When one of Pixar’s Story Artist, Emma Coats, tweeted a list of the studio’s rules for storytelling, there was a frenzy in the industry. There were professionals from all disciplines who embraced these rules as gospel because they contained the essence of great storytelling. We as photographers tell stories through our images so we, too, can learn from these rules. Here are a few of the “rules” that can be used to better your craft.

Rule 1

Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

Finishing your work and getting out is better than meticulously photoshopping everything until it is ‘perfect’; being done is better than being perfect.  Completing a project can bring a motivation to move on to even bigger ideas. If you are not happy with the results, find out why you don’t like it and what went wrong so that you may learn from your mistakes for next time.

Rule 2

No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. The reality is that not everything can be seen through the end; some things do not work. Knowing the difference on what should be finished and what can be let go is important. Remember that it’s okay to shelve an idea or two once and awhile and come back to it later. Just make sure it doesn’t happen too often or nothing will ever get done.

Rule 3

What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Going into a project knowing what you want out of it can make a world of difference. The difference from a bad shoot to a successful one often comes down to planning. Step up your game by planning your shots and going location scouting. Know what you want to capture and how you will capture it; be diligent in your planning and follow through with your work.  The same goes for your personal brand; know who you are and why your are doing this. It will help define your style.

Rule 4

Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

Our brains are full of a hodge-podge of information from telephone numbers to dates, place and times. If you have a fleeting idea on how to improve your newborn photography, it might get lost in that jumble forever.  It is important to write things down. Every modern smart phone has some sort of notes function. Once you have an idea for a photograph or photo series, set a reminder for yourself. Putting things down can help you flesh out your ideas and help you stay organized.

Rule 5

You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

Professionals constantly underestimate their abilities, while amateurs overestimate their skill. Knowing your limitations is crucial. If you do not know what one setting does or how a specific technique works, don’t be afraid to ask. The photography community is more than helpful in sharing their tips and tricks. Don’t fool yourself or your clients.


Every image taken has a story behind it; whether it is in the frame itself or the personal story of how you got the image. Every one of us is a story teller. Society craves stories, that is why social media and reality shows are so popular. Know what kind of story you want to tell with your images and how to tell it. You can find out more of Pixar’s Rules of Storytelling here.

Article Featured Image “Pixar , Credit To Sjors van Berkel on Flickr, used under Creative Commons License