What is it that stands a great photographer apart from a good one? Certainly a lot of it comes down to technical prowess – understanding equipment, subject and environment and using all those to their full advantage – but there’s something else that’s very important as well. Creating memorable, moving images is an art that many people strive to achieve, but not all succeed. You could take all the Portrait Photography, Fashion Photography or Landscape Photography tips in the world and put them into practice and still miss the mark without even knowing why. However, while innate talent is very hard to define, the philosophy of learning how to ‘tell a story’ through photography is easier.

Emulating the Icons

If you study any of the Masters’ most acclaimed images carefully you’ll notice a commonality, no matter what the subject, composition, lighting or aperture used. They all have that something ‘extra’, which not only hooks you as a viewer immediately, but also draws you in and makes you think beyond that split second captured in the frame and want to know more. That’s what telling the story is all about –and if you can attain that in your own work, you’ve achieved something very special. In truth it will probably take a lot of experience, practice and, yes, many failures before it comes completely naturally to you. But if you keep in mind some basic principles you’ll be able to take your images to another level and be further along the road to success.

The Importance of a Shot List

So many great images are made in the planning and having a ‘shot list’ that you’ve researched and thought about ahead of time is one of the professional landscape photography tips that really translates to any genre. Whatever location or subject you’re planning to shoot, look at the area, the angles and the images other people have taken – and then look again, for something unique.


Taj and Train. Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, 1983, by Steve McCurry


Small Details make Big Stories

When you’re looking at a scene, take the time to carefully look at the details within that scene. This particularly applies to portraits, because including details of a person’s life within the frame (even a stranger in a street scene) gives purpose and meaning. Remember, too, that detail doesn’t have to be a physical object, it can be a detail like bare feet, odd shoes, a battered briefcase, a dog –anything that leads a viewer to a person’s real story.

Fill the Frame

This means considering your composition carefully and using every single part of your frame as valuable real estate. It doesn’t mean cluttering it up though –indeed, empty space can fill a frame very powerfully when used right –it means being aware of everything you’re looking at and regarding it as part of the whole. The position and perspective of everything within the frame plays a part in telling the story.

Capturing Emotion

For anyone interested in pursuing portraiture or street photography, your subjects’ faces and bodies are the most important tools to capture emotion. But remember, some of the most powerful images can be captured with a natural expression –so, while you should always ask permission where possible, posing often reduces some of the emotion in a portrait. If you steal a few frames when your subject is unaware you’ll be able to see the ‘real’ emotion and story.


Tip: This can also serve as an unexpected landscape photography tip as well, because if you hang around a scene/location long after everyone else has left, or get there way before anyone arrives, you’ll be able to see the ‘essence’ and emotion so much clearer.


Thoughtful Composition

In every location or scene there are infinite possible ways of looking at it, so if you’re looking to tell the most memorable and emotive story you still need to pay careful attention to the technicalities –namely your composition. While everything needs to come together as a whole in order to make a great image, often what you leave out of the frame can be just as important as what you put in. (This also goes back to compiling a set shot list, which forces you to put some thought into composition and lighting as well.)


Havana, Cuba, 2017 by Steve McCurry (from his Masterclass)


Consider Creating a Narrative

One of the first landscape photography tips you’ll ever hear is that it takes patience and persistence to achieve your goals –and this applies to all genres. Of course there are plenty of iconic images that are the kind of ‘right time, right place’ scenario we all dream of, but more often than not, a stunning photograph is just one in a long series taken at the time. Creating a narrative structure is a fantastic way of increasing your chances of capturing something truly special. This means spending an extended period of time with a subject, or in a location, shooting at different times throughout the day, under different lighting and from myriad angles in order to capture a true and comprehensive ‘essay’ of life, rather than a single moment in time. Of course not every image can or will be great, but you’ll benefit from becoming more creatively relaxed and you just never know when that magic moment will appear.

Learn to Capture the Essence of the Story With Steve McCurry

As one of the world’s most legendary photographers, taking an online Masterclass with Steve McCurry provides a rare and privileged glimpse into the mind of one of a truly great storyteller. You’ll travel with him on shoots around the world and not only get first hand composition, lighting, portraiture, cityscape and landscape photography tips, but also hear his philosophies on how and why he works as he does, and how he’s able to capture the true essence of the story in his powerful, iconic images. He’s the ultimate storyteller and you can find out how he does it…


From the Masterclass: Steve McCurry teaches you how to tell the story of the streets in Havana, Cuba


Learn to tell a photographic story by taking Steve McCurry’s online photography course.


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