Select Page

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Everyone agrees with that, right? A quick look around this blog indicates I sure do. Then again, some Native Americans and indigenous people think pictures steal your soul. We’ll exclude them from the photo-loving train.

For the rest of us, it goes without saying that the best snaps tell a story without one word written.

Horse consoles cow holding beef

But what about the story told to the photographer?

How does that impact the photograph?

This very question was put to six shutterbugs in an experiment that illuminates how we see the world, how we interpret it, and ultimately, how we behave in it.

Created by Canon Australia, the experiment is – at least indirectly – meant to sell cameras. Let’s forgive that aspect in favor of the giant dose of perspective-altering it provides.

The set-up is simple. Six photographers are asked to shoot a man’s portrait and “flesh out the essence of who he is”.

But here’s the twist. Each of them are told a different story about the man. Unknown to the others, he is presented as:

  • A millionaire
  • A recovering alcoholic
  • A psychic
  • A fisherman
  • An ex-prison inmate
  • A life saver

Can you guess what happened?

Surprise, surprise. Six very different portraits.

Each photographer captured his “essence” based on the story they were told

They all saw him differently based on that story. Then they retold that story through their photo.

Even though it was a total lie.

The story influenced the perspective, which influenced the result

Check it out.

The stories we believe form the spine of our reality

Have you ever heard of Significant Objects? This is another story-related experiment that reaches similar conclusions.

A group of writers were tasked with selling random, garage-sale items – each worth less than $2.00 –  on Ebay. Instead of posting them with just the description, dimensions, size, etc., they crafted stories about these items. Compelling, detailed, narratives.

Some wrote about how the item hearkened back to a vanished era. Or the item’s magical powers. How it was used in ritual. How it served as a guardian spirit or played a role in a historical event.

The stories were not presented as factual. Writers took care to avoid the impression that the story is a true one, with bylines and the like. So no wool was pulled over anyone’s eyes.

Want to guess what happened?

Surprise, surprise! $128.74 worth of worthless junk was sold for $3612.51! Storytelling’s where it’s at, baby.

What does this tell us about stories, our beliefs, and how we use them?

The quote at the end of the video is particularly illustrative.

“A photograph is shaped more by the person behind the camera than by what is in front of it.”

Can’t argue with that. But it could just as easily have read:

Reality is shaped more by the person behind the eyes than by what is in front of them.

This is what it’s all about, friends. There is no ONE reality. There are zillions of realities. One for each sentient being. (And who knows how many others?)

There is only your reality. It’s the only one that exists. For you. And it’s built on the stories you’ve told yourself.

Penguin, on a newly discovered capsized wreck

Wheee! <reaction>

These girders are slippery. <story>

Cold metal is fun for sliding on. <reality>

Ice fisherman, as he slurps some borscht

Oooh. <reaction>

A plastic spoon would’ve been better. <story>

Cold metal is a tiny nuisance. <reality>

Flick: Yikes! <reaction>

Freezing flagpoles hurt. <story>

Cold metal = harmful beast. <reality>

tongue stuck to cold pole

Same cold metal. Totally different stories about it. Totally different realities. All true.

The glorious things is, most of the time, you can choose your own story. And get yourself a new reality!


All the world’s a stage and we are merely players.

Old man Bill had it almost right. When you consider that we create our own stories, and they determine our reality, we are the players, the directors, producers, and everything else in the only show that really matters.

Just knowing that your stories form your reality is a path to thinking differently

This simple, yet profound truth gives you the keys to destiny’s car. Now you can identify, evaluate, and change those stories to suit you better.

Try it! Pick an aspect of your life, business, or whatever that’s not serving you as well as you’d like. And tease out the story that forms the basis of it. Challenge the assumptions. And replace it with a new story. Just for fun.

If you’re stuck for ideas, hit me up here.

It may feel awkward, or less “real”, at first. But keep serving that new story to yourself.

Your unconscious mind will begin to adopt it. And once that happens, you’ll see changes aplenty.

Then take a picture. A new one. I bet it’ll reflect the essence of your new perspective perfectly.

cotton ball cloud (c) Brock Davis

cotton ball cloud (c) Brock Davis


Featured Image Source: Zev

Want Your Weekly Wow?

Sign Up Today and Get Eye-Openers in Your Inbox.

You have Successfully Subscribed!