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17 Awesome Photo Essay Examples You Should Try Yourself

photo essay format

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If you’re looking for a photo essay example (or 17!), you’ve come to the right place. But what is the purpose of a photo essay? A photo essay is intended to tell a story or evoke emotion from the viewers through a series of photographs. They allow you to be creative and fully explore an idea.

But how do you make one yourself? Here’s a list of photo essay examples. Choose one that you can easily do based on your photographic level and equipment.

Top 17 Photo Essay Examples

Here are some fantastic ideas to get you inspired to create your own photo essays!

17. Photograph a Protest

Protests tend to be lively events. You will find people standing, moving, and holding banners and signs. This is a great way to practice on a moving crowd.

Try to capture the essence and atmosphere of the protest itself. There are many ways to do so and you will need to utilise all your skills.

Think about framing , composition , and perspective . Run to the front and capture the head of the group moving forward. Then run towards the back to capture the families walking along.

Street photography of a group of people protesting.

16. Transformation Photo Essays

Transformation is one of the most used photo essay topics. It is a great way to show change. The change can be slow, such as a woman going through pregnancy , or watching a baby turn into a toddler and beyond.

As a photo essay project, this doesn’t even need to be about people. A building being torn down and rebuilt can make for a great time-lapse or photo series .

This is a great way to practice how to show change through images. You will need to be creative and meticulous in your approach. You will need to take the same image over and over again, but changing them enough to be interesting.

A photo essay example shot of a couple, the man kissing the pregnant womans stomach

15. Photograph the Same Place

Have you seen the movie Smoke  with Harvey Keitel? His character goes out every morning at the same time and takes a photograph. The photo is from the front of his shop. He then prints the image and stores them in huge photo albums. Another character flips through these images to see all the different scenarios.

These are easy photo essays to do as you use a simple set up. It might be a challenge to find somewhere accessible to you at the same time every day. The great thing about this photo essay project is that you can create it about anything.

A photo essay example photography grid of 9 photographs.

14. Create a Photowalk

As a photographer based in Budapest, I give guided photography tours. The idea is that you join me for three hours, and in that time I show you the streets and how to photograph them.

You will learn about your camera, composition, and what to look for. There is nothing stopping you from doing the same in your hometown. This can make for really interesting photo essays.

Have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and create it as if you were teaching someone else. Look at reflections  in buildings. Or change your perspective to photograph people in different settings.

Street photography photo essay shot of a photographer in the middle of the street

13. Follow the Change

This photo essay is like the transformation essay but on a short-term basis. Think about men growing their mustaches for Movember. Or someone who wants to shave their head for charity.

You start by taking a before image, and the end result of an after image, with many photographs in between.

Portrait photography of a man shaving in the mirror. Photo essay examples.

12. Photograph a Local Event

No matter where you live, there will be countless local events throughout the year. They might be fundraisers, farmers’ markets, dances and festivals, or food and music. Their organizers will need a photographer. Even if it’s just for social media images .

They may even offer you money, and if not, they will share the images for you with your name attached. Here, you will capture candid images of people going about their day.

Documentary photography essay of a group of people at an event by a lake.

11. Photograph an Abandoned Building

Urban exploration or Urbex is a thing. It is where you enter an abandoned building for the sake of (interest and) photography. It is a great social commentary on the state of our world.

Abandoned buildings also show us how life used to be. It’s time-travel without a time machine. They make for great photo essays because there are so many details.

Get permission before entering. And be careful as these buildings can be dangerous. Photograph the rooms and the details. This means you’ll have to work with different lenses .

Atmospheric and dark photo of the interior of an abandoned building as part of a photo-essay

10. Behind the Scenes of a Photo Shoot

I used to assist  fashion photography studio shoots. This means I had the great opportunity to see what happens behind the scenes.

For me, behind the camera is way more interesting than what is happening in front of it. The models pose, and hundreds of images are taken, so it can be slow and drab.

Photograph of models and photographers behind the scenes at a photo shoot. Photo essay ideas.

9. Capture Street Fashion

If you have ever read FRUiTS magazine, you will know what street fashion can be like. I have even heard of a street in Milan where people walk up and down, showing off their best styles.

You can easily photograph these styles in a sort of street photography way. You will also capture portraits while having to be mindful of your environment and surroundings.

And you can even stop people in the street for a quick pose . Photographers have stopped in one location while photographing those who walk past. Here, the background stays the same, and only the people change.

Street photography portrait of a girl outdoors at night.

8. Landmark Photo Essay

One photo essay idea that I have always wanted to try is to photograph one landmark from many different vantage points. Think about it. Look at the Eiffel Tower and how many collections of images have been taken of it.

All are from many different angles ranging from many different distances away. This is a great way to practice your positioning and composition through different perspectives .

You can incorporate details and a down-up viewpoint. Or you can photograph it from above with a drone. And there are thousands of ways to capture it through streets and using reflections .

The landmark is your study and it will help you look at the light during different times of the day.

9 photo grid of the Eiffel tour. Photo essays examples.

7. Fathers & Children

We live in a very different time than we did 50 years ago. Or even 20 years ago, as more and more fathers stay at home and look after the kids. A great photo essay example would be to capture these small families to show this as social commentary for the times we live in.

These portraits and group photographs are a great way to practice and start building up a network of people. The first images are always going to be the most difficult to take. But once you pick up speed, you will have images to show and persuade the next group.

An essay photo of the silhouettes of a man and child standing in a dark doorway.

6. A Day In the Life

There are going to be many jobs and careers that people do that you have no idea about. A great way to understand what people get up to in their day-to-day is to follow them and photograph as you go.

For example, a photo essay entitled A Day In the Life of a Fireman will get you access to inside the station, documenting what they get up to on their downtime. You may not be able to go put out a fire with them, but you never know.

This is great practice for documentary images , capturing portraits and still life of all the equipment they use. Again, let them use the images for social media.

