Photography

Brainstorming for Narrative Photography

Dara Scully shares her process and technique to overcome creative block and plan photography sessions

One way to plan a new creative project is through brainstorming. This method helps you awaken your imagination when needed. Dara Scully (@darascully), writer and photographer, explains how she uses this approach to create her narrative photography.

Brainstorming consists of coming up with concepts and words, and later finding connections between them. This process is a way to stimulate our imagination and find ideas to develop.

In narrative photography, you construct the images. Unlike other types of photography, you do not depict what already exists, but you create a new story. Therefore, before taking your pictures, you must have a very clear idea of what you want to achieve.

Brainstorming for Narrative Photography 2
Dara Scully

There are two types of brainstorming for photography:

Method 1: Starting from a clear idea

Perhaps you already have a well-defined concept and have decided what the main subject of your photography is going to be. In this case, your brainstorming session will help you make notes, add details, and plan your shoot.

Method 2: Starting from scratch

You can use brainstorming to decide the direction you want to take if you do not have an idea. You can note down words that come to mind.

Brainstorming for Narrative Photography 4
Dara Scully

Making progress

Write down the basic concept, and jot down synonyms, personal meanings, and related words around it. Then, write down elements that could be associated with this idea.

Dara suggests using some of these prompts while writing:

- Use different colors to write down different types of information.

- Underline key concepts.

- Write a word in a different style if you feel immediately drawn to it.

- Add more notes around the underlined words.

- Ask yourself some questions that will guide you when making decisions later on. For example, How many people will appear in my photograph? What focal plane do I want to use? Will the model be seated or standing? Will it be an interior or exterior shot?
After completing these exercises, you will find that an image of how the final photograph will look will start to form in your head.

- Continue to make notes of further ideas and details.

Brainstorming for Narrative Photography 6
Dara Scully

Sketching and planning

When you have completed your notes, reread them, and more concepts will spring up, or perhaps you’ll have a clearer idea of the next step you’ll be taking after your session.

Now you can create a simplified sketch bringing together all of the ideas from your brainstorming. Turning these ideas into a drawing will help you remember what you want to do later on. This way, you will avoid forgetting critical elements of your photograph.

Brainstorming for Narrative Photography 8
Dara Scully

Remember that you don’t need to be a drawing master! This exercise helps you visualize how the narrative of the image will take shape. When you look at the sketch, a new idea that could improve your photo may emerge.

Next to the sketches, you can annotate things you must take into account when shooting. Note down the color of the clothes or other details that are not evident in a simple drawing. When it comes to taking the photo, you may make changes. However, the notes, the brainstorming session, and the sketches will serve as a starting point.

Brainstorming for Narrative Photography 10
Dara Scully

If you want to know more about Dara, sign up for her course Introduction to Narrative Photography, and learn what you need to tell a story through images.

You may be interested in:

- History of the Photobook.
- Photography Tutorial: How to Solve Problems on Location.
- How to Get and Image Ready for Print in Photoshop.

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