Another Beginning: Storytelling through images

Posted by on Jul 2, 2011

This is going to be tough. The starting. Because I’ve a lot to tell, and the pieces don’t line up in single file easily. Like a second grade class waiting for the drinking fountain after gym, I guess. Each idea wants to be first in line, and none of them want to wait to be last because they are all too thirsty. My apologies if I don’t choose well, and you suffer as a result as I begin trying to tell the story of how I tell stories through images.

I should probably start out with the bits you’re likely least interested in. My story. I’ll keep it brief, but I feel it’s important exposition for you to understand how I’ve traveled this road to date, and how much more traveling I look forward to ahead. I promise to end this first post with something you can actually take away and go play with and examine and experiment with as you walk on your road on your journey. And I promise to move forward from here and talk less about me and focus on the process of capturing images. If you want to skip all the exposition, feel free to just jump down to the “Something Useful” section below. Which, I know, is quite an assumption. That it will be.

I’ll start by saying I’m a very inexperienced hobbyist. If you are looking for serious professionals, I’m not that. I’ve grown to love the hobby, and I’d say I’m on the final step of nurturing the hobby into a full passion. But there’s still a whole lot I’ve to learn. There are many things I have no idea how to do. But there are things I’ve been shown or have figured out that I think could help you. If you do want to follow some professionals as they publicly share their expertise, I would highly recommend you check out Scott Bourne and Chase Jarvis. Scott does a tremendous podcast about all things photography, and Chase makes the kind of photos that I alway wish were mine.

I’ve also had the good fortune of making friends with some other hobbyists. There’s lots to be said about learning aside others as the sharing and trading of ideas along the way makes everyone the better for it. That applies to any learning, I’m sure. I was lucky enough to get connected with Melanie Holtsman, Ken Shelton, Karen Blumberg and Brady Cline early on. I’d recommend you do the same if you can. I always learn from them each time we get the chance to get together to make some photos.

Going back a bit further, I was greatly influenced early on by a good friend, David Pohlmeier. David needs to stop hemming and hawing and start taking photos again. He’s too talented not to. David was an art major, and what he has taught me about composition and seeing beyond just the viewfinder and lenses and technicalities of shooting has been invaluable. That’s the part of all this I hope to be able to help you all see as well.

Finally, I have to go back to the very beginning. I’d say this all really started the day my father let me borrow his 35mm Minolta to take to my 8th grade photography class. There is a sweet black and white photo hiding itself safely somewhere of me in my big skateboard hair with the Minolta slung around my neck in the first days of that class. And though that was the only actual photography class I ever took, it started something. Something that would lay dormant for 15 years until I got my first dslr camera when my wife and I found out we were going to be parents.

And with all of that established, I think we should get the real starting started.

As I’ve working through how I’m going to approach explaining my photography, and my recent explorations of video, I realize I can’t do it all in one post. I’d like to, at some point, address all the following items.

  • Composition
  • Exposure: understanding the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO
  • Metering
  • Lenses
  • Post processing
  • DSLR video
  • Light
  • Equipment

And after all that, I think I’ll start documenting my learning as I continue from here on my photography journey. So, let’s begin. For real.

Something Useful

The very first thing I have to tell you about capturing images, whether those be in the form of a photograph or a video, is probably quite predictable. Most people already know it. But I don’t think enough people actually put it into practice. Before you think about equipment, or technique, or any other aspect of capturing images, think about story. Because you don’t take pictures. You capture a story. You make something important, something that can easily be as powerful as words. This, for example, is what I believe to be more than a photo. There’s a story here.

So the next time you’re getting ready to make a photo, stop, even if it’s only for a brief second, to consider the story you want to tell. And let that dictate where you go next. Which may well mean you have to go somewhere you weren’t considering. Like right up in front of a bunch of people. You have to be bold. It took me a good long while to learn that. And there are still plenty of times I have to remember it. But if you’re going to be happy with the stories you’re making, you have let go of being timid. It’s a must.

Also, think about composition. This is absolutely paramount. I’m going to dedicate an entire post to this topic as it’s probably one of the most important parts of any of this. Just about everyone owns a camera of some sort, and 99% of those people could immediately make their photos 100% better if they considered composition. Two quick tips on this for now.

One, try not to ever center your subject. There are times when you will want to break that rule, but for the vast, vast majority of the time, get your subject out of the center of your shot. Read about the rule of thirds or the Fibonacci Spiral to help you see why you typically want to move your subject out of center.