 Photo essay examples of a bright red and orange building under blue sky.

5. Education Photo Essay

One great way to support your community, and possibly even get some of your photographs published is to photograph inside a school. You may find it difficult at first, but lay down your intentions to those in charge.

Offer to let them use and share the image as they see fit. You now have a team of people sharing and liking your images. They are giving you promotion all over Facebook and other social media channels .

Get into the classrooms, photograph the students and the teachers during their daily grind. Be as invisible as you can, but involve and integrate those interested when and where you can.

Documentary photoessay example shot of a group of students in a classroom watching their teacher

4. Fictitious Meals

One great photo essay example is putting all those great works of literature to good use. Think about all of the meals that characters in books have eaten.

Some will be as fictitious as the names of the characters eating them. Think of the gruel in Oliver Twist. Make the meals as realistic as possible, with table settings and appropriate mise en scène .

 Photo essay detail of someone placing a sugar cube into a cup of tea.

3. Photograph Coffee Shops Using Cafenol

Cafenol is a film photography chemical that sits in place of the developer. The developer is what strips the film down to a negative after it has been exposed. The cafenol is made partly from instant coffee granules, hence the name.

A great photo essay idea would be to photograph a coffee shop, the staff, the patrons, and the equipment. Then use the coffee that they serve as a film developer.

A photo of a coffee shop interior created with cafenol.

2. Photograph the Photographers

How many times have you seen tourists photograph the same landmark ? These landmarks or points of interest are magnets for foreigners, all hosting cameras and taking the same shot. Sometimes, even pretending to hold up or grab the landmark themselves.

As the area in question has already been captured, why not go 180 degrees in the opposite direction for your photo essay. You will be photographing the photographers, who are the rarely seen artists.

Street photography of a group of media photographers.

1. Capture the Neighbors

One great photo essay would be to localize your efforts. No matter where you live, you will have neighbors. Unless you live out in the sticks, then you will have to find someone else’s neighbors. This would be a great way to get into portrait photography .

What a perfect scenario would look like is capturing the people in their own space. And everyone’s space is completely different.

You will come across stay-at-home fathers, night-shift workers, grandmas with heirlooms, musicians, and families. There is no telling what is behind these doors. It is a great way to work on your feet, and also meet those who make up your community.

Street photography of 2 pink front doors of brick houses.

Photo essays tell stories. And there are plenty of amazingly interesting stories to tell! Photographing photo essays is a great way to practice your photography skills while having fun. You might even learn something!

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14+ Photo Essay Examples & Samples in PDF

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narrative photo essay

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. Find the right angle and be dramatic with your description, just be creative.
  • Pay attention to detail. Chances are, your audience will notice every single detail of your photograph.
  • Shoot everything. Behind a single beautiful photo is a hundred more shots.
  • Don’t think twice about editing. Editing is where the magic happens. It has the ability to add more drama to your images.
  • Have fun. Don’t stress yourself out too much but instead, grow from your experience.

toys and us

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Ten examples of immersive photo essays

Camera sitting on a tripod, overlooking a mountain scene

By Marissa Sapega — Contributing Writer

Photo essays are one of the most powerful forms of storytelling in the last century. From the great depression photographer W. Eugene Smith to the photojournalism of National Geographic or Life Magazine , the best photo essays entertain, educate, and move readers more than words alone ever could. 

But photo essays have changed. Over the last decade, web publishing technologies — including web browsers and file formats — have improved by leaps and bounds. A good photo essays today is more than a collection of images. It’s a truly interactive, immersive, and multimedia experiences.

In this guide, we introduce 10 stunning examples of visually arresting interactive photo essays to fuel your creative juices.

Now, let's set the scene with a short introduction to immersive, interactive photo essays on the web.

Publish stunning photo essays for free. Build immersive photo essays with Shorthand. No code, no credit card, and no commitment required. Start publishing.

The rise of immersive, interactive photo essays

What is an immersive, interactive photo essay? Let's take these terms one at a time. 

An immersive photo essay uses rich media and story design to capture and keep the reader's attention. Immersive content is typically free of the most distracting elements of the web, such as pop-ups, skyscrapers, and other intrusions on the reading experience.

As a basic rule of thumb, immersive content respects the reader's attention. 

An interactive photo essay is one that allows the reader to control how the content appears. It may include interactive elements, like maps and embedded applications.

More commonly, modern interactive photo stories use a technique known as scrollytelling . Scrollytelling stories allow the reader to trigger animations and other visual effects as they scroll. Many of the examples in this guide use scrollytelling techniques. Read more scrollytelling examples .

Until relatively recently, immersive, interactive photo essays could only be created with the help of a designer or web developer. But with the rise of digital storytelling platforms , anyone can create compelling, dynamic stories without writing a single line of code.

If you're looking to learn more about how to create a photo essay — or are looking for more photo essay ideas  — check out our introduction to photo essays . 

Photo essay topics

If you’re looking for photo essay examples, chances are you’re looking to create a photo essay for yourself. If you’re just getting started, you might want some guidance on exactly what kinds of topics make for great photo essays.

More experienced photographers — feel free to skip this section. But for those who are just starting out, here’s a quick list of classic photo essay subject matter, for all types of photo essays.

