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  • Writer's pictureJohn Patota

Wide, Medium, Tight and Detailed - Photographers are Visual Storytellers

A look at the majestic Longleaf Pine found in the Sandhills of North Carolina

Longleaf Pine found in the Sandhills of North Carolina

Cavemen did it.

So did the ancient Greeks and Romans. Now, 400 years after Shakespeare did it, we get to tell our stories, this time through photography.

Image, you have been sent on assignment by National Geographic to a faraway place that you’ve never visited. Your job is to bring back to a story, a photo essay. The editor wants 4 images for the magazine that brings a strong story home. One that evokes emotion and brings out the unique aspects of the place and the people you found.

Sure, anyone can pack a bag, grab a camera and start snapping. But, that's not your style.

How would you do it? Keep reading.

Before setting off on your journey, do some research. Yes, Google it. Take a look at the images other photographers have taken from the same place you'll be going. I’m not saying to steal ideas, although it was Salvador Dali that said “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” Getting an idea of what to expect is your first step.

What is the environment like? How about the people? Are there any iconic shots to be had? Is there a different look at an iconic view? And, what time is golden hour?

The next thing is to develop a shot list, even if it’s only in your head. Yes, being spontaneous is a good thing, but you'll also what to think about the kind of images that will help you tell the story. A shot list will also help you decide what lens to use and to plan out your day.

Now comes the wide, medium, tight and detailed part.


A good storyteller starts with a wide shot. One that establishes the scene and helps to set things up for the photos to come. It gives the viewer a sense of place. Think of the opening of a movie, and how the director starts with a shot taken from a helicopter showing where the action is about to place place. Now, don’t think you have to rent a helicopter, but you get the idea.


For a medium shot, move in closer and fill the frame with your subject. You’ll also want to change your camera angle and where you take the image. Medium shots captures the viewer's attention and draws them in.

Next, move in even closer for tight shots. Emphasizing patterns, color and texture works great for close ups.


Detailed shots are even tighter than tight.


Take a lot of photos. Horizontals and verticals. Change your camera position, High and low. Stay away from taking all your shots from the same perspective. You don't ever want to be called boring.

Even if National Geographic doesn't come calling, thinking wide, medium, tight and detailed will help you improve as a visual storyteller. You can always take pictures of your next vacation, holiday or birthday party. They'll all fit together to tell a story, and you’ll look on them later and be proud.

The long, straight needles of Longleaf Pine are used to make baskets my local artisans.

Longleaf Pine are native to North Carolina, primarily found in the Sandhills region of the Coastal Plain where the soils are dry and well draining. A scant 150 years ago, 90 million acres from Maryland south to Florida and back to Texas where part of a savanna ecosystem. Today, only 3 percent remain. Lost to agriculture, logging and development.

Because of their long, straight trunks, wooden shipbuilders in the 1800's found Longleaf desirable. Turpentine, tar and pitch was also valued.

Today, wildlife agencies and private landowners manage these lands with the use of prescribed burns. The reintroduction of regular fire is beneficial to the Longleaf habitat, controlling the underbrush and promoting plant species like Wiregrass.

Incredibly, the oldest know Longleaf Pine in the world is located right in my backyard, on the protected grounds of the Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve in Southern Pines. Scientists from the Carolina Tree Ring Science Laboratory believe the tree is 470 years old. It has survived natural disasters; hurricanes, fires and worst of all, lightening.

View all my photos from the North Carolina Sandhills at John Patota is a photographer, instructor and journalist based in Pinehurst, North Carolina. See his work at and on Instagram at @PinehurstPhotographer.

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