You can tell a story with pictures just as you can with words. The trick is to take the photographs with a story idea in mind.
It's different from taking a candid snapshot or the accidental picture of a sunset or rainbow. Instead, start out with an idea or point of view and find subject matter to fin the theme.
Picture stories aren't new. Life Magazine pioneered them in the news field in the'30s; National Geographic has been doing photo essays since before the turn of the century. Magazines and newspapers use this format when they publish a photo layout.
This summer I taught photography at journalism workshops in Santa Barbara and near San Francisco. Each student shot a picture story.
One idea was to go into San Francisco to depict "how people get around in this hilly city." The supporting photos by the students showed cable cars crammed with passengers, a motorcylist with a pack on his back, roller-skating kids braking on steep slopes and a wary pedestrian on crutches crossing an intersection.
At the Santa Barbara workshop, the theme was to show the remnants of Spanish-style architecture in the city. The resulting layout was of the mission, city hall, architectural details, and candids of shoppers in the Mexico-like atomosphere of small shops around a courtyard with a fountain.
Other themes ranged from light to heavy. One, called "Bird Watchers," showed a cat looking at a pigeon and a man watching a girl. Another, titled "Death in the City," showed a chalked outline where the body of a murder victim had been removed, and panhandling derelicts.
After a subject was thoroughly explored photographically, workshop participants developed the black-and-white negatives, printed contact sheets and made enlargements from frames they selected.
If you use slides, make selections on a light table and assemble them in sequence.
Whatever your aim - family album, slide show or photo exhibit - stay on theme. Before you snap, ask yourself, "Will this picture add to what I want to say about my subject?" If not, find another view.
Q. I have had problems with my local lab. They have frequently cut off important parts of the right side of my photos when making prints. They have, however, obligingly reprinted the pictures correctly with an explanation of how such misprinting can happen on their machines.
This explanation may help some of your other readers who wear eyeglasses and can't get their eyes close enough to the eyepiece to center the image.
"Our rolls of 110, 126 and 135mm are spliced in one continuous roll on a reel. The reel is placed on an automatic feed color printer. The computer in this printer reads the negative area at the small square hole near the negative number. This tells the printer when to print. If your subject is not centered, important parts of your negative may be cut off since the entire negative area is not printed."
A. Well, so much for computers. My suggestion is to fit the eyepiece with a supplementary lens so you can see through the viewfinder without glasses. (These attachments are obtainable in various diopters.)
Another thought is to line up the center of the picture with the center focusing area and move back some to give the machine "cropping room."
Q. I have thousands of black-and-white negatives in a box; I'd like to have some of these enlarged, but when I hold them up to the light I can't tell who's in the picture or how the print will look. How can I review these pictures without having them all printed up?
A. The best way is with contact prints. Buy 8 x 10 pages of clear plastic film sleeves, put your negatives in these and make or order contact sheets -- they can be made right through the plastic. Then you can put the sheets of negatives and contact sheets in a school-type ring binder. 5:15 a.m; Twenty-eight people inside. Booeymongers, five outside. Mostly very young. Piped in music. It blares. Gospel. Loud gospel. A private, in-house cop, in brown uniform and brown leather-tipped cap, rests on a banister with a wary eye on the customers. "I'm looking for insomniacs," I explain to him. He grimaces, grits his teeth, becomes pensive and thoughtful, then says, "What you talking about?" "People who stay up all night," I reply, and note that he's wearing a K-9 Unit Booeymonger patch on his left shoulder and PFC stripes on his jacked arms. He scowls, revealing a mouthful of pearly whites that look like a bag of chiclets. "I'm just doing a story on insomniacs, that's all," I assure him, but he looks angry. "Don't use my name because I'm not going to give it to you," he says coldly. "What did you do before you became a policeman?" I ask him. "I was a clerk, a file clerk, a office clerk, a clerk," he responds with a hostile tone, all the while eyeing the surrounding customers who seem docile and as quiet as ants. "People have flexible attitudes. They keep sufficient hours," he says carefully, and continues: "Whatever makes them comfortable. Having a good time is really just making noise." He looks as serious as an executioner, and I don't exactly know what he's saying, so I join the line at the counter. I order the special menu item, an Austin Symphony. It's an open-faced sandwich of turkey, avocado, Russian dressing, tomatoes and bean sprouts topped by grilled Muenster cheese. Then a large soda, mostly ice it seems. I pay my bill, place the food on a table and see the private cop telling four people at three tables to get up and take their food to another section of the room. The customers get up and carry themselves and their food as he stacks their chairs. I take one bite of my Austin Symphony and look up. The private cat is staring at me as I note the time in my notebook. He tries to read, upside down, what I've written. The hell with it. I leave the food and exit. I'll make one more stop. Police headquarters. I'll pick a place in the District. 5:50 a.m. At 2nd District Headquarters, Metropolitan Police Department. Office A. C. Pannell Jr. behind the desk. I tell him I'm looking for insomniacs; he says it's his first all-night duty. Mine, too. "May I use your name?" "Sure," he says. "How is it, this night shift?" I ask. "It's rough." He adds: "A few, not many, local calls. People want someone to talk to. They just phone and say, 'What's happening?' . . . They're lonely. It's mostly just dull paperwork, crime reports from the previous day." "I started the night with the roller skaters at 19th and M," I tell him. He says, "They aren't allowed to skate on the sidewalks -- only the streets." "Everything's backwards at night, I guess," I say. We exchange farewells and I head for home. 6:30 a,m. Out of the car in front of my home. I'm alone except for the persistent sounds of crickets. Just crickets. It's either today or tomorrow, I think to myself. It must be tomorrow.