  • Local events. A great way to start out is photograph local events in your community, such as a high school fundraiser. A bonus is that you’ll have a ready
  • Historic sites. Another classic photo essay topic is an exploration of a historic site. This could be a building, a monument, or even just a specific location that has significance.
  • Profile of a person. A great way to get to know someone is to profile them in a photo essay. This could be a family member, friend, or even just someone you’ve met.
  • Animals in captivity. Another popular subject matter for photo essays is animals in captivity, whether that’s at a zoo or elsewhere.
  • A day in the life. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live someone else’s life for a day? Why not find out and document it in a photo essay?
  • Street photography. Another great way to practice your photography skills is to head out into the streets and photograph the everyday lives of people around you. The world has plenty of photo essays of cities like New York and London. But what about street photography in your own backyard?
  • Still life photography. Still life photography is all about capturing inanimate objects on film. This could be anything from flowers to furniture to food. It’s a great way to practice your photography skills and learn about composition
  • Landscapes . Landscape photography is one of the most popular genres, and for good reason. There are endless possibilities when it comes to finding interesting subjects to shoot. So get out there and start exploring!
  • Abandoned buildings. There’s something fascinating about abandoned buildings. They offer a glimpse into the past, and can be eerily beautiful. If you have any in your area, they make for great photo essay subjects.
  • Lifestyles. Document someone who lives a lifestyle that’s different from your own. This could be a portrayal of an everyday person, or it could be someone with an unusual job or hobby.
  • Social issues. Take photos depicting significant social issues in your community, remembering to respect your subjects.

Ten inspiring photo essay examples

photo essay format

Pink lagoon and peculiar galaxies — July’s best science images

photo essay format

In Pink lagoon and peculiar galaxies , Nature present a mesmerising series of images from the natural world. Highlights include:

  • a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it photo of rare albino orcas performing feats of synchronized swimming;
  • an arresting aerial view of the aftermath of the flash floods in Germany; and,
  • a scarlet gawping Venus flytrap sea anemone. 

The best part? Nature publishes similarly powerful photo essays every month, showcasing some of the best and most creative photography of the natural world anywhere on the web.

Pink lagoon and peculiar galaxies — July’s best science images

Vanishing Lands

A plain, with a lake and mountains in the distance, from Vanishing lands — an ominously interesting photo essay from media company Stuff

Vanishing lands — an ominously interesting photo essay from media company Stuff — opens with a bucolic visual featuring meandering sheep flanked by breathtaking mountains that blur into obscurity.

Soon, more awe-inspiring photos of breathtaking New Zealand farmland appear, accompanied by expressive prose whose tone matches the visuals’ stark beauty.

In this unflinchingly honest photographic essay, Stuff takes the viewer behind the scenes with a day in the life of a high country sheep farmer facing an uncertain future. One stunning photo fades into the next as you scroll through, broken only by the occasional noteworthy quote and accompanying narrative.

Screenshots from Vanishing lands — an ominously interesting photo essay from media company Stuff

Olympic photos: Emotion runs high

An athlete is a karate uniform lying flat on the ground

This emotionally wrought sports story from NBC begins with a close-up of an anxious Simone Biles, her expression exemplifying the tension and frustration echoed on so many of her fellow athletes’ faces.

The subtitle puts it perfectly: “The agony—and thrill—of competition at the Olympics is written all over their faces.”

Devastation, disappointment, and defeat take centre stage in this piece — but not all the subjects of the photos in this compelling photography essay depict misery. Some of the images, like that taken of the gold medal-winning Russian artistic gymnasts, manage to project the athletes’ joy almost beyond the edges of the screen.

The NBC editors who created this visual story chose to display the series of photos using the entire screen width and limit the copy to simple captions, letting the visuals speak for themselves. The result is a riveting montage of photographs that manage to capture the overarching sentiment of the 2020 Olympic Games.

Screenshots from an NBC story on the agony—and thrill—of competition at the Olympics

James Epp: A Twist of the Hand

Photo of a various sculptures in a museum

In A Twist of the Hand , the Museum of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge have produced a gorgeous photo essay. This online art show showcases artist James Epp’s installation, combining photographs of the exhibit with images of museum prints and authentic artefacts.

As you scroll down, close-up shots of the installation make you feel like you’re physically wandering among the ancient sculptures, able to examine hairline spider cracks and tiny divots marking the surface of every antiquated figure. In between the photos—and often flanked by museum prints—are James Epp's musings about what inspired him to create the pieces. It’s an absorbing virtual gallery that will no doubt inspire real life visits to the exhibition.

Screenshots from the University of Cambridge photo essay that showcases artist James Epson’s installation in the Museum of Classical Archaeology

The Café Racer Revolution

A helmeted man standing beside a motorbike

Though it’s a cleverly built piece of interactive content marketing , Honda’s “ Café Racer Revolution ” is also a great photo essay. Alongside information about the latest and greatest motorcycles Honda has to offer, it details the history of the bikers who sought to employ motorcycles (specifically “café racers”) as a way to forge an identity for themselves and project a “statement of individuality.”

Scroll down, and nostalgic black-and-white photos give way to contemporary action shots featuring fully decked-out motorcyclists on various Honda models.

Dynamic photos of bikes rotate them 360 degrees when you mouse over them, and text superimposed over flashy shots rolls smoothly down the screen as you scroll. This photo essay will stir a longing to hit the open road for anyone who has ever dreamed of owning one of Honda’s zippy bikes.

Screenshots from Honda's photo essay, a Café Racer Revolution

Built to keep Black from white

Four children standing against a white wall

In Built to keep Black from white , NBC News and BridgeDetroit have built a stunning narrative photo essay that encapsulates the history of Detroit’s Birwood Wall — a literal dividing line intended to separate neighborhoods inhabited by people of different races. 

The piece begins with a brief history of the concrete barrier. Between paragraphs of text, it weaves in quotes from residents who grew up as the wall was erected and a short video. Animated maps highlighting the affected neighborhoods unspool across the screen as you scroll down, accompanied by brief explanations of what the maps represent.

In the series of photographs that follow, contemporary images transition into decades-old shots of the wall when it was newly constructed. This is followed by images of original real estate documents, resident portraits, and additional animated maps — each considering the issue from different angles.

The piece ends with an interactive display of how Detroit’s racial makeup has changed over the past several decades, from majority white to black, and how the wall has impacted the lives of its residents who lived (and died) within its borders.

Screenshots from NBC's 'Built to keep Black from white,' a stunning narrative photo essay that encapsulates the history of Detroit’s Birwood Wall

The story of Black Lives Matter in sport

A footballer with 'Black Lives Matter' on his shirt.

