Tyler’s Tips Episode 5: Storytelling


Welcome to Tyler’s Tips. Today we’re gonna be talking about how storytelling can make your photos more effective.

In my opinion, storytelling is the most important piece of photography. And the reason is because you can have a photo that’s sort of technically amazing, perfect, if perfection even exists. Awesome composition, great light, beautiful color, the sharp parts that are supposed to be in focus are crazy sharp. You took it with a fancy camera so you can blow it up really big and print it and it’s awesome. Except the idea is muddy and the story isn’t really clear. That photo is never gonna work. It’s not gonna touch people. it’s not gonna speak to people’s emotions.

On the other hand, we see it all the time where we have an image like you see images on Facebook and Instagram that immediately we understand what the image is about. We get it. We’re like, “Oh, that’s awesome.” And often they’re just taken with a cell phone in bad light and weird conditions. The color’s off. Whatever. But the photo still works. Because the story is clear. And it’s the right audience if it’s our family posting photos on Facebook. And it’s what we want to see. Nephews, nieces, whatever. It’s awesome.

So all other things equal, if we have a clear story and we do all the craftsmanship components of photography that will make the photo even more amazing, it’s gonna work that much better. And it’s gonna speak to people that much more powerfully and create those emotional connections. But it all comes down to that story. Without the story, we have nothing.

So I’m gonna take you guys through the process that I used to create a series of photos for a commercial project recently. We were shooting photos of these little wooden blocks for a client. Let’s see if I can get this to focus. There we go. So these little wood blocks are manufactured by a company called Innerstave here in Sonoma County. And they’re used to flavor wine. And when the client called me, at first they said, “Tyler, I don’t know how you’re gonna make these little blocks look sexy.” And my response was, “I don’t know either but I’m … This is what I do. And I’m really excited to dig in to try to understand the story so that we can create compelling and effective photos of these little woodblocks.

And so the first challenge was we gotta show exactly what it is. It’s a product, people are gonna use the website to buy it, and they gotta see it. They gotta see what it is. So we created this photo here. And this photo is designed to show us what it looks like. You buy it in a big bag with thousands of these little things to flavor big quantities of wine. And so here we have a whole bunch of them. We spilled it out such that you could really see each individual block so you know what the shape is and you could see the quantity together.

But most importantly, what we did is we chose to put this whole pile of goodies on a piece of white marble. And this accomplishes two things. One is it elevates the brand. So white marble is fancy. And we wanted to elevate the perceived quality of the brand and the product itself. The other thing that it does which is super important is it puts this in a context of food and flavors. White marble is very commonly used in a kitchen and in a culinary environment. And so we didn’t want to bonk people on the head with the idea by putting vanilla, and coffee beans, and chocolate, and all these flavors and aromas that come from this wood when you flavor the wine. But we wanted to articulate that point and make it clear, but subtle. Thus white marble.

So that’s one part of the story. The second part of the story is why. Why cares? What’s the point of this little wood block? And so to answer that question, first we have to dig into the target audience. Who buys this thing? Who wants to know about it? Who’s gonna be the person that we want to talk to? So as it turns out for this company, that is a very specific audience. It’s wine makers. So what we did is created this photo which is specifically designed to speak to wine makers. Of course, we have wine in the glasses. That’s obvious. We’ve also kept the white marble which keeps this elevated sort of idea of culinary and food in the conversation. Makes it a little bit fancier. We’ve put more of a variety of the product so you can see a little bit more about the whole picture.

But really importantly here, we included that glass laying on its side. And for those of you who don’t recognize it, that is a Sommeliers tasting glass. Most people wouldn’t ever know what that is. I didn’t know what it was before we started building this photograph and coming up with ways to talk specifically to wine makers. But this glass is used to taste wine. So that large stem, you can fill that with wine and it’s a specific measure so that you can then lay the glass on its side and roll it back and forth and see the way the light plays in the wine and also see how the viscosity of the wine rolls around the inside of the glass. And it also oxygenates the wine.So for this audience, by including that tool, which is effectively what it is in their trade, it’s an important tool, they know that we’re speaking to them. That we have their interests in this process. So using that photo, we’re able to answer the question of why and who.

And the third photo I’m gonna show you is to tell another piece of this story which is what is this company about. What are the core values? And in speaking with them, they have a wonderful relationship with their employees. This is a … It’s a manufacturing firm. They do light industrial manufacturing effectively. It’s like aging wood, moving wood around, big stacks of wood around with forklifts using a lot of machinery to cut wood into different pieces. It’s a manufacturing plant amongst many other things that they do in the process. They’ve got a lot of employees who have been there for 20 plus years. They’ve even got a few that have been there for 30 plus years. And that’s rare in a manufacturing environment like that. And it speaks to how they take good care of what they refer to as their family of employees.

So to connect that idea to the product, what we decided to do is find the guy that’s been working at that plant the longest with the gnarliest big old mitts and ask him to hold the product in his hands and let’s take a photo of that. And so this is what we came up with for that photograph. And the goal here is to show the human side of manufacturing these things and how much care and love goes into it. And by focusing on the texture and the hands, the texture of his skin, it just shows this visual idea of literally a lifetime spent working to create these amazing little pieces of wood that help flavor the wine.

So there you have it. Three ideas to help tell the story of these little wooden blocks and why it’s important. So next time you’re out shooting, take a second and really stop and try to think about what is the idea that I’m trying to get across. And are the choices I’m making in terms of composition and light and all these things, are they feeding that story. So I hope this was helpful. If you have any ideas that you’d like me to discuss in future videos, please send me an email or put a comment below letting me know. And I thank you for your time. I look forward to the next one.


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