Visual Storytelling: An Introduction

Andy Biggs

Photography: photo (light) + graphy (writing) = writing with light. By its very definition, photography is writing with light. At its core, photography is visual storytelling; telling stories with light. One can make the assumption that most photographs do not have the benefit of any verbal or written dialogue to go with the images, either because they are not provided or because people choose to look at a photograph before they are reading words about what it is. But the photograph must be compelling enough that it makes the viewer look for more context and information about it.

If you are putting together a story of a trip you took and your audience is your closest friends and family, you need to be able to put together a thoughtful, cohesive portfolio of images that tells the story of your trip. Perhaps this story is done in a timeline or grouped by subject matter.

Here is a guideline for capturing photographs that won’t run the risk of repeating the same style and look that visually bores your viewers. There are seven different types of photographs to help you capture unique images each and every day of your journey:

  1. Opening shot. This is your establishing shot that engages and inspires your viewers to “turn the page” or look for more images in your story.

 Opening shot

  1. Closing shot. Many stories can end in a metaphor, like a sunset, a group photo, or a shot of a stamped passport. This image concludes the story.

Closing shot 

  1. Wide-angle shot. This is obvious, but if you aren’t used to using a wide-angle lens to capture scenes, try this and see if you can mix up your images so you have something different than all your other shots.

Wide-angle shot

  1. Zoom shot. Just like the wide-angle shot, if you aren’t using a telephoto lens, you should try adding one to your bag and your daily shot list.

 Zoom/telephoto shot

  1. Macro or detail shot. Trying capturing some images of the smaller details out there. This could be a taken with any lens; it doesn’t need to be a macro lens. The point is to draw your viewer into the closer details in life.

 Macro/detail shot

  1. Portrait. Yes, this is a challenge, as taking photographs of strangers isn’t always the easiest thing to do (at least without practice). Including a portrait humanizes your portfolio.


  1. Special moment. This is a photo that defines a particular moment in time, one that may never happen again.

 Special moment

The images above were all made on a trip to Namibia. If I didn’t use this visual storytelling approach to force me beyond the usual, all of my images would have been photographs of nothing but sand dunes. Instead, I came home with images that are different and unique from each other.

So try these ideas for visual storytelling. Write down the short list and refer to it daily while on a trip or outing. And while you are at it, trying shooting each of those seven types of photos in both horizontal and vertical compositions. You may be surprised at how visually compelling your stories can be to your viewers. 


Andy Biggs is an avid adventurer, conservationist, teacher, and outdoor photographer whose photography primarily celebrates the African landscape and its rich wildlife, people, and culture. Andy was recently named BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year in the “Wild Places” category, and his work has been showcased by Banana Republic in its Urban Safari campaign. For more on Andy’s work and information about his photographic safaris, visit his website




Andy Biggs Craft & Technique visual storytelling

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  • Short, succinct and easy to follow article. Great advice.

    Judith Putnam on

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