The BBC pairs illustrations and bold imagery in this photo essay on how athletes participated in the Black Lives Matter movement . At the start, a narrow column of text leads into an iconic image of American football players kneeling during the pre-game national anthem in a solemn protest against police brutality. 

The first excerpt, a summary of Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012, draws you in with piercing prose capped off with photographs that bleed into one another. Every account in the photo essay follows this layout.

Screenshots from a BBC story on the Black Lives Matter movement in sport.

WaterAid Climate Stories

Dozens of boats sitting in a shallow harbour

Climate change affects everyone on the planet, but some people are feeling the effects more than others. WaterAid’s scrollytelling photo essay illuminates the plight of individuals living in areas where extreme weather conditions — caused by climate change — have drastically impacted the water supply and environment, endangering their livelihoods and ability to survive.

This climate change story starts with an engrossing video that provides an up-close and personal look at the devastation that climate change-induced droughts have wreaked on people and the environment. As you scroll down, images of massively depleted bodies of water with superimposed text and quotes unfold before your eyes. It’s an efficient way to drive home the critical message WaterAid wants to convey: climate change is real, and it’s harming real people.

Each extreme weather story focuses on an individual to help viewers empathise and understand that climate change has real, drastic consequences for millions of people worldwide. The piece ends with a call to action to learn more about and financially support WaterAid’s fight to assist people living in the desperate situations depicted in the essay.

Screenshots from WaterAid’s scrollytelling photo essay

28 Days in Afghanistan

A bike, a bus, and car in the thick smoke of Kabul

In this piece, Australian photo-journalist Andrew Quilty tells the story of the four weeks he spent in Afghanistan . He captures daily events ranging from the mundane—like a casual visit to his barber—to jarring. More than one photo documents blood-spattered victims of violence.

Viewers must scroll through the piece to follow Andrew’s daily musings and the striking photos that accompany them. His photo essay is a powerful example of how scrollytelling is transforming the art of long-form journalism .

Australian photo-journalist Andrew Quilty tells the story of the four weeks he spent in Afghanistan

La carrera lunática de Musk y Bezos (Musk and Bezos' lunatic careers)

An illustration of a SpaceX rocket careening away from Earth

Billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are angling to conquer the final frontier: space.

El Periódico captures their story via a whimsically illustrated photo essay, filled with neon line drawings and bold photos of the massive spaceships, the hangars that house them, and footprints on the moon. La carrera lunática de Musk y Bezos describes the battle between the two titans’ space companies (Blue Origin and SpaceX) for the honor of partially funding NASA’s next mission to the moon.

As you scroll down, white and fluorescent yellow words on a black background roll smoothly over images. The team at El Periódico slips in stylistic animations to break up the text—such as rocket ships with shimmering “vapour trails”—then ups the ante with a series of moon images that transition into portraits of the 12 U.S. astronauts who visited the celestial body.

The photo essay ends with the question: “Who will be the next to leave their footprints on the dusty lunar soil?” At the time of publishing, NASA had not yet decided between the two companies. (Spoiler alert: SpaceX won .)

Screenshots from El Periódico's story on the lunatic attempts by tech billionaires to go to space.

Marissa Sapega is a seasoned writer, editor, and digital marketer with a background in web and graphic design.

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How to Create an Engaging Photo Essay (with Examples)

Photo essays tell a story in pictures. They're a great way to improve at photography and story-telling skills at once. Learn how to do create a great one.

Learn | Photography Guides | By Ana Mireles

Photography is a medium used to tell stories – sometimes they are told in one picture, sometimes you need a whole series. Those series can be photo essays.

If you’ve never done a photo essay before, or you’re simply struggling to find your next project, this article will be of help. I’ll be showing you what a photo essay is and how to go about doing one.

You’ll also find plenty of photo essay ideas and some famous photo essay examples from recent times that will serve you as inspiration.

If you’re ready to get started, let’s jump right in!

Table of Contents

What is a Photo Essay?

A photo essay is a series of images that share an overarching theme as well as a visual and technical coherence to tell a story. Some people refer to a photo essay as a photo series or a photo story – this often happens in photography competitions.

Photographic history is full of famous photo essays. Think about The Great Depression by Dorothea Lange, Like Brother Like Sister by Wolfgang Tillmans, Gandhi’s funeral by Henri Cartier Bresson, amongst others.

What are the types of photo essay?

Despite popular belief, the type of photo essay doesn’t depend on the type of photography that you do – in other words, journalism, documentary, fine art, or any other photographic genre is not a type of photo essay.

Instead, there are two main types of photo essays: narrative and thematic .

As you have probably already guessed, the thematic one presents images pulled together by a topic – for example, global warming. The images can be about animals and nature as well as natural disasters devastating cities. They can happen all over the world or in the same location, and they can be captured in different moments in time – there’s a lot of flexibility.

A narrative photo essa y, on the other hand, tells the story of a character (human or not), portraying a place or an event. For example, a narrative photo essay on coffee would document the process from the planting and harvesting – to the roasting and grinding until it reaches your morning cup.

What are some of the key elements of a photo essay?

  • Tell a unique story – A unique story doesn’t mean that you have to photograph something that nobody has done before – that would be almost impossible! It means that you should consider what you’re bringing to the table on a particular topic.
  • Put yourself into the work – One of the best ways to make a compelling photo essay is by adding your point of view, which can only be done with your life experiences and the way you see the world.
  • Add depth to the concept – The best photo essays are the ones that go past the obvious and dig deeper in the story, going behind the scenes, or examining a day in the life of the subject matter – that’s what pulls in the spectator.
  • Nail the technique – Even if the concept and the story are the most important part of a photo essay, it won’t have the same success if it’s poorly executed.
  • Build a structure – A photo essay is about telling a thought-provoking story – so, think about it in a narrative way. Which images are going to introduce the topic? Which ones represent a climax? How is it going to end – how do you want the viewer to feel after seeing your photo series?
  • Make strong choices – If you really want to convey an emotion and a unique point of view, you’re going to need to make some hard decisions. Which light are you using? Which lens? How many images will there be in the series? etc., and most importantly for a great photo essay is the why behind those choices.

