Secrets to Telling a Story in Just One Image

by The Adobe Stock Team

Posted on 09-14-2017

Every picture tells a story, but some pull us in more than others. They make us wonder what hilarious or heartbreaking thing just happened, and or ponder what’s about to happen next. This month, as we’ve been exploring digital storytelling, we wondered how artists tell a whole tale in just one frame. So, we reached out to a couple of experts: movie poster artist Kyle Lambert and photographer Alina Schessler.

Telling a Story without an Ending

For Kyle’s work on movie posters, the trick is capturing just enough of a story to get viewers intrigued, without giving away the secrets. “When I created the poster for Stranger Things,” Kyle says, “there was an important element we couldn’t reveal — the monster — so, we teased it with an eerie essence that felt like a horror genre, without giving away what that horror would be.”

Kyle’s first step on any new project is to get a grasp of the story and start sketching. “At this stage, the emphasis is trying to solve the problem visually. It’s a case of figuring out which elements I should include and where best to place them in the composition so that people can read it in a quick take. You’ve only got a split-second of attention to get an idea across, so it’s all about clarity and simplicity.”

Image courtesy of Kyle Lambert

There are lots of ways to approach the problem. He can go symbolic, Kyle says, like a shoe to represent Cinderella. Other times, he gets more literal, bringing in the main characters, the environment, and even a whole action sequence. “A lot of it is figuring out how far down a story’s arc you want to go. So, if there’s a scary ending, you might want to hint at that somehow without literally explaining it.”

The tone also helps tell the story, and where colour is critical. Sci-fi tends to the blues, while romantic comedies pull from the warmer palettes. “You can look at a piece quickly, and just through the colours, you know something about what it is. But as an artist, you also want to explore something new and different and exciting, so you work to create a unique image within those restrictions.”

Finding the Story In Stock

While Kyle’s work doesn’t usually include stock, he just finished an amazing project for us — an otherworldly fairy tale scene bursting with stories waiting to be told, and built entirely of stock assets. For the project, he used warm lighting and colours to evoke a magical feeling, and added elements drawn from the themes of traditional tales.

Photographing the Story of a Lifetime

Photographer Alina Schessler is a master when it comes to capturing genuine emotions. Her most common subjects are people, especially when they’re tying the knot.

Alina told us that there are some key strategies for telling a story in a photograph. First, avoid the staged photo — a spontaneous one always tells a better story, even if the photographer helped create the moment. “If a family is sitting at a table, for example, that’s a planned situation, but the moment you shoot can still be a real moment when you are just there with the family and they are laughing with each other. It’s a staged but real moment.”

Alina has strategies to help create moments like this. For example, she’ll ask people to whisper secrets to each other, or to walk, since movement keeps an image from feeling stiff and planned. One of the most critical elements in an authentic image, according to Alina, is one that’s impossible to fake — the subjects need to feel at ease with their photographer. “The most important thing, when it comes to capturing the story, is for the person to be comfortable with you. That way they can give you real emotions.”

We’ve Got More Stories to Tell

If you’re interested in finding your own way to tell digital stories, check out tips from a few of our Adobe experts, and try creating a story yourself with Adobe Spark.

Keep following us this month on the Creative Connection blog as we talk to more experts, including video storytellers and a photojournalist. You also don’t want to miss our curated gallery of Adobe Stock images that tell stories.

Header image by Alina Schessler

Topics: Visual Trends, Photography, photography, story telling, UK, UK Exclusive, Creative EMEA

Products: Stock