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10 Great Essay Writing Tips
Knowing how to write a college essay is a useful skill for anyone who plans to go to college. Most colleges and universities ask you to submit a writing sample with your application. As a student, you’ll also write essays in your courses. Impress your professors with your knowledge and skill by using these great essay writing tips.
Prepare to Answer the Question
Most college essays ask you to answer a question or synthesize information you learned in class. Review notes you have from lectures, read the recommended texts and make sure you understand the topic. You should refer to these sources in your essay.
Plan Your Essay
Many students see planning as a waste of time, but it actually saves you time. Take a few minutes to think about the topic and what you want to say about it. You can write an outline, draw a chart or use a graphic organizer to arrange your ideas. This gives you a chance to spot problems in your ideas before you spend time writing out the paragraphs.
Choose a Writing Method That Feels Comfortable
You might have to type your essay before turning it in, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it that way. Some people find it easy to write out their ideas by hand. Others prefer typing in a word processor where they can erase and rewrite as needed. Find the one that works best for you and stick with it.
View It as a Conversation
Writing is a form of communication, so think of your essay as a conversation between you and the reader. Think about your response to the source material and the topic. Decide what you want to tell the reader about the topic. Then, stay focused on your response as you write.
Provide the Context in the Introduction
If you look at an example of an essay introduction, you’ll see that the best essays give the reader a context. Think of how you introduce two people to each other. You share the details you think they will find most interesting. Do this in your essay by stating what it’s about and then telling readers what the issue is.
Explain What Needs to be Explained
Sometimes you have to explain concepts or define words to help the reader understand your viewpoint. You also have to explain the reasoning behind your ideas. For example, it’s not enough to write that your greatest achievement is running an ultra marathon. You might need to define ultra marathon and explain why finishing the race is such an accomplishment.
Answer All the Questions
After you finish writing the first draft of your essay, make sure you’ve answered all the questions you were supposed to answer. For example, essays in compare and contrast format should show the similarities and differences between ideas, objects or events. If you’re writing about a significant achievement, describe what you did and how it affected you.
Stay Focused as You Write
Writing requires concentration. Find a place where you have few distractions and give yourself time to write without interruptions. Don’t wait until the night before the essay is due to start working on it.
Read the Essay Aloud to Proofread
When you finish writing your essay, read it aloud. You can do this by yourself or ask someone to listen to you read it. You’ll notice places where the ideas don’t make sense, and your listener can give you feedback about your ideas.
Avoid Filling the Page with Words
A great essay does more than follow an essay layout. It has something to say. Sometimes students panic and write everything they know about a topic or summarize everything in the source material. Your job as a writer is to show why this information is important.
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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.
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.
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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Ana Mireles is a Mexican researcher that specializes in photography and communications for the arts and culture sector.
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How to Make a Photo Essay
Last Updated: March 16, 2023 References
This article was co-authored by Heather Gallagher . Heather Gallagher is a Photojournalist & Photographer based in Austin, Texas. She runs her own photography studio named "Heather Gallagher Photography" which was voted Austin's Best Family Photographer and top 3 Birth Photographers in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Heather specializes in family Photojournalism and has over 15 years of experience documenting individuals, families, and businesses all over the world. Her clients include Delta Airlines, Oracle, Texas Monthly, and her work has been featured in The Washington Post and The Austin American Statesman. She is a member of the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers (IAPBP). There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 278,279 times.
Photo essays are an increasingly popular medium for journalists, bloggers, and advertisers alike. Whether you’re trying to show the emotional impact of a current news story or share your hobby with friends and family, images can capture your topic in a personal, emotional, and interesting way. Creating a photo essay can be as easy as choosing a topic, getting your images, and organizing the essay.
Things You Should Know
- Reflect long and hard on your topic, considering your audience, current events, and whether to go for a thematic or narrative approach.
- Create an outline, including your focus image, establishing shot, clincher, and other image details.
- When you finally take your photos, remember to take more photos than you think you need and don't be afraid to let the project change as you create it.
Finding Your Topic
- Offer a photo essay of your place of business as a training tool.
- Use a photo essay about your business as a sales or social tool by publishing it on your website or social media page.
- Create a how to photo essay to help others learn about your hobby, so they can take it up as well.  X Research source
- Thematic subjects are big ideas including things like local gun laws, at-risk youth, or welcoming home soldiers.
- Narrative essays can include a day in the life, how to tutorials, or progression series that show changes over time such as tracking a building project.
- If you have been given a commission or specific publication to work with, you may need to choose a topic that will fit a thematic or narrative approach as outlined by the publication. Make sure you are aware of any publication guidelines in advance.
Organizing Your Shoot
- Consider how difficult it will be to get permission to photograph your subjects. If you already have relationships established, it will be easier. If not, allow for extra time to get permission and/or waivers.
- Schools, daycares, and other places with kids typically have more regulations on who can be photographed and for what purposes. You’ll usually need to get parental approval, in addition to permission from those in charge.  X Research source
- Consider doing interviews with people involved prior to the shoot. Ask things like, “What’s the most interesting thing you do during this event?” or “How long have you been involved with this organization?”
