How to Create Personal Narrative Photo Stories That Viewers Love
Your personal perspective and experiences can be a powerful storytelling strategy. But there are ways to do it right (and wrong). Here are my top 3 tips for what to keep in mind when photographing a story that's your own personal narrative so that your story is engaging and effective (rather than an eye-roller).
A personal narrative photo story is one that brings your first person voice into the story – whether that's in the text that accompanies the images, or you in the images themselves.
Either way, you're a leading character and your experiences are what drives the photo story forward. Personal narratives are a powerful vehicle for providing insights and information to audiences who otherwise might not connect with (or even remotely care about) the subject matter.
We humans most easily relate to the stories of other people because we can see ourselves and our experiences reflected in them. So, when it comes to big-picture conservation issues like climate change or controversial issues, a personal narrative can be the most useful tool to connect.
But, what could that look like and – more importantly – how do you ensure your photo story isn't just a self-indulgent pile of images that no one is all that interested in?
In this episode we talk about 3 tips that help you elevate your personal narrative into something that connects with audiences and inspires them – and thus can ultimately lead to important conservation impact.
This episode is sponsored by:
Conservation Visual Storytellers Academy trains photographers and filmmakers who are passionate about conservation and science.
We are the only online education platform designed specifically for conservation photographers and filmmakers. Our ever-growing selection of robust online courses, in-person workshops, mentorship programs, and membership community are designed specifically to address the unique skills and resources you need as you focus on documenting environment, science communication, and conservation issues. We help you follow your passion to be an effective, successful, and joyful conservation visual storyteller.
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Episode 111: How to Create Personal Narrative Photo Stories That Viewers Love
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
[00:00:00] Jaymi: Welcome to this episode of Impact, the Conservation Photography podcast. And Joe will welcome back
[00:00:06] Jo: Thank you very much. Good to be here.
[00:00:09] Jaymi: We just decided that Joe's title, we were like, Well, what is your title? Are you co-hosted? Joe's like, No, no, I'm not co-host. I don't want, That's
[00:00:16] Jo: a word.
[00:00:17] Jaymi: Yeah. And so I was thinking, well how about sidekick? So you're sidekick Joe now.
[00:00:21] Jo: I like Sidekick Joe.
[00:00:22] Jaymi: Okay. It's kinda like side show Bob
[00:00:25] Jo: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:00:28] Jaymi: Did you know The Simpsons has been on for like 33 years
[00:00:32] Jo: isn't that crazy? That is nuts. Yeah. That's just, Yeah, but terrific as far as I'm concerned. Yeah.
[00:00:41] Jo: All right. So what are we talking about?
[00:00:44] Jaymi: So today I wanted to talk about personal narratives as photo stories as in you create a photo story, but it is a, a personal narrative. It's you as the main character inside of this story.[00:01:00]
[00:01:00] Jo: Okay, so it's not like a therapy session,
[00:01:03] Jaymi: It's not . I mean, it could be, it could be very therapeutic to actually, actually, I have an example of a personal narrative that I think is very cathartic for the person who created it. But, but no, it is not a therapy session.
[00:01:16] Jo: So I don't have to talk about my mom or my childhood or anything like that necessarily. Only if I want to.
[00:01:23] Jaymi: only if you want to, and I mean we are talking about it. The context of conservation photography. So it would be really interesting if you had a story where you had to talk about your mom or your childhood in order to get a conservation goal. But hey, it's up to you. But anyway, the personal narrative, the reason why I wanted to talk about this today and to run down various rabbit holes is because often I'm asked, by either my conservation photography 1 0 1 students or just like audience members who email me.
[00:01:55] Jaymi: Is it okay that I am the main character in the story or if [00:02:00] I do this story, it's really kind of like, I don't know how to tell this story if it's not from my own perspective, Is it okay to do that? And so I wanna talk about like what personal narratives are in a story and what they can look like, some examples of them, and then also three tips to be able to do this well.
[00:02:17] Jaymi: Because sometimes you can come across a story that is a personal narrative that, the person is actually in telling that narrative is forgetting to make it relatable to whoever's reading it. It reads more like a diary entry or, or it comes off as more of this like personal exploration or something that other people can't necessarily relate to.
[00:02:40] Jaymi: And so I wanna give some tips to be able to create personal narratives. Still relate back to or, or invite audience members in, because ultimately what my main topic is is conservation photography, and when you are trying to achieve conservation aims with something or to have a conversation [00:03:00] about conservation, it's really important to invite the audience in to have that conversation and make it relatable.
[00:03:05] Jaymi: Is this making sense?
[00:03:06] Jo: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So in other words, you don't want it to come off as somebody's already telling you how to think. Or also that it's not something that they're so into their head and their own world that you don't really care. So you need to be able to say, Yeah, it's okay to bring your own perspective into it, but you have to be thinking about who your readers are.
[00:03:30] Jo: This really is not a diary entry. This is truly for somebody else to read, so you have or to see. So you have to think about what that's gonna look like.
[00:03:39] Jaymi: Yeah, it's, you don't wanna get stuck as the viewer feeling like you're trapped on the couch watching someone slide reel of their last vacation
[00:03:49] Jo: But I, You always told me, mine are wonderful when I do that. I don't understand. Wait, what? And you haven't even my [00:04:00] last set of slides.
[00:04:02] Jaymi: I find them fun and wonderful, but the rest of the family, you know, their eyes are like, Oh my God, So I don't want listeners personal narrative stories to be like that, where they and maybe one or two other people really relate to it and have fun and think it's wonderful, and then everyone else's eyes are glazing over. I want you to be able to create personal narratives where anyone who looks at it is like, Wow, I feel like I completely understand what you're saying, where you're coming from, what you're showing me, and I understand how it relates to me.
