Visual Narratives for the 21st Century, with Mike Davis: The B&H Photography Podcast

01/26/2023Link2

“Selecting photos is a different skill than making them,” explains renowned picture editor Mike Davis, in this week’s podcast. This essential understanding forms the core of Davis’s new book, Creating Visual Narratives Through Photography: A Fresh Approach to Making a Living as a Photographer.

Davis approaches this topic with a mix of clarity and candor, to offer deeply engaged yet highly accessible insights about making photos—and making sense of those photos—while also discussing the elusive art of selecting and sequencing pictures and other ways to create visual narratives.

Some of the key points covered in our chat include the visual vocabulary Davis assigns to photographs, his ideas about elevating pictures beyond simply informational content, how making multiple passes through a photo edit can help a photographer remove themselves from the experience of making the work, and his three different approaches to image sequencing.

Listeners will also gain a fresh understanding of ways in which the art of creating visual narratives and the photo industry itself have evolved over time, to raise the bar on creative expression. In presenting this book, Davis’s goal echoes the response he has received from hundreds of photographers he’s helped to tell stories with their pictures: “I never would have thought of things that way, had we not had this engagement.”

Guests: Mike Davis

Photographs © Mike Davis

Sponsored by

One of Davis’s passions was to photograph the bicycling communities in Portland, Oregon. The why for this photo was to convey the feeling of racing in the rain.
One of Davis’s passions was to photograph the bicycling communities in…
The goal here was to convey the sense of community among cyclo-cross racers.
The goal here was to convey the sense of community among cyclo-cross…
Here the point was to convey the sense of the tightrope riders walk when mud and slopes challenge them.
Here the point was to convey the sense of the tightrope riders walk…
Careful placement of elements in different planes within the photograph, including the deepest point, is one way to make high-moment value photos.
Careful placement of elements in different planes within the photograph…
Decide where you want people to start in a frame, based on the quality you want to realize. Here, having people start deep within in the frame at the bottom of the hill enhanced the sense of how difficult the hill is to climb.
Decide where you want people to start in a frame, based on the quality…
The why of this photo is to get viewers to hear the exhaustion in this setting.
The why of this photo is to get viewers to hear the exhaustion in this…
The amount of room you give the main element in a frame is both a compositional and distance choice.
The amount of room you give the main element in a frame is both a…
When Davis started to photograph cycling, he looked at as much work on the topic as possible, both current and historical. He chose to make pictures that felt current but often had a historical nod, mostly through composition and the choice of black-and-white.
When Davis started to photograph cycling, he looked at as much work on…
Challenge your centeredness by building a composition that isn’t dependent on the middle, and wait for the frame to come together. Sometimes photographs that reward exploration are the best.
Challenge your centeredness by building a composition that isn’t…
Anticipation can be as simple as knowing when something will happen, building a composition that considers how the frame will be filled, and then waiting. At the National Cyclocross Championships, in Bend, Oregon, Davis waited through three races for this image to work out.
Anticipation can be as simple as knowing when something will happen,…
Photographs are ideally three-dimensional experiences in which your eye travels to every part of the frame. Start by determining the deepest point of a setting and ensuring there’s value in that part, then move forward. In this case, the riders at the far right side of the frame were crucial.
Photographs are ideally three-dimensional experiences in which your eye…

This photo was seen in black-and-white. In comparing the two versions, do the colors take the viewer astray from where you want them to look?

Similar conditions, except for changes to focal length and distance. One image is made with an 85mm lens, the other with a 35mm, both at minimal focusing distance.

Let happenings within photos breathe to varying degrees or have them break the frame, depending on the feeling you’re striving to convey.

Episode Timeline

  • 3:26: Photography as a visual vocabulary, and distinctions between nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.
  • 6:25: What are informational photographs and how to make photos that rise above this basic level.
  • 9:08: Davis’s definition of composition: the full realization of light, color, and distance in conveying a three-dimensional space.
  • 18:33: How the photo industry and relationships between photographers and photo editors have changed over time.
  • 30:42: Davis discusses his photos published in the book and shares thoughts about photographing with intention.
  • 39:34: Episode break
  • 44:18: Three approaches to image sequencing and how they work within the full spectrum of crafting a narrative.
  • 46:17: Mike Davis’s most visually successful book project and a general timeframe for image sequencing.
  • 48:06: Davis’s approach to working with photographers on sequencing a book.
  • 51:46: Davis describes his picture-editing process using multiple passes through a set of photographs.
  • 56:40: The primary audience and Davis’s ultimate goal in writing Creating Visual Narratives Through Photography: A Fresh Approach to Making a Living as a Photographer.

Mike Davis is a visual consultant, editor, author, photographer, and professor emeritus. He has worked independently with hundreds of photographers, as well as in staff positions for organizations as diverse as National Geographic, The White House, and several of America’s visually powerful newspapers.

Davis was twice named newspaper picture editor of the year, and he received The Sprague Award from The National Press Photographers Association, its highest honor. He has edited more than 40 books as an independent consultant, judged a wide range of photography competitions and grant programs, lectured widely, and served as a member of various workshop and review faculty.

Most recently, Davis spent eight years as an endowed faculty member at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, where he taught visual storytelling courses and directed The Alexia Grants.

Stay Connected

Mike Davis Website: https://www.michaelddavis.com
Mike Davis Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mikedavis_mnpls
Creating Visual Narratives Book: https://www.routledge.com


Host: Allan Weitz
Senior Creative Producer: Jill Waterman
Senior Producer: Mike Weinstein
Executive Producer: Yermy Weiss
Editorial Director: Shawn C Steiner

2 Comments

Would love to buy the book through the link but unfortunately, the link to buy the book is broken. 

Hi Isabelle, I'm so glad to hear that our podcast has inspired you to purchase Mike's book, it really is an incredible resource. I'm not sure why you're finding the publisher link to be broken, we've tried it using a number of different devices and it's always working for us. If this problem persists for you please try clicking on the author's website, https://www.michaelddavis.com/, the first page of his site also features several links for purchasing his book. Hope this helps, and many thanks for listening to the B&H Photography Podcast!