- These interviews are also a great opportunity to ask for permission and get waivers.
- If you’re going to visit a job site, charitable event, or other large group activity, ask the person or persons in charge to explain what you’re doing to everyone before you arrive.  X Research source
Capturing Your Images
- Many new photographers stay away from high ISO shots because they allow more light through producing a “busy” image. However, these images are often easier to edit later as there’s more information to work with.  X Research source
- If it’s very bright in your location or you’ve set up artificial lighting, a low ISO is likely adequate, For darker areas, you’ll likely need to use a higher ISO.
- If you need one second to capture an image with a base ISO of 100, you’ll need one eighth of a second to capture with an ISO of 800.  X Research source
- Even snapping candid shots, which you may need to capture quickly, take a few moments to think about how objects are placed to make the most impact.
- Always think about how the main subject’s surroundings play into the overall image, and try to create different levels and points of interest.
- You can change composition as part of the editing process in some cases, so if you can’t line up the shot just right, don’t let it deter you from capturing the image you want.  X Research source
Organizing the Essay
- If you’re doing a day in the life photo essay about a frustrated person working in an office, an image of that person struggling to open the front door against the wind might be an apt focus shot.
- If your essay is about the process of building a home, your focus image may be something like a contractor and architect looking at blue prints with the framed up home in the background.
- If your essay is about a family reunion, the focus image may be a funny shot of the whole family making faces, pretending to be fighting, or a serious photo of the family posed together. Capture whatever seems natural for the family.  X Research source
- Regardless of essay type, you’ll need a focus image to grab attention.
- Use an overall shot to give context to your essay. Where is it, when is it happening, who’s involved, what’s going on, and why should someone be interested? The five “W’s” of journalism are a great way to determine what your overall shot should capture.
- Find your final image. This should be something provocative that asks your viewer to think about the topic.
- Between the focus and overall shot and ending image, include a series of images that move the viewer from the lead-in shots to its result. Use images that build in intensity or draw the viewers further into the essay.
- If the images aren’t telling the story, ask your friends to look at your other photos and ask, “I wanted this image to make this point. You got a different idea. Would any of these images make this point to you more clearly?”
- If the others like the images you’ve chosen, you may still want to ask them to look at your other photos and tell you if they think any of the images you didn’t include should be added in. They may see something you missed.  X Research source
- If you're commissioned to add photos to an essay, you should make sure images reflect the written word, but also add emotion and context the writing could not capture. For example, an essay on poverty may include an image of a child and parent living on the street could capture more emotional context.
- Captions should only include information the viewer could not derive from the photo itself. For instance, you can include a date, the subject’s name, or a statistic relevant to your subject in the caption.
- If you choose not to have any text or just a title and some introductory and/or closing words, make sure you convey all necessary information succinctly.  X Research source
Expert Q&A Did you know you can get expert answers for this article? Unlock expert answers by supporting wikiHow
Support wikiHow by unlocking this expert answer.
- Be creative with your topics. However, something as simple as "things I like" will suffice so long as you stay creative. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Make sure you're familiar with your camera. It will make the photo composition a lot easier. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Don't get discouraged. It may take several tries to get the desired results in your photos. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
You Might Also Like
- ↑ http://digital-photography-school.com/5-photo-essay-tips/
- ↑ Heather Gallagher. Professional Photojournalist & Photographer. Expert Interview. 8 April 2020.
- ↑ http://improvephotography.com/30816/10-ideas-creative-photo-essays/
- ↑ http://www.apogeephoto.com/how-to-create-a-photo-essay/
- ↑ https://petapixel.com/how-to-create-a-photo-essay/
- ↑ http://photo.journalism.cuny.edu/week-5/
- ↑ http://clickitupanotch.com/2010/12/creating-a-photo-essay/
- ↑ https://photographylife.com/what-is-iso-in-photography
- ↑ https://wiredimpact.com/blog/how-to-make-a-photo-essay-nonprofit/
- ↑ http://digital-photography-school.com/5-tips-for-creating-a-photo-essay-with-a-purpose/
- ↑ https://www.format.com/magazine/resources/photography/how-to-make-photo-essay-examples
About This Article
To make a photo essay, start by selecting a subject that is easy to capture and that inspires you, like a friend or a family pet. Then, decide if you want to present your photo essay as thematic, which shows specific examples of a big idea, or narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end. Next, create an outline of your essay to determine which photos you’ll need, like an establishing shot. Finally, take your photos, select which images you want to use in your essay, and organize them according to your theme before adding text to explain the essay. To learn how to capture the best images, keep scrolling! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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How to create a photo essay: Step-by-step guide with examples
Published by Feature Shoot • 2 years ago
In the 1930s, Life magazine did something radical; while most magazines of the time prioritized words, its editors published pages and pages of photographs, sometimes accompanied only by brief captions.
Over the next few decades, Life ’s photographers—Gordon Parks, Margaret Bourke-White, and W. Eugene Smith among them—would help pioneer a new genre known as the “photo essay.” They often photographed ordinary people—families, midwives, laborers, and more—and shared their stories with an audience of millions.
