How a Landscape Impacts a Story

Earlier this month, I published my photography portfolio, and opened it with a gallery of my very best landscapes (five of which are featured in this story). I opened with landscapes just like I would most stories these days. Landscapes are one of the most popular photograph subjects you can see online. They also play a critical role in telling a remarkable written story for brands or individuals alike.

Creating hybrid stories that blend the literal word and the visual photo is not the easiest thing to do. When you consider articles and stories, they are often crafted by writers. Or they are published by photographers with few words serving as captions. The two together are rarely deployed well as a seamless rich media story.

21632020501_b28b636d6f_k

Together, in a hybrid pictorial, photos compliment the written story by illustrating and expanding on it. The written words expand on the pictures by providing details. For example, the caption for the above photo might read, “Another dawn on the Potomac, how I start at least two of my days every week.” We move from a pretty picture to personal story, one that may or may not be about business.

Landscapes are central to both groups of media assets. They set the scene for the story. They provide a sense of context for where events are happening, either from a business perspective or on a personal level. A landscape can allude to historical context, and words can expanded on that story.

Opening Stories with Scenes and Landscapes

19832883133_999f0e2e27_k (1)

A lot of people introduce stories with pictures of people. If it’s a business story, we see people at work or an individual person, a protagonist. If it’s a personal vacation, we see people at the airport. Perhaps they start their album with a picture of them at the destination. I personally like to introduce stories with landscapes sans people because it provides a sense of place.

Consider movies that take place in far away lands or in future periods. The first Star Wars movie opened with spacescape. This year’s critically acclaimed Fury Road started with the below epic desolated wasteland. National Geographic stories start with an epic landscape photo. Plays open with the a set scene, and then the actors walk onto the stage.

Fury Road Opening Scene

Instead of another dry story about a woman or man in their office changing the world for their customers, open up the story with an epic sunrise or sunset pic at the office building. Or take a great architecture shot inside the building. If the building is lame, wait until late afternoon and the sun comes in the windows almost horizontally, take an office pic then with no people in it. Set the scene.

16988040785_c23b8ecb45_k

If it is a vacation, set the scene with an opening shot of the place you are landing. Then put yourself in it. The above shot of Half Moon Bay was how I opened my Facebook sharing of our family vacation to Hawaii this year. We stopped first in California.

When I told the story of the Trans-Jordan Landfill for Audi, I opened it with a sunrise picture over the landfill. When I filed stories with the Huffington Post and with Triple Pundit on Africa (see header image) I suggested opening them with landscapes. In both cases the stories feature landscapes very early on to provide a sense of place.

The Pacific Ocean at Night

The same tool also provides a great way to close the story. By closing with the scene you are providing a cue, the visual fade to black. The above photo is from our last night in Hawaii this year. It’s the beach in Kona. I often think of it as the closing scene to our vacation.

It’s just my personal preferred method of storytelling. Every story works better with context. And a landscape or cityscape is one of the best ways to provide that context.

What do you think of the use of scenes in the narrative context?

6 Photo Tips Gleaned from the 365 Full Frame Project

It has been five months since I started the 365 Full Frame project. Here are six lessons learned from my immersive photography experience to date:

1) Framing is Everything

Waterfall Way for Google+

You can edit a photo all you want, but it’s much easier to produce a good photo when your original capture is solid. Find your story and focus on it.

In some settings there can be many eye catching things to include in your photograph, but these can distract the viewer away from your message. Whenever possible try to frame your photo so that it focuses on your subject. Leave out as many distractions as you can. If you cannot frame the photo while capturing it, crop and if necessary (or possible), edit out distractions.

2) Don’t Take the Rule of Thirds Literally

15722886678_d550317663_k

The rule of thirds is very helpful to new photographers. For those that don’t know, the rule of thirds suggests framing your picture by dividing the frame in thirds vertically and horizontally. You then frame your subject in the middle square and capture the shot.

At the same time if taken literally, the rule of thirds can create formulaic photos with every subject in the dead center of the image. Over the past couple of months I have tried to break away from perfectly centered images. So long as my subject touches the primary center — even if it just grazes the rectangle — then I am good.

3) Edit Your Photos

15592913262_fd8cff4f2c_h

There are purists who say photos shouldn’t be “photoshopped” or edited. They are wrong. Some of the most iconic film photos of yesterday were significantly altered in the darkroom. If the no filter crowd likes bad photos then God bless them, but the more time you invest in processing quality shots, the better they will look.

4) A Take-Away from the Minimalist Crowd

15738608980_8b4c5cf0d8_k (1)

That being said, some photos can be overproduced. And God knows sometimes I intentionally create light intense photos because that’s the look I want. This Capitol Building shot is one where I did that to emphasize the scaffolding and the lighting.

Minimalists like images that are edited as a touch up only, instead focusing on the capture. They edit in LightRoom, but just enough to make clean, crisp photographs. My thoughts are make a great image, and when possible, do so with as little editing as possible.

15653665370_8298c9c34c_k (1)

This dawn image features very little editing. Per the minimalist link, 80% of the work was in the Basic Light Room panel. I opened the shadows and reduced the highlights. I sharpened the image and punched up the color contrast. Then I enabled lens correction. And that was it. The same is true of the Frosty, the Snowman image that opens this post.

Do only what you think is necessary to create a good image. Follow your heart. Every photo doesn’t have to be an over-wrought 500 Pixels gem.

5) Sunsets and Sunrises are Like Bait

15556840712_29a529b670_k

I stopped taking as many sunset and sunrise shots recently. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I have found them to be less challenging as of late, in large part because I have shot all the local vistas in my immediate neighborhood. While sunrises and sunsets are photo bait for likes and what most people seem to enjoy, it’s not necessarily the most challenging subject.

There are a couple of short trips that may yield an opportunity this month. But I will likely revisit sunrise and sunset pictures in earnest this January when the earth’s tones are muted by the dead of winter. The harshness of the land in this light interests me and presents a challenge. The soft oranges, pinks and reds are less of a challenge these days.

6) People Are Difficult Subjects

15723338916_88aeed5cb9_k

Photographing people is hard. I am not talking abut the smiley pics you see on Facebook. In many ways those are easy, but they don’t strike me as good or sincere. In fact, I see most smiling pics as fake, unless they are in the moment.

Capturing people’s spirit, their true essence, is the challenge, and it’s one that I fail at often. Every month, I rent some studio time and photograph someone, usually a friend who volunteers. There is much to learn with retouching here, but I hope to get better at photographing people over the next seven months.

14906325059_48245c8b3b_k

What tips would you add? Or, what are your thoughts on the 365 Full Frame Project to date?

5 Tips for Forging a New Brand

8513073813_b06cefeb80I’ve launched a couple of my own companies, and helped more than a half dozen other brands as well as others’ book projects launch. The media landscape changed, but there are common approaches I would execute today if I were to launch a new company and brand.

Here are my top five activities for forging a new brand:

1) Align with stakeholders: Usually a company, brand or service is created with a vision in mind, a way to do things better. But sometimes that entrepreneurial vision is not in line or positioned well with market needs.
Continue reading “5 Tips for Forging a New Brand”