Sunday, 17 November 2013

How to tell a simple story with a photo


Here is a small challenge: Look at your living room table, and see if you can tell a story by taking a single photo, using only what is on the table.

Here are a few tips:

  • Suggests action! In the picure above, the cup of coffee suggests someone drinking it. The business cards and the folder suggests that someone working, while having coffee. The impression is enhanced by the stack of papers in the upper right corner.
  • Keep it simple! I use four objects, which is the maximum a human brain can process at the same time. Two of those objects are stacks of other objects, but that is okay, because the brain treats them as stacks. I blurred them and overexposed them on purpose, to make them blend in with the white table.
  • Pay attention to details! I swept crumbs off the table. Removed a tablet, and made a new cup of coffee without milk. I normally use milk in my coffee, and I was having a cup when inspiration struck. However, milk and coffee does not look as good as it tastes, and the inside of the mug was stained by the coffee. So, after the first test shot, I made new coffee, and cleaned the cup. You can see the first shot in the pile of photos below. It is quite different from the rest.
  • Focus on one thing! Lead the eyes to one thing in the photo. In this case, the cup of coffee. There are several ways you can do that. I used the rule of thirds, a very shallow depth of field, and I deliberately overexposed the photo quite a bit. 


  • Take a lot of photos, and vary the set-up! As you can see, I shot several photos, with different exposures, and different arrangements of the cup, business cards, and folder. I actually did two shoots, because I took a break after a few pictures, and had a look at them in my computer before shooting a second series. I did not vary the shooting angle much, but that is because I wanted to hide the edges of the table. I also wanted to stick with my Samyang 85mm lens, because I want to practice with it as much as possible.
  • Post process! Even for a quickie shoot like this, I did some quick clean-up, cropped the photos, and removed some color aberration. The resulting photos were a lot better than the unprocessed originals.

Shooting a cup of coffee is not as exciting as shooting partying superheroes, ghosts,  or a stunningly beautiful model, but it is fun, and good practice for those other occasions.

Try shooting a little bit every day. Snapshots don't count. Shoot something you have to think about, before, during, and after the shoot.