By 1945, Life was the most popular magazine in America, read by an estimated 13.5 million people. Throughout its run, the magazine published 200,000 pages of photo essays, proving that often, images could tell stories, promote understanding, and inspire action at least as well as the written word.
75 years later, the photo essay remains a gold standard for photographers of all genres. While it’s a medium most commonly associated with photojournalism and documentary photography, modern photo essays can take many forms, from newspaper spreads to wedding albums. A photo essay is a collection of images that work together to tell a story.
Photo essays come in all forms, from day-in-the-life series to long-term documentaries; they can feature people, animals, events, or landmarks. They might capture international news and politics or uncover the lives of regular citizens overlooked by mainstream media. They can convey a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, or they can be thematic, built around a common subject.
Below, we share our tips for how to make a photo essay, separated into eight steps, with inspiring examples from photo history as well as the 500px community.
Do your research
When finding a subject for your essay, it’s often a good idea to start close to home. Look for topics that are both original and accessible. Follow the local news, talk to members of your community, and keep an eye out for those untold, hidden stories. In 2018, for example, Skanda Gautam , a photojournalist with The Himalayan Times daily newspaper in Nepal, created a remarkable essay on air pollution in Kathmandu.
By then, the air quality was so poor that it posed serious threats to the public, and Skanda, who calls the city home, set out to document everyday life for its citizens. He photographed the polluted streets and activists crying out for change; the images were shared around the world, bringing much-needed attention to this pressing issue.
Stories like this one exist everywhere, if you’re willing to look for them. Find subjects that affect you personally or that resonate with you. Maybe it’s a protest taking place in your hometown or a community group making waves in your neighborhood. Once you find a subject that interests you, dig deeper and do some research. Check to see if any other photographers have already covered it, and if not, reach out to the people involved to see if you can learn more.
This news-gathering and research phase might take a while, but it’s the first step toward creating a meaningful photo essay.
When we hear the term “photo essay,” one of the first works that comes to mind is Country Doctor , shot by W. Eugene Smith for Life magazine in 1948. The essay told the story of Dr. Ernest Ceriani, a general practitioner in Kremmling, Colorado, who served as the only physician across a 400-square-mile area.
Smith spent 23 days in the Rocky Mountains documenting Dr. Ceriani and his life’s work. In the beginning, he famously shot without film in his camera; the idea was to get Dr. Ceriani to feel comfortable with him before actually taking any pictures. Eventually, it was like Smith wasn’t even there; he faded into the background.
Trust forms the foundation of every great photo essay, so spend some time getting to know your subjects—without the camera. Take as much time as you need to do this, even if it’s weeks, months, or years. Tell your subject right off the bat what your intentions are, and keep the lines of communication open.
Keep an open mind
Sometimes, you’ll go into a project with an idea of what you want only to find another story lingering beneath the surface. In 2009, for instance, when the award-winning photojournalist Moe Zoyari was on assignment for United Press International (UPI) to cover the presidential election in Afghanistan, he also took the time to document daily life in its cities.
Over 44 days, he discovered a new project, ultimately titled Life After War , about the vibrancy of civilian life and the resilience of the people. He saw the scars of war, but he also found children playing and local businesses thrumming with life. Moe’s series is a testament to the importance of an open mind; allow your instincts to guide you, and take as many photos as possible, even if they aren’t what you originally planned.
The final story might reveal itself later, when you’re back home at the computer, but while you’re out there in the field, take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. Look for overlooked details, interesting moments, and unexpected happenings.
Aim for variety
We’ve already mentioned the importance of taking as many photos as you can, but you also want to look for ways to make them all different. As the legendary photo editor Howard Chapnick once put it, great photo essays avoid redundancy, and every image captures a different perspective.
For some, that might mean using different lenses or angles, getting details as well as wide shots, and for others, it might mean capturing one subject in many different settings and scenarios. You can combine portraits and landscapes. In short, it’s not just about quantity; it’s also about diversity.
When the Australian photographer Drew Hopper documented life on the River Ganges, for example, he woke up early and stayed out late; he saw a man performing his morning prayers, women doing laundry, and boats heading out at dusk. In capturing all these moments, he painted a dynamic and nuanced portrait of a single place, rich with meaning and layers of understanding.
In the heyday of Life magazine, photographers were at least somewhat beholden to editors in terms of image selection and layout. There was only room for a fixed number of images, and because they captured hundreds if not thousands of frames, many had to be cut.
Today’s photographers aren’t limited by the cost of film or limited space; using social media, they can publish as many images as they wish. But at the same time, editing remains at the heart of the photo essay, so be objective and ruthless. Sometimes, the most powerful stories are told with a select few images. Give yourself a number—say, ten to fifteen images—and then try to hold yourself to it.
Cut any images that don’t serve the larger story—or any that feel redundant—and then ask friends and colleagues for their opinions. Sometimes, seeking an outside perspective can be invaluable; you might be attached to an image emotionally, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the strongest of the bunch. Don’t rush the process; take several passes over several days or weeks, gradually narrowing down your images.