[00:04:33] Jo: Hmm. So I might be able to take some of these, even though I'm not someone trying to become a conservation photographer per se. I could take this and turn it into my slideshow. So maybe somebody else in the family would wanna watch it.
[00:04:47] Jaymi: Exactly. So like you're a set of Yellowstone trip images could be far more entertaining in three weeks when you actually roll it out. I don't
[00:04:56] Jo: okay.
[00:04:57] Jaymi: It could be
[00:04:57] Jo: It could be, You mean you don't want [00:05:00] 50 shots of old faithful going off at different heights?
[00:05:05] Jaymi: But so inside of this, I think some of the three tips that I get to, I mean, joking aside, I think that if you were to say, Hey, I went on this adventure and I learned a lot, or I had this experience that changed me or taught me something, or I learned about this conservation message that I wanna be able to articulate.
[00:05:25] Jaymi: Like, I think that these tips will help you do that while anchoring it in your story. Because we all love hearing personal narratives. We love um, memoirs, we love biographies, we love like all these things that tell people's story. So personal narrative totally works. It's just how do you do that in a way that isn't just, pontificating about yourself,
[00:05:48] Jo: Right,
[00:05:49] Jaymi: makes sense.
[00:05:49] Jaymi: Or, or basically saying, Don't you see how deep and profound this is?
[00:05:54] Jo: Yes. and what a changing thing for me. Good for you.
[00:05:57] Jaymi: Yeah, so when I say [00:06:00] personal narrative, I have some examples of personal narratives that I think that are stories , of personal narratives that I think a lot of people might have already seen or, or relate to.
[00:06:10] Jaymi: But before I give those examples, when you think about like, Oh yeah, I read this article or saw this photo essay or something that's a personal narrative, what pops into your head?
[00:06:24] Jo: I don't know because I don't, I don't necessarily think about it like that. So basically it's a, it's I think of it as a, so an adventure that somebody went on and they're telling me about it and what they learned from it and what they got out of it.
[00:06:39] Jo: So honestly, I don't,
[00:06:41] Jo: I
[00:06:41] Jaymi: Did you ever see my octopus teacher?
[00:06:44] Jo: I love that.
[00:06:46] Jaymi: There you go.
[00:06:47] Jo: that. Yes.
[00:06:49] Jaymi: That's his narrative,
[00:06:50] Jaymi: right? It's coming from his perspective. We're seeing the world that he was in, but then it's also connected to a [00:07:00] bigger picture, topic or something. Be so that you could have that reaction of, Oh my God, I love that. Like that's a great example.
[00:07:08] Jaymi: I think
[00:07:08] Jo: Because that is true, because I still remember him talking about learning how to swim in cold water and his son going to, and so not only just about, yeah, so not about the octopus per se, but his whole experience. Yeah. Yes. Okay. I get it.
[00:07:25] Jaymi: Yeah.
[00:07:25] Jaymi: and we care about it too because we are understanding like even though it's his story of ] , The emotional state that he was in when he started to do the swimming and the transformation that he personally went through, it's something that we can all kind of relate to.
[00:07:38] Jaymi: Right. Another example is I don't know if you ever read the book The Omnivore's Dilemma, but I know that that's
[00:07:45] Jo: No, I haven't read, but I've, I've, I've definitely seen it and been curious about it. I honestly, I haven't read it because I didn't want him to tell me how I should be. So I, you know [00:08:00] so, so yeah, those kind, maybe that's part of why I'm curious about all of this, because so often I feel like whenever I'm reading something from that perspective, I'm feeling like I'm being guilted into feeling like however the person's feeling instead of being exposed to how they're feeling, you
[00:08:18] Jaymi: Yeah. That is really interesting.
[00:08:20] Jo: learning about what they learned as opposed to having someone telling me this is what I should think.
[00:08:25] Jo: And so I think I've just read bad ones.
[00:08:28] Jaymi: honestly, Omnivore's dilemma I don't think that Michael Paul, the, the author of that does that because he's what I love about that book that I think has that personal narrative structure is he's learning about this whole food system through going out and, and I mean, ultimately being a reporter and getting himself into these situations and experiences, but we're also hearing about what it was like to work on this farm or to go mushroom hunting or, you know, these, these experiences that [00:09:00] he's telling us his first person's story and then we're kind of coming to understand and we're coming to these revelations alongside of him as he's telling us about his, his journey.
[00:09:09] Jaymi: And so I think that that's a, a great example. Adding personal narrative into a storyline to be able to explain something or to be able to inform people instead of it being this really dry book about like, here's how food production systems work. It's like, well, so then I went and I learned this and I met this person and I visited this place.
[00:09:30] Jaymi: And, and in that we then learn about food systems. So, but it is really interesting that you do say like, I haven't read it because I don't wanna be told how to be, which I think is a big fear. that is a sticking point in conservation.
[00:09:46] Jo: Yes, yes. Because as long as I feel confident that they will talk about more than just their perspective as well, then I'm open to [00:10:00] listening to, or seeing it or viewing it or reading it or doing whatever, you know. like, uh, you were talking about another podcast about the project in Florida, working with the farmers and the conservationists to make sure the Panthers could
[00:10:16] Jaymi: Yeah. In the last episode we talked about path of the panther, that
[00:10:21] Jo: Yeah. And, and so the idea that, yeah, I mean, sure there are these farmers that have been there for a long time and maybe they weren't originally there and the panther was there long before them, but there's still people that have to then decide what to do to live together with this kind of new way of thinking or in, in a conservation way of thinking.
[00:10:46] Jo: so don't just discount that, you know? And I think that's what's important when I see a personal narrative. I don't want to be discounted for my own thinking.
[00:10:56] Jaymi: so that actually leads us in really well to the first tip [00:11:00] for how to really think about personal narratives to make sure that they're effective and relatable and that aren't just your diary entry, Right?
