Telling Stories With Your Photos

If you’re not into photographing birds, you tend, many times, to take one or two shots and move on. Even if you’re not a bird photographer, you should wait and see what happens. Then you get moments like the one shown here, which gives you a comic book approach.

With birds it pays to play the waiting game and… wait for things to happen. It’s not only because, sometimes, you’ll get one shot from a series that works better than the rest, it is also because, many times, the pictures taken tell a story on their own but may also may, if you want, be used with captions.

The series of pictures of two turnstones on top of a rock was only possible to create by staying with the birds for a while, forgetting everything else. It was not easy, as there was a lot going on around me, as this stretch of coast I visit regularly is a hotspot for birds looking after food and a bath on the waters at a place where the waters of a river meet the Atlantic Ocean.

The collection, which I call The Slide, shows what could be a conversation between birds about the challenge of sliding down a rock; I could almost imagine them looking down and one saying to the other “I think I am going to try, it seems funny” to what the other replied “I am not sure, it seems to high and all that water down there”. Maybe it did not, in bird talk, happen that way, but from my human point of view, it is material that makes a good “comic book story”, something that takes a series of photographs beyond the simple document, to become a narrative. It’s an exercise I do believe enhances one’s photography, and one I advise people to do as often as possible: do not simply take or create pictures, tell stories with them.

The original series of images, captured in 2014, was taken with a Canon EOS 50D with a EF 100–400mm f/4.5–5.6 L IS USM lens at the long end, meaning the 1.6x crop in fact offers a 160–640mm lens in a very portable configuration. Due to the overcast conditions of the day I used 400 ISO, to give enough latitude in terms of depth of field and speed. Nevertheless, for this series, I had to opt for an aperture of f/5.6 to keep the speed at 1/1000, to try and stop movement on the birds if any of them flew from the rock.

I took six photos, as many as shown here, although, if you look closely, there are only five original images here, as I repeated one of the images, the third, which appears again on the sixth frame. I needed to do this in order to keep the flow of the narrative.

As I wrote above, try to imagine two birds — turnstones — discussing the eventual fun of sliding down a rock, and then one of the birds deciding to try it out. While I was shooting this, I almost could imagine the captions on top of their heads, as if I was reading a comic book. Unfortunately, after the bird on the left slided down the rock, the one on the right simply flew away before I could take a picture, so I had to reuse frame three to give the idea of the second bird looking down to check how the other bird was doing. If I was doing a story for a newspaper, I could not do this kind of stunt, but for pure editorial work and having a narrative as the goal, I feel it is OK to work this way. I am not, after all, changing reality, simply adapting it for a funny ending.

I created the poster in Photoshop, back in 2014, defining the size of each frame (they’ve all the same dimension) and placed each image so as to create the look of a comic book. I could have gone for frames with different sizes, more dynamically and more comic book like, but it would not help to create the flow I intended for the story. All images were edited in Camera Raw before, as a group, to keep the same aspect, as it made sense. The final poster was adjusted in Topaz Labs Clarity, my program of choice when it comes to final touches.

The top image, which was prepared today for this note, was edited in Affinity Photo, which is now my main photo editor, with Topaz Clarity giving it the final touch.

To give you an idea of the potential of the space where this series was taken, I’ve decided to include here a video shot in 2015 at the same area, and one image taken the same day I photographed the turnstones in “the slide” series, but focusing on a completely different scene. Although a single photo, it is also the result of waiting for things to get organized in terms of the frame.

The rock where the birds land faces the sea, emerging from the water at a place where the waves crash. The birds stop there as if playing with the waves, while deciding where to go next, and fight for space at the uppermost area of the boulder. I captured various images, but this one seems to better reflect the strategic position and all the action that goes on there. Again, staying around for a while on these places, that are regularly visited by birds, gives you, even if you’re not a photographer of birds, some nice photos to take home.

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Jose Antunes

Jose Antunes

I am a writer and photographer based on the West coast of continental Europe, a place to see the Sun die on the Sea, every day.