Also, keep in mind that even if you cut an image from your essay, that doesn’t mean you have to discard it completely. Parks, Smith, and Bourke-White had countless photos cut from publication; many have been published and exhibited throughout the decades.
Trust your gut
Photo essays require an investment of your time, energy, and empathy, so even if a friend suggests you cut this photo and keep that one, the final choice is yours. If you feel strongly about an element of your story, trust that instinct.
In 1961, Gordon Parks did just that. He’d spent weeks documenting the life of a boy named Flavio da Silva and his family, who lived in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, but when his editors saw the images, they initially wanted to include only one photo of Flavio. Still, Parks insisted, and in the end, he convinced them to publish a full ten-page spread focusing on Flavio and his family. They remained in touch for years afterward.
Trusting your gut can be especially important when it comes to the first and last image in your essay. These are your bookends; one introduces your audience to the subject, and the other leaves a final impression. Make sure to select images that pack an emotional punch and make a strong statement.
Incorporate text and captions
From 2014-2017, the architecture photographer Chris Forsyth created a captivating photo essay about the metro stations of Berlin, Montreal, Munich, and Stockholm. Part of the joy of discovery came in researching their history, designs, and nuances, and his captions always provide insight into the meaning and significance of each space.
There’s no rule that says you have to include text in your photo essay, but often, captions can go a long way. When documenting your story, keep a journal of some kind where you can jot down locations, dates, and descriptions. If you interview someone, take notes. You don’t have to publish these notes, but they’ll help you keep track of information as it comes.
Publish your images
In 1951, three years after C ountry Doctor , W. Eugene Smith photographed Maude Callen, a midwife and nurse in South Carolina, for Life . The piece inspired readers to make donations and send food; in the end, $20,000 was raised and used to open the Maude Callen clinic and support her work. One subscriber put it this way : “In all the years I have been reading Life , I have never been so moved or affected by anything as by your article on Maude Callen.”
Photo essays still have the power to transform lives, except these days, you don’t need to be published in Life to reach millions of people. Whether you’re publishing with a magazine or sharing your work online, your images have the potential to create change and make a difference, so when you’re ready, don’t be afraid to share them with the world.
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How to create a photo essay
By Marissa Sapega
According to LDV Capital, there will be 45 billion cameras in the world by 2022 . The proliferation of smartphones with hi-res cameras — coupled with our obsession with documenting the mundane on social media — has led to a glut of images shared on the web .
We're talking 3.2 billion images shared online every single day.
A decade ago, observers were predicting that this would spell the end of professional photography. But as we all know from our Instagram feeds, the need for professional photography — properly produced, contextualised, and published — has never been greater.
With the emergence of next generation digital publishing platforms, we're seeing a new era for photographic essays. Many of the most powerful examples are from journalism, where immersive photos are transforming long-form journalism into a more dynamic and interactive experience.
But powerful photos — coupled with immersive, interactive digital storytelling techniques — are being increasingly incorporated in marketing and communications across multiple industries, from brands to nonprofits.
In this guide, we'll cover:
- The main types of photo essays
- The new era of photo essays
- Tips for making thoughtful and powerful photo essays
- How to make a compelling photo essay
- We'll also provide a range of photo essay examples as we go
If you're looking for more examples, check out our roundup of photo essay examples .
Let's dive in!
What do the BBC, Salesforce Ventures, and Penguin have in common? They publish stunning, interactive web content with Shorthand. And so can you, for free. No code, no credit card, and no commitment required. Start publishing.
Types of photo essays
There are two primary types of photo essays: thematic and narrative.
Thematic photo essays
Thematic essays focus on a topical story (like a natural disaster). One example of a great thematic essay comes from NBC News Olympics photos: Emotion runs high .
This piece encapsulates the overall gloom of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics — through a series of powerful behind-the-scenes photographs of athletes in varying levels of distress — but does not focus on a particular subject.
Another example of a great photo story comes from the BBC. In “ From Trayvon Martin to Colin Kaepernick , they tell the story of how Black Lives Matter became entwined with sports.
Narrative photo essays
Narrative photo essays take the story a step further and tell a specific story through images.
One striking example is SBS's 28 Days in Afghanistan . This narrative essay documents photojournalist Andrew Quilty's time in the war-ravaged nation through stark photographs and supplementary text.
What is a photo essay in 2023?
A traditional photo essay aims to replace the written word with photographs. Done poorly, it is nothing more than series of images lumped together. Done well, though, the photojournalist or artist takes the reader on an engaging journey.
The main difference between photo essays of yore and photo essays in 2023 is the sophistication of digital publishing. With the rise of digital storytelling platforms, we're seeing a rise in truly interactive and immersive digital photo essays.
Today, many digital photo essays include quotes and text to supplement the visuals and are formatted using interactive scrollytelling techniques. Scrollytelling is a form of visual storytelling that leverages user engagement (scrolling) to reveal images and text in an interesting and dynamic way. The interactivity compels the viewer to continue consuming the content, and creators have a wide latitude when designing the overall effect.