[00:11:09] Jaymi: But that, that people can relate to. And I do wanna address one thing before I get into the three tips there is one thing that I wanna bring up , because we've kind of talked about the storyline of personal narratives, but there's also the issue of, well, it's a photo story where, where our photographers creating photo stories that have a personal narrative in them.
[00:11:27] Jaymi: And one question that gets brought up is, do I have to be in the photos? That are within a personal narrative. And I think, no, you don't. It depends of course on what the personal narrative is. And no, of course you don't have to be in the images, but you can be if you want to be. And that's part of it.
[00:11:45] Jaymi: And there's a couple of examples of this o of one where the photographer actually created portraits that they are in for a personal narrative. And then one where the, images don't have the photographer in them, but his narrative kind of drives the [00:12:00] story. So one story, and I'm gonna link to these story examples in the show notes, but one example of a photographer who created a personal narrative photo story and texted alongside it and did put themselves in the images is Morgan Heim who created a essay that was part of a series of, of essays for ABA Magazine during Covid.
[00:12:24] Jaymi: And it was what are photographers doing who are stuck at home? And she created a really beautiful photo essay. Illustrating how she focused on the birds in her yard to kind of help carry her through this really difficult time. But she also created images that are self-portraits. So there's an image of we see out her window into her backyard on a chilly morning or a chilly evening, I'm not sure which.
[00:12:50] Jaymi: And we see her wool socks of on her feet propped up with the window. So it's like her kind of feet next to the window and then looking [00:13:00] out beyond that. And then she also created a self portrait where she set up the camera on a tripod and it's her and her dog in the yard kind of lounging and relaxing.
[00:13:09] Jaymi: And it's a, a really amazing look at her actually experiencing this so that we don't just hear from her in the text and then see the photos that she created. We actually see her living that experience that we read about in the text, along with other images that she created on the flip side of that. A recent article was published in the New York Times the World through a Lens series by one of my students in conservation photography 1 0 1, Jules.
[00:13:37] Jaymi: And so Jules created a story about a Raptor rehab center, and the text has a lot of personal narrative in it. His experience of, connecting with this organization, spending hours and hours with the Rehabers and what their work is like and the bigger picture of what their work means in its importance.
[00:13:58] Jaymi: And even though his [00:14:00] personal narrative is embedded in the text, he's not in any of the images. The images are very much a photo story about the Raptor Center. As a photographer. Adding personal narrative can look different ways. You can literally be in the photos and it's a visual narrative with you in it, or it's a photo story that you've created and the personal narrative kind of comes in on the text side of it.
[00:14:23] Jaymi: Does that make
[00:14:23] Jo: Cool. Yeah, Yeah,
[00:14:25] Jo: definitely. Yeah,
[00:14:26] Jo: I
[00:14:26] Jaymi: cool. cool. Awesome. So let's go back to that, that kind of segue that you gave me that I was gonna take and then totally ignored and went off on another tangent, and we'll go back to that, which is the idea that you want to, when you're looking at a photo essay, when you are watching if it's in documentary form or movie form, film form, if it's in photo form, whatever it may be, you as the viewer don't want to be discounted.
[00:14:53] Jaymi: And that is my first tip is to remember that when you're creating a photo story that has a personal [00:15:00] narrative, You are the anchor of that story, not the star of the story. So by that I mean you might be the main character or the voice of that story. Your narrative is your perspective. But your narrative serves as a way to connect people to something bigger.
[00:15:21] Jaymi: That there's a bigger topic, a bigger, So what factor, a bigger point that you're trying to make and your narrative is the way that we connect. So you're anchoring your viewers into the story that way. Not trying to be like, Hey, look at me, look at me, look at what I've experienced. Cuz that's the quickest way to make a viewer feel like they are being discount.
[00:15:41] Jaymi: So when you're thinking about a personal narrative, be clear on what is that bigger message, that bigger idea, the concept, the theme that you wanna bring viewers attention to by creating the personal narrative in the first place?
[00:15:56] Jo: So, so do you have an example of like [00:16:00] a bad, a bad example versus a good example or something of that?
[00:16:04] Jaymi: Oh man. I pulled up a, an example of one that I love that does this well. I didn't pull up an example of one that did it badly and I should do that.
[00:16:13] Jo: but maybe, maybe the, maybe the one that you love shows enough of how you would do it. Well, that the bad is obvious,
[00:16:22] Jaymi: Yeah, it does, because this photo essay, this personal narrative photo essay is so flipping good. So it's called Penguin Bloom, I'm gonna link to this in the show notes, Penguin Bloom is the story about an injured mag pie that is adopted by a family.
[00:16:42] Jaymi: And what is so incredible about this is it could be just a personal narrative of, Oh, we found this injured bird and we healed it and it lived with us, and look how cute, and here's what it looked like. Penguin Bloom. One of the reasons why it is so [00:17:00] profoundly amazing is not only because the photography is second to none, the photography is extraordinary, but also the entry point of like when Penguin comes into the family and they're rehabbing it, It's not just Penguin's story of getting better and healing and that, you know,
[00:17:19] Jaymi: he was
[00:17:19] Jo: that's the name of the bird is Penguin.
[00:17:21] Jaymi: penguin.
[00:17:22] Jaymi: Yeah. Cause he was a mag pie. So it's not just the, and the, the family name is Bloom. Their last name is Bloom. So Penguin, Bloom, sorry. I wasn't very clear on that. But, but, so, you know, Penguin comes into this family and is getting, you know, cared for and becoming part of the family and, oh, here's the quirks and silliness and what we did for Penguin.
[00:17:42] Jaymi: But also one of the family members had recently been in a accident and was paralyzed and really struggling with a new reality and how to be, And Penguin's role for her in her recovery and what it [00:18:00] was like for them kind of bonding and how the bird helped her. Go through this and kind of come through this by bonding was like that is that bigger picture what we relate to, why you're telling this story in the first place.