Two, consider your perspective. Just as pretty much everyone alive has a camera of some sort, those same people often snag photos of kids. This is an excellent example of utilizing perspective. Because the majority of the kid shots you see are boring. Sorry, I know all the kids are cute, which usually saves the photo. Sort of. The issue is perspective. Because almost everyone takes photos of kids from a perspective we all see all the time. They take the photo standing up, from above the kid. But good stuff happens when we get down to their level. The photos gain a much higher level of interest. Like this. And it isn’t just with kids that this works. Find unique perspectives to shoot from. It adds a great deal to your story, and interest to your work. One more example.

I started with my first DSLR just about three years ago. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned since then. It’s been tremendous. I’ve put many fun hours into the hobby, but I feel I’ve grown quite a bit over this three year span. Getting good at making photos doesn’t take nearly as long as people think. But it does take commitment, effort, and a willingness to risk. If you’ve finished this entire post, clearly you have all three.

So, if I can go ahead and pretend I have any kind of power with which to assign you tasks of practice, I’m going to advise you do these things starting now. And maybe even you’d be willing to report back what you’ve found and what you’ve learned and what we can all learn from your learning as you put these into practice.

Your assignment.

  • Forget about what kind of equipment you are using or what kind of equipment you wish you were using for a few days. Let’s work to get the most out of what you have at hand.
  • Be bold about capturing your story. Stop worrying about getting a few steps closer, and just get to the spot where you need to be.
  • Think about your composition. Unless you’re being extremely intentional, stop centering your photos.
  • Think about your perspective. Get down on the ground with the kids to take the photos. You might have to apply the first part of this assignment, but get bold and get low. Lower perspectives are almost always more interesting.
  • Join our Flickr group. I set up a group for us all to use as we learn together. Look at other images, ask other people questions, comment on other’s images, and above all else, participate.

Assignment Update 7/3: I think it would be good to actually give people a task to accomplish. So, if you want to join us, here’s what you can do. Join our Flickr group, and add two or three photos practicing the items above. Give a brief explanation about your shot and what you were working to accomplish. If you’re working on composition or perspective, explain that to us and tell us what you believe the shot accomplished. Then, we can give you feedback on the shots.

I’m really, really looking forward to this journey we get to take together. Now, let’s get moving.

Up next: My next post will shift over to video. I’ll break down how I made the #engchat 2011 video from approach technique.


Thanks to my little sister for the use of her Flickr photo.




  1. Darren Kuropatwa
    July 2, 2011

    Ok sensei, I’m signed up here and on flickr. Ready and raring to go with my iTouch. Thanks so much for sharing & taking the lead on this.

  2. Ben Grey
    July 3, 2011

    I’m really glad you’re joining us, Darren. I look forward to the journey ahead. There’s a lot of fun to be had in this learning.

  3. Karen Blumberg
    July 3, 2011

    “Inexperienced hobbyist” is a ridiculous way to describe all that you learned and captured. Though to be fair, i call myself an “advanced beginner.” 🙂 Can’t wait to read/learn more!

  4. Melanie Holtsman
    July 3, 2011

    I am humbled to even be mentioned as one of your photo friends. I have learned so much from you. So much of what you told me when I was a newly minted DSLR owner got me really interested in growing as a photographer. I have equally learned as much from just looking at your photos and reading the specs. What I love about your images is that they really do tell a story. So much so that I feel I know your son whom I have never met. 🙂

    I am thrilled that you are blogging about this topic and gladly will accept any assignment. Totally psyched about your next post as well. Thanks for the teaser.

  5. Jan W.
    July 4, 2011

    Ok Ben – I will admit that I never quite make it through your tech posts but I read this one twice. Keep these coming.

  6. Ben Grey
    July 5, 2011

    Karen- Perhaps I’ll promote myself to “recreational hobbyist” then. Glad you’re taking part.

    Melanie- Thanks for the kind words. I look forward to watching people learn from each other here.

    Jan W.- Always good to hear from you. And your honesty. Get Mary involved here as well, so I can start seeing what you guys are doing with that D300.

  7. Ken
    July 5, 2011


    Thanks for the mention and I most certainly look forward to our growth as image makers and photographic visionaries together. Everybody you mentioned in this post all provide me with a unique set of inspirations and challenges.




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