9 Tips for Creating a Photo Essay

Credit: Laura James

1. Choose something you know

To make a good photo essay, you don’t need to travel to an exotic location or document a civil war – I mean, it’s great if you can, but you can start close to home.

Depending on the type of photography you do and the topic you’re looking for in your photographic essay, you can photograph a local event or visit an abandoned building outside your town.

It will be much easier for you to find a unique perspective and tell a better story if you’re already familiar with the subject. Also, consider that you might have to return a few times to the same location to get all the photos you need.

2. Follow your passion

Most photo essays take dedication and passion. If you choose a subject that might be easy, but you’re not really into it – the results won’t be as exciting. Taking photos will always be easier and more fun if you’re covering something you’re passionate about.

3. Take your time

A great photo essay is not done in a few hours. You need to put in the time to research it, conceptualizing it, editing, etc. That’s why I previously recommended following your passion because it takes a lot of dedication, and if you’re not passionate about it – it’s difficult to push through.

4. Write a summary or statement

Photo essays are always accompanied by some text. You can do this in the form of an introduction, write captions for each photo or write it as a conclusion. That’s up to you and how you want to present the work.

5. Learn from the masters

Making a photographic essay takes a lot of practice and knowledge. A great way to become a better photographer and improve your storytelling skills is by studying the work of others. You can go to art shows, review books and magazines and look at the winners in photo contests – most of the time, there’s a category for photo series.

6. Get a wide variety of photos

Think about a story – a literary one. It usually tells you where the story is happening, who is the main character, and it gives you a few details to make you engage with it, right?

The same thing happens with a visual story in a photo essay – you can do some wide-angle shots to establish the scenes and some close-ups to show the details. Make a shot list to ensure you cover all the different angles.

Some of your pictures should guide the viewer in, while others are more climatic and regard the experience they are taking out of your photos.

7. Follow a consistent look

Both in style and aesthetics, all the images in your series need to be coherent. You can achieve this in different ways, from the choice of lighting, the mood, the post-processing, etc.

8. Be self-critical

Once you have all the photos, make sure you edit them with a good dose of self-criticism. Not all the pictures that you took belong in the photo essay. Choose only the best ones and make sure they tell the full story.

9. Ask for constructive feedback

Often, when we’re working on a photo essay project for a long time, everything makes perfect sense in our heads. However, someone outside the project might not be getting the idea. It’s important that you get honest and constructive criticism to improve your photography.

How to Create a Photo Essay in 5 Steps

Credit: Quang Nguyen Vinh

1. Choose your topic

This is the first step that you need to take to decide if your photo essay is going to be narrative or thematic. Then, choose what is it going to be about?

Ideally, it should be something that you’re interested in, that you have something to say about it, and it can connect with other people.

2. Research your topic

To tell a good story about something, you need to be familiar with that something. This is especially true when you want to go deeper and make a compelling photo essay. Day in the life photo essays are a popular choice, since often, these can be performed with friends and family, whom you already should know well.

3. Plan your photoshoot

Depending on what you’re photographing, this step can be very different from one project to the next. For a fine art project, you might need to find a location, props, models, a shot list, etc., while a documentary photo essay is about planning the best time to do the photos, what gear to bring with you, finding a local guide, etc.

Every photo essay will need different planning, so before taking pictures, put in the required time to get things right.

4. Experiment

It’s one thing to plan your photo shoot and having a shot list that you have to get, or else the photo essay won’t be complete. It’s another thing to miss out on some amazing photo opportunities that you couldn’t foresee.

So, be prepared but also stay open-minded and experiment with different settings, different perspectives, etc.

5. Make a final selection

Editing your work can be one of the hardest parts of doing a photo essay. Sometimes we can be overly critical, and others, we get attached to bad photos because we put a lot of effort into them or we had a great time doing them.

Try to be as objective as possible, don’t be afraid to ask for opinions and make various revisions before settling down on a final cut.

7 Photo Essay Topics, Ideas & Examples

Credit: Michelle Leman

  • Architectural photo essay

Using architecture as your main subject, there are tons of photo essay ideas that you can do. For some inspiration, you can check out the work of Francisco Marin – who was trained as an architect and then turned to photography to “explore a different way to perceive things”.

You can also lookup Luisa Lambri. Amongst her series, you’ll find many photo essay examples in which architecture is the subject she uses to explore the relationship between photography and space.

  • Process and transformation photo essay

This is one of the best photo essay topics for beginners because the story tells itself. Pick something that has a beginning and an end, for example, pregnancy, the metamorphosis of a butterfly, the life-cycle of a plant, etc.

Keep in mind that these topics are linear and give you an easy way into the narrative flow – however, it might be difficult to find an interesting perspective and a unique point of view.

  • A day in the life of ‘X’ photo essay

There are tons of interesting photo essay ideas in this category – you can follow around a celebrity, a worker, your child, etc. You don’t even have to do it about a human subject – think about doing a photo essay about a day in the life of a racing horse, for example – find something that’s interesting for you.

  • Time passing by photo essay

It can be a natural site or a landmark photo essay – whatever is close to you will work best as you’ll need to come back multiple times to capture time passing by. For example, how this place changes throughout the seasons or maybe even over the years.

A fun option if you live with family is to document a birthday party each year, seeing how the subject changes over time. This can be combined with a transformation essay or sorts, documenting the changes in interpersonal relationships over time.

  • Travel photo essay

Do you want to make the jump from tourist snapshots into a travel photo essay? Research the place you’re going to be travelling to. Then, choose a topic.

If you’re having trouble with how to do this, check out any travel magazine – National Geographic, for example. They won’t do a generic article about Texas – they do an article about the beach life on the Texas Gulf Coast and another one about the diverse flavors of Texas.

