Think of a story as a house. Many writers and photographers never get past the front yard. To help readers care about your story, take time to develop trust with your subject. Go inside the home to uncover the story’s heart.
“I think people do too many drive-by shootings [pictures taken quickly at an event or during an interview] and don’t invest themselves,” says photography instructor David LaBelle.
“Being a good storyteller requires curiosity, courage and caring.”
Instead of taking a quick picture of someone outside a home or business, get closer. Include details—both in pictures and words—about a character to help him or her come to life for the reader.
Freelancer Craig Reed takes time to draw readers closer to stories with detailed, story-sharing pictures.
An August 2018 story about an endurance riding team has the expected picture of the rider, Julie Sutton, sitting on her Arabian horse, Rugby. But it is Craig’s shot of Julie working on Rugby in his stall that shows us the horse and rider’s bond.
In a June feature about a couple celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary, Craig starts with a picture of the Larsons outside their home. Then he moves into their living room for a tight shot of the couple’s aged hands to capture the long-lasting love story.
“Depending on how talkative a person is, I spend at least 60 minutes interviewing and usually 90 minutes,” Craig says.
He gives himself up to an hour to take pictures after the interview.
“I always do the interview first because that helps me determine what photos to take,” he explains.
Detailed shots that connect us to a story are critical.
“If I look at a picture or a story and feel like I don’t know anyone, why should I care?” David says.
Most stories show how and what a person is doing, not why. What motivates your subject? Every story should have characters, a plot, conflict and resolution. David says the best stories are about relationships, love and sacrifice.
“Learn to listen with your eyes and ears,” David advises. “Develop empathy and compassion. Trust leads to intimate pictures and words.”
To get closer to your subject, allow yourself time for them to get comfortable around you. Talking about things you have in common can help relax someone who is not used to being interviewed.
Four Ways to Build Relationships with Story Subjects