Given the benefits of a more dynamic and interactive form of photo essays, it’s easy to see why they have become so popular in recent years. But as with any photo essay, creating an exceptional digital photo essays requires planning, structure, and know-how.
Let's take a closer look with ten tips for great photo essays.
Looking to learn more about interactive visual storytelling? Check out our guide, 8 tips for powerful visual storytelling .
10 tips for great photo essays
1. Create visual structure
An authentic photo essay requires visual markers to help transform a collection of images into a narrative. For example, photo chapter headings in Growing up young introduce each new girl in the story.
Similarly, in SBS’s photojournalism story — 28 days in Afghanistan , mentioned above — each dated header delineates a part of the story, providing an easy-to-follow chronological structure and pace.
Daniel Boud intersperses his own thoughts in between a haunting series of photographs of the iconic Sydney Opera House as it underwent a restoration during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in The Sydney Opera House at Rest .
Text can add depth to the photo essay—but take care where you add it. It should support and enhance the final product, not overshadow it.
2. Make it interactive
In 2023, the best photo essays are interactive.
One great example of an interactive photo essay is WaterAid’s essay, Water and Climate . This photo essay highlights the people climate change has impacted most brutally, including a video, stark close-up photography, and graphics to get its point across.
The photo essay uses minimal text, preferring to allow the images to speak for themselves. As a user scrolls, it exposes them to more content. Each visual and supplemental text further immerses the viewer into the story until the end, where they encounter a call to action to join WaterAid in helping those in need.
Nonprofits like WaterAid often use interactive photo essays to compel people to act , because they work. Half the battle of convincing someone to part with their money is creating an emotional connection with them—something a photo essay does particularly well.
3. Produce more content than you need
Have you ever seen how much film footage ends up on the cutting room floor for the average movie (known as the shooting ratio)? It’s a lot.
Why is this? First, filmmakers know that many of the shots they take will be either poor-quality or simply not up to their exacting standards. Second, if a director included all the footage they took throughout the entire production in the final product, her movie would be a bloated mess.
The editor’s job is to strip away the dead weight to reveal a clean, refined, final product that keeps viewers raptly engaged. However, an editor may struggle to do his job if the director has not provided enough usable footage.
The same principles apply to creating an exceptional photo essay. Always assemble more visuals and content than you think you’ll need so you can use the cream of the crop for the final product. Shedding content may be difficult, but it’s necessary, so be prepared to edit your piece without mercy.
Publishing photos on the web, but confused about the range of file formats? Check out our guide to file formats .
4. Use only the best photos
A photo essay is not an excuse to throw together all the imagery you have. Just like any good story, it needs a focused and compelling narrative that keeps things connected. Each image needs to bring something to the table.
Remember that photo quality plays a significant role in the overall caliber of a photo essay. If your iPhone isn’t doing your subject justice, don’t be afraid to pull in a professional to make your work come alive.
A great example of this comes from Sky Sports. In their photo essay, Pictured: Diego Maradona , they had to be ruthless when deciding upon the imagery to include.
They no doubt had hundreds — perhaps thousands — of photos to choose from from the many photo shoots in Maradona's life. Yet they knew that each one had to be poignant and compelling in its own way.
5. Don’t be afraid to edit your photos
Not everyone can be Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz. Happily, with the readily available photo-editing software like Photoshop and high-quality cameras on every smartphone, you don’t need to be. Do your best to acquire top-quality photos, but don’t be timid about improving them!
Thanks to heavy exposure to advertising, viewers today now expect doctored images. Whether you’re refining a photo for a flawless finish or adding a touch of grittiness, use this expectation to your advantage. Dial up the contrast, crop out unnecessary elements, and use filters if they suit your needs.
6. Visit the archives
With so many gleaming, airbrushed-to-perfection photographs online today, exposure to imagery that’s not polished within an inch of its life can be a refreshing change.
For example, take a look at Mancity’s My Debut Trevor Francis (v Stoke 1981) , which exclusively uses archival images. Not only was this a necessity (the focus was on a decades-old football match), but it lent the entire piece a tattered legitimacy. You wouldn’t expect “Insta-worthy” images because that’s not the experience the author is trying to convey.
7. Storyboard before building
You wouldn’t build a house without drafting a blueprint, would you? (Well, not unless you weren’t too invested in the end-product.) Much like a blueprint, a storyboard helps you convert the vision inside your head into a concrete plan for construction. It can also contribute to your shot list for your photography project.
Storyboarding forces you to take a step back and evaluate how each element fits into the larger narrative. You may find that half your content is no longer necessary, and that’s okay. It may seem like a barrier to “getting to the fun part” of adding fancy flourishes and creative details, but it’s a critical step for building a good photo essay that genuinely influences viewers.
While there are certainly best practices to follow when creating a photo essay, no “one true path” will culminate in perfection every time. Photo essays are a way to express a story; such art is not limited to a template or cookie-cutter outputs.
So, mix it up! Test out different photos, filter effects, text, quotes, and visuals. Pretend you’re playing with a Rubik’s cube when you’re storyboarding and shuffle the content around with abandon. There is no right way to draft a photo essay, and you’ll never settle on one that you believe best conveys your story without a bit of experimentation. (Of course, your first iteration may end up being your best, but at least this way you won’t have any doubts.)
