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[Sticky] Storytelling through LEGO photography


Foolish Bricks
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This month we’ll be covering a few basics on storytelling through photography.

Storytelling is one of the most important aspects of photography. Chances are that images which tell a story, the ones that speak to you, are probably the ones you’ll remember. Photos that are nothing more than beautiful will certainly attract your attention and you may be momentarily awed by them, yet, chances are they won’t stick.

A photo is an image frozen in time; it doesn’t tell the viewer what happened before or what lies ahead. The art of storytelling in a single image is persuading the viewers to create their own version of past and future, based on the image you presented them with. In short; you don’t /tell/ the story, you /motivate/ the viewers to create their own personal, emotional stories! And since all people are different, their stories will differ, depending on memories, personality and experience. This fact also explains why some pictures will tell an elaborate story to one person, and are quiet to another.

“So, when does an image tell a story?” There is no straight answer to that question, I cannot give you a straightforward recipe for storytelling. However, I can give you a few basic tips to increase the chances of your photo telling a story.

I need a hero!

Who is the hero? Is it a person? An animal? An inanimate object (for example an old abandoned car, or a lonely tree?)? Why should
anyone care about your protagonist? Is your hero interesting enough to make people wonder? Simply taking a picture of a tree or a minifigure won’t do it, you’ll have to provide some context for your hero, take control of the entire frame. Thus inviting viewers to (unconsciously) start thinking.

As an example, I included One-Eyed Willy. I personally have a complete backstory on him in my mind, but what is your story when you see this image? It may even be that this photo doesn’t tell you a story at all. Even that is interesting to think about! Why doesn’t it speak to you, what would you have done differently?

Willy, the one-eyed wizard

Oh, and don’t forget to take advantage of the basic tips on composition!

Viewers tend to get distracted from their story if there are obvious technical difficulties.

The story is in the details

The second tip on storytelling  is to include details! These may be larger or smaller details, and sometimes even one little detail may just be the catalyst that lets the viewer create a story in their own mind.

Lonely old man

As an illustration for this tip I added “Lonely”. There are a few details in there. For example, the ring and the closed umbrella when he’s standing in the pouring rain. That alone could trigger a few (love?) stories.

Yet another detail is that the protagonist is an elderly, maybe he just became a widow? And what is he doing street side, dressed up with a bow tie, but not caring about the rain.

There are quite a few stories in there as long as the image is inviting enough to make people care to look at the image long enough to find the one stories that appeals to them.

Plastic emotions?

Hi everybody! The third tip on storytelling  is all about emotion!

Conveying emotion can be difficult with our little plastic friends, especially because not every facial expression is present in the LEGO line-up. Also, body language can be a challenge.

Good old Times

The first thing you need to do is to find a facial expression that fits your image or find a way to work around the facial expression. For example, I wanted a loving face for the elderly lady, buy could not find one. Yet, by hiding the lady’s face, I see that loving face I wanted when I look at this image. On the other hand, maybe other viewers think this guy has to make up for something and she is looking quite angry whilst he is saying: “oh come on, I said I’m sorry my love!”, I really don’t know.

The second thing you need to pay attention to is the stance of the minifigures. That is the closest thing to body language we have. And if there is a stance that seems impossible, sticky tack can be the solution to many problems.

Also remember to pay attention to the hands of LEGO minifigures: you wouldn’t believe what a difference the rotation of the hands can make for your image.

Lastly, do not forget about the surroundings, lighting and especially color. These three elements can drastically change (or destroy!) the emotion and thus the potential for storytelling by your photo.

Go left… AND right

The fourth and last tip on storytelling is to put ambiguous or contrasting elements in your images when desired.

There are roughly three types of stories that can be told through LEGO photography: personal stories, documentaries and lastly ambiguous stories. Documentaries generally don’t benefit from ambiguous elements. Also, don’t use this tip if you are looking to tell a singular story.

That being said, adding ambiguous elements in your image greatly increase the potential of your photo for telling more than one story, potentially reaching a wider variety of viewers. However, don’t overdo it! You don’t want to completely confuse the viewers… unless you really do want to confuse them 😉

Lousy hitchhiker

The example is “lousy hitchhiker”. What happened here? And why is this person (M/ F) carrying an axe in what looks to be a desert? Besides, why is (s)he still holding that axe, etc. Questions bring theories, theories bring stories.

P.S. The name you give an image gives direction to the potential stories that are told, so be cautious when naming a photo!

10 Replies
Four Bricks Tall
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This is great! Storytelling is one of the most undervalued or overlooked aspects of photography. 

All my favorite photographers (and indeed the mod team!) are good storytellers.

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NeonSpectres
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Great Post, and the imagery is fantastic!  ???? 

One of my local photography club competitions is a PDI Theme which is from 3 to 6 images which are either related or tell a story. I decided to go down the fantasy/D&D LEGO route, telling the story of 5 adventurers exploring a dungeon, from their entry to having a well deserved campfire picnic after.

As you say, each image is a snapshot in time so conveying a moment of action, conversation etc. through piece selection (e.g. heads) and placement of the subjects is really important in telling the story (especially as in my case the individual images didn't have separate titles!)

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Foolish Bricks
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@fourbrickstall Agreed. It's a relative unknown part of photography. These days, at least on Instagram, it mostly seems to be about pretty pictures. I like them too mind you, but also these images can be elevated through storytelling.

@neonspectres Thanks! Placement of objects and subjects is indeed an important part. I you do that really well, viewers will come in at some part of the image and through the flow of the setup (through all kinds of compositional techniques), you may be able to guide their eyes through the image in a specific order, adding another layer to a story.

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hey.light
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What an inspiring and excellent post! Thank you very much for all the ideas and informations ... I'm sure I'll take them with me  ❤️ 

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Foolish Bricks
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@hey-light Thank you for your kind words. I hope you return here and show us what you did with the ideas!  ????  

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FreeTheGeekMan
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 @Foolish-bricks I really loved reading this and looking at your examples. This is an aspect in my photos I have definitely overlooked I have realised after reading this and some of your responses to people in the critiques section.

Looking back at my own work I think the photos I like the best are ones that are maybe a bit ambiguous or have subtle action/emotion rather than just a "pretty picture" or a cool or silly pose. Definitely something I will take on board for future shots. Thanks!

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Foolish Bricks
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Thank you @freethegeekman ! Happy to see the article may bring a new perspective into your work ???? . And now that you mention it, sometimes there are images you really like, but you can't figure out why.... I believe, it's mostly the (unconscious?) story in those images that does the trick.

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Lady_brick
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Thanks for the post and for inspiration ???? 

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Foolish Bricks
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Thank you Mss Brick ???? 

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BenjaminBG
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[MOD NOTE: This reply was moved to the New Member Introduction forum]

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