[00:18:16] Jaymi: How other people can have this deep, I don't, I cannot go through this story and look at the images and read the captions without tearing up every single time.
[00:18:26] Jaymi: It gets me every time. And that, I think is an example of a, of a really great personal narrative that says, Here's what happened to us and here's why it matters. And here's the bigger concept that anyone looking at this can relate to. Because now it's part of human experience,
[00:18:44] Jaymi: right? And.
[00:18:44] Jo: they accomplish that? How did, what was it that, I mean, you said the images are amazing, but was there something about how they put them together or was there something about what was happening in, in each image, [00:19:00] or what was the thing that made that so special?
[00:19:04] Jaymi: I gotta, I gotta pull this up. Penguin Bloom photo story. Penguin, the mag pie. I think that this is like a bigger thing than I thought because I think that it's now a Netflix story.
[00:19:18] Jo: it's a mo. It's a movie.
[00:19:20] Jaymi: Oh yeah. It's a movie. the true story behind the new Netflix film, Penguin Bloom. So, okay. It is, that is how powerful this is.
[00:19:29] Jaymi: I guess this is an example of when you pull off a personal narrative, right? What can become of it? So I think when I look at this story, like what gets me every time is first the images themselves are so, simple and yet powerfully emotive. And so that's something that is really powerful in a narrative when you can actually create both art and emotion and expression all in one and [00:20:00] really tell a story in a photo.
[00:20:01] Jaymi: Even if you're keeping that photo reasonably simple, that can have a lot of power to convey what it is you're trying to convey. But then it is the order in which the images and the story is created. So we. we're introduced to Penguin, the mag pie.
[00:20:20] Jaymi: And why did this bird come into their family in the first place? And so we kind of are, are introduced by sort of what seems like a, a fairly typical story. You find it an injured animal and bring it in to, to heal it. And then we learn about why Penguin's presence was such a big deal for another family member.
[00:20:40] Jaymi: Like, it's not right away that we learn that Sam, the, the person who was injured Is going through all of this struggle. So then we understand like it's almost like, you know, peel the onion . We, we enter at one kind of level of the onion and then we learn more and we learn more and we learn more.
[00:20:59] Jaymi: [00:21:00] And these like emotional layers are there that we can then relate to. And we understand that a quirky bird is like a lifeline for someone else in the family.
[00:21:11] Jaymi: And we see this transformation. So I think that for me, that's what is really, really powerful about this one. And obviously powerful for so many other people.
[00:21:19] Jaymi: If now it's Netflix movie, which now I really wanna watch, but I'm kind of scared to because it might make me cry
[00:21:24] Jo: I know. I don't know if I wanna watch it cuz it, Yeah.
[00:21:29] Jaymi: But, so that is, that's tip number one is you are the anchor Your narrative is the anchor, it's the difference between you are someone who is guiding people through the story. It is your own story that you're guiding people through, but you're guiding them through the story versus being the Instagram influencer who's like, And now I'm on vacation here and now I'm eating this, and now I'm standing on a mountain here and now I'm doing that.
[00:21:54] Jaymi: It's like, well, we don't really like, That's nice that you are experiencing that and showing us, but it doesn't [00:22:00] give us an entry point to be part of the narrative that you're creating. Does that make more sense?
[00:22:05] Jo: yeah. Well, it's like you wanna create the, So you may have, you may, It's like the person is, is creating the path that they went through and showing you the path they took, but isn't limiting you to just what they saw. And so if I'm walking down a trail, it's not just what I see in front of me, but also what's happening in my peripheral vision. And so then therefore I get to ex, you know, show people things that maybe weren't necessarily as specifically important to me. But because you can see the peripheral vision things as well, you get to decide how that influenced what I experienced.
[00:22:47] Jaymi: Interesting. Yeah, I like that way of putting it. Yeah. It's almost by, instead of focusing so much on what exactly happened to you and telling that story, you're [00:23:00] like, there's other things along the way that are here for all of us to understand or to take part in.
[00:23:07] Jaymi: So that's tip number one. Be the anchor, not the star.
[00:23:11] Jaymi: Be the reason why people are there taking part in your personal narrative, because there's something there for them,
[00:23:18] Jo: yeah, you're you're being the sign post, but you're not necessarily telling people how to experience the trail, the path. Right. So you're, you're saying, Okay, now I want you to turn left, but you're not saying that you can't look Right.
[00:23:35] Jo: Right. I just want you to turn left with me, you know?
[00:23:39] Jaymi: It kind of gets back to what we were talking about with my octopus teacher, where are being guided through this experience. He is giving us his personal narrative, but at the same time, we get to think about, Oh, what do we think about? Relating to an animal in the wild, what do we think about the [00:24:00] natural experience that happens with predator and prey in the wild and, you know, all these other things Or what do we think about our own grief process?
[00:24:07] Jaymi: It doesn't necessarily look exactly like another person's grief process, but we can relate. And then therefore our it, it's like it leaves enough open room when you're not trying to be the star. Then it leaves enough open room for other people to see themselves reflected in it and therefore care more.
[00:24:26] Jaymi: And so in conservation, it comes back to the idea of what we're talking about with Omnivore's dilemma, where you're just, this is your personal narrative and you're talking about how you're discovering something and learning about a food system or whatever. And you're not telling other people exactly how they have to think, but your experience is so compelling and people relate to you so much through what you're going through, that they might be inclined to come to the same conclusions as you.
[00:24:52] Jo: Right, right. yeah. So when you're doing a conservation piece, then it's important to make sure [00:25:00] that the experience that you're giving people isn't so restrictive, that they can't their own view and their own lens and their own experience into it. You have to make sure that you can enable that to happen,
[00:25:11] Jaymi: Yeah.
[00:25:12] Jo: and if you make it so restrictive that it's only your view. Not only your lens that they're seen through, it can't do that.
