8 Ways Storytelling Can Improve Your Photos and Videos

Filmmaking was not always part of Kane Andrade’s job path. San Francisco Bay Area native, Adobe Lightroom Ambassador was originally interested in animation prior to joining the military. This military experience changed the course of his entire life. It also ignited the fire that led him to share the stories and experiences of the people in his local community.


Full disclosure: This article was brought to you by Adobe


Kane Andrade was born in the United States to parents that had immigrated from South America. He discovered his passion for art at an early age through drawing and taking photos with a small Kodak camera. But Andrade believed that a career in art was impossible. His father continuously reinforced that sentiment, saying that unlike being a doctor or a lawyer, being an artist wasn’t an occupation that would pay a decent living.

After graduating from high school, Andrade joined the military as a way to help pay for college. After his five year military service was over, Andrade decided to enroll in animation classes. He felt that this field would pay well enough to satisfy his family’s needs and also feed his love for art.

“The deeper I got into animation in school, the more I felt compelled to pick up the camera instead,” Andrade says. “I can’t explain why. My creativity had been ignited by animation. But my heart wanted to be able to draw with a pen instead of using a pencil. After seeing other Instagram photographers making a living from photography, I wanted to find out what I could do. I figured I was young enough that if I failed, I had plenty of time to fall back on Plan B. After dabbling in it for five years, I finally was able to shed my father’s voice in my head telling me that artists couldn’t make good money and I jumped in full time.”

Andrade’s journey as a trans man to where he is today was never easy and being an active duty member of the United States military often made that journey even more challenging. Finding it difficult to locate and connect with peers who were in the same boat, Andrade began to connect with himself through the art of self-storytelling.

“During my transition, I often felt alone,” Andrade says. This time would be the most significant in my life. I started to photograph the emotional and physical changes that I experienced. I wanted to tell the story of the journey I was on, even if the only viewer of that story would wind up being me. I thought to myself, ‘No one can tell your story better than you, so you may as well tell it.’ And I did.”

Throughout the course of Andrade’s short career, the artist has gravitated toward storytelling as opposed to the one-off Instagram photo.

“Storytelling is not only therapeutic,” he says, “but also a great way to educate viewers on a life that they may not know.”

Andrade shares with PetaPixel the lessons that have helped him become a better storyteller, which in turn have not only helped his self-growth, but also the community that he cherishes.

Think About the Story That You Want to Tell and How You Want to Tell It

Andrade firmly believes that the best way to improve your storytelling is to connect with yourself. Whether it is your own story or ones that have meaning to you, he says that the best stories you can tell are the ones that you are truly passionate about.

” The story that I was able to tell best was mine,” Andrade said. “And the stories I know how to tell almost as well are the ones that I can relate to the most. When I am telling my own story, I know how to set the mood that I am feeling. This can involve different lighting types, settings, and angles that can convey different emotions. I will use more shadow-filled frames to convey sadness or confusion, or bright and colorful frames to convey an empowering and upbeat mood.”

Andrade details how his love of using colors in his stories originated.

I am colorblind so much of the world appears like an RAW image to me. Desaturated is the best way to put it. I studied color theory, which really helped me understand how colors can affect how someone is feeling. It was then that I realized how certain colors can affect the mood of the viewers when they view my photos .”

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Andrade doesn’t use color on-site. Often, the hard work of trying to convey the mood he wishes to express comes when he edits his photos in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

“I do like to play with colors when editing my photos in Lightroom, since I can’t see colors like most people,” Andrade explains. It is common for me to incorporate the things I see. For example, I might make greens appear yellower or more brownish. Because I don’t see the world in the same way as others, editing is my favourite part of storytelling. So when I edit my photos, I get inspired because the final product is how I would like to see real life, but it just doesn’t come out that way.”

Some of Andrade’s most engaging posts on Instagram are short videos that show how he edits his photos in Lightroom.

“My viewers really love to get a look inside my editing process. I really love making those before and after posts because it can really show how I perceive colors and how, through hours of work, I can hit just the right note of vibrant emotion.”

For Andrade, the use of bright colors is not only derived from his current feelings, but also his wishes for the future.

” The reason my work is so vibrant and shows life in such bright colors, it’s because I have experienced a lot pain. From my time in the military, being a trans man, and being a person of color, I have faced a lot of challenges. My photography allows me to express my hopes and dreams for the future. I want my future to always be bright and full of color, so I like to convey that hope in my artwork.”

Andrade likes to focus on the positive aspects of his stories, even when the story subject has faced difficulties.

” I was part of a Pride shoot with queer folks. I usually try to make the stories I tell about my community feel joyful, even though they might have experienced pain. I like to tell stories using props too, so we had balloons and bubbles. For me, this helps me show how proud we are as a community, despite the challenges that we have faced.

“I believe it is important to communicate a feeling when telling stories,” he says. “Even if that feeling might be sad or challenging. It is not possible to decide which angle your story should be told. Your heart should dictate how the story is perceived. For me, I just perceive the stories in my community through the lens of celebration, so I try to convey that feeling to my audience using vibrant colors, bright lighting, and fun props.”

