ESSAY: Creating Story Ideas

A few months ago, I started my own self-published magazine series titled ESSAY. We’ve posted about it here before, and there will be more posts forthcoming, but one of the things I’ve been asked is how I come up with my stories ideas. Making books and magazines is great fun, but it can be difficult if you don’t know what to print. Let me offer you some suggestions.

  1. First, shoot what you love. If you are attempting to create a body of work about a specific topic, then choose something you absolutely can’t wait to engage. This could be a place, a person, or even a color or time of day. Some of the smallest things can make the best projects. Also, keep a list of your ideas, and keep it on something you always have with you. I use both pen and paper as well as my computer and phone.
  1. Tap other sources of inspiration. The vast majority of stories I dream up come from reading literature or listening to music. For whatever reason, these things allow me to unlock my storytelling brain. When I read, I see specific word combinations and it allows me to imagine what those words would look like in visual form. Music keeps me in touch with mood. If I hear a heavy blues song, it might suggest a more serious documentary project; 80’s rock might inspire me to photograph something that is a reference to that era.
  1. Find stories that have “edges”. Often times, especially as young photographers, we want to take on more than we can handle, so start small with something that represents a much larger story. For example, if you want to do a story about education covering the entire United States education system would be challenging, but focusing on one, local student might be possible and also might tell the exact same story.

The last thing I’ll add is to not be afraid of doing something that has been done before. As long as you add your own personal touch to the story, you are adding to the dialogue—not just copying what’s already been done.



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