[00:25:21] Jaymi: Yeah. And also, if you make it so much that you feel like, Oh, it's my personal narrative, it's my story, I'm the star of it, then a viewer might be like, That's nice, but okay, and now I'm moving on. What, What role did that have in my life? None. It was someone else's story. I'm ready to move on now. You know?
[00:25:39] Jo: Yeah. Yeah,
[00:25:40] Jaymi: yeah.
[00:25:41] Jaymi: So that's tip number one. Tip number two is to build images that are for the audience as much as they are for you. And so this is sort of the idea of getting into not only editing your photos and selecting which photos would go into a story that has a [00:26:00] personal narrative, but also as you're thinking about crafting your images.
[00:26:04] Jaymi: It may be your personal story, but is it a quality image in that other people can appreciate it if they weren't in that moment with you or they weren't experiencing that thing with you? So I'm gonna kind of go back to the example I mentioned with Morgan Heim's Aban photo essay where she created a portrait of herself and her dog in her yard.
[00:26:25] Jaymi: But that portrait wasn't. Something where it's like, Okay, well now I need a picture of me in my yard, and so I'm gonna take a picture of me in my yard. It was, here's a portrait of what it looks like to be trapped during lockdown in my home. My yard's really the only place I can be outside. And she framed it in such a way, it's kind of a wider shot, and she and her dog are in the dappled sunlight .
[00:26:54] Jaymi: They're not very large in the frame, and there's enough emotive light [00:27:00] and perspective that you feel a sense of kind of loneliness and, well, we're, we're here experiencing this moment. So that image was made just as much for Morgan and her creating that image in order to show her experience, but also for the audience to be like, This is what it feels like
[00:27:19] Jo: Yeah, So she's not just documenting it, she's trying to create an emotion that goes with it of what she was experiencing, cuz she could have created a different emotion if she wanted to, but that wouldn't necessarily have been what she was experiencing. So she was trying to show this. Sense of, okay, I'm used to being out in the wild, so right now this is my wild
[00:27:45] Jo: and this is all I can do and this is what I'm living with.
[00:27:50] Jo: Where it could have been an emotion of beauty. It could have been an emotion of serenity, it could have been all kinds of things, but instead she created it as what her emotion [00:28:00] was in that space.
[00:28:01] Jo: Is that what you're saying?
[00:28:03] Jaymi: as a viewer, that's what I see in it. , we would have to ask each artist, but we talk about like, is that really what you meant? But yes, for me as the viewer, you nailed it. And I think it also goes back to like why the story of Penguin Bloom is so powerful is that the photos aren't just. and then we did this for his wing, and then he slept here and then he did this, and then there was that.
[00:28:27] Jaymi: Each image is a piece of gorgeous artwork. The photographer is so talented at conveying an emotional moment or conveying whatever kind of is, is happening in the scene in this beautiful, emotional way, but also making that very much a piece of art that you could hang on your wall or that you want to stare at.
[00:28:49] Jaymi: As you said, It's not documenting an experience. It is creating imagery that is like a gift to the viewer just as much as it [00:29:00] is. And also here's what happened.
[00:29:02] Jo: right, right. So when you're talking about creating a conservation photography story from a personal narrative and you're thinking about what images you wanna create, then you're saying that if. You're trying to create that, that feeling, that emotion, that thing that you're trying to get out of it, right.
[00:29:24] Jo: Then to deliver that message, but you also have to make sure that it's not done in such a way that people can't bring in their own emotions to it too.
[00:29:34] Jaymi: Yeah, totally. And I think that it's easy when you know that you're trying to tell a story that is a personal narrative. I think it's really easy to slip into documenting and taking pictures of like, Well, I need to make sure I get a shot of this because this is part of the story. Instead of creating a photograph about what that moment or portion of the narrative means or [00:30:00] is about.
[00:30:01] Jaymi: You know, stories rely on show, don't tell. Where when you're writing out a story, the famous quote goes, Show don't tell. And it's the exact same thing in an image where sometimes you have this desire to illustrate an experience or an event and you're like, I need to make sure and get a shot of that.
[00:30:18] Jaymi: But then it ends up being telling rather than showing and creating an image that is for the audience so that you're welcoming them into a new understanding or emotional state or something that brings them into the narrative with you because of how you shaped that image. You know, we talked about the Instagram or example where like it's the difference between being kind of a guide in a story through your narrative versus like, and then I stood on this mountain and then I took, you know, I drank this at Sunset, or you know, whatever it is.
[00:30:49] Jaymi: It's sort of like the difference between, I took a picture of my dinner. because I'm here at this nice restaurant and oh my gosh, it's such a great experience. And then, and I'm really excited to be here and it's [00:31:00] my 50th anniversary with my husband and there's all this reason why you're excited about being there and why you're there having this dinner.
[00:31:06] Jaymi: And so you take a picture of your dinner plate and post it, and everyone's like, I don't care about what was on your plate, versus if you created an image that showed the whole, like you and your partner in the restaurant and what that experience felt like based on expressions and lighting. And that way the viewers brought into the moment with you so that it's not, Oh, here's a photo.
[00:31:31] Jaymi: Now I have to explain to you why this photo matters. It's a photo of anyone can look at that and understand how it plays a role in the narrative.
[00:31:39] Jo: So it sounds like when you were talking about personal narratives are tricky, , it sounds like they're really tricky in the sense that when you start going down that path and trying to create that perspective as part of the story, you have to really think about what it is that you're trying. Convey at an emotional [00:32:00] level and not just at a, a documentary or physical level like you might be Okay, yeah, you still always wanna create some connection and emotion to a piece, but it's gonna have to be much deeper to have people connect you from a personal narrative level. Then it would be if you're not trying, if you're removing yourself from it
[00:32:21] Jo: specifically.
[00:32:23] Jaymi: To an extent that's true, but I'm also thinking about it's, that is true for a certain type of story, but not universally true. And I think also if you are documenting a story that has nothing to do with you, you are there too.