Observe How Others Tell Stories and Study the Ways They Capture Your Attention

Andrade feels the best way to learn about storytelling is by carefully de-crafting other storytellers’ styles. He says Instagram, even though the web is full of great educational content, is where he finds the best way to learn how to better his storytelling.

“I just love seeing how these masters tell their stories in this little vertical box on a device that fits in your pocket,” Andrade describes. “A big inspiration to me has been Garret King, the man known as Shortstache on Instagram. I just love watching what he does. He isn’t required to tell much. His photos and videos, for me, tell such a dynamic story. What I learned from watching him tell stories through Instagram is what I use to create my own. I learned how to use color more effectively to tell a story through Jordan Taylor Wright. His use of color was so beautiful, I felt drawn to the ways it could be used to tell stories. Likewise, I used lessons I interpreted from watching him and I made that into my own colorful style.”

“Much like art is subjective, so is storytelling. So one style might not resonate with you, but it might resonate with me,” he continues. “It is important to develop your own style from the storytellers that you are inspired by. You shouldn’t try and copy someone else’s style. If you aren’t overly inspired by them or their style and you try to recreate it, in turn, how can your own stories inspire you?”

Learn how to Use a Variety of Images

Since Instagram is Andrade’s go-to storytelling location, he is often thinking about the way he will tell the story on the social media platform before he actually captures it. It involves taking photos in the preferred orientation of Instagram, such as square or vertical, and then envisioning how he will edit the images.

“Often the story lies in places outside of the main subject,” Andrade states. “Sometimes the surrounding pixels are just as important to the broader story than the subject itself. Details are increasingly a part my storytelling. I learned this when I did some campaign work that involved someone sitting in a car. Because I was too focused on the subject in the car I missed out on other details that would have added value to the story. When I looked through my photos, I realized that I could have told a better overall story with some really dynamic detail shots. And that lesson has stuck with me to this day.”

Andrade says that just as important as the details are, setting the stage at the opening, and evoking emotion at the end is just as important.

You want an image that draws people in. You have the freedom to play with details and portraits, and guide them through your story. When it is all said and done, the last image should leave the viewer either wanting more, or staring at that photo for an extended period of time, letting their imagination run wild.”

Embrace the Use of Video in Your Storytelling

While the creative world is divided over Instagram’s pivot to video, Andrade says that it can help photography storytellers learn how to make even more descriptive stories that sometimes aren’t possible with just photographs.

” I used to take only photographs and never thought of storytelling with motion pictures. As my body changed, I took photos of my self. They weren’t posted. I did it more to document the story of my transition for me to look back on. As I noticed the changes in my photographs, I began to notice that I was also changing my voice. The realization that this was my missing part of the transition story was a lightbulb for me. I was also keeping written diaries, which went into more detail around my thoughts and feelings during my transition. Because the pictures didn’t accurately reflect what I was feeling at that time, I chose to share those feelings via personal video diary. It was a great way to share my feelings and discover how important video is for telling the truth about myself. The video diaries perfectly captured how I was feeling in that moment, which could have been forgotten if it was only documented in photographs.”

Andrade explains how the use of video started to add a layer of emotion that was absent in his photographs.

” It’s incredible how video can help people understand the emotions of the subject. I think it’s easier for people to relate to when they can feel this emotion through the art of video.”

Video is easier to skew the viewers to see the stories as you want them to be seen, Andrade says.

“Photographs are really left up to the interpretation of the viewers, which is a great way to make their imaginations run wild. Video allows you to control the narrative. This makes it easy to make the story your want .”

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And for those who are still skeptical about using Instagram Reels, Andrade recommends to start slow. Posting a photo story in a reel instead of the photos can make a bigger impact than posting them as still images. The movement between the story frames can also add an element to your story. In addition, Instagram’s video heavy algorithm will draw many more eyes to your story than just the photos alone.

Use Your Emotions and Find Connections to Your Art

Andrade is an emotional person, as he proudly boasts himself. He has come to feel comfortable sharing his emotions with viewers over the years. At first, it was scary. He noticed an improvement in his connection with viewers over time. Additionally, he felt more motivated to share stories that inspired him. Andrade was able to focus his attention and time on stories that truly moved him.

“I began to notice that I wasn’t feeling the emotion through my landscape work, so my creativity began to shift to portraits and the stories of people, especially those in my community,” he explains. It’s important not to try and force creativity, but to connect to your emotions. It would be discourageing and would lead me to lose inspiration for storytelling. So instead of trying to force it, I just listen to my emotions and feelings as they guide me to the connection that will keep me inspired and creative. This is a crucial skill for all professionals in the field. Your heart will not be in what you share. .”

Andrade describes his struggle to connect with landscape photographers and travel writers, making it difficult for him find the personal connections that could ignite his love for photography.

