A story to guide you

Several photographers have asked me for advice recently. I’m always slightly leery of giving advice, because I don’t believe my images succeed from technique. I’m proud of the work I do, it’s technically fine, but my work lives from the stories I tell. And I think that’s an element that is missing too often. To me it’s painfully obvious when I look at the websites of those asking me for help. There are photographers all over the world that are attempting fine art nude work, or fashion photography, and the answer is simple: the greatest pictures from either genre are filled with narrative and emotion. Yet those same shooters asking for advice obsess endlessly about camera gear, light placement, and posing. It never occurs to them to share a story with their model, or to guide the team by describing a mood or a moment.

Two weeks ago a photographer said “well, I’m not like you, I can’t afford to tell stories.” Bullshit.

I want to post the following pictures to make a point: there is no budget for story. That’s not how it works. Contrary to the process of my public work, I still “work out” creatively by shooting on location with available light (rather than building sets and using multiple strobe heads). For this shoot, I told the model about the story of Hanjo. The geisha Hanako goes insane from loneliness while waiting for her lover Yoshio to return. I told her to envision the morning of his departure, the hour right after he left. The physical desire, the loneliness, the hope.

You don’t need money to tell a great story … but it does require a great model.

Natsuki 2

Natsuki 3

Natsuki 1

“So build yourself as beautiful as you want your world to be. Wrap yourself in light then give yourself away with your heart, your brush, your march, your art, your poetry, your play. And for every day you paint the war, take a week and paint the beauty, the color, the shape of the landscape you’re marching towards. Everyone knows what you’re against; show them what you’re for.”

Andrea Gibson, “Evolution”

Go and tell stories my friends.


  1. elettracavendish said:

    You’re singing to the choir! I don’t have a penny… There is no “budget” as I’m not strictly speaking a professional photographer (and it shows because my work is unapologetically gritty). Like you, I believe in story telling and in the merits of a tight narrative. The series you posted hear is gorgeous, because of the story line, because of the strength of the model and no doubt, because of an understanding –implicit or explicit– between model and photographer.

    Of course I also like what you have to say and the way you say it. I am about words at least as much as I am about visuals. And finally, you are a gifted curator when it comes to quoting others! The Andrea Gibson quote here is amazing. I discovered the poet Jeffrey McDaniel thanks to you and just bought his book “Forgiveness Parade”.

    So thank you for all that inspiration, is all I meant to say, really.

  2. Cindy said:

    wonderful …

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