[00:32:37] Jaymi: Photograph some someone else's story or, or there to document something. you're still gonna try and put a ton of emotion and understanding and information storytelling into each shot, because that's your job no matter what. And I think also in personal narratives, especially if it is a story that you're not even in it, but you're gonna be telling your [00:33:00] experience, but your experience is part of introducing people to other, like some other event or organization or something happening, something unfolding.
[00:33:09] Jaymi: You. Yeah, you do still have to really think about like, I'm not just documenting, I'm trying to bring people in. It's kind of universally true no matter what it's about. Cuz like you might be a conservation photographer who wants to create a photo story that has the personal narrative element. Because you are maybe explaining what it was like to be at a protest where they were gonna cut down old growth forest.
[00:33:36] Jaymi: And so you are part of this protest or part of this experience and you're there, but you're really like showing the experiences of the other protesters who were there and what they're up against and why this matters. And you're creating all of that. Your personal narrative might be there in the text.
[00:33:51] Jaymi: But how are you also going to make sure that your images reflect not just. Here's a picture of a protestor holding a sign. Here's a [00:34:00] picture of a, you know, a a tree that they're trying to protect. How are you going to bring the reader into the experience that that is gonna be there in the text? How are you gonna also do that in your photos and bring like images that are there as much as for the audiences for yourself?
[00:34:16] Jaymi: And I think that this tip is specifically really for photographers, who know that they want to create a story that is a personal narrative, and they're gonna go out and shoot it when you go out and shoot it. Remember that it's not just documenting the narrative that you wanna have, it's also how are you going to craft images that, like you said, have that peripheral room to invite people in to be part of understanding.
[00:34:41] Jaymi: And it sounds kind of like big and lofty, but. All you have to do really is create solid storytelling images that you, that are there as much for the audience as they are for sharing your story, sharing your narrative, your personal
[00:34:58] Jo: yeah. I feel like [00:35:00] it's kind of at a one step harder level than what I go through, For instance, with landscape photography, because when you're doing landscape photography for me, Depending on what it is you're doing, there's a majesty to it or there's an intricacy to it, or there's a feeling that comes with it that you're experiencing in person that is so difficult to capture in a camera.
[00:35:24] Jo: And so unless you really know what you're doing, you just, you can't. So then it's just this snapshot of a bunch of mountains, but you don't get that, that feeling of what you were like, these things were gonna just come alive and march over you, or that these boulders that came down from it were just so huge and you had no idea that that.
[00:35:51] Jo: Nature could release something like that. And wow, what if you had been there, how, how loud that would be or what experience you would be experiencing [00:36:00] and trying to capture that in a photo is just so hard in, from my perspective. And so it would be similar like this to me, trying to capture that message, that feeling, that emotion, that thing that affected you by being there or that that conservation effort is trying to do.
[00:36:21] Jo: Just seems like it's that much more difficult than And this is where the fish live. You
[00:36:27] Jaymi: Yeah. . Yeah. I think though, even though it is more difficult, it's not as if it's a special type of difficulty. It is the difference between taking a picture of and your snapshots and creating photographs about which, if you're gonna move into photography in a serious way, is always your goal. It's always your goal to craft photographs about something that you're not just taking a picture of something happening or of here's this spot, but like exactly your example of landscapes is so [00:37:00] perfect because landscape photography is insanely difficult to be able to get a sh a photograph of a landscape that not just conveys the scene, but some sort of feeling of being there or like some emotional impact from it.
[00:37:14] Jaymi: And no matter what you're doing, whether you are creating. A photo story that is no part of you in it, other than the fact that you are there to craft the photos of the story happening, or it's your own thing. You're always pushing yourself to build a photograph that allows the viewer to understand something better or feel something more deeply or
[00:37:38] Jo: Okay, so I'm gonna ask you this really hard question. So how is this different than any conservation storytelling that you would be doing? So go back again to how the personal narrative is different than anything you'd be doing.
[00:37:54] Jaymi: This is, so, this is why I think this tip is important when you are [00:38:00] crafting , a personal narrative that has a conservation goal. Because yeah, no matter what you're doing as a photographer in general, but also particularly in conservation, because we have these big goals attached to our work that rely on audience participation, right?
[00:38:14] Jaymi: So no matter what we're doing, we have to craft these images that are powerful in storytelling. When it comes to a personal narrative, like I said earlier, it can be really easy to slip into taking pictures of, of just documenting your story or what you saw. I saw this thing and then I did this, then this happened.
[00:38:35] Jaymi: And the other thing is, when it's your personal narrative, it's easy to slip into that trap and also to make those photos because you are in the moment, you are experiencing that.
[00:38:48] Jaymi: And so you're going through all these emotions that you might forget to stop and really think about how you're conveying that in your image because you are emotionally [00:39:00] attached to that moment, or that image, or that something, you're in that landscape with those majestic mountains and those tumbling boulders or you know, all that majesty and you're, you're feeling that and you're experiencing it.
[00:39:12] Jaymi: And so you might end up creating an image that, to you is what you were feeling in that moment, but no one else can see that. So you have to really think like, how am I gonna make sure that other, , or I'm creating an image in a way. The other people when they see it are gonna have the emotional reaction that I'm hoping that they have for this scene.
[00:39:34] Jaymi: And going back to that Penguin Bloom example, I think that that is one of the magical aspects, like when you go and look at this photo essay, and it's gonna be linked in the show notes, the facial expressions, these in between moments, the body language, the, There's so much in there where these images were not just snapshots in a moment, but a skilled photographer who's thinking like, I'm watching for a moment, that [00:40:00] is going to convey what is.
[00:40:02] Jaymi: Happening here. Not only physically happening, but emotionally happening here. So I think that's, I think that's kind of the point that I'm trying to hammer home with this particular tip is build images that are as much for the audience as they are for you. Don't forget that even though you're experiencing something and you have an emotional connection to it, you still have to stay in that storyteller mode.
