It took me years to figure out what photographers meant when they discussed what their images had to say. Pictures are visual, not narrative. So, the idea that a picture could “tell a story” seemed like art-school nonsense. Then I observed the effects my photographs had on people who saw them. I eventually got it. A photograph has the potential to elicit an emotion, trigger an action, or change an opinion.
Now, when taking and developing a photograph, I first consider how I want my image to affect viewers. Do I want it to show them how to perform some practical procedure? Do I want to motivate them to take some action? Or, do I want them just to believe some truth or feel some emotion? A clear intent tells me whether to take a technical or aesthetic approach, whether to use a realistic or surreal rendition, or what camera settings to make.
Here are two photographs I took of the same automobile. The first was to help the owner sell the car on eBay. The second was to help him relive the feeling he got from owning the car. The first had to be accurate and honest; the second, figurative and emotional. The first had to come directly from the camera without any hint of retouching. The second had benefit of Photoshop.
Try shooting the same subject for very different purposes.