The more specific you get, the deeper you can go with the story.

  • Socio-political issues photo essay

This is one of the most popular photo essay examples – it falls under the category of photojournalism or documental photography. They are usually thematic, although it’s also possible to do a narrative one.

Depending on your topic of interest, you can choose topics that involve nature – for example, document the effects of global warming. Another idea is to photograph protests or make an education photo essay.

It doesn’t have to be a big global issue; you can choose something specific to your community – are there too many stray dogs? Make a photo essay about a local animal shelter. The topics are endless.

  • Behind the scenes photo essay

A behind-the-scenes always make for a good photo story – people are curious to know what happens and how everything comes together before a show.

Depending on your own interests, this can be a photo essay about a fashion show, a theatre play, a concert, and so on. You’ll probably need to get some permissions, though, not only to shoot but also to showcase or publish those images.

4 Best Photo Essays in Recent times

Now that you know all the techniques about it, it might be helpful to look at some photo essay examples to see how you can put the concept into practice. Here are some famous photo essays from recent times to give you some inspiration.

Habibi by Antonio Faccilongo

This photo essay wan the World Press Photo Story of the Year in 2021. Faccilongo explores a very big conflict from a very specific and intimate point of view – how the Israeli-Palestinian war affects the families.

He chose to use a square format because it allows him to give order to things and eliminate unnecessary elements in his pictures.

With this long-term photo essay, he wanted to highlight the sense of absence and melancholy women and families feel towards their husbands away at war.

The project then became a book edited by Sarah Leen and the graphics of Ramon Pez.

Picture This: New Orleans by Mary Ellen Mark

The last assignment before her passing, Mary Ellen Mark travelled to New Orleans to register the city after a decade after Hurricane Katrina.

The images of the project “bring to life the rebirth and resilience of the people at the heart of this tale”, – says CNNMoney, commissioner of the work.

Each survivor of the hurricane has a story, and Mary Ellen Mark was there to record it. Some of them have heartbreaking stories about everything they had to leave behind.

Others have a story of hope – like Sam and Ben, two eight-year-olds born from frozen embryos kept in a hospital that lost power supply during the hurricane, yet they managed to survive.

Selfie by Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman is an American photographer whose work is mainly done through self-portraits. With them, she explores the concept of identity, gender stereotypes, as well as visual and cultural codes.

One of her latest photo essays was a collaboration with W Magazine entitled Selfie. In it, the author explores the concept of planned candid photos (‘plandid’).

The work was made for Instagram, as the platform is well known for the conflict between the ‘real self’ and the one people present online. Sherman started using Facetune, Perfect365 and YouCam to alter her appearance on selfies – in Photoshop, you can modify everything, but these apps were designed specifically to “make things prettier”- she says, and that’s what she wants to explore in this photo essay.

Tokyo Compression by Michael Wolf

Michael Wolf has an interest in the broad-gauge topic Life in Cities. From there, many photo essays have been derived – amongst them – Tokyo Compression .

He was horrified by the way people in Tokyo are forced to move to the suburbs because of the high prices of the city. Therefore, they are required to make long commutes facing 1,5 hours of train to start their 8+ hour workday followed by another 1,5 hours to get back home.

To portray this way of life, he photographed the people inside the train pressed against the windows looking exhausted, angry or simply absent due to this way of life.

You can visit his website to see other photo essays that revolve around the topic of life in megacities.

Final Words

It’s not easy to make photo essays, so don’t expect to be great at it right from your first project.

Start off small by choosing a specific subject that’s interesting to you –  that will come from an honest place, and it will be a great practice for some bigger projects along the line.

Whether you like to shoot still life or you’re a travel photographer, I hope these photo essay tips and photo essay examples can help you get started and grow in your photography.

Let us know which topics you are working on right now – we’ll love to hear from you!

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photo essay format

What is a Photo Essay? 9 Photo Essay Examples You Can Recreate

A photo essay is a series of photographs that tell a story. Unlike a written essay, a photo essay focuses on visuals instead of words. With a photo essay, you can stretch your creative limits and explore new ways to connect with your audience. Whatever your photography skill level, you can recreate your own fun and creative photo essay.

9 Photo Essay Examples You Can Recreate

  • Photowalk Photo Essay
  • Transformation Photo Essay
  • Day in the Life Photo Essay
  • Event Photo Essay
  • Building Photo Essay
  • Historic Site or Landmark Photo Essay
  • Behind the Scenes Photo Essay
  • Family Photo Essay
  • Education Photo Essay

Stories are important to all of us. While some people gravitate to written stories, others are much more attuned to visual imagery. With a photo essay, you can tell a story without writing a word. Your use of composition, contrast, color, and perspective in photography will convey ideas and evoke emotions.

To explore narrative photography, you can use basic photographic equipment. You can buy a camera or even use your smartphone to get started. While lighting, lenses, and post-processing software can enhance your photos, they aren’t necessary to achieve good results.

Whether you need to complete a photo essay assignment or want to pursue one for fun or professional purposes, you can use these photo essay ideas for your photography inspiration . Once you know the answer to “what is a photo essay?” and find out how fun it is to create one, you’ll likely be motivated to continue your forays into photographic storytelling.

1 . Photowalk Photo Essay

One popular photo essay example is a photowalk. Simply put, a photowalk is time you set aside to walk around a city, town, or a natural site and take photos. Some cities even have photowalk tours led by professional photographers. On these tours, you can learn the basics about how to operate your camera, practice photography composition techniques, and understand how to look for unique shots that help tell your story.

Set aside at least two to three hours for your photowalk. Even if you’re photographing a familiar place—like your own home town—try to look at it through new eyes. Imagine yourself as a first-time visitor or pretend you’re trying to educate a tourist about the area.

