5 Tips on Sharing Your Story Through Photography

Issa Sharp of Venice Arts lends some insight into how to gain confidence and represent your experiences through the art of photography.

To Foster Change’s annual Photo Gallery has gone virtual this year. Current and former foster youth are encouraged to enter by submitting photos that answer: What has 2020 meant for you? Tell us in our submission form. Open now through Monday, November 30. Learn more about To Foster Change.

Having confidence in expressing your personal narrative can be difficult, especially for underrepresented individuals. Finding a voice through a creative outlet is just what Issa Sharp, director of education at Venice Arts, seeks to do with her students. As lead photographer at the media arts nonprofit, Sharp lends some insight into how to gain confidence and represent your experiences through the art of photography.

“Photography has been a very powerful tool for the students’ I’ve worked with, helping them to cultivate their voice and gain a sense of accomplishment,” Sharp said. “A lot of times they are telling very personal stories… It becomes a really powerful tool for them to articulate about this time that is very stressful for them. It’s a creative outlet.”

Autumn centered her photo series on the color red. This photo was selected for exhibition in the 2019 To Foster Change gallery.

1. Plan Your Story

The first tip is to plan your story. Sharp advocated strongly for incorporating writing into the planning process. Take a moment to reflect on what you want to communicate through your photos. Be introspective and let that influence your outward perspective and how you portray it photographically. Once you determine your narrative, Sharp recommends journaling and mind mapping, creating a visual representation of brainstorming thoughts and themes. After getting information about what you want to communicate textually, you can start to plan on how to translate that visually.

2. Capture Emotion and Meaning

One of your main goals as a storyteller is to elicit emotion from your audience. Think about the story you are trying to tell and incorporate key characters, influential places and meaningful details. From a photojournalistic perspective, it’s all about people and action. But details can be just as telling of an emotion as a subject physically displaying a feeling. Skillfully done, a well composed image of details can evoke a powerful sentiment in a viewer. Play around with angles and composition until you get the meaning and expression that you pictured in your mind. Sharp assures “it’s important not to feel like the pictures have to literally define what you’re writing about.” A photo can capture abstract ideas and express a mood with creative lighting, focus or perspective. Play around with that.

Emaryne looked for primary colors with interesting characters as her theme for her photo series. This photo was selected for exhibition in the 2019 To Foster Change gallery.

3. Find Your Style

Just as writers have a voice that differs based on an author’s personality and style, photographers have an eye that is greatly influenced by their interests, story and experiences. Find yours. It is relative to you and will lead you to an honest and unique perspective that you get to share with viewers. “Whatever a student is choosing to respond to photographically has something to do with their own perception of things and their own vision. It will be a way of expressing their emotions,” Sharp said. Various in-camera techniques, composition, lighting and angles can all reflect your artistic eye. Your editing style also plays a huge role in how your photos turn out artistically. Dabble with various editing programs and styles and don’t be afraid to try new things until you reach the mood that you want to express in your pictures. Be artistic and creative with editing without sacrificing authenticity. Nurture your sense of creativity and use it to display your experience honestly and how you want it to be perceived by an audience.

4. Stay Ready

Always be ready and continually looking for what you respond to. Moments happen quickly so be prepared to capture it before it is passed. Try to anticipate key moments that will enhance your personal narrative. By keeping your camera close by and your settings prepped and ready as much as possible, you have the freedom to observe and look for moments or details that you respond to and can capture. You can never anticipate a small moment that might be meaningful, so be prepared and take lots of pictures. “I always tell my students to be trigger happy,” Sharp shares.

Deitric looked for ways to show common sights in Los Angeles through fresh perspectives for his photo series. This photo was selected for exhibition in the 2019 To Foster Change gallery.

5. Be Bold

Be courageous and adventurous when shooting. Some of the best photos are born out of risk and vulnerability. Opening up about who you are and sharing your experiences can be nerve wracking. But the outcome of stepping out in courage to get that shot is unmatched, both personally and artistically. Your photos will display timidity if that is what you felt when shooting. Likewise, photos can convey the courage and boldness of the photographer so don’t be afraid to jump into the middle of the action. Take a second and remember why you’re taking photos. What is your goal? What do you want to communicate? No doubt it is important and valuable and your effort should match that. Set aside all of those inhibitions and anxieties and step out of what is comfortable for you.

Photography is a medium that you have the privilege to use that illustrates your voice in a very palpable way. Just like poetry, music, art and dance, photography tangibly creates and solidifies an expression of who you are and of your valuable experiences for others to participate in.

*Bonus tip from Issa Sharp

Incorporating text adds an entirely new dynamic to both the process of expression and the perception ofn your work. Journaling during your planning stage could easily be paired as captions to your photos to elicit an entirely new perspective to your photo.

Taylor Boomsma is a journalist and photographer based in the Los Angeles area. After earning her degree in Journalism from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, she is pursuing her passion for photojournalism, wedding photography and writing. When she’s not working, she enjoys all things artistic, particularly painting, music and dance. And she appreciates nothing more than an interesting book and a cup of coffee.