Stories help us to make sense of the world, and photography is a language that everyone can understand.
Successful visual storytelling should be engaging, informative, and clear in its narrative. But that doesn't mean that the images you'll need to capture are obvious, or that it's clear what should be included or excluded from an edit.
"When you have your story, you really have to edit," says journalist, educator and former Head of Photography at AFP Francis Kohn. He advises getting a good editor because "you can tell a very good story with 15 photos, or fewer."
Each year, many of the industry's best visual storytellers attend Professional Week at Visa pour l'Image in Perpignan, France. Here, we asked picture editors and photographers Brent Stirton, Thomas Borberg, Laura Morton, Ilvy Njiokiktjien, Ivor Prickett and Pascal Maitre to give their best advice for developing a story. They share how to identify a good subject, when to know it's finished, and what to do with it next...
"The thing with being a photojournalist is there’s a journalist aspect – and that needs to play out in the captions you write and the choices you make, in terms of what you prioritise in your visual assets," says South African documentary photographer and multi award-winning Canon Ambassador Brent Stirton. "What are the important aspects? In your edit, isolate things that really speak to those themes, then ask yourself, what’s the sequence? How do I put these things together in such a way that, one, I engage an editor and, two, I engage an audience?"
"My best advice for developing a story is to talk to other people about it before you go out and when you come back," says Thomas Borberg, Photo Editor-in-Chief at Politiken newspaper in Denmark. "Share your story, share your raw material and get feedback, because the editing process is as important as the pre-work that happens before you leave for the assignment.
"There are no rules about how many pictures that story should contain – it depends on the story. Luckily there are very few rules, and if there are rules, I think you should actually break them."
"I think the first part of developing a good story is doing your research, and reading and consuming as much material and information as possible, whether it's in the form of news, documentaries or books," says Canon Ambassador and photojournalist Ivor Prickett. "I find ideas from all of those places.
"Consume as much as you can and then, when you've got a good idea, give yourself time to explore it, because not everything that looks great on paper is going to work as a photo story. It can be pretty crushing when you've spent weeks thinking about an idea, and then when you try to photograph it, you realise it's not going to work. It's important to remember that that's part of the process. Not everything works for photography. You've got to try a lot of different things to get the right idea going, and it can take a long time."
"A good story is a story you can say in one line," says Canon Ambassador Pascal Maitre, who has spent more than 30 years covering stories in over 40 countries. "If you have to stop to explain your story, it means it would be very complex and if it's complex you will need many pictures, and magazines don't have the pages. If you are a photographer, you need to have a story with huge visual potential.
"At the beginning, you have an idea of what you will need to tell a story. Think of these stories as different chapters: you need all of these points and when you get a good picture in each part, you can say the story is more or less finished. You can do four years, but you will not get too much more. It's good to move on to the next story."
Find all the Canon-related stories on our Visa pour l'Image event page.