Photo Essay in 7 Steps

How to Create a Photo Essay in 7 Steps

The question of how to create a photo essay bothers many photographers, publicists and journalists. A standard photo essay allows “telling” a whole story without a single word.

Based on the huge number of topics available, photo essay can be different: strict and official, funny and amusing, dedicated to one or several shootings. I’ll try to reveal all the secrets of creating a photo essay below.

What Is a Photo Essay?

A photo essay is a form of visual narrative, a way to present a story through a series of images. This technique is frequently used for producing photo reports, which can cause emotions and help people understand the topic without a single word. A photo essay is a series of photographs that tell viewers about an event, incident, or a person.

There are lots of praiseworthy photo essay examples. I have prepared several interesting ideas that can encourage you to undertake the task of creating your first photo essay.

Narrative Photo Essay Examples

If you want to create a photo essay, but cannot find the perfect theme, this is not a reason to give up. You can easily come up with something interesting if you follow the recent photography trends and use them in every imaginable way during the shooting.

1. A Day in the Life

a day in the life photo essay
“Flyboy Photo Essay” by Jens Dana

Those just starting to learn photography, often undertake A Day in the Life photography assignment, so consider it as a wonderful jumping-off point for your career as well. Such a photo essay can depict a busy day of a farmer or the artist, cover the daily household chores of parents or their pastime with their children, or perpetuate a popular high school student.

2. Landmark or History

landmark or history photo essay
“The Vintage Socialist Architecture of North Korea Essay” by Raphael Olivier

Taking pictures of historical monuments or landmarks, both well-known and not so famous, involves the usage of different approaches, angles, depths and lighting. Why learning how to create a photo essay with a focus on a historical item, you can use reflections or shoot with the help of drones.

This will help you find the perfect focal point and show different scenes with the same subject. A great example is the North Korean architecture in The Vintage Socialist Architecture of North Korea by Raphael Olivier.

3. Behind the Scenes Photo Essay

behind the scenes photo essay
“Behind the Scenes with Michelle Obama Essay” by Callie Shell

In this case, a photo essay helps to open the veil of secrecy in creating a specific product – theatre plays, filming, portrait photo sessions, etc. All in all, this is a great way to capture events from the very beginning to the end.

With this type of photo essay you can demonstrate the subtleties of creating something and how it all evolves in perfect harmony. One of the best photo essay examples of this type is Behind the Scenes with Michelle Obama created by Callie Shell.

4. Social Event

social event photo essay
“Turkfest: Ireland's little festival with a big heart” by Alexander Turner

Local events such as fundraising, art shows or festivals can become a great place to start creating a photo essay. Impartial photographs of people working, performing or tasting local food can be compiled into a photo story along with background objects that help feel the mood better.

5. Sports Event

sports event photo essay
“BKRW magazine” by Jean Yves Lemoigne

While building photo essay, you need to snap photos that convey the atmosphere of the sports event documented, the emotions of fans when the team wins or losses, etc. You can also present the story of one or more athletes, their path to the coveted victory. Such a sports photo essay will definitely impress those, who can’t imagine their life without sports.

6. Animals

animals photo essay
“Penguin Day (Hardcover)” by Nic Bishop

A selection of photos with cute or funny animals won’t leave anyone indifferent. Such a photo essay often gets lots of hits; they are often shared on social networks, which means that the photographer who created such an interesting story is sure to be recognized.

7. Nature

nature photo essay
“Montais” by Ross Taylor

Such a series often becomes immensely popular. There are a great variety of photo essay ideas for photography of nature to choose from – create a collection of photos of all the lakes in his city, shoot the same place in different time of the year, etc. The main thing is to unleash your creativity and work hard to take really original shots.

8. Man’s Fate

man’s fate photo essay
“Homeless in Shawnee Photo Essay” by Nick Oxford

A photo series about the fate and life of any individual can cause strong emotions, giving viewers the opportunity to look into the world of another person. You need to think about an interesting photo essay introduction and develop your idea, spending months or even years covering the story of a particular person.

9. Local Customs

locals photo essay
“Chin Village in Myanmar” by Hugo Santarem

This is ideal for travel photographers, especially if they often visit countries with extremely interesting and unusual cultures. Tiny details can become the key elements of a photo essay.

Pay attention to the patterns of the native clothes, peculiarities of their cuisine, ornaments, etc. You can go even further and organize a portrait photo session for indigenous people.

10. Alternative Lifestyles

alternative life photo essay
“My Lockdown Story” by Sanket Khuntale

If you have acquaintances whose lifestyle is different from the usual one, why not create a photo essay dedicated to this topic? For example, you can show how modern hippies live, or why people prefer a village to a metropolis, or photograph representatives of one of the youth subcultures.

