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How does one come up with a photo essay?

How does one come up with a photo essay?. Narrative photo essays tell a story in a sequence, the same way you might read a story. There must be a flow to keep the viewers eye and emotion moving smoothly through the story. Think of your favorite book and how it kept you yearning for the next page. A good photo essay will hold you on each image but also make you want to explore the next image as the story unfolds.

While the photo essay should be able to tell a thoughtful and vivid story without any text, captions are usually needed to clarify the message that viewers walk away with. More lengthy written pieces are optional. The intimate goal is to hook the viewer into the theme and evoke their emotional connection to the story.

To tell the story, a range of purposeful images should be included in a well-planned format. The goal is to invite the viewer in and guide them through the story, just as they would move through an engaging book or view a dramatic play. The idea is similar, to quickly hook the viewer and set a scene, and then lead them carefully as action may rise, climax, and fall back to a moment of resolution.

The number of images and the presentation order is generally at the photographer’s discretion. However, during an interview with The Candid Frame, William Albert Allard shared the following essay outline used while on assignment for National Geographic:

  1. LEAD PHOTO: Hook the viewer and provoke their curiosity while encompassing the theme of the essay
  2. SET THE SCENE: A broad description of the location. A high vantage point is helpful for this image. Look for layers in a landscape to create depth.
  3. PORTRAITS: These images are essential for evoking the emotional, human connection between the viewer and the story.
  4. DETAILS: By focusing on only one element the viewer can be clearly guided through the story – a pattern, a face, a building. A caption should clarify the significance of this image to inform and educate.
  5. CLOSE-UP: An opportunity to pull the viewer closer to explore the abstract and artistic elements within the story that could be easily overlooked. Dirty hands,  coffee beans, woodgrains – these images offer another opportunity to inform and educate through well written captions.
  6. THE PHOTO: This is “the moment.” This is the image that freezes the whole story and wows the reader. If they only remember one image, this is the one!
  7. CLOSURE: Before selecting this image, know the mood you want to leave the viewer with. Sadness, anger, hope, excitement – this closing image should pull and hold an emotion.

A Day in the Life of an American Teenager Assignment

What to do:

1. Read this article https://www.mechanicallandscapes.com/articles/2016/10/10/the-life-magazine-formula-for-visual-variety-in-the-photo-essay (Links to an external site.)

2. Check out these websites for photo essay inspiration:
https://medium.californiasun.co/nico-young-santa-monica-high-photography-e0e8ef4ffd9f (Links to an external site.)
https://plan-uk.org/blogs/life-as-a-teenager-in-ghana (Links to an external site.)
http://time.com/photography/life/ (Links to an external site.)
http://time.com/tag/photo-essay/ (Links to an external site.)

3. Have a plan for all seven of the required photos: Lead photo, set the scene, portraits, details, close-up, THE photo, closure. Use the template below to plan out your narrative photo essay.

How does one come up with a photo essay?

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