Walk around slowly and look for different ways to capture the mood and energy of your location. If you’re in a city, capture wide shots of streets, close-ups of interesting features on buildings, street signs, and candid shots of people. Look for small details that give the city character and life. And try some new concepts—like reflection picture ideas—by looking for opportunities to photographs reflections in mirrored buildings, puddles, fountains, or bodies of water.

2 . Transformation Photo Essay

With a transformation photography essay, you can tell the story about change over time. One of the most popular photostory examples, a transformation essay can document a mom-to-be’s pregnancy or a child’s growth from infancy into the toddler years. But people don’t need to be the focus of a transformation essay. You can take photos of a house that is being built or an urban area undergoing revitalization.

You can also create a photo narrative to document a short-term change. Maybe you want to capture images of your growing garden or your move from one home to another. These examples of photo essays are powerful ways of telling the story of life’s changes—both large and small.

3 . Day in the Life Photo Essay

Want a unique way to tell a person’s story? Or, perhaps you want to introduce people to a career or activity. You may want to consider a day in the life essay.

With this photostory example, your narrative focuses on a specific subject for an entire day. For example, if you are photographing a farmer, you’ll want to arrive early in the morning and shadow the farmer as he or she performs daily tasks. Capture a mix of candid shots of the farmer at work and add landscapes and still life of equipment for added context. And if you are at a farm, don’t forget to get a few shots of the animals for added character, charm, or even a dose of humor. These types of photography essay examples are great practice if you are considering pursuing photojournalism. They also help you learn and improve your candid portrait skills.

4 . Event Photo Essay

Events are happening in your local area all the time, and they can make great photo essays. With a little research, you can quickly find many events that you could photograph. There may be bake sales, fundraisers, concerts, art shows, farm markets, block parties, and other non profit event ideas . You could also focus on a personal event, such as a birthday or graduation.

At most events, your primary emphasis will be on capturing candid photos of people in action. You can also capture backgrounds or objects to set the scene. For example, at a birthday party, you’ll want to take photos of the cake and presents.

For a local or community event, you can share your photos with the event organizer. Or, you may be able to post them on social media and tag the event sponsor. This is a great way to gain recognition and build your reputation as a talented photographer.

5. Building Photo Essay

Many buildings can be a compelling subject for a photographic essay. Always make sure that you have permission to enter and photograph the building. Once you do, look for interesting shots and angles that convey the personality, purpose, and history of the building. You may also be able to photograph the comings and goings of people that visit or work in the building during the day.

Some photographers love to explore and photograph abandoned buildings. With these types of photos, you can provide a window into the past. Definitely make sure you gain permission before entering an abandoned building and take caution since some can have unsafe elements and structures.

6. Historic Site or Landmark Photo Essay

Taking a series of photos of a historic site or landmark can be a great experience. You can learn to capture the same site from different angles to help portray its character and tell its story. And you can also photograph how people visit and engage with the site or landmark. Take photos at different times of day and in varied lighting to capture all its nuances and moods.

You can also use your photographic essay to help your audience understand the history of your chosen location. For example, if you want to provide perspective on the Civil War, a visit to a battleground can be meaningful. You can also visit a site when reenactors are present to share insight on how life used to be in days gone by.

7 . Behind the Scenes Photo Essay

Another fun essay idea is taking photos “behind the scenes” at an event. Maybe you can chronicle all the work that goes into a holiday festival from the early morning set-up to the late-night teardown. Think of the lead event planner as the main character of your story and build the story about him or her.

Or, you can go backstage at a drama production. Capture photos of actors and actresses as they transform their looks with costuming and makeup. Show the lead nervously pacing in the wings before taking center stage. Focus the work of stagehands, lighting designers, and makeup artists who never see the spotlight but bring a vital role in bringing the play to life.

8. Family Photo Essay

If you enjoy photographing people, why not explore photo story ideas about families and relationships? You can focus on interactions between two family members—such as a father and a daughter—or convey a message about a family as a whole.

Sometimes these type of photo essays can be all about the fun and joy of living in a close-knit family. But sometimes they can be powerful portraits of challenging social topics. Images of a family from another country can be a meaningful photo essay on immigration. You could also create a photo essay on depression by capturing families who are coping with one member’s illness.

For these projects on difficult topics, you may want to compose a photo essay with captions. These captions can feature quotes from family members or document your own observations. Although approaching hard topics isn’t easy, these types of photos can have lasting impact and value.

9. Education Photo Essay

Opportunities for education photo essays are everywhere—from small preschools to community colleges and universities. You can seek permission to take photos at public or private schools or even focus on alternative educational paths, like homeschooling.

Your education photo essay can take many forms. For example, you can design a photo essay of an experienced teacher at a high school. Take photos of him or her in action in the classroom, show quiet moments grading papers, and capture a shared laugh between colleagues in the teacher’s lounge.

Alternatively, you can focus on a specific subject—such as science and technology. Or aim to portray a specific grade level, document activities club or sport, or portray the social environment. A photo essay on food choices in the cafeteria can be thought-provoking or even funny. There are many potential directions to pursue and many great essay examples.

While education is an excellent topic for a photo essay for students, education can be a great source of inspiration for any photographer.

Why Should You Create a Photo Essay?

Ultimately, photographers are storytellers. Think of what a photographer does during a typical photo shoot. He or she will take a series of photos that helps convey the essence of the subject—whether that is a person, location, or inanimate object. For example, a family portrait session tells the story of a family—who they are, their personalities, and the closeness of their relationship.

Learning how to make a photo essay can help you become a better storyteller—and a better photographer. You’ll cultivate key photography skills that you can carry with you no matter where your photography journey leads.

If you simply want to document life’s moments on social media, you may find that a single picture doesn’t always tell the full story. Reviewing photo essay examples and experimenting with your own essay ideas can help you choose meaningful collections of photos to share with friends and family online.

