4: Leading stories In Process Story translations

Telling Stories: Narrative theory

  • Narrative theory: how images are combined into stories as single-image narratives, sequential narratives, information graphics and interactive experiences in order to communicate development messages.


  • Abbott, H. P., (2008) The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Delhi: Cambridge University Press.
  • Barthes, R., (1977) Image Music Text, London: Fontana Press.
  • Cobley, P., (2001) Narrative, London and New York: Routledge.

The Photo Essay

  • A simple series: each image has something unique, unifying quality that makes the viewer want to see more. Eg Kate Kirkwood Cow Spines.
  • Highlight photo essays: journalistic and centres on an interesting event. Focus on key characters and stages that may or may not be in linear sequence. EgThe Year of the Horse
  • Time-sequence photo essays: a series of events or a process
  • Location photo essays: can be thematic or linear
  • Idea photo essays: a series of photos around a more abstract idea. This is more difficult to sequence.

What is the concept?

write this in one sentence.

  • portrait series
  • linear sequence
  • First edits: narrow down to 100 shots. It is more important that these should work in the context of your essay rather than being the best images. Print these out and experiment with different sequences.
  • Second edit: 20 images. Again experiment with different sequencing.
  • Final edit 10-15. Be ruthless, make sure you are aware of the implications of each image and do not duplicate information.

Creating a series

  • lead photo: needs to be a strong image in terms of composition because it is the shot that will ‘sell the story’ and draw the reader in.
  • scene-setting shot: shows where the story is and the main characters and other core elements.
  • sequential shots: form the main core of the story. These do not necessarily have to be in time sequence.
  • portrait shots: portraits of individuals and groups important to the story – mix of posed and candid shots. Or environmental shots.
  • panoramic shots: with context shots stitched together
  • interactive shots: include incidental information and broadens the understanding of the story.
  • detail shots: close-up shots that help to round things out and add drama.
  • summing up shot: pulls things together and shows the final result. Not necessarily the most important shot, but it needs to be clear.
  • concluding shot: an image that says definitively ‘the end’.

Narrative structure Gustav Freytag (1816-1895)

  • Exposition – shows us who the main characters are, something about their lives. Shows the main character and their goal within the story. There is then an inciting incident that causes conflict .
  • Rising action: is a build up of events as the main character moves towards their goal. Conflict occurs when there is a disagreement with one or more people.
  • Climax: the crunch point
  • Falling Action:
  • Resolution: happy or sad ending. Gives a feeling that this is the end, all strands have been drawn together and everything that needs to be explained has been explained.

Adding text

Not to tell a story but to give some facts. May be image titles single words, captions or short narrative at the beginning and/or end.