[00:40:22] Jaymi: You still have to stay in that photographer who is conveying a story through an image mode so that other people can be like, Oh, I get what you were feeling there. I get what you mean, or I understand what you're trying to say about this.
[00:40:35] Jo: Right. Yeah.
[00:40:37] Jo: Whew. Very hard. I'm
[00:40:40] Jaymi: Very hard
[00:40:41] Jo: trying to do this.
[00:40:43] Jaymi: It is, but that's the beauty. Like I know that it sounds really hard and I know that I'm being really kind of. Excited about this, but that's one of the most fun parts about trying to grow as a visual storyteller is always trying to achieve that. Always pushing yourself. You're like, I [00:41:00] know how to get pictures of flowers. I wanna be a conservation photographer, and I wanna tell my story of why this particular species of flour is so cool and what role it plays in this ecosystem.
[00:41:13] Jaymi: So we need to preserve this ecosystem, or what role this plays for poller species. And , my journey in understanding that, or what it's like to transform my garden, to have more of, of space for pollinators. I wanna do that. I know how to get pictures of flowers or pictures of be, how do I tell this story in images?
[00:41:32] Jaymi: How do I create images that , make other people feel the joy and the beauty and the, the fi like that? I feel like figuring out how to do that is. A challenge, but it's such a fun challenge, and when you achieve the photo that you're envisioning, Oh my gosh, it feels so good.
[00:41:50] Jo: yeah. yeah. I bet. And what, especially when you hear it from somebody else's lips, I would imagine too. You know when [00:42:00] when they're saying what you were thinking you'd be, whoa. Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
[00:42:07] Jaymi: Yeah. Well, so that also kind of starts to lead us into the third tip. So my third tip for creating personal narrative stories that are still impactful and effective as photo stories is to get help with. because when it's your personal narrative, you're so much more attached to images or you might not be able to necessarily see which ones are more powerful than others, cuz some might be more powerful for you. You know, what went into getting the image or you know, like why it matters. But then is it really conveying that to someone else? There is an interview that I did with Al Pong who this was. Back in 2020, I think. I'll have to find the episode. I can't remember which episode number it is, but he talked about his wife is his best editor and so he talked about coming [00:43:00] home and he is going through these images and trying to make selects.
[00:43:03] Jaymi: And she's like, Yeah, that one's not a very good image. And he's like, But do you know how hard it was to get that? And I went through this and I did that, and it was, it was so much like this. She's like, Yeah, it's still not a, it's not a good image. Pull it. And so you might be emotionally attached to like how difficult it was or how unique that image might be or whatever it is.
[00:43:22] Jaymi: And still a viewer's gonna be like, I don't feel it.
[00:43:25] Jo: Oh man. I've been through that and it doesn't have anything to do with photography, but in the IT world where, you know, do you know how hard it was to make this thing do that, you know? Well, yeah, but I don't care about that. I just wanted to do this. Oh, okay.
[00:43:44] Jaymi: But don't you understand how cool it is that I
[00:43:47] Jo: yeah,
[00:43:47] Jaymi: it do
[00:43:48] Jaymi: this?
[00:43:48] Jo: yeah,
[00:43:49] Jo: yeah,
[00:43:49] Jo: yeah. No, don't need it.
[00:43:52] Jaymi: no scrub. You're like, Okay, well there went two and a half weeks of our team's work.
[00:43:59] Jo: yeah. [00:44:00] So that I could see how getting someone else to come in and say, It's not, you don't need that. Or even just taking something out altogether in terms of ] even choosing between things, The editor's job must be so hard because they have to go, Nope, don't need this one.
[00:44:19] Jo: Don't need that one. That doesn't progress the story, but, but no, don't need it,
[00:44:25] Jaymi: Yeah. Or I mean, on the flip side too, bringing in help with editing. Can help you know what to include because you might be inclined to say, Oh, well that that doesn't really get the point across that I was trying to get across, or that one, you know, I, I, I don't, I don't think it's that cool. Or I don't think that it's part of the story and then someone else might look and be like, that one is, that has to be part of the story.
[00:44:48] Jaymi: , I didn't understand where you were going with this until I saw that image and now I feel connected in this other way that you might overlook. Cuz it's your, you're so close to it if it's, if it's your personal narrative, you [00:45:00] are so close to it. So to have someone maybe come in and say, in fact this just happened inside of conservation photography 1 0 1, student submitted a portfolio of images and we were going through figuring out, okay, from wide edit to tight edit what should be included in here.
[00:45:16] Jaymi: And another student said, I'm not quite sure why you left out some of these other things in your tight edit because I didn't understand what was going on, or I'm not familiar enough with the story to really get like how we got to this situation without these other images over here.
[00:45:33] Jaymi: So you're basically saying, Oh, there's this whole other perspective that I'm forgetting to tell. Because to me, I'm so close to the story, I don't think we need that information. And then someone else is saying, Oh no, we need that information. And finally now the story's clicking for us.
[00:45:47] Jo: yeah, I could see that. So it's not, it's not editing just about the, the photo itself. It's about the, the group, the thing that's telling the story as well. [00:46:00] Yeah. Yeah. Ooh.
[00:46:01] Jaymi: I think there's also permission to break rules sometimes when you're, when you're getting help with editing from someone who's maybe. photography at all. There's someone who you would hope would view your photo story and connect with it. There's, I think, more permission to break rules and there is in my family a very famous story that Nick, my partner, will never let go of, which is , one of,
[00:46:27] Jo: Does he ever let go of
[00:46:28] Jo: anything to harass you about
[00:46:32] Jaymi: And so I was going through all these photos and there was one particular photo of an American Dipper that was a total rule breaker. And I was looking at that and I'm like, Man, I, I love that photo, but it is such a rule breaker. Can't be a keeper. Gonna toss it. And I showed it to him and he's like, No, that's really good, , I like that one a lot.
