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Good Photo Essay

Today Christina Nichole Dickson looks at the topic of Photo Essays. Christina is a photojournalist for Revolutionary Media. She is also an instructor with the Institute in Photographic Studies. Her work may be found at Christina Nichole Photography.

In the last twenty years, video and film have become the predominant forms of modern storytelling. But before video, there was photography. And for the last one hundred years photography and storytelling went hand in hand.

Now more than ever, the power of storytelling ought to be harnessed. But telling a story with photos takes more than just a skillful photographer. An impacting photo story can only be developed by skillful photographers who understand the emotions and concepts behind ever-great story.

The form of such a story is called the photo essay.

What is a Photo Essay?

A photo essay is very simply a collection of images that are placed in a specific order to tell the progression of events, emotions, and concepts. Used by world class photojournalists such as Lauren Greenfield and James Nachtwey, and Joachim Ladefoged to name a few, the photo essay takes the same story telling techniques as a normal essay, translated into visual images.

5 Photo Essay Tips

A photo essay isn’t simply for photojournalists however. Every human being is drawn to stories. Whether you are an amateur or a professional, the photo essay is a brilliant way to bring your images to life and touch your family, friends, and coworkers.

1. Find a topic: Photo essays are most dynamic when you as the photographer care about the subject. Whether you choose to document the first month of a newborn in the family, the process of a school drama production, or even a birthday party, make your topic something in which you find interest.

2. Do your researchh: If you document a newborn’s first month, spend time with the family. Discover who the parents are, what culture they are from, whether they are upper or lower class. If you cover the process of a school’s drama production, talk with the teachers, actors and stage hands; investigate the general interest of the student body; find out how they are financing the production and keeping costs down. If you photograph a birthday party, check out the theme, the decorations they plan on using, what the birthday kid hopes to get for his or her gifts. All of these factors will help you in planning out the type of shots you set up for your story.

3. Find the “real story”: After your research, you can determine the angle you want to take your story. Is the newborn the first son of a wealthy family on whom the family legacy will continue? Or does the baby have a rare heart condition? Is the drama production an effort to bring the student body together? Or is it featuring a child star? Is the birthday party for an adolescent turning 13, or the last birthday of a dying cancer patient? Though each story idea is the same, the main factors of each story create an incredibly unique story.

4. Every dynamic story is built on a set of core values and emotions that touch the heart of its audience. Anger. Joy. Fear. Hurt. Excitement. The best way you can connect your photo essay with its audience is to draw out the emotions within the story and utilize them in your shots. This does not mean that you manipulate your audience’s emotions. You merely use emotion as a connecting point.

5.Plan your shots: Whether you decide to sit down and extensively visualize each shot of the story, or simply walk through the venue in your mind, you will want to think about the type of shots that will work best to tell your story. I recommend beginners first start out by creating a “shot list” for the story. Each shot will work like a sentence in a one-paragraph story. Typically, you can start with 10 shots. Each shot must emphasize a different concept or emotion that can be woven together with the other images for the final draft of the story.

Remember that story telling takes practice. You don’t have to be an incredible writer to pull off a powerful photo essay. All you need is a bit of photographic technique, some creativity, and a lot of heart. And once you begin taking pictures in stories, your images will never be the same.

In part II of this series on Photo Essays, I will give a practical example of how I apply these techniques in a photo essay of my own.

The image speaks volumes and is itself more powerful than words. Storytelling using photographic images alongside words is more than entertaining, breathtaking and revelatory. Storytelling through photography is a powerful literary tool of communication. In many professional essays and academic works, the detailed presentation is often made through photography. It is a creative and innovative way of passing information to the audience. Professional orators use images to move the feelings of the audience even during serious debates. Reading novels without pictures could be boring and time-consuming. Conversely, the storybooks with photographs can provoke mood, emotion and wide ideas.

I have never admired plain words in words. Of course, the gift of storytelling something which does not just happen to any other person. The stories come in different shapes and sizes. The long stories like trilogies of novels can be shortened with concise photographic pictures without the loss of taste or meaning.

So, how to handle storytelling through photography and write a good photo essay?

How to make a photo essay

Traditional essays focus on conveying the thoughts, ideas, and emotions through writing. Meanwhile, a photo essay is a unique form of expression. Such essays are generated from a series of highly-detailed images. It normally stands without many writings; the few writings support the pictures during storytelling process. Though the picture can speak volumes, however, the written portion of the essay conveys an in-depth information which cannot be communicated through pictures. Writers from ensure that photographic images is the primary method of storytelling in a visual essay. The following are some of the fundamental tips to follow while writing a good photo essay.

A good photo essay commences with selecting a subject which suits and meets the set criteria forth by the instructor. Like the traditional essay, a photo essay must have topic and minimum requirements which the writers have to fulfill. For instance, in case there is an upcoming community event like a wedding or church function. The bottom line before commencing in writing good photo essay is capturing the photo. The need to locate a park or any conducive context for photo shooting is inevitable. Clear and concise pictures are impeccable in such a paper since they are the primary media for communication. They are the epitome of the essay which requires comprehensive planning to facilitate the delivery of good photo essay.

Consideration of a primary consumer of a photo essay is another important tip while generating such a paper. A consumer of such a paper is an audience who will read the photo essay and appreciate the work. Photos in such a paper must be tailored and customized to suits the taste and dignity of the consumers. The photos captured for the entire class is different from the photo essay presented to the instructor for review. The instructors are keen to professional presentation of such an essay while fellow students are moved with context and theme of the paper. Ideally, the presentation of materials in this type of a paper should be made easily accessible to the target audience. A good photo essay should reflect the likes and interest of the audience.

Other important tips while developing this type of essay are goal and objective of the writing. During shooting, the pictures should reinforce the desired goals. Some photo essays are argumentative. Regarding this, the images should support the course and reflect the overall sides of the argument. Selection of appropriate photos to support the theme in the essay is therefore key while generating the photo essay. The writer should also consider taking many relevant pictures during shooting to support the theme. Capturing many photos enables the writer to select the best from the best photos captured for printing. Snapping many photos provides the writer with the more options of selecting the most suitable and usable shots. The writer should consider the chronological arrangement of photos to deliver the story. The writer should also select a relevant slideshow program to arrange the pictures in a way that sequentially provides a flow of the story.

The written portion of the essay should follow immediately beneath each photo to provide a detailed description of the story. The writer should practice restriction in the use of the written portion of the essay unless expanding the photographs. Precisely, the written portion should be used to provide the backstory as well as anothr relevant history of the photograph. Such information is meant to enlighten the viewer concerning the photo essay.

Occasionally, the funny pictures in the paper should be used to provide humor and relief the reader from intensive concentration. Finally, the inclusion of a clincher is another important tip of generating a good photo essay. Though the clincher image may not be apparently clear in the beginning, it wraps up the essay for the viewer. The clincher image shows the end of the paper, provides a call to action, show the result sequentially.

Wrapping it up

In conclusion, writing a good photo essay does not necessarily require technical experience of photography. Primarily, the writer ought to understand and choose the topic, understand the target audience, and goals and objective of the paper. Strict adherence to the above tips is inevitable in developing a concise, coherent and excellent photo essay for storytelling.

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