found out that one of the referees is the father of the other girl she’s up against.  It has just come to light that he and the judges, who are his friends, don’t run this tournament fair and square.

Regardless of what type of photography you shoot, see the possibilities.  Know what you must strive for.

How do you do it?  Allow yourself to feel.  I mean really feel.  That’s the challenge.

Try to identify with the circumstances in front of your lens.  Whether in favor of it or against it try to moralize it or politicize it in your mind.  Try to appreciate the humor in it or the adventure, wonder or even horror of it.

Most will agree that drama is something to keep out of your life but in order to make a photograph have power to move others, you’re going to have to let yourself get a just little bit emotional and shoot under such conditions.

By nature, our species is an emotional one.  At times overly so but although the world today is pushing to turn everyone into completely logical Star Trek Vulcans, we can still benefit from many emotional experiences.  It remains an important means of communicating to and relating with each other.  Make images that speak to others emotions.

Take on this challenge, and let’s see what happens to your full colour photography.

Later, we’ll try storytelling again but in black and white, and I’ll break it down in a more systematic fashion.

Good luck!

 Bubble Girl

Bubble Girl





Rainbow Girl

Rainbow Girl





The Nice Policeman

The Nice Policeman


World Cup Win

World Cup Win


People have responded to this guest challenge:

30 Comments on “Guest Challenge: How to Tell a Story through Colour Photography

  1. This is so thought-provoking and helpful, and the photographs are amazing. I can’t take my eye off those faces (human and otherwise). Thank you!


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  3. Totally fascinating and beautifully written (no wonder you needed time to compose this). Rainbow Girl made me smile right back at her, though I could never adopt that look. 🙂 Many thanks for a great post.


    • It was during Supercrawl; a major art and entertainment festival in the city of Hamilton that draws in thousands from all over. I saw the wig and knew that there was potential there. I got up behind her with my lens, and it was that instinct of being watched that made her turn around to see me right there.

      I study faces, and as I recognized her initial surprise giving way to that wry smile I opened the shutter. We both had a good laugh. She has a fantastic personality.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I definitely have plenty of photos to choose from for this challenge. The last couple of weeks I’ve probably shot somewhere between 1000-1500 photos (perhaps even more). I’ll find something suitable tonight or during the weekend.


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      • I was positive it was a little boy. So it is a girl and you knew her before taking a photo. This is according to me, your best shot in this series Allan, and not just because the child is cute. It is the texture of her skin, so real- I can almost smell her head.

        Liked by 1 person

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  8. Paula, thanks again for inviting me to present this challenge. It is an honour and a pleasure. I look forward to checking out everyone’s links.


  9. enjoyed reading this informative post from themofman!
    also, definitely going to look up adams’ other works – I really only associated him with landscapes. Looking forward to seeing the entries for this challenge – I might also be able to join in –


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