[00:46:51] Jaymi: You should just crop it like this and call it done and move on. And so I was like, Okay. So I crop it. It's one of my best photos ever, and it's been published [00:47:00] and, and so Nick will take every opportunity to be like, Oh, I just saw that photo, that, goodness for me that it is out there in the world.
[00:47:08] Jaymi: And yes, Nick, thank goodness for you that it is in the world, but it takes someone else coming in and saying, I don't care that it breaks rules. I have an emotional connection. Or , my emotional reaction to this photo outweighs any photography rules that it
[00:47:23] Jo: Well, and obviously the rules that you were applying to it don't matter,
[00:47:28] Jo: right? Yeah. What was the say? I heard somebody say rules are there, so you know when to break them.
[00:47:35] Jo: I like that. Yeah. Was that you who told me that? I don't
[00:47:38] Jaymi: No, that's a very famous like, or, or
[00:47:41] Jaymi: it's a, not a, famous, but it's like an yeah.
[00:47:44] Jo: yeah, yeah. Right. So when I heard that, I, I um, whenever
[00:47:48] Jo: whenever
[00:47:49] Jaymi: you gotta learn
[00:47:50] Jo: rules, I go, Well, but the rules are there. So you know when you break them,
[00:47:53] Jaymi: Yeah. You learn all the rules and you get really good at working within the rules and then yeah. You know, [00:48:00] like, eh, in this situation, this one doesn't matter so
[00:48:02] Jo: Right, right. Yeah, Cuz rules are there to, for a reason. They, they got created for a reason, so you need to think about them,
[00:48:11] Jaymi: Mm-hmm.
[00:48:12] Jo: yeah. Yeah.
[00:48:13] Jaymi: Yeah. So those are my three tips for creating personal narratives, stories or photo stories that have that personal narrative element to them, whether it's in text form or photo form. Just keeping these things in mind, which is tip number one in a personal narrative, whether it is the text or the images.
[00:48:35] Jaymi: Remember that you are there to act as kind of the anchor to the story for the audience. You're not the star of the story. And I say that and like, yeah, you're the main character. You're the, you know, kind of the star of the story, but you're not. The star of the story. I feel like I have to say it like that to, I have to come up with a better way to
[00:48:52] Jaymi: like do this tip. Yeah.
[00:48:55] Jo: Whoa,
[00:48:56] Jaymi: You're not the, you're not, you're the anchor to a story. You're not [00:49:00] the Instagram influencer, if that makes sense. And then tip number two is build images that are for the audience as much as they are for you. Yes. This is a personal narrative. You are trying to illustrate your story, your journey.
[00:49:14] Jaymi: You're trying to illustrate something bigger that you're connecting people to, but through your personal narrative. But still make sure that you're crafting photos that are bringing the audience in, that there's room for the audience in there. It's not just like, I'm only making images that are meaningful to me.
[00:49:31] Jaymi: Make them meaningful for anyone who's looking at it. So they get invited into the story. And then three, get help with. Make sure that somebody else is seeing this. And you can go through the editing process yourself, and then get input from one person and go through the editing process again.
[00:49:47] Jaymi: Get input from another person, see how different opinions ultimately shape , the narrative itself. But getting help with editing is always important, but when it comes to something that you're real [00:50:00] close to, like a personal story, it's a non-negotiable. You have to get help.
[00:50:05] Jo: Very good. That's, that's a good way to boil it down.
[00:50:08] Jaymi: Cool.
[00:50:08] Jo: like three steps. I can do three steps.
[00:50:13] Jaymi: I hope that I didn't turn anyone off from creating personal narratives because they are so powerful. Like we humans love hearing. Other people's experiences, other people's stories, we can connect to bigger issues that are hard to understand or connect with when we can hear it through someone else's experiences or perspectives.
[00:50:35] Jaymi: It's such a powerful way to do storytelling, and especially when it comes to conservation issues like climate change, sea level, right? Like All these weighty big things that a lot of times someone might not feel connected until they're like, But then I learned about this one person who had this one experience and then did this, and now I understand this issue.
[00:50:56] Jaymi: Or now I understand why this matters, or Now I understand why I need to pay attention [00:51:00] here to a certain thing
[00:51:02] Jo: Because that, that's the thing is, is that the minute it comes down to an individual that you can relate to in one way or another, so it's about making sure that you're doing it in a relatable way.
[00:51:13] Jaymi: now. Yeah, totally.
[00:51:15] Jo: Cool.
[00:51:16] Jaymi: So there's all my opinions about personal, Well, not all of 'em. There's a lot of my opinions about personal narratives.
[00:51:23] Jo: you have a lot of opinions.
[00:51:25] Jaymi: I do, I do
[00:51:26] Jo: Good. I know
[00:51:30] Jaymi: well, Joe, thank you so much for just chatting about this whole thing with me and being part of the conversation. It's so much fun to talk about this
[00:51:38] Jo: Yeah, it's a whole new way of me thinking about things, and maybe I won't be so afraid of now picking up something that I think will tell me about how to think, because maybe it won't, Maybe it'll just give me a, a weight of thinking
[00:51:52] Jaymi: Yeah.
[00:51:52] Jo: something to think about instead.
[00:51:54] Jaymi: Yeah. I still feel a little bit scared of watching Penguin Bloom.
[00:51:58] Jaymi: I'm, I, the [00:52:00] photo story is so good and I tear up every time that I am a little bit afraid of watching a movie that's gonna make me cry. But I, I think I will brave.
[00:52:10] Jo: Okay. All right. Well, we'll have to hear what you think.
[00:52:15] Jaymi: Awesome. All right everyone, thank you so much for listening in and we'll talk to you again next week.
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