Storytelling Through Images

One of my biggest goals when creating artwork is to tell a story. I strive to activate imaginations and spark creative thinking. I want my viewers (that's you) to see my images and begin to ponder what is going on. What happened before this, what's happening now, and what will happen next? All of these questions and desires are precisely why I create, and why I was so excited when the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet came to the studio to create some promotional art for their upcoming ballet, Coppélia. 

Coppélia Gif

So, What The Heck is Coppélia?!?

In short, Coppélia is about an eccentric old doll-maker and a little girl who tricks the elderly man into thinking he has created a doll so lifelike that it actually starts living; essentially she just switches places with the doll and pretends to be a living toy. 

Coppélia Chair

Obviously there is much more to it than that, but for this image that's about all you need to know. There isn't any actual magic in the show, but we wanted to represent how the old man felt in the moment when he believed the doll to be coming to life. Therefore, I got to play with some elements of smoke and sparkles!


There are lots of ways you can put more story into your images, but one particular thing that is a huge help is to base your image on a story that already exists. It was super fun to make this image with Pammi (my boss here at the studio), some dancer/actors, and some representatives from the ballet who knew all there was to know about Coppélia. Since the images commissioned were to be stylized moments from the play, it was easy to pull all kinds of different details from the show to help flesh out the storytelling of the image.

It's really great to create your own stories for your images (which I do most of the time), but if you are needing to crawl out of a creative rut, it's super helpful to craft an image from a story that's already been thought out. When you're making an image that's inspired by an existing tale, you basically have a whole library of details to pull inspiration from. For example, since the play mostly takes place in the doll-maker's workshop, we used an image of a wood workshop for the backdrop of the composite. It added some nice warm texture to the background and could easily be made to look like a toy maker's shop. How do you make a wood shop look like a doll maker's work space, you ask? Well simply by adding more details! That, and removing a few ...



If you didn't notice already, I added some different dolls to the workbenches and floor of the background. I didn't want them to be too distracting from the main subjects, so the dolls are pretty blended into the backdrop. It's the subtle details like this that you might not think to add to an image, but can add so much and make an image worth that much more of a second glance. As far as removing things, I did have to clone out some saws and woodworking tools from the walls of the wood shop image that looked a bit too sinister for this particular fairytale (haha).


Coppélia Close Up

Posing and facial expressions can also play a large role in telling your story. By having the girl (Coppélia) stand in an unnatural "doll like" pose and stare blankly with little human emotion on her face, it cues the audience (that's still you guys) into the fact that she is not just a regular girl (but she totally is, don't let her fool you). Meanwhile, the toymaker has a face that's beaming with crazed excitement to show that he is both shocked and ecstatic that his dream of a real life doll has come true. (But guys, it totally hasn't, it's just a rude little girl who's going to crush this poor man's dreams when he finds out that she's just a regular girl ... oh sorry, spoilers ... ) It was quite handy indeed that the subjects of the shoot were the actual actors/dancers from the show, because they were able to really get into their parts. 


Coppélia Old Man

Not only did we have the actual participants of the ballet, but their actual costumes as well. Obviously you can't always shoot images of a story that already exists with costumes that have already been assembled and perfectly fit the models ... But if you can, it's the freakin' best! The attire is just one more layer of detail than can help to bring your story to life. This image would definitely not have worked as well if the old man was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, ammiright? Also, the actor playing the old man in real life is quite young, but simply add a crazy wig, a velvety jacket, some carefully applied special effects makeup and SHAZAM: old creepy toymaker man.

Coppélia Steps GIF

Take Some Time To Consider All Of The Above

So before your next shoot, consider taking some time to think about what story you want to tell. Maybe even make a checklist of details you'd like to add and the different areas of the image to pay attention to. What sort of clothing would this character wear? What hairstyle would they be rocking? What props would add to the story? Where are they? How should they be posed? Are they scared, excited, confused, angry? What are they doing? WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?!!! 

Coppélia chair before and after

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