What Are the Defining Elements of Narrative Photography?


Narrative photography, sometimes called documentary photography, involves carefully selecting images and scenes to create a story. Rather than focusing on one key moment of an event, narrative photography captures images and moments throughout an event, allowing the story to unfold.

Invisible Photographer

  • Narrative photography relies on the photographer's ability to remove himself from an event allowing it to unfold without interference. This challenges the photographer, and any people being photographed, to resist interaction with each other. The photographer must be as unobtrusive as possible, and any individuals being pictured must carry out their business naturally.


  • In order for photography to be considered "narrative," the event must include the interactions and influences of participants. Merely photographing objects will not create a narrative. The presence of agents within the narrative is crucial, as the players make the story. While not a character in the event, the photographer may become a character in its presentation as he decides what to portray.

Narrative Context

  • Context plays an important role in creating a photographic narrative. Context is created through the inclusion or exclusion of elements in the event being photographed. The context is inherently connected to the choices made when photographing the event.

Sequence of Events

  • Narrative photography relies on a sequence of events to craft a story. Sequence may be found in the simple linear model, or may exist through flashbacks or montages of events. However organized, it is important to create a structure in order to allow the intended narrative to emerge from the photographs. Typically, the sequence will also include other elements from standard narrative, such as exposition, climax and resolution. These elements direct the narrative, introduce conflict and further develop the characters found in the story.

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