“I really love people, so experiencing those rare creative moments with the people I connect with would make my photography special and inspiring to me, feelings I wasn’t getting by photographing landscapes by myself. This progression helped me to realize that my storytelling might actually be more beneficial within my community at the moment. This may change as I grow, but for now, it is important that you follow your heart and let your imagination guide your creative process. Because I love the stories, I will tell them. Our time is limited, so it’s vital to focus it on what makes you truly happy.”

Captions Can Play an Important Role

In today’s visuals-focused world, it’s often easy to overlook the compelling nature of storytelling through words. But words can be the best way to connect with your readers and encourage engagement in your stories posts. While typing is easy, Andrade says that finding the stories that inspire you to write about your experiences is more difficult.

“Back to my wavering connections with landscapes, I could never really find the words to say when I would post my landscape photos,” he explains. “I love the outdoors, the fresh air, and the beauty, but because of the broken connection, it was hard for me to formulate the written words that I think can be so helpful to accompany your visual stories.”

“But as I started finding the stories I was more passionate about, my captions became like a diary,” Andrade continues. It was a great way to increase my creativity and inspiration. People responded better to stories that I had written. Focusing on stories that I am passionate about opened up the floodgates to my words. This made me more persuasive as a storyteller .”

. It can be difficult to open up to others in this manner, but it can make you more comfortable talking to them. It doesn’t take much to create novels. But you should write captions that communicate your emotions and intentions. I think this is the formula that will allow people to really connect with you and your stories.”

Practice, Even Though It Won’t Make You Perfect

Repetitive actions, such as going out to photograph sunrise day after day, has obvious benefits. Photographers can learn the ins and outs of their camera, train their eye to see more intriguing compositions, and master how to adapt to different lighting situations. Practice is critical for all skill-based hobbies, and photography is no different.

Andrade stresses the importance of not only practicing the technical aspects of photography, but also the emotion-driven aspects of storytelling.

“The act of storytelling through photos and video can be frustrating at times,” he concedes. In the beginning of visual storytelling I was not sure I could get better. But all those times I went out and forced myself to create something trained me in the long run, even if I didn’t see immediate results. I think it’s so critical to not only practice storytelling, but also practice patience. Everything you do, every lesson you teach yourself, will have an effect on your future storytelling, even if it’s hard to see at the time.”

“Practicing your storytelling will also help you identify which stories you connect with. If I didn’t continuously shoot all those sunrise and sunset photos over the years, my mind might still be stuck in that cycle of how to ‘master’ landscapes. All that practice taught me how to tell more personal stories about people. It took me countless hours to get to the place I wanted to go. I not only learned how to take better photos, but also, I trained my creative mind to identify what really inspired me.”

Remember the Stories You Are Proud Of

Finally, Andrade says that always keeping the stories that meant the most to you in the forefront of your mind can guide you on your storytelling journey.

The two stories that I’m most proud of have very different emotional responses,” he said. “The first is my own story of my transition. It’s something that I am so proud of and happy that I did. It’s very therapeutic for me to be able to remind myself where I came from and where I am now. It can be an excellent way to share the journeys that I and other members of my community have taken .”

. However, I’m most proud about the second story. In college, I was given a vague assignment to ‘tell a story.’ I immediately thought back to my experience in the military and a friend who I had made. I decided to tell the story of military families and the tragedy that they often live through. My friend had lost her husband, and she was having a very hard time accepting it. I saw him walking towards the door and staring at it, believing that he was returning home. The raw emotions were what I wanted to capture. She was experiencing pain. It was therapeutic to her. I hope so. It was very empowering for her, but it was a very sad story to tell.”

Remembering the lessons he learned from those stories led Andrade to develop a plan in partnership with Adobe to document the lives and experiences of fellow trans veterans, something that he connects deeply with.

“As I started to work on the project, I was amazed at how many trans veterans had very different stories to tell,” Andrade describes. “Even though we are all going through the same thing, the way it affects us and those around us is very different from subject to subject, especially while we were on active duty in the military. Some of it is sad, some of it is exciting. The one thing that I learned was how storytelling can help me. Telling these stories has helped me personally, as they have helped me process my emotions around my own experience as a trans vet, while also connecting me deeper within this small community.”

“Even though this is an ongoing project, I feel it’s already been helpful to the community,” Andrade concludes. “I believe these stories have opened the eyes of many who may not be familiar with the hardships that trans vets go through. Most importantly, telling these stories has empowered my subjects. Trans veterans often find it difficult to share their journeys with the world, particularly to an audience that is larger. It has made a huge impact on their lives in many ways by helping them to find their voice, and finding comfort. They feel more empowered to openly discuss what their experiences are, which is therapeutic to many of them. For me, this is what storytelling is really all about. It’s about helping people to learn, heal, and empower themselves. And it all begins with you.”

More from Kane Andrade can be found on his website and Instagram.


Full disclosure: This article was brought to you by Adobe


Image credits: All photos by Kane Andrade.

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