Learning how to create photo essays can also help you work towards professional photography ambitions. You’ll often find that bloggers tell photographic stories. For example, think of cooking blogs that show you each step in making a recipe. Photo essays are also a mainstay of journalism. You’ll often find photo essays examples in many media outlets—everywhere from national magazines to local community newspapers. And the best travel photographers on Instagram tell great stories with their photos, too.

With a photo essay, you can explore many moods and emotions. Some of the best photo essays tell serious stories, but some are humorous, and others aim to evoke action.

You can raise awareness with a photo essay on racism or a photo essay on poverty. A photo essay on bullying can help change the social climate for students at a school. Or, you can document a fun day at the beach or an amusement park. You have control of the themes, photographic elements, and the story you want to tell.

5 Steps to Create a Photo Essay

Every photo essay will be different, but you can use a standard process. Following these five steps will guide you through every phase of your photo essay project—from brainstorming creative essay topics to creating a photo essay to share with others.

Step 1: Choose Your Photo Essay Topics

Just about any topic you can imagine can form the foundation for a photo essay. You may choose to focus on a specific event, such as a wedding, performance, or festival. Or you may want to cover a topic over a set span of time, such as documenting a child’s first year. You could also focus on a city or natural area across the seasons to tell a story of changing activities or landscapes.

Since the best photo essays convey meaning and emotion, choose a topic of interest. Your passion for the subject matter will shine through each photograph and touch your viewer’s hearts and minds.

Step 2: Conduct Upfront Research

Much of the work in a good-quality photo essay begins before you take your first photo. It’s always a good idea to do some research on your planned topic.

Imagine you’re going to take photos of a downtown area throughout the year. You should spend some time learning the history of the area. Talk with local residents and business owners and find out about planned events. With these insights, you’ll be able to plan ahead and be prepared to take photos that reflect the area’s unique personality and lifestyles.

For any topic you choose, gather information first. This may involve internet searches, library research, interviews, or spending time observing your subject.

Step 3: Storyboard Your Ideas

After you have done some research and have a good sense of the story you want to tell, you can create a storyboard. With a storyboard, you can write or sketch out the ideal pictures you want to capture to convey your message.

You can turn your storyboard into a “shot list” that you can bring with you on site. A shot list can be especially helpful when you are at a one-time event and want to capture specific shots for your photo essay. If you’ve never created a photo essay before, start with ten shot ideas. Think of each shot as a sentence in your story. And aim to make each shot evoke specific ideas or emotions.

Step 4: Capture Images

Your storyboard and shot list will be important guides to help you make the most of each shoot. Be sure to set aside enough time to capture all the shots you need—especially if you are photographing a one-time event. And allow yourself to explore your ideas using different photography composition, perspective, and color contrast techniques.

You may need to take a hundred images or more to get ten perfect ones for your photographic essay. Or, you may find that you want to add more photos to your story and expand your picture essay concept.

Also, remember to look for special unplanned, moments that help tell your story. Sometimes, spontaneous photos that aren’t on your shot list can be full of meaning. A mix of planning and flexibility almost always yields the best results.

Step 5: Edit and Organize Photos to Tell Your Story

After capturing your images, you can work on compiling your photo story. To create your photo essay, you will need to make decisions about which images portray your themes and messages. At times, this can mean setting aside beautiful images that aren’t a perfect fit. You can use your shot list and storyboard as a guide but be open to including photos that weren’t in your original plans.

You may want to use photo editing software—such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop— to enhance and change photographs. With these tools, you can adjust lighting and white balance, perform color corrections, crop, or perform other edits. If you have a signature photo editing style, you may want to use Photoshop Actions or Lightroom Presets to give all your photos a consistent look and feel.

You order a photo book from one of the best photo printing websites to publish your photo story. You can add them to an album on a photo sharing site, such as Flickr or Google Photos. Also, you could focus on building a website dedicated to documenting your concepts through visual photo essays. If so, you may want to use SEO for photographers to improve your website’s ranking in search engine results. You could even publish your photo essay on social media. Another thing to consider is whether you want to include text captures or simply tell your story through photographs.

Choose the medium that feels like the best space to share your photo essay ideas and vision with your audiences. You should think of your photo essay as your own personal form of art and expression when deciding where and how to publish it.

Photo Essays Can Help You Become a Better Photographer

Whatever your photography ambitions may be, learning to take a photo essay can help you grow. Even simple essay topics can help you gain skills and stretch your photographic limits. With a photo essay, you start to think about how a series of photographs work together to tell a complete story. You’ll consider how different shots work together, explore options for perspective and composition, and change the way you look at the world.

Before you start taking photos, you should review photo essay examples. You can find interesting pictures to analyze and photo story examples online, in books, or in classic publications, like Life Magazine . Don’t forget to look at news websites for photojournalism examples to broaden your perspective. This review process will help you in brainstorming simple essay topics for your first photo story and give you ideas for the future as well.

Ideas and inspiration for photo essay topics are everywhere. You can visit a park or go out into your own backyard to pursue a photo essay on nature. Or, you can focus on the day in the life of someone you admire with a photo essay of a teacher, fireman, or community leader. Buildings, events, families, and landmarks are all great subjects for concept essay topics. If you are feeling stuck coming up with ideas for essays, just set aside a few hours to walk around your city or town and take photos. This type of photowalk can be a great source of material.

You’ll soon find that advanced planning is critical to your success. Brainstorming topics, conducting research, creating a storyboard, and outlining a shot list can help ensure you capture the photos you need to tell your story. After you’ve finished shooting, you’ll need to decide where to house your photo essay. You may need to come up with photo album title ideas, write captions, and choose the best medium and layout.

Without question, creating a photo essay can be a valuable experience for any photographer. That’s true whether you’re an amateur completing a high school assignment or a pro looking to hone new skills. You can start small with an essay on a subject you know well and then move into conquering difficult ideas. Maybe you’ll want to create a photo essay on mental illness or a photo essay on climate change. Or maybe there’s another cause that is close to your heart.

Whatever your passion, you can bring it to life with a photo essay.

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