The Art of Storytelling

The Art of Storytelling

A successful shot is often seen as something instaworthy, but did you know that some of the best photographs go beyond the visual? To Mr. Azhar, the hallmark of a successful shot is first of all, the storytelling element that it has. “I think anybody can be a photographer so long as you feel that you have a story to tell, or if you feel that there is a story waiting to be told,” he says. “It must come from an intention of what you want to share with a greater community. It doesn’t really matter what you shoot in a photograph, but if there is a great story behind it, you have a successful shot right there.”

Mr Noor Azhar was a dedicated Senior Lecturer at the Singapore Polytechnic Design School since 2007. Now an Education Advisor at the polytechnic, he still teaches design to adult learners in the evenings there.

Having started a career in advertising as an art director some 17 years ago, photography has been an essential asset he acquired in his creative career. Mr. Azhar plans for his shoots, but he seldom participates in the shooting processes – professional photographers are called upon to materialize his artistic visions into reality. Besides art-directing photoshoots, he works closely with the photographers to achieve the shots he needs. With a sharp and trained eye for detail, he possesses the ability to know the right photo that would enable him to achieve the right story-telling for his ads.

However, not every photographer has the innate ability to capture a moving narrative. Mr. Azhar believes that photography is more a soft skill than a technical one. The story might not come instantaneously, so it is imperative that one takes his or her time to look at the photo and go back to examining what was he or she feeling when snapping that particular shot. The crucial part is then to articulate that feeling and putting it in words to form coherent, meaningful sentences. 

Storytelling is not about using complex words and expressions. Use simple words in everyday language, and that’s what makes your storytelling a lot more humane. Go for the feel, and I think you’ve got a good story.

Emotion is an important aspect of storytelling, without which a photograph remains a distant image separate from the lived experiences of the audience. A photograph without emotion and soul is dead. In his belief that emotions can be categorized into different levels, Mr. Azhar will be looking out for photographs with emotions that are a level up from the usual “everyday happiness, sadness and exasperation”. To him, the kind of emotion that is best received and experienced by a greater audience is one of an unexplained sense of joy, or a feeling of warmth beyond just happiness. “I’ve found that strong, relatable emotions are some of the most special ones that resonate best with an audience.” If the photo you have snapped evokes a memory that you have personally gone through, this is where storytelling fueled by nostalgia and soul can take the reins in reaching out to touch the hearts of your audience.

Say you are looking for a challenge, or an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone. How can you improve your storytelling? How can you find that raw authenticity, that unique perspective, that one-of-a-kind narrative that you could never have come up with on your own? In pursuit of uncovering the gem that makes a story genuine, Mr. Azhar recommends to be brave and take a few steps forward to say hi to your subject after taking the photo. “That is when you share your inspiration with your subject on what makes him or her your subject of the photo in the first place,” he says. “You might have misinterpreted, or perhaps interpreted the story of that subject in a different way, but if you had the courage to speak to him or her, you might just uncover the real story behind that shot.” In fact, it would be fantastic if the words articulated by your subject becomes the story that you will eventually tell.

Street photography for many of you, may be a genre that strikes uncertainty and fear in your hearts. However, it can very well be life-changing and thought-provoking at its best. This exhilarating journey of self-discovery will have you learning different sets of skills – how to approach strangers and getting over your fear of shooting in public spaces.

Mr. Azhar has some advice for approaching a person in a more genuine and gentle manner: “Pluck up the courage to walk up to that person, introduce yourself, strike a conversation and I think even if you don’t end up with a great photograph at the end of the day, you will probably end up with a friendship that may bring more photography opportunities in a different environmental setting in the future.”  That is the power of street photography. It goes beyond the photographs that you have taken, it is a world that extends beyond the rudimentary into the intrinsic experiences of one’s journey to those very photos. The intent, the challenges, the discoveries; the people you meet and the hearts you touched. That is what makes photography a meaningful journey.


Tampines Town Council’s 2018 Photo Contest

Inspired? Wanna take part in celebrating the unsung heroes of Tampines that has made a difference in your life, or the community – through photography?

Whether they’re a family member, a friend, your neighbour’s acquaintance or a group of enthusiasts, send in their photos along with their stories that had moved you (in less than 100 words); and stand a chance to win $1,000 worth of prizes!

*Person(s) in the photo has to live or work in Tampines, and location of photo taken has to also be in Tampines.The Photographer can be from anywhere, open to all. Singapore citizens, PRs and foreigners.

Email your submission (photo + brief write-up) to

For more information, visit

Closing date: 30 September 2018

Click here to read about last year’s winners and click on the articles below, to view stories of the other two judges.

The Story Of Light

The Story Of Light

The Power of Composition

The Power of Composition