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Everyday Storytelling

Lesson 3 from: The Storyteller's Guide to Taking Better iPhone Photos

Dan Tom

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Lesson Info

3. Everyday Storytelling

You don't need an epic adventure to create interesting photos. There are beautiful stories and moments that happen everyday. You just need to keep an eye out for them. Dan shares his approach to taking photos of small everyday moments.
Next Lesson: Finding Inspiration

Lesson Info

Everyday Storytelling

So what makes a good story? For me, a good story starts with something that is meaningful to you. And for me, like a good story always has, it kind of evokes an emotion, I think. There's a connection that people can relate to. And so I think, you know, like when you see things on social media, like, you know, people traveling to all these gorgeous places and exotic places, I think that it doesn't have to look like a grand kind of dramatic kind of thing. It can be, I think there's, there's so much unsaid, and kind of untold about the things of the everyday, like going for your walk, and maybe seeing even like a leaf on the street, like all those things, I think, have actually changed the way that I see photography. And nowadays when you're at home, or because you're at home because of COVID or during this pandemic, I think it's, for me, I really kind of, I feel like there's a lot more opportunity to kind of tell these everyday stories and you know, what's going on in your life? What are...

your routines? What are you, what are you interested in? What kind of like gets you going? And I think with your phone, especially, it makes it so easy because you're already, it's probably gonna be on you for the most part. So you just have to take it out, and you don't have to run and go grab your camera. It's very accessible. And I think I particularly enjoyed kind of this, like the challenge of shooting things that people wouldn't ordinarily find beautiful. And I think there's something to be said about being able to showcase something that's very mundane, that's very overlooked, but in a beautiful way. And I think that's a big part of like the power of photography because you're able to shape someone's view or give them a new perspective on something that they might have not ordinarily seen. So I think, I think a great place to start with storytelling is starting with a place that is important to you, or just something that's of interest to you. One of my favorite spots to visit in the city is the Sutro Baths which is kind of like by the beach. And I go there often just to kind of like get some fresh air, you know, walk around. I don't always take pictures, either, but it's one of my favorite spots because it's close by and is accessible for me. And there was one day in particular that it had been pretty gray for like a week or so. And so like that particular Tuesday it was incredibly beautiful weather. So I was like, I need, I'm gonna catch a sunset. So I drove down there and I actually brought my camera with me that day. But, you know, I had been there probably at least 30, 40 times throughout my life. And it always stays interesting to me. So I think that's where I would start in terms of like, when you want to tell a story, it starts with something that is interest of you. If it doesn't interest you, or it's not important to you, that's not gonna come across with your photos. I think another thing to pay attention to is just like lighting as like, obviously, like as a photographer and somebody who takes photos, the lighting kind of dictates everything. So pay attention to which places are lit, which way, pay attention to shadows. Those all kind of influence the composition of your photos and what you might find interesting. So I started just walking around at Sutro Baths and just kind of snapped different photos. I think you want to, there's always like birds that fly by there. So there's always these little things that are happening. (camera shutter clicks) There's a lot of simultaneous things happening. And I think it's, for me, like I start noticing those smaller things that obviously like the more times I go, but sometimes the light, the weather, that those are all kind of enhance or kind of bring those to my attention or highlight those things. So I'm always kind of aware, and I have context of the place prior to like the times that I've been. And I think that that applies to everybody because we all are located somewhere. We all live these, our separate lives, We all have routines, but it's kind of finding those little details and those little nuances that you might not have seen like yesterday or last week. And I think those things are kind of, the more you kind of look for those things, The more that you're gonna realize that there's so much going on that we don't see, and that could be of interest to other people and also like highlight a familiar place, or a familiar thing, like in a different way. So when I went to Sutro Baths, I took a series of photos. I probably took, honestly, like a hundred or so, but I only posted about nine. (camera shutter clicks) And what I think when I'm kind of thinking about telling the story is you want to give context to your viewer. So, to show a sense of place, like I think in the first photo, There was a man walking by and the light was just pouring through. So I actually waited there 'cause I actually liked the composition. I saw the lighting (camera shutter clicks) and then I noticed a guy kind of in the distance and I just kind of waited for him to walk through 'Cause I knew his long shadow would show up, but that's kind of my thinking, or at least what my observation was in the moment. I also noticed a girl, just like on a bike, and she was just resting and chilling kind of by the wall and just watching the waves. And I thought that was such a sweet moment because it's so real, it's so candid. And it's something that, you know, she might have been there for a minute, five minutes, 10 