11. Concert

concert photo essay
“Beyond The Music: A Photo Essay From A Summer Band Concert In Faribault” by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

One of the most interesting photo essay assignments ideas is taking photos at the concert. The genre of the music is of no importance, as the outcome is bound to be eye-pleasing and intriguing. Try to concentrate not only on the performers, but also on the audience.

12. Pressing Social Topic

pressing social topic photo essay
“Milk” by Sophie Harris-Taylor

If there is a sore point in any social sphere, you can try showing the situation from all possible sides. Today the topic of “perfect human body” is losing popularity, while more and more people are talking about the inner world. To cover this theme in your photo essay assignment, you can photograph people with different weight, body type, height, professions, etc. The diversity is at its peak.

How to Create a Photo Essay: 7 Steps

Before you begin, you need to have a distinct photo essay outline in your head or on the paper, which is even better. Try to predict all possible problems and solve the related issues. For example, determine a budget, schedule a photoshoot, and if there is a need for a script, write it. Then you can get down to work.

Decide on a Message

What do you want to say with this photo story? The message should be related to the mission and vision of a photographer or your client. For example, you can choose nature. Think about photo essay ideas, what topics you want to touch – protection, water contamination, picturesque landscapes, etc.

Map Out Your Further Actions

Identify a subject or group of subjects for photographing. Coordinate the time and place that is suitable for both a photographer and the models. Photo essay doesn’t have to be done in a day (although, it can be), therefore, if the shooting lasts for several days, work on the schedule.

Also plan micro-topics and think about the angles you will photograph from. This may seem like needless measures, but they can greatly affect the success of your photojournalism essay.

Select Photos

At this stage you must demonstrate your professionalism. All photos must have the same message. Consider your target audience and choose the pictures that will surely interest it. Any photo essay tells a certain story, so be sure to place your photos in a logical order. To grasp what I mean, check any photo essay project examples created by W. Eugene Smith, who is believed to be a real pro in this sphere.

Make Sure You Have a Variety of Image

Images in a photo essay shouldn’t be identical. Such a story is unlikely to arise much interest in your audience. Therefore, try to alternate frames with different angles, different people, etc.

Edit Your Photos

You need to crop your photos, so they have an identical size before uniting them into a photo essay. Many people learning how to do a photo essay often neglect this recommendation and the results of their work look chaotic.

Besides, if you decide to add a frame, it should be the same in each photo. The border is optional, but may be useful in certain cases. Write a caption for each photo with a simple explanation of what is happening. You can look through the photo essay examples on popular websites to understand what will suit.

Choose Only the Best Photos

Professionals recommend selecting 100 shots right after the shooting. Then look through the selected images once again and leave 25. Repeat the process and put aside 15 images, so your final number is 10. These are your best photos.

Don’t think that more images mean a better story. A short report with a clearly understandable meaning will have a more pronounced impact than a long and meaningless one. As successful examples of photo story projects, you can check the works of Marco Venturini Autieri.

Add the “Call for Action” Element

Calling for support makes sense after you give the viewers a chance to find out their mission with the help of a photo essay. This will allow the audience to feel their importance, to grasp the whole point of your project. Only in this case can you count on a full understanding and emotional support from visitors of your site.

Tips for Beginners

While learning how to make a photo essay, you may think that this task is too difficult. Follow these simple rules and you can make a truly high-quality and interesting photo essay that is guaranteed to attract viewers’ attention.

1. Look through examples of photo story projects. Before you get down to work, examine several examples of such photo stories. Pay special attention to photo essay that is similar to your chosen topic. Pay attention to the style of the photos, how they are arranged, if there are certain captions, etc.

2. Ask experienced colleagues for advice. If you are acquainted with the authors of famous photo essays, get in touch with them and ask to give you some professional recommendations. Thus you can get useful tips that will not only help simplify the process, but also make your works more interesting to the audience.

3. Take care of the quality of your photos. Your photo essays should be pleasant to look at, which means you need to use images of the highest quality. While performing culling, get rid of blurry and failed shots.

4. Don’t be afraid to step aside a bit from the initial idea. It is advisable to create a photo essay planning guide to know what you should do next, but don’t be afraid to amend it in the process of work. Sometimes the photo story goes into another direction quite organically, and your job as a photojournalist is to extract the right story from the images you’ve taken, even if it was not an original idea.

5. Prepare decent equipment. The quality of your photo report directly depends on the gear you use. While shooting in the fresh air, I recommend choosing any of the best cameras for street photography. For studio shooting, you need a professional camera, for example, the Canon 80D paired with the Canon 10-18mm f/4-5.6 IS STM, which is the best lens for Canon 80d.

6. Edit your images. Be sure to edit each photo that you are going to use for a photo essay. It is important that they look coherent. To cope with the task you can use Lightroom. With its help, you can qualitatively improve RAW files and bring tones and shades to perfection, creating a real harmony.

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