9. Combine data and maps
Adding hard metrics and maps to a photo essay can help support a narrative in ways that photographs can’t. In this essay on segregation in Detroit , NBC included interactive maps of the city that underscored the severity of Detroit’s redlining policy.
These maps drive home this multimedia photo essay’s primary takeaway: Detroit’s enforced segregation has resulted in almost a century of lower quality of life for its black residents.
10. Get inspired
No matter how compelling the vision in your head is, you can still benefit from a little inspiration. If you're looking for photo essay ideas, consider:
- Focusing on a single subject for a day (known as a day in the life photo essay).
- Document local events, such as art shows, protests, or community gatherings — this is an endless source of photo essay topics.
- Capture social issues from your local area.
- Start a photo series, in which you document the same specific subject over a period of time.
- Research the great photo essayists from history, such as W. Eugene Smith, and James Nachtwey.
- Dive into the archives of the great photo essay magazines, such as National Geographic and Life Magazine.
- Do some research on your potential subject. This will help you formulate different angles from which to approach your photo essay.
- Sign up to Shorthand's newsletter , which rounds up the best visual stories on the web every other week.
Now, let's dive into how to make a stunning photo essay using Shorthand.
How to make a stunning digital photo essay
Traditionally, photo essays on the web were little more than a series of images pasted into a blog post. Because most blogs are structured primarily for words, these photos essays didn't do justice to their source media.
However, as web browsers became more powerful and bandwidth increased, a range of content platforms — including no-code digital storytelling platforms like Shorthand — have evolved to make it easier to create stunning visual stories. We've linked to many of these in this guide.
In this section, we're going to run through how to make a photo essay using Shorthand. If you're not a Shorthand customer, you can sign up for a free trial here and follow along.
1. Create a new story
In your Shorthand dashboard, click 'New Story.' If you'd like, you can choose from any of our templates to help you get started. For now, though, we're going to start with a blank canvas.
The template chooser
2. Add your title image
Every photo essay needs a stunning title image to hook the reader. Depending on what kind of photo essay you're creating, this could be a photo of the subject or theme of the piece. You can also choose to add a title, subtitle, and author.
3. Add a text section
Every photo essay needs a written introduction, to help contextualise the images that follow. Simply click 'New Section' and 'Text', before pasting in your introductory copy.
Adding a Text section.
4. Add your first photo
Now it's time to add the first photo in your essay. Simply click 'New Section' and 'Media.' In photo essays, hierarchy is critical, so make sure you've thought about which photo is most appropriate at the top of your essay. In Shorthand, your photo will appear in all its full-screen glory.
Image in a 'Media' section.
5. Add a Reveal section
You also have the option of adding a 'Reveal' section, which allows you to add text that floats over your images. This text can act as a commentary or de facto caption for each photo in your essay.
Simply click 'New Section' and 'Reveal.' You'll be able to also upload a version of the image for mobile, and set focus areas to make sure the most important parts of your image are shown.
A 'Reveal' section with accompanying text box.
6. Add transition effects
Depending on the nature of your photo essay, you may wish to add transition effects between some images. A ‘Reveal’ section is the best way to achieve this. You'll have the option of choosing from several types of transitions that occur as your reader scrolls from one full-screen image to the next, and each image can have its own text box, too.
Testing a Reveal section in the Shorthand editor
7. Add Scrollmation effects
If you want to use images in concert with large amounts of text, then consider using Shorthand's Scrollmation feature. This allows you to transition through a range of images as the reader scrolls down a column of text.
To do this — you guessed it — simply click 'New Section' and 'Scrollmation' or 'Background Scrollmation.'
The difference between the two is simple: In a Scrollmation section, the text appears in a column beside your images, while in a Background Scrollmation section, images fill the screen and the text column appears over the images. A sequence of related images can give the effect of animation triggered by the reader’s scrolling.
A Scrollmation section within the editor
Background Scrollmation in the editor
8. Add a Media Gallery
If you have many different images, and want to create a mosaic effect in your essay, then you can use a media gallery. To do this, simply click 'New Section' and 'Media Gallery.'
You can then upload your images, and experiment with their size and arrangement to achieve your intended effect.
Creating a Media Gallery section in the editor
9. Preview your story
Photo essays — more than many other genres of content on the web — can run into problems with different screen sizes. Before you publish, make sure you test your story using Shorthand's preview option.
You'll be able to see what your story looks like on desktop, mobile, and tablet viewports, and make adjustments as needed. You can also share your preview link with collaborators, and get pre-publication feedback and quality-assurance.
Story previews in the editor, simulating a phone and iPad.
10. Publish 🚀
The final step is to publish your essay to the world! You now have an immersive, potentially interactive photo essay — without writing a line of code.
Contemporary photo essays are creative endeavours rife with opportunities for interactivity. Organisations and artists alike use them as modern, impactful vehicles to convey powerful stories. Try creating one for yourself using Shorthand for free today!
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- 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.