minutes. But I think that, you know, when you capture that, it tells a story of maybe like, what was she thinking? Like why was she there? What prompted her to go to the beach? And those are all things that, obviously, we won't know, but it could be of interest. And it kind of leaves the viewer wondering that as well. So I don't think stories always have like an end point. Like it's not, you don't need to come to a conclusion. I think beautiful stories are often told or seen in a way that leaves it open ended and leaves it up to the imagination of the viewer. So when I was taking the photos, the photo set at Sutro Baths, I think one thing that I always try to do is to walk around, like move, like get off your ass, and getting to different vantage points, moving around. And just exploring like, just have fun with it. Like be curious, ask yourself questions. Like, "What would this look like if I went here?" and always, I think I always have this drive of trying to find the best possible way to take a photo or to take a photo of a certain thing or place. And that's always kind of makes me move. And so I think changing, the change of perspective angles, maybe shooting wider and shooting close up and focusing on different things, Those are all decisions that you make when you take photos or that I make, when I take photos that'll impact how you tell the story. So there's this, one of the photos, kind of a composition, not trick, but thing that I like to play around with is kind of a little bit of depth of field. So there's a shot that shows the waves and just kind of people walking on the waves. So I shot, I initially shot that just straight. (camera shutter clicks) Just kind of straight on, but then I realized that, well what if I take a step back? Or what if I, what if I include in the shot like a wall or like, if there's like a ledge and I actually liked that better 'cause I focused on the beach and the waves itself, but then I left the ledge, which was closer to me, kind of in the foreground, but that was blurry. And I kind of like that story of kind of like peeking over the ledge, but also it really focuses your attention on the waves itself better than having just the overall waves itself. So I think to summarize what makes a good story or what I look out for is starting with something that's important to you, something that means something to you, something that's of visual interest. The next thing is emotions. Pay attention to the emotions of people, to the emotions, like lighting plays a huge role in terms of creating a mood. So if it's like a lower light, if it's darker, that creates a more kind of omber mood to a photo. If it's obviously like bright and sunny and there's a lot of the colors will show up more, because the colors pop in light, it's gonna bring a bit more energy, a bit happier probably. And then composition wise, I think it's just trial and error. I think that's a great approach, is just shooting that thing that kind of captures your attention, but shoot it in different ways, step back, maybe try different angles. And then what I do is I just literally take a lot of shots and then I just kind of, in post, I'll decide which one I like the best. And that's kind of how I started. And I think the more that you do it, the more that you practice, the better you'll kind of gauge. "Oh yeah, I'm definitely not gonna like this shot in post," or like, "I'd rather shoot it this way." And I can't emphasize enough that the more you do it, like obviously the better you're gonna get, and hopefully the results will show as well. One other thing that I'm super big on is using the entire frame. So really ask yourself questions when you're framing a photo. Is this important? Do I want to include? Why do I want it? Why am I choosing to include this certain, this object or person in the photo? And if it's something you don't want, then you might have to like crop in tighter or walk closer. But there's all these decisions that you're making as a photographer that are gonna be assumed that you chose to make. So you don't want to have things in there that people might say like, "Well, I wonder why." So just be very intentional with the way that you shoot. Make sure that you realize everything that's gonna be in the frame and make sure that you want it in the frame. When you approach storytelling, I think one really important thing is to always ask yourself questions. Ask yourself, "Well, why am I shooting this?" I think being curious is great. And that often drives me personally, like, oh yeah, well, what would this look like over here? What if I walked over here? And I think asking yourself questions, like, "why am I including this in the frame?" "Why am I adjusting the exposure this way?" Those all kind of lead to, obviously, like the final product or photo, but those are all things that are important to consider. Like why, I always ask why. Ask yourself, "Why?" Why am I doing this? Why am I choosing to shoot this? Why is this important to me? And I think those are questions that can be answered with your photography or with the photos that you take.

Ratings and Reviews

Lindsay Remigio

Great Workshop - Not just for iPhones This workshop was concise but packed a lot of great information. The things taught can not only help you take better photos with your iPhone but can also be applied to any format of photography. I particularly enjoyed the section where Dan edits viewers photos. I feel inspired to get out and try what I learned.

Déborah Mocquant

I like the way Dan Tom sees the world and how he is inspired. This is more than a workshop for me. I felt like I was in an other world. This workshop also gave me a lot interesting informations about photography. To be honest, I watched this workshop 4 times already.

Emily Guldborg

He has a definite passion for what he does and encouraging people to share their stories through photography. Not a huge time commitment and he refreshed my interest in sharing my perception of the world.

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