Tag Archives: Digital Storytelling

Fighting Cholera in Haiti with a Camera

Posted by on July 26th, 2012


Mention the words “Haiti” and “disaster” and you’re likely thinking about the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people and left nearly a million people homeless.  But in its wake another disaster is creeping over the island, and there is mounting evidence that this one is manmade.

A cholera outbreak in Haiti has killed thousands of people and sickened many more. Now a new film by David Darg and Bryn Mooser blames the United Nations for bringing the disease to the island and covering up their involvement in the outbreak. They are following up their video with a social media campaign and asking the public to tweet the United Nations asking them to admit responsibility in the outbreak.

After I saw the video, I knew I wanted to learn more about their work and contacted them on Twitter. I learned that Darg and Mooser became friends in Haiti where they have worked for more then two years. I also learned that the duo originally set out to make a film about Haiti’s first little league team but when one of their main subject lost his mother to cholera, they knew there was a bigger story to tell.

Keep reading below to find out more. Continue reading

Canon 40D, 120mm, 1/250 @ f/4.0, ISO 400

Telling Stories with Photography: Every Photo Tells a Story

Posted by on July 11th, 2012

Welcome to a new series here on Story|Forward that I’m calling “Telling Stories with Photography.” In the next few months I’m going to discuss the basics of telling stories using visual imagery and we are going to talk about how things like focal length, aperture, and composition shape narrative.

Canon 40D, 120mm, 1/250 @ f/4.0, ISO 400

To kick off this series I want to start with one fundamental concept: every photo tells a story.  “Hold on a second,” you might say. “What about abstract or still life photography? Do they really tell stories?”

First of all I’d like to thank you for asking a question that flows so seamlessly into my point and second I’d like to tell you that yes, every photo does tell a story. It might be an incredibly simple story like “look at these shapes and colors,” or it could be something so complex that a single frame talks about light, color, pain, loss, sadness, hope, war, religion, family, and Italian art (In case you’re wondering, I’m thinking about Samuel Aranda’s World Press Photo award-winning image).

Telling stories with photos isn’t always easy and sometimes even experienced photographers (myself included) get so focused on the technical aspects of our work that we can overlook it. Because storytelling in photography is often subtle — capturing a sideways glance or shooting with a slightly warmer white balance — some photographers forget or never learned in the first place how important it is to their craft.

Storytelling in photography is hugely important for two reasons. If you don’t think about the stories your pictures tell, there’s a good chance they will tell stories you and your clients don’t want to hear. Here is an extreme example; say you were tasked with shooting a wedding and didn’t think about how eye-contact can change the meaning of a photo.

In this situation you take a beautiful photo of the bridal party at the altar; the exposure is perfect, the focus is tack sharp, and maybe there is even some amazing soft light streaming in from the stain-glass windows above.  One problem, you caught the single second in the ceremony where the groom looked away from the bride and locked eyes with the maid of honor. He was probably totally innocent, but if you fail to notice this detail and send of a wall size canvas print of this photo to the bride, you (and the groom) could be in for some real trouble.

The second reason stories matter in your photography is, more than anything else, they differentiate you from other photographers. If you are the kind of photographer that makes your living solely on technically perfect photos, I’ve got news for you, robots are coming for your job. With high dynamic range sensors, insane autofocus systems, and increasingly better in-camera processing, DSLR’s are getting closer to shooting technically flawless photos without photographers touching a single setting. And you know what? So are iPhones. The quality of snapshots from point-and-shoot cameras is increasing dramatically. And, with the advent of technologies that allow you to set focus in post production or choose high-quality stills from video, technical perfection for everyone is not far off.

The thing that will keep photographers working is their style. Whatever you call it — your vision, your signature, your voice, or your look — clients want you to offer something unique. In a world where uncle Joe owns a 5D Mark III and Instagram is making everyone a photographer, the stories you tell and the way you tell them is what will set you apart.

Assignment: Find your favorite photo or take a new one and think about the story it tells. Write out that story and post it below in the comments with a link to the image. For example, here is what  I would say about the photo of the Peruvian farmer featured at the beginning of this post: From the man’s clothes and the fruit in his hand I learn he is a farmer. The use of a long focal-length compresses the background and makes me feel like he is surrounded by trees. The expression on his face tells me he likes his job and his eyes appear to be looking at someone else out of frame who he is about to hand the fruit to. There is a lot more I could say but I’ll just leave it at that. 

Survivors of a sunken landing craft are helped ashore on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion. Photo via U.S. Military, Public Domain

Stories More Powerful than Morphine

Posted by on April 21st, 2012

Survivors of a sunken landing craft are helped ashore on Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion. (Photo via U.S. Military, Public Domain)

Before my wife and I left on this trip, we downloaded a ton of Radiolab episodes to my laptop and our iPods. If you’re not familiar with Radiolab, I’d encourage you to check them out. As far as I’m concerned the people behind the show are some of our best modern storytellers. In the few months that I’ve listened to them, I’ve learned a tremendous amount about what makes a good story, both on the radio and in general.

I recently stumbled upon an episode from way back in 2007 about the placebo effect. The episode is about an hour-long and you can listen to it here. But what I want to talk about is a particular segment that begins 13 minutes into the program, it’s a story about stories and how they can actually change the way we feel, even take away pain.

This segment highlights the work of Dr. Henry Beecher who discovered something amazing in the middle of battle during World War II. Cut off from resupply, without enough morphine to treat all the wounded soldiers, Beecher found that many of them didn’t actually need the drug. Men with serious wounds seemed to have a higher pain tolerance in the heat of battle than those with similar injuries back in the States.

It’s worth your time to listen to the segment and their explanation of the hows and whys, but the gist of it is this: wounded soldiers had higher pain tolerances because they were telling themselves a better story. They were alive, their wounds were for a cause, they might get sent home and even awarded a medal. Provided they survived there was a good chance that these soldiers’ lives were going to get better.

The effect of this story was so profound it did more than give them a positive outlook, it actually changed the way they felt, sometimes it even took away the pain from horrible injuries.

Now you might think this has more to do with medical science than it does with the art of storytelling, but I think it illustrates something incredibly important about stories. Stories are hardwired into us. From the time we can comprehend language (and possibly before) we are fascinated by stories. There is a deep power in narrative that has the ability to change us in both mind and body.

Reminders like this, about how important stories are to us as humans, motivate me to make sure the stories I’m telling are good ones.