Photojournalist Billy Weeks, an instructor at this fall’s StoryConnect Communications Workshop in Newport, Oregon, spoke to Andy Johns about how he structures visual storytelling on StoryConnect: The Podcast. This is an excerpt; listen to the full episode here.

Often when I talk to photographers, most of them want to talk about the technical side of photography (shutter speeds, distance, lens, tripods, etc.). Some of that has to do with storytelling, but most of it doesn’t. It’s important to get the technical side down, but I’m interested in a photographer’s personal perspective. 

What are you trying to say with the photograph you’re trying to create? If there is a failure with photographers today, it is that they’re making photos without a point of view. 

Remember in elementary school when your teacher would teach you how to diagram a sentence? You’d have a subject, verb and direct object. When you’re working with a camera, the same kind of diagram plays a role.

You see your subject. The action of the photo becomes the visual verb of the picture, which is incredibly important. A lot of people miss that; they either make photo assignments, or they show up when there’s a lack of a verb happening in the moment. Then the direct object of the picture is the background. Photographers who understand this make a really good living. 

Can you diagram this picture? Football players (the subject) run (verb) onto the field as a storm approaches (direct object) before a game. Photo by Billy Weeks

You should be able to look at a photo and diagram it exactly the same way as if I put a sentence in front of you and diagrammed it. Once you break that down, you start understanding how to tell a story with a photograph. 

I think most of us focus too much on the technical side or may only be interested in one part of that diagram rather than the complete package, and it becomes less of a storytelling moment.

Hear the full podcast:

StoryConnect Workshops

StoryConnect WorkshopConferences generate big ideas and inspiration, then hands-on workshops provide opportunities to put ideas into practice. 

StoryConnect Communications Workshop, formerly called the Ruralite Communicators’ Workshop, is a three-day writing and photography immersion event. Attendees from utilities across the country work through both team and individual assignments, each designed to strengthen core utility communicator skills.

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