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How to create a photo essay
- Author Picfair
- Level Intermediate
- Reading Time 8 minutes
Cover images by James Gourley
Create a meaningful set of images by producing a photo essay or story
A photographic essay is a deeper and more meaningful way to use your photography than a single image tends to be. Typically associated with documentary and news-gathering, a photo essay doesn’t necessarily have to follow those genres, but can be used as a way to tell a longer or more in-depth story about all manner of subjects. Creating a photo essay however is about more than just taking a set of images and presenting them as one package. They require more forethought, planning and editing than many other forms of photography, but the results are often more rewarding, too. Follow our guide below if it’s something you’d like to consider putting together.
1 Find a story
The first thing you will need to do is to figure out what you want to do your photo essay on.
"Inspiration can come from anywhere, but a good starting to place is to look at news sources to see if something catches your eye."
Inspiration can come from anywhere, but a good starting to place is to look at news sources to see if something catches your eye. If you’re not sure where to begin, you could start by looking at what’s going on in your local area - if nothing else, it’ll make the practicalities easier. Start jotting down ideas that you can explore and figure out exactly why you want to do it. Try to be as active as you can in discovering what’s going on in the world and eventually something will keep your attention for long enough that it will seem like the right idea.
2 Do your research
Next, try and find out as much as you can about whatever it is you want to create your photo story on.
"If you find that others have done photo essays on the same or similar subject, then that’s something you should be aware of."
Importantly, you’ll need to see what else already exists out there - if anything - on your story. If you find that others have done photo essays on the same or similar subject, then that’s something you should be aware of. That’s not to say that you can’t also do one, but it pays to be prepared so that you can perhaps approach it in a different way. You’ll also need to do some research into the practicalities that will be required to help you along the way. You’ll need to look into people you should be contacting, how you will get to the destination (if it’s not local), any requirements you need for visiting the location, any restrictions on what you can and cannot shoot and so on. Doing as much research ahead of time as possible will make the project run smoothly when it comes to actually shooting it.
3 Make a structured plan
Once your research is complete, it’s time to make a detailed and structured plan about how you’re going to go about shooting your photo essay. It doesn’t have to be completely rigid so as to disallow flexibility, but sorting out shoot times, shoot dates, shoot locations will give you something to work with, even if things eventually go off plan. Some photo essays can be shot in an afternoon, others might take several months or even years to complete. Having an idea of how long you want to spend on a particular project can help focus your mind and give you an end date for when you might want to publish the essay. It’s also useful to tell subjects and those involved with the shoot a rough timeline of events. You might find it helpful to organise everything together in one easily accessible place - such as online calendars and spreadsheets, so you can quickly refer to anything you need to.
4 Tell a story
Your photo essay needs to be more than just a set of images on a similar theme.
"...including some introductory or contextualising shots before you get into the heart of the subject matter is a good approach."
Think of it exactly like a story, which usually requires a beginning, a middle and an end. That’s a very simplistic way of putting it, but photographically, including some introductory or contextualising shots before you get into the heart of the subject matter is a good approach. There might not necessarily be a neat “resolution” to whatever story you’re trying to tell, and it might not always be a happy ending, but having that at least in your mind as you go along can help to create a neatly-packaged story that has a definite and well-constructed narrative.
5 Stick with a cohesive style
Exactly how you’re going to shoot your photo essay is entirely up to you, but in order for your story to have a cohesive look, it’s usually best if you stick to the same style throughout.
"With a photo essay, you want the images to hang extremely well together as a set, so keeping things consistent will help you do that..."
That could be as simple as not mixing black and white and colour, always using a particular lens, always shooting in a particular way, or even applying the same post-processing techniques to the finished shots. With a photo essay, you want the images to hang extremely well together as a set, so keeping things consistent will help you do that - that is, unless you’re actively trying to use disparate styles as an artistic or storytelling technique.
5 Create a strong edit
The chances are that in the process of creating your photo essay, you will have shot dozens, if not hundreds of images.
"It can help to step away from your essay for at least a few days if you can to give yourself some distance and perspective - don’t be afraid to be brutal and keep your final selection down to only those that are the strongest or the best."
For the final edit of your photo story, you need to make sure that the images selected to appear are the strongest of the set, with each adding something unique to the finished story. Try to avoid “padding out” your story with too many fillers, even if you think they are strong images on their own. It’s a good idea to avoid too much repetition, and here again you should look to include images that create a strong story arc with a defined beginning, middle and end. It can help to step away from your essay for at least a few days if you can to give yourself some distance and perspective - don’t be afraid to be brutal and keep your final selection down to only those that are the strongest or the best. There’s no defined number for how many images should be included in a final story, but as a general rule, you’ll probably want it to be under 20 for the most impact.
6 Ask for input
It’s very easy to get so close to your subject and your images that you become blind to any flaws in them, or the structure of your story. Asking for advice and input from somebody you trust can help to tighten up your story even further.
"Asking for advice and input from somebody you trust can help to tighten up your story even further."
