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Q&A: Jim’s “Story Shooting” Philosophy Defined

Many of you who have followed Jim’s photography over the years either through his website, Facebook, tutorials or Creative Live class have probably heard him talk about his “Story Shooting” Philosophy. It is his unique approach to photography, underlined with techniques and ideas to create not just one storytelling image, but a series of images that convey the natural emotion and expression of the moment in which it was captured. Story Shooting in its essence is easy. It requires a mental shift centered around energy and emotion, and getting natural moments to unfold organically. I sat down for a quick Q&A with Jim in our studio, to get to the bottom of what exactly his Story Shooting Philosophy means, and most importantly, how it can be applied to your photography.


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Q: How Would You Explain Your “Story Shooting” Philosophy?

A: Simple images in story format have as much impact if not more than a brilliantly photographed non-story image.

A single image or grouping of non-related images have only so much impact on the viewer because the neutralizing affects of non story-lined images (for instance, if an image doesn’t relate to the next, but after that, you leave your viewer at that state — and go back to an average image.) But in story format, you’re able to take a viewer on an emotional ride as the pages unfold, heightening their experience through built-in “wow” spreads and crescendo.  Like a beautiful opera music, it starts quiet and builds to this loud moment, and drops you off wishing you had more. The heightened experience doesn’t require perfect posed images from page-t0-page, but rather simple images that relate to one another and are along the lines of a common theme — just like the harmony in the music. Each image should transition into the next, and each page of the book should represent the chapters of the story.


Q: How Does One Shoot With This Story Shooting Philosophy in Mind?

A: Instead of focusing your attention on capturing beautiful pictures, focus on a series of images that describe a moment happening, and transition from moment to moment. Do this by scene setting — the act of strategically setting the scene and waiting for moments to happen. One thing I do is take people into a bar or coffee shop and allow people to have a drink. You walk away and walk back and they’re having a natural moment and that’s what you capture. It involves taking the camera out of their face. To not make their day about a photo shoot is the point. A storyteller captures moments and the camera goes to his waist. It’s “click, click, click” then step back and let natural moments happen again, meanwhile always thinking about how to let moments happen for the next series of images.

A story could be as simple as opening the champagne and pouring a glass, to a father seeing his daughter in her dress for the first time. Obviously it’s the story of the day, but it’s really about the micro-stories that fill the up the grand picture.


Q: Whats the Difference Between a Picture Taker and a Story Shooter?

A: A picture taker is looking for composition, whereas a story shooter is looking for feelings, expression, and emotion.  A story shooter doesn’t just understand posing techniques and composition, they have different techniques for creating moments. As a result big moments happen automatically and naturally because the photographer is not occupied by prompting and directing poses the entire time. Prompting and posing is important to a certain degree, depending on ones style. However understanding the timing of this with how it impacts the energy with your subjects is what a true storyteller considers at all times — because at the end of the day the story should be full of joyful, playful and meaningful expression.


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5 Elements of Jim’s “Story Shooting” Philosophy


  • Compartmentalize Your Shooting (Into Spreads in a Book)

    In other words you’re considering how it will be displayed in one visual experience during the time of shooting.


  • Background Colors, Textures and Tones

    Cohesive elements are all considered at the time of shooting, because the images will be viewed next to one another.


  • Camera Orientation: Vertical, Horizontal, B&W, Sepia and Color?

    Are we conscious at the time of shooting ? Think of how these elements flow together at the time of shooting.


  • Themes Within Themes Within Themes

    This comes down to thinking of how images will be displayed together within an album. Just like a blue home can have a yellow room in it, but everything in that yellow room has to fit within the greater plan of the blue house, themes are also experiences. It’s a wedding day, but taking a moment to have a glass of champagne is a celebration within a celebration, and we as artists have control over all of this. These themes within themes are how moments will eventually be remembered and shown through your visual art.


  • Symbolism & “Get It” Success

    Are you taking a picture of a bride and groom walking down a path in a forest? Or are you describing through symbolism a husband and wife walking into their life new life together? It’s all about placement, timing, pre-thought, and the symbolism the motion conveys.


— Jaclyn, J Garner Studios Team