Creating a digital storybook tale

A digital camera’s Retouch Menu can create a dreamlike palette.

A digital camera’s Retouch Menu can create a dreamlike palette.


One of the pleasures of teaching is mentoring students to explore, take some risks and hopefully see the world differently.

This spring quarter at Walla Walla Community College I taught Digital Visual Storytelling for the first time for the Quest Program. I guided my ten students — eager to learn with their DSLR cameras — on a five-week, ten-hour journey to explore light, composition and storytelling.

This may sound like a simple journey, but to recognize natural light both indoors and outdoors, and be aware of all the subtlety of shadows, silhouettes and contrasts, are not easy tasks.

Indoor scenes using only natural light require even more inquisitiveness by the photographer to look for windows, shadows and contrasts for a good image.

As with any well-lit image, good composition is critical to producing a visual story. I always coach the students to find a good subject, then look behind the subject for any possible distractions. Translated, this means less time at the computer adjusting the distractions with software programs.

For a class assignment I asked the students to take a walk around their block, without their cameras, at the beginning and at the end of the day. They were to note where the light was located, and compose in their minds various pictures that could be taken. This exercise sharpens the visual senses for the two critical elements of good picture-taking with any digital camera.

Once this is achieved a visual story will emerge for the photographer within their images.

I should mention that many students today are not using any software to edit their photographs, which is a complete change from previous years. Most photographs taken today can be quickly edited in-camera for social media postings. So, as an instructor, I have to see both sides of editing, and adjust to mentor in this changing digital world.

To accomplish this I frequently ask the students to delve into the custom settings of their digital cameras to find the Color Sketch application in the Retouch Menu. This setting enables the photographer to change an image in-camera into a fanciful illustration.

I should note that not all cameras have this application, but many have something similar.

To put all of this into practice I took the Quest class on a field trip into the heart of Walla Walla to Pioneer Park. In the spring, this park provides the photographer wonderful vistas of changing light, and a variety of composition options to tell a story.

For two hours at the park we focused on three elements: a walk around the lake with stunning greenery and lighting vistas; the aviary, with numerous colorful birds and squirrels dashing about coveting nuts and searching for food; and a cornucopia of rose and flower blossoms just bursting into full bloom.

With the push of a few buttons on the back of the camera, the images came forth on the students’ LCDs, providing a visual storybook of their journey.

I believe the class found that being aware of both light and composition can be indispensable tools in achieving great images, with a bonus of using in-camera software to tell their story.

Don Fleming can be reached at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment

Click here to sign in
4 free views left!