Worth a thousand words

February 25, 2017

Telling a story is about more than words—for photographers, it’s about finding the hidden meaning in every picture, writes Cymon Brooks.* 



When photographer Brandon Stanton began taking photographs of locals in New York City (see photos above), he never imagined his series, titled ‘Humans of New York’ (HONY), would become a worldwide phenomenon. 

Today, he has more than 24 million followers on social media and has travelled to more than 20 countries, telling the stories of refugees, inmates, veterans and middle-class businessmen. 

People post photos on the internet every day, so what made Brandon’s different? Aside from the poignant captions that accompanied each shot, it was the way he took each photo. Each picture showed the face, a hand, or something being held, capturing a variety of emotions and giving the public an insight into the personal life of a stranger. 

HONY showed that every photograph has a story to tell, and in a world of smartphones and Instagram filters, it has become more important than ever to become a visual storyteller who authentically captures moments that will soon fade. 

When a photograph is taken well—not just with great lighting and good angles, but by finding the hidden meaning or story in each shot, it can change people’s lives. 

Photographer Laura Cook told The Daily Post, “There’s a difference between photography and visual storytelling. You can easily take a photograph, but not all photographs tell rich stories.” 

You can become a visual storyteller in your photography by empathising with the subject. Take the time to understand their situation and get to know them. Objects and landscapes can also tell stories, and capturing them is about focusing on the details—a shadow, parallel lines, or something in motion, so the intricacies of each environment are communicated to the audience.

Empathy is a great start to visual storytelling, but often, to communicate a story clearly, you will need to do some editing. Try tightening the frame, shooting in black and white, use filters such as neutral density, and take more pictures at different angles. Become passionate about your subject, and don’t be afraid to break the rules. 


In this photograph of the Busselton Jetty in WA, I wanted to tell the story of old construction versus new. By capturing the contrasting jetties, I communicate that construction began in 1865, and the jetty has been a supporter of industry through the town’s history—first through the trade of timber and now tourism. 

Just as the jetty has changed, so has the town. And in this moment, I captured two different periods of history. 

You can become a visual storyteller too. Find your passion and start to explore the world around you. You’ll be amazed at what you learn. 


*A collection of Cymon Brooks’ images has been published in a devotional book, Vision, by Salvo Publishing. Available for $25 p.p. from www.salvationarmy.org.au/supplies.


Tags: Salvation Army Australia

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