Brooke Shaden: The Story Behind the Photo

I was in Wausau, Wisconsin visiting mentor and friend Dave Junion while giving a lecture at a high school. We threw together a photo shoot after I remarked how incredible it would be to move a boat into the forest. After we strapped the boat halfway onto a 4×4 and drove it slowly through the meandering trail in the woods (I watched from a safe distance…I am poison to any heavy lifting) we set the boat down in it’s place and rotated it. It looked perfect. A glorious scene in an autumn colored rural forest.

Several photographers came over and we took turns photographing each other in our own styles, turning lights on and working a fog machine. I was doing something very out of my comfort zone when I decided to use lights, and I was excited to see what would come of it. I could tell the images I was getting weren’t my normal style, but the shoot was evolving and I was incredibly grateful to be a part of it.

So why, then, does this image that I present here look nothing like what I am describing? It all goes into the heart of storytelling.

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When all was said and done, the lights were being torn down and the fog machine had been turned off. I was standing there, in complete bliss at the energy surrounding me, and it suddenly felt wrong to not capture that moment. Even though we had come together to create the scene that had just been photographed, that didn’t feel like my story. A day of planning had come to a new moment that I did not foresee, and I wanted to capture it.

I asked my friend Randy to turn the fog machine back on. I picked out a flowing dress, my favorite from my collection, and I set my camera up in the near darkness of the forest. The sun was far down now, and with ISO kicked up and being almost unable to focus at f/1.8, I ran. I pushed my self-timer for 10 seconds and when I heard it about to go off, I leapt into the fog that was flowing toward me. The shot that I captured meant more to me than anything I can put into words, because it represents my bliss that day.

In so many ways, storytelling is about running into the unknown and hoping to discover something wonderful. Photographer Jerry Uelsmann said, “If I have an ultimate goal, it is to amaze myself.” How very true of storytelling and creating. To be amazed is why we live. We live for the story of our lives and to create that story from within.

This image captures storytelling in the way that I both experience stories and write them. To read a book, to look at an image, to watch a film…is to run into the unknown while hoping for something amazing to happen. Writing a story, creating an image…we do these things blindly as we discover ourselves and our stories along the way.

A photograph is never just a photograph. It is the story of the artist and a story for the world. Embrace your story.

Learn more from Brooke Shaden by checking out her instructor page


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Brooke Shaden is a fine art photographer and motivational speaker. She is hosting her first Promoting Passion Convention in October which is geared toward creatives who want to write a better story for themselves.