Telling Travel Stories Through Narrative Photography

posted by Julie August 13, 2018 0 comments

This is a guest post from Max Therry,  an architecture student who is fond of photography and wants to become a professional photographer. He is also working on his own photography blog about photo editing, modern photo trends, and inspiration. Feel free to reach him by email here.

Photography is an excellent medium to tell a story without using words and is a great choice to tell the story of your travels on vacation. You may be wondering exactly how to go about it, though – what do you concentrate on and what do you ignore?

This article on narrative photography aims to give you a few tips and pointers on honing your photography storytelling skills. You may find that you enjoy it so much, that you continue to use your camera to tell stories when traveling and even when you are home.

narrative photography

image: Max Therry

What is Narrative Photography?

Narrative photography is simply a way of using your camera to narrate a story, and is more about documenting the details, emotions, experience, and atmosphere of your journey.

narrative photography

image: Max Therry

A narrative can be about anything – it doesn’t have to have a beginning, middle or end, although it can help. Journeys make good narrative subjects because they do have a start, middle and finish; it’s up to you whether you use your overall trip as the story arc, or you find a series of mini-stories within your vacation.

For instance, you could document the journey to reach your destination, or look around when you get there for possible story opportunities. You may decide to tell a story about a local market and the sellers there, the culture and/or religion, or other travelers who are staying in the same place you are. You may be lucky enough to be somewhere when there is a big festival or celebration going on, and you can tell the story of the festival or concentrate on one or two of the participants and their experiences.

Be Objective

narrative photography

image: Max Therry

The audience you show your images to will always see them subjectively, through the lenses of their own life and experiences. However, the best storytellers remain objective and let the facts speak for themselves. Documentary photography is more concerned with hard facts, and although it tells a story and is often emotionally charged, it’s usually the type of serious stories involved with war and protests.

This means avoiding the temptation to put your own slant or agenda (positive or negative) on the story you are telling – let your viewers judge for themselves.


Be Consistent

Developing a personal photography style can help you gain more confidence in your images, but it can be hard to find your style – it doesn’t happen overnight. The best photographers experimented for years before they found a particular style that works for them and that they’re known for.

narrative photography

image: Max Therry

Experimentation is great while you’re trying to find your photography groove, but try to keep the style consistent for each story. If you start to edit your photos to tell a story in black and white, but then switch to color, it won’t work and will throw your viewer off.

The same goes for a massive shift in shooting style within one narrative. If you start your story by using wide-angle shots and then change to extreme close-ups halfway through, it can be visually jarring. A few different close-ups or zoomed-out shots in the story is fine, but try not to make a massive shift in shooting style halfway through. The same color and/or symbols can also be used to help link your images together throughout the story.

narrative photography

image: Max Therry

Consistency can also be achieved with the help of editing – use the same techniques, filters or presets for all of your images to keep them in the same style and enhance your images. If you don’t already have Photoshop or Lightroom, you can try non-subscription options like Luminar or ON1, and GIMP and RawTherapee are totally free image editors.


Keep an Eye on the Details

Sometimes the small details can help us get a deeper insight into the whole story. If you are photographing a festival or religious celebration, close up shots of the clothing, makeup and headgear can really add depth to the story.

narrative photography

image: Max Therry

Keep the Story Relevant to the Subject

It can be tempting to take photos of everything and anything surrounding your subject, but a scattergun approach to your narrative photography dilutes the impact. Don’t try to capture everything at once, but focus on one main point and build from that.

narrative photography

image: Max Therry

Asking Permission

One of the thorniest problems facing street or documentary photographers is whether or not they should ask someone’s permission before taking a photo of them. Some street photographers don’t bother asking, as it stops the image being candid and natural, but the best bet is to ask permission first. You can quickly ask the person, then ask them to carry on what they were doing while you photograph. If they say no, accept their answer and move on.

Storytelling through photography isn’t for everyone, but it can really bring your travel images to life. If you want to learn more about telling stories through images, look at the work of Sebastiao Salgado, and the master of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Happy shooting!


Many thanks to Max Therry, for his guest post on narrative photography! If you have any questions or would like to contact Max, you can do so at his website:

Happy Travels!


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