How to Create Photos that Tell Stories

Let me start with a quote from a manga series “Boys Be” which was created and written by Masahiro Itabashi. Spoken by the main character in the series Kyoichi Kanzaki, the visual artist eloquently said: “There are many books in the library. Each book has a wonderful story that will never happen in reality. But when you fall in love, reality becomes a story far more beautiful than any book can tell.”

Drawing from it, I could also say that there are lots of scenes we see, shoot and create as a street photograph in the great wide open spaces, each shot we make, each frame we post could is just another image, but when love and your passion is into it, your photo as a reality becomes a story, that “once upon a time”that made you smile.

From my experience, from I had seen, heard and read, this is How to Create Photos that Tell Stories: 

1. You must be in Love with Street Photography. This is what counts most. To illustrate-You walk for hours and miles in search for something that comes in moment; You are not paid for this; Your photos are not deemed “beautiful” in universal standards; You don’t get so many “likes” if your photo is not tangible enough; You must be crazy  shooting other people in various places with nothing in return except for the love of street photography. This drives you to take another step for a photowalk. This propels you to pack your bags go to exotic places and document life as it is. This powers you to leave the comfort of a dry space and  get wet in the rain and see the unseen. Without this, this love for Street Photography, you may have an image or two but it does not tell your story.

John Free in a recent FB status said:   “I have seen from a long life in this field of photographing and of working together and photographing together with others, that we all have great passion deep inside us all. The passion I think must come from a dedication to a grand intent or purpose, which is to do our best in order to give something of great value to others from us to them.  ….our entire being, to give out only the best product from down deep in us all where the true a great passion comes from. Bring the passion to the surface by doing a grand performance with your self and with the life that surrounds you and make something from this performance that all mankind can value as great and grand and from you with this loving performance with life itself.”

2. You must know what  a photograph really is. “A PHOTOGRAPHIC IMAGE is a product or confluence of three components as captured within a frame.” The three components can be described as:



SUBJECT can be defined as to what image is about. CONTENT  as subject matter can also be defined as those persons, places or things that are visibly present and/or identifiable in the image. When the subject (or theme) and content (or subject matter) are understood as separate yet interdependent image components, photographers can combine them more accurately to convey meaning. FORM is the organizational structure, the way an image is composed, in order to USE CONTENT to communicate about a SUBJECT.

Well if you shoot street, and you think it is a Street Photograph, and you think it has something worth to be told. Ask yourself as the photographer: Can I describe what I shot in one single sentence? What is this image all about? What did I use to come  up with this image?

3. You must Know How to Speak the Language of the Image. This is one of the most important things I learned from my mentor Luis Liwanag . I cannot forget it. In his workshops I learned about the Language of the Image, the use of Visual Elements. This refer to the technique, style and types of photos used by photographers to masterfully emphasize, embellish, or strengthen their compositions.

Among the many Visual Elements one must employ to create photographs that communicate, I have a favorite three:

3.1. Juxtaposition -Placement of two or more things side by side. It could also be a presentation of  contrasting or opposing elements  to convey irony.  This is an important Visual Element , learning this makes you deliver a scene wherein two or more things that are placed side by side, brings out their differences or similarities or connections. It allows and encourages the viewer to make immediate comparisons otherwise ignored or unapparent, it highlights certain characteristics of subjects, to make different subjects more alike, or challenge the typical perspective on a subject. Using Juxtaposition makes the photographer tell a story according to his liking, according to his vision, other than what is generally seen.


Juxtaposition of two work loads, one side  carrying cabinets, the other section as if carrying the whole cockpit of a prime mover.

3.2 Point of Entry is the spot inside the frame that immediately catches the eye, drawing the reader into the content of the photograph. It could be a person jumping, or a looking eye, or a magnetic smile. It could also be an element that breaks the pattern, a path to your allegory.

3.3 The Visual Element of Surprise are images show readers the unexpected. It could be a surprising character jotting out of the frame, or a poignant moment with a twist, Use this and your photo may evoke an emotional reaction from your viewer. This kind of photo produces a kind of dynamism, most often, that overlooked part of life which is found in humorous images. Understand the phrase “life is a box of chocolates”. Be open to whatever the street would throw at you.


This is a real Surprise for me. In the first place, all I wanted was to take a picture of a man filling-up the underground gas depot while I was filling up my car. I didn’t chimp. I let it be. Very much later on, when reviewing photos I chanced upon this single photo showing an otherwise shot that was never my intent.

Combine more or less these three visual elements and you got Layering. Dominant Subject /foreground with Informational background Formed in non-overlapping planes.


Point of entry here is the only man in the picture, as if staring towards the camera. He is juxtaposed to all the women, both children and adult, standing around him. The Surprise here is everyone, including the silhouette, is engaged into something/ someone  except for him who has a blank stare and dons a “TShirt with a Real Men TALK…”

4. You must know how to express yourself. I learned this from Eric Kim. Personally. He does not say it much from workshops but if you are around him, you will know it. Work the scene. Get close, go far, walk around but never leave your eye on the subject until the photo is an expression of yourself. As Eric would always say: “When you look at the images of a street photographer, you are also getting a look into their soul.”


Eric Kim squeezing himself out of the commuting public boarding the train. Shot made during his second time to Manila, where we explored the metro, rode the PNR train to Alabang.

I am limiting it to four. It is quite complete.

1. Love for Street Photography
2. Understanding What a Photograph really is.
3. Knowledge of Visual Language
4. Knowledge on How to Express Yourself.

Go out and shoot stories.

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51 thoughts on “How to Create Photos that Tell Stories

  1. When I do street I do it almost by feel, I often wait for a scene I know will re-arrange itself but most often I shoot when it ‘feels’ right. I’m sure that is not helpful to others though. It’s like other art forms I practice in that I ‘drop in’ I am ‘in the zone’.

  2. Street photography is insightful. It warms my heart with instants, impressions and feels. It delivers a very Zen like emotion when I capture people expressing themselves. Variety of emotions, distinct gazes, Vibrant personalities come out in a few clicks. It’s beautiful. I do not spare Animals either. They are beyond precious. They are more developed form of life than us. Nature is what takes my breath away. It’s spectacular to view nature in its raw form. Oh.. I can go on and on. Thank you for sharing this post. You are wonderful.

  3. We love taking photographs, however, we tend to take more landscape and architecture because we havent quite got the knack of taking descrete photos of people. Hopefully, some of your tips will help us gradually learn the art, thanks for sharing.

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  5. I found this very insightful. The last photo slightly reminds me of the work of Edwin Wurm, a creator of one minute sculptures which unsurprisingly inspired the music video “can’t stop”.

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  7. I really enjoyed this post. I really enjoyed each picture, and I really like how you explained each one with your captions. I am also super intrigued by the picture of the man sitting under the tree because there is a lot going on around him, but he does not seem to care. He seems to be in his own thoughts. You really captured that in the picture.

  8. This post was simply beautiful, and utterly thought-provoking, I believe what you wrote can be applicable anywhere, but writing it through street photography; makes it all the wonderful, I loved this post, it strikes a profound emotion with every word-and picture.

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