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Tell a Story

This is a chapter from the book A Lesser Photographer.

“We’ve got to stop thinking of ourselves as photographers. We’re publishers.” — John Stanmeyer

Why does every major photography award seem to go to the same few outlets: National Geographic, The New York Times and a handful of interchangeable lifestyle publications?

Why aren’t photography how-to publications, which feature the best work of the most-celebrated photographers on the planet, recognized with awards and loved by the same numbers of readers? They feature the best photography has to offer, yet they’re read by far fewer and usually as an impulse.

Countless photographers teach you technique and show off their portfolios, but National Geographic and a handful of journalistic organizations still bring the most recognition. What do they know that the millions of contenders don’t?

Photography that is technically proficient is no longer enough to inspire. You must tell a story. And while you’re telling a story, don’t limit yourself to just images.

For years, photographers have been wisely imploring writers to learn to create compelling images to enhance their storytelling. The same argument must be made in reverse. Photographers must learn to write to enhance their storytelling or find a writer to collaborate with. The two skills are inescapably linked now.

This is why it makes no sense for a photographer, with no professional mandate, to keep a portfolio section on their website. Viewers would be better served, and thus photographers would be better served, by telling stories. Those stories are better served with great writing. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the worth of a great story is incalculable.

It’s believed that there may be evolutionary reasons for humans to be attracted to stories, as stories help us anticipate the future. If we’re good at figuring out where a situation may go, we’re more likely to survive the situation.

Humans don’t just want stories, humans need stories.

Videography is a combination of several methods of storytelling, not limited to the consumption preferences of a single type of audience. National Geographic presents all types of audiences with impeccable storytelling, catered to their consumption styles. That’s why they win.