What Types of Stories do your Photographs Tell?

Ansel Adams famously said that there’s nothing worse than a sharp image with a fuzzy concept. But, what is a concept?

A concept has no visual characteristics, and the role of the creative photographer is to find a way of expressing it through a composition of visual elements—line, form, color, tone, etc. What the concept does have is significance, something the photographer cares about enough to want to capture and share it, a message, a feeling, a statement, a metaphor or a story.” ~ Guy Tal, The Concept via Outdoor Photographer

I wondered if I could find examples of these types of significance – message, feeling, statement, metaphor, story – in my own photographs. Here’s what I found.





From a distance this person looked to be bowing towards the majesty and power of the sea – a reminder to be humble.



I seem to have a love for taking abstract photographs in the car wash. Actually, any picture through drops of water attracts me. One of my favourite feelings I call happy/sad, when you’re experiencing pure joy yet know that it’s fleeting. This image depicts that feeling for me.




This is who we are.

I took this photo during a visit to Dillon’s Distillery, a small batch distillery of ryes, vodkas, and gins in Beamsville, Ontario.

Their “story” page says that they are perfectionists. Their focus is on quality. They say they want to create something special, something to be proud of. This story was evident in the care taken in the design of their tasting room, of which this photograph is a glimpse.




Standing Guard

These trees at the ocean on Palm Beach Island do seem to be “standing guard.” Their trunks look like torsos and their leaves look like heads. They seem to be sentinels keeping watch for who knows what. The metaphor was pretty clear.

Choosing metaphorical titles is a great way to say what your image is about (the title or opening line of your story) rather than what it is.

Story / Narrative



Incoming Tide

A story implies that something has happened, is happening, or is about to happen. The photograph is just one moment in the story. The story could be clear (as in documentary photography) or ambiguous (we can imagine the story, but may never know the truth).

Most stories involve people, but not always. In the photograph above, some type of sand creation was previously made, by who we don’t know. We also don’t know what body of water this is, but it’s probably at the ocean. The tide is coming in and starting to envelop the sand creation. Soon, it will be gone – a message of impermanence.

As you can see, I was able to find examples of all of the different types. However, my inclination is probably for photographs that evoke some kind of emotion or metaphor.

I hope you try this exercise yourself.


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Finding Pennies

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Image from Pixabay

One of the classic passages and one of my favourite stories from Annie Dillard’s book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. It’s about how and what we see. More on this book at Brain Pickings.

“The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But – and this is the point – who gets excited by a mere penny?

If you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.

It is that simple, What you see is what you get.”


What pennies will you find today?


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The Rhythm of Life


Pink Landscape

“Rhythm – a harmonious pattern characterized by the regular occurrence of strong and weak elements, usually lines and shapes.” ~ Freeman Patterson, Photographing the World Around You

Last week I was working on a presentation on abstract photography that I’ll be giving at a camera club. Over the same timeframe, we’d started the new workshop on visual journaling, where we’re exploring themes and patterns in our photography and what they say about us.

As I was searching for abstract photographs to use in the presentation, I noticed a theme appearing in recent photographs that I wasn’t aware of – the theme of rhythm.

Here is a brief slideshow of some of the photographs I found, all taken over the last month.

When I see something like this, it’s time to do some journaling.

First, I check in with myself on what the theme means to me. Below are some notes on the image at the top of this post, Pink Landscape.

What does rhythm feel like?


Pink – feminine, light, soft, gentle

Landscape – like mountains or waves, gently undulating; alternating dark and light areas; no sharp edges; ebb and flow

Transparency – gauzy; a way in and a way out, open

Rhythm – music; when someone has rhythm they’re in the flow, at one with the music, they’re feeling it! There’s a sense of harmony and balance with life; connected to the whole; surfing the ups and downs.

Rhythm feels good.

Once I’ve finished my own journaling, I then look at outside sources for further clarification. The order is very important – always consult your “inner teacher” first.

What do we know about rhythm?

The word “rhythm” means: a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound.

Rhythm in Photography

Freeman Patterson goes on to say in Photographing the World Around You,

“As in music, rhythmic arrangements are both orderly and dynamic, providing overall structure on the one hand, and a feeling of movement on the other.”

Patterson says that the order comes from the recurring shapes or lines (no one stands out) and the sense of movement from the fact that no one line or shape stops the eye. The eye keeps moving. In Pink Landscape above, the eye moves from left to right (for me).

Overall structure (being centered) within movement (change).

This is a way of being that feels good to me. Maybe I was feeling this rhythm as I travelled on my own during February – a joyful mix of feminine and masculine energy. I certainly felt quite blissful.

Rhythm in Music

“Rhythm in music is the pulse at which the notes move over time. Music always has rhythm because it is a time based medium. Notes or sounds move along with a pulse. These sounds can be of equal distance in time from one another for simple rhythms or they can play against the symmetry of being equal to create interest. Syncopation occurs when the rhythm is set up to work against itself – you hear this in jazz, rock, or African music.” ~ CompositionStudy.com

Rhythm in Poetry

Rhythm in poetry is characterized by a repetition of stressed and unstressed syllables.

“Rhythm, by any definition, is essential to poetry. The presence of rhythmic patterns heightens emotional response and often affords the reader a sense of balance.” ~ Encyclopedia Britannica

How do we experience rhythm in life?

“Rhythm is everywhere. In the heartbeats of our chest. In the language we speak. In the footsteps of our stride. In the bump-bump of cars over uneven asphalt. I remember a professor of mine recounting the day he got hip-hop; he’d been in Brooklyn, listening to the city pulse. Much of what fills our ears has a meter, whether we’re conscious of it or not.” ~ Finding Rhythm in Everyday Life, Boston Globe

Rhythm is about finding that balance of structure and movement. There is a rhythm at the center of all of our lives. Can you hear it? Can you feel it?
More on Rhythm

Mastering Photo – Shooting with Visual Rhythm

4 Types of Visual Rhythm

Finding Rhythm in Everyday Life – Boston Globe

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