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Why pictures are powerful tools to tell stories
by: Priyanka Raha ~6/10/2022

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A picture is worth a thousand words.

Photography has been used as a way to tell stories for as long as the medium existed. Even before we knew how to record pictures, we have been using drawings, art and color to convey our messages. Storytelling in itself is timeless. For as long as we have existed we have been telling stories starting with cave paintings, narrations on papyrus, books and now movies. A picture captures a moment or a memory, and sometimes conveys an emotion or an event. Other times a picture shares an idea and tells a narrative. All of these are elements of storytelling which is why images are a powerful way to tell stories.

Here’s the beauty of storytelling - you are always telling a story whether you are sharing your recent travel adventures to your friends, presenting your next big idea at work to your colleagues, or you are writing your next fiction novel for your readers. This is also why storytelling is an important skill for children because it is something they will use beyond their writing classes whether they are presenting a science project at their school or preparing a presentation for their Social Studies class. It doesn’t matter what kind of a story you are narrating, images enhance your storytelling.

Images carry memories

While stories written in text carry memories it is the family photographs that we treasure. It is also the reason why we take family photographs every year or at important events like birthdays, graduation and weddings. Ever gone through an old family album? Remember how every photo reminds you of the event, a funny moment or a trip? Do you remember blurting out things like these?

‘Oh this, I remember this, we had ordered these giant ice-cream cones and the chocolate was all over our shirts. This was our first ever long road-trip’.

‘Look at you here, you were a little over six and you were so ecstatic about losing your first tooth’.

Every photograph tells us a story. They transport us to a time that we might find it difficult to remember otherwise. Take the example of this beautiful picture taken by Jackie Phairow Photography and the memory it will hold ten years from today.

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Images capture history

Although photos take us back to a memory, sometimes they take us to times when we might not have lived. When you visit a museum, you will see photographs of important revolutions in history, the iconic shot of Amelia Earhart in front of a plane, or that of Martin Luther King addressing the crowd.

These photos carry glimpses of history, of times that we didn’t live through but that impacts us and our lives today. These photos are going to stay on for generations to remember the times that have gone by. Although we think of images as photographs captured through a camera it is noteworthy that images existed even before we invented the camera. In the olden days paintings were how we captured a moment in time.

Images grab attention

Our brains process images faster than text which is why they immediately grab our attention. According to research compiled by 3M, images are processed 60,000 times faster than text. It is no surprise that social media platforms like Instagram or TikTok are huge successes, although TikTok is mostly videos but that is a whole other conversation about how videos grab our attention better than images. Instagram did start as a platform for just pictures.

The visual element that images bring to the story can drive your point home even more emphatically. This is also why children’s books are primarily made of pictures, besides the fact that very young children haven’t learnt to read yet. In recent years Digital Storytelling through social media and advertisements have made storytelling completely visual-based. While I think a picture needs a caption to set the context, it definitely acts as a hook for the readers to read the story. Humans of Newyork is a great example of how images set the tone of the story.

Images evoke emotions

Some of our first stories have been told using pictures. Visual storytelling dates back to cave paintings. Our age-old connection to visual storytelling makes it a powerful tool. For example, an emotional scene of a mother reunited with her child after a traumatic event can quickly convey the sentiment that the writer wants their readers to connect with. Images quickly take us to the moment in the story and help us connect with the characters, how they are feeling, and the situation in the story.

While storytelling in itself is an art to be learnt, using images becomes a very prominent part of making the story come alive. This is why journalists add photos along with their news reports, or writers add images alongside their text to convey what they have in mind.

According to research done by the Social Science Research Network, 65% of people are visual learners. In fact we actually learn to read emotions from pictures even before we have learnt to read which is why children’s books heavily rely on pictures to convey the story to young readers.

Images convey to a wider audience

When we think of pictures we immediately think about our family photos or the ones we take with friends. While these are priceless, the importance of images in storytelling goes much deeper than holding on to memories. Images convey your ideas in a concise way that viewers can easily understand. Think about the board that your child is putting together for their science exhibition. Your advice to them would be to add pictures to the board to make it more appealing. The same is true when you are preparing a presentation for your work. Presenting data in a visual way has been proven to be more effective for a long time.

During early learning children are taught to draw pictures to share their ideas. Drawing images is really the first step in how young kids learn to tell their story and is a great way to teach them how to get their creative juices flowing. Since images grab our attention and convey information quickly, they are an effective tool to reach a wider audience as well as to connect with them deeply. This is also why flyers, infographics and videos are extremely popular in the business and marketing world.


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