Using Images to Tell An Compelling Story

By Kaylin R. Staten

Photos have told stories since the beginning of time.

Our brains absorbed images before we even knew what each node was doing. Before we could read, we would point at pictures in storybooks. Our parent, caregiver or teacher would explain the photo and read the text.

Even as adults, our brains crave images, whether it’s scrolling through a social media feed or enjoying a coveted piece of art at a museum in a big city. Images make the world go ‘round, and as communicators, it’s our duty to provide beautiful imagery for our companies, clients and other key stakeholders. We owe it ourselves and our narratives to showcase goods and services in visual formats.

Here are some best practices when using images in digital storytelling:

Use narrative elements.

Plan ahead for your photos. If you’re working on a public relations campaign or are a photographer wanting to submit a photo series to a print or digital magazine, then start thinking about what you’re looking for before you even snap the first photo. You’ll save time and get to the root of your story at a faster pace.

If you want your photo to definitely tell a specific story, then start thinking like a writer when you’re taking photos. A good story has a beginning, middle and ending. If you do a series of photos, then make sure you use that classic format to your advantage. It could be thematic, plot, chronological or other structural elements. Thank about your setting, characters, point of view, plot, conflict, theme, resolution, narrative arcs and other elements. Are you wanting to do a series on mental health and want to focus on rebirth or a quest? Are you going on the trip of a lifetime and want to document your journey and return from start to finish? Put on your thinking cap and brainstorm some messaging and how your photos can achieve your goals and objectives.

Four generations:  This photo shows more than just hands (L to R: My Granny, my Ninny, my mom, me). It shows the connection and love four women have for each other, in life and even when we are gone. Although it’s black and white, it invokes emotion and tells a multi-generational story through four different people.

Four generations: This photo shows more than just hands (L to R: My Granny, my Ninny, my mom, me). It shows the connection and love four women have for each other, in life and even when we are gone. Although it’s black and white, it invokes emotion and tells a multi-generational story through four different people.

Use a variety of media.

We do not live in a one-size-fits-all world anymore. As individual expressions continues to grow, brands and companies have to be willing to be ahead of the curve. Chances are, most of your millennial demographic will not be reading the print version of the local newspaper, but they are on Instagram. Reverse that, and many Baby Boomers aren’t obsessing over food and influencers on Instagram but still pay close attention to what’s in newsprint. If you know your audience well (or at least on the surface), you’ll know what types of images resonate with them. It’s important to know your platform. If you’re using an image for Facebook, for example, you’ll want to use live video and images with 20 percent or less text to comply with the algorithm and achieve the best results. Use each social media’s specific format as well. There’s nothing worse than when you use a Facebook or Instagram photo on Twitter and it doesn’t pick up on the focus of the photo (guilty). A quick edit or run-through of your social-media-scheduling service can also prevent a lot of photo posting headaches!

Remember your photography basics.

In last week’s blog post, we outlined some photography basics. Get to know your camera, know composition techniques, play around with lighting and hone in on your subjects. There are so many techniques, and over time, you will have a signature look to your photos. You’ll find favorite people, places and things to shoot. If you remember your basic rules, like the Rule of Thirds and no harsh lighting, you will be one step ahead of most people posting photos on the Internet. The key is to plan ahead, practice and don’t give up if you don’t get the “perfect” shot the first time around. These days, authenticity is valued more than perfection, so even if your photo, video, .gif or other image isn’t “perfect” by your standards, you can still get engagement and make an impact if it tells a good story.

Learn anything and everything.

Google is our best friend. You can learn anything you need to know about formats, trends and best practices with a quick and simple search in your Google toolbar. There’s a white paper, free webinar, eBook, podcast, etc., for everything these days, so use that to your advantage! While the basic photography and videography skill set is timeless, trends are not. As communicators, we have to know what is “in” and what isn’t in order to maximize our ROI and KPI (Key Performance Indicators). Free resources, like Canva and Adobe Spark Post, will allow you to create beautiful graphics from your photos without having to reinvent the wheel.


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Kaylin R. Staten, APR, is an award-winning public relations practitioner and writer based in Huntington, WV with nearly 16 years of professional communications experience. As CEO and founder of Hourglass Media, she uses her compassionate spirit and expertise to delve into the heart  of clients’ stories. She is a recovering perfectionist, mental health advocate, wife, cat mom and Leia Organa aficionado. Connect with Kaylin on LinkedIn.