In certain situations, it can be helpful to ask the subject of the photographs themselves what they think, to make it more of a collaborative process - but you should be able to determine whether that’s appropriate on a case-by-case basis. If you have any contacts who are photographers, editors or publishers, asking them to cast an eye over your finished story is a good idea, too.
7 Add some text
It can be a good idea to add some text or individual captions for a photo essay, to give some background information and context to whatever is shown in the pictures. If you’re not a writer, try to keep it as basic as possible - including things such as names, locations and dates. A short introduction to the piece to give some background information is useful, too. Ask somebody you trust to check it over for sense, clarity and mistakes.
8 Get the story seen
Once your story is complete and you’re happy with it, the next stage is to get it seen - also known as, the hard part.
"Once your story is complete and you’re happy with it, the next stage is to get it seen - also known as, the hard part."
A sensible first step is to create an album on your Picfair store which is dedicated to your photo essay. That way, anybody who is looking for that particular piece won’t have to wade through all of your other work to find it. You can then start sending out information about the work to editors and publishers, including a link to the album on your Picfair page as an easy way for them to look at it.
Editor's tip: If you're not sure where to begin with pitching to publishers, be sure to check our how to pitch guide .
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17 Awesome Photo Essay Examples You Should Try Yourself
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
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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How To Write A Photo Essay 2023
Table of Contents
How to Write a Photo Essay (Writing Guide)
- How to start a photo essay
- How to write body paragraphs for a photo essay
- How to conclude a photo essay
- Outline example
A photo speaks a thousand words, and sometimes you need to capture all of them in one essay. A single photo can be interpreted differently by many people, and as a writer, it is very probable to be subjective in writing about the photo. Photos represent a frozen moment in time. It, therefore, takes more than what meets the eye to accurately capture all the details of the photo and understand the story behind it. The essay must be written comprehensively to enable the reader to understand the photo and story behind it fully. Ensure the essay supports the picture, and the picture supports the story. However, you can write a good photo essay by following these simple steps.
The start of a Photo Essay
The start of s photo essay describes lightly what the picture is about. It is a simple way to get the reader to continue reading the essay. The obviously discernible elements of the picture are briefly outlined in the introductory paragraph. If it was a personal choice photo, it is necessary to defend your choice in this paragraph. Such attributes include the size of the photo, the type of the photo, etc. The author can also delve further and describe some of the histories of the story behind the picture. All the content in the first photo must ensure it sets the ground for the latter parts of the picture. Include a thesis statement to outline the purpose of the essay. Additionally, ensure the introduction is short and interesting whilst covering the basic elements of the picture. To nail a good introductory paragraph essay of a photo, use simple language and short sentences. Ensure each point is clear and objective. The primary aim of the paragraph is to create an interesting commencement to capture the attention of the reader and arouse interest in him/her to go through the rest of the essay. Coin an interesting thesis statement relevant to the topic whilst outlining the primary objective and purpose of the photo essay.
How to write body Paragraphs for a Photo Essay
The body paragraphs contain the main content of the photo essay and must be organized to capture all the perspectives of the story told by the picture. To achieve that, the first body paragraph has to start by getting a more detailed description of the photo. The physical attributes of the photo are also discussed in this paragraph. For example, if the photo is a close-up image of a malnourished kid, describe the color and the discernible objects that can be picked from the photo. Describe them in detail and highlight some of the reasons you think the photographer used the color. Discuss the setting and significance of the discernible objects featured in the photo.
In the subsequent paragraphs, get into more intricate details of the photo. Discuss the mood, and the story told by the picture. For each point, refer to the photo to support your claim. Ensure all your arguments and assertions about the photo are supported by evidence on the photo. You might need to describe the events that were before or after the caption depending on the purpose of the essay. The colors, mood, and environment captured in a photograph contain a lot of information on the picture and therefore ensure you pay attention to details as you describe the photo. Always have an outline to guide you through writing the essay to avoid disorganization and confusion during writing.
How to conclude a Photo Essay
The conclusion of a photo essay wraps up it summarizes the contents of the essay. For a photo essay, the conclusion highlights the key points of the photo. Reassert the thesis statement but rewrite it. The thesis statement included in the conclusions brings together the story with its topic. Use interesting language and clear, concise sentences to convey the message. Do not include new information in the concluding paragraph. A compelling conclusion revitalizes the story told by the picture and leaves room for the reader to imagine his/her interpretation of the photo.
Outline an example for a Photo Essay
An outline for a photo essay helps the author to capture the important details during writing. The outline is the guide to writing a great essay. Here below is an example of a sample outline for a 5-paragraph essay entitled famine in Africa. The title is derived from a photo depicting a malnourished child in Africa.
Famine in Africa
- Explain a short background of the photo
- A short explanation of why the aforementioned topic is a befitting title
- A thesis statement
- Explain the physical attributes of the photo, i.e., color.
- Explain why the color is relevant to the essay
- Explain all the discernible objects captured in the picture and their relevance to the story told by the picture
- The intricate details of the photo. The deeper meaning and explanation of what the picture represents.
- Briefly but exhaustively describe the story behind the photo.
- Wrap the main highlights of the essay
- Reassert the thesis statement