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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!
A2 Level Essay – Unit 3 – Text and Image
A Level Photography Essay – Unit 3
Explore the ways in which words affect an image Word Count: 2,016
Introduction The phrase ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ means that a picture, or in this case a photograph, can tell a story as well as a large amount of descriptive text. However when artists such as Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger combine these two ‘story-telling’ techniques, it can emphasise a completely different depth of meaning rather than the two elements singularly. I am examining how words can affect how we read a photograph and whether different phrases can change the meaning of the same photograph.
we can recognise that the photographs have some similarities. Each black and white photograph consists of a landscape of Washington in America where we can see the top of skyscrapers and buildings in the top third of the photographs. In the middle third, we can make out a woodland area full of trees; and a lake in the bottom third. We can recognise that these photographs were taken at night or perhaps twilight because although the sky is clear, we can see the lights in the buildings. Furthermore, the projected words – appearing over the trees (and in two images also on the lake) are bright which allows the lettering to stand out. We can recognise that Holzer used natural lighting from the moonlight or twilight as we can visibly see the light projections. Based on the size of the photograph, we can assume that the landscape was shot on a medium format, most probably 64s. We can also assume that a small aperture was used to create a large depth of field. Furthermore, judging by the compressed perspective, we can also estimate that it was likely shot at roughly 80-100 mm. Each photograph has its own individual phrase over the same landscape: ‘This is no fantasy. It will be achieved by concrete steps to solve’ projected in the first; ‘National interest?’ in the second and ‘”Secrecy” In a free and open society;’ in the third. After further research, I discovered that each of the three phrases have been taken from speeches given by former US President John F Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963. Kennedy faced many hardships during his short time in office such as the fight against the Soviet Union and the Cuban Missile crisis. However, when Holzer took these photographs of the capital in 2007, this was around the beginning of the Financial Crisis in America which was ‘considered by many economists the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.’1 Many US citizens began to doubt the government and George W. Bush at this point. Holzer could be perhaps questioning the government and their honesty towards its citizens. This could explain her choice of location, the capital of America, where the government is held. The lack of honesty could possibly be shown through the lack of building visible in the photograph suggesting perhaps an idea of ‘secrecy’ which is further emphasized by the word projected in one of the photographs. Furthermore, the darkness of the trees and lake could suggest how Holzer feels, as an American citizen, that she has been left in the darkness about the true financial state of the US. Holzer’s distance from the busy capital could also symbolise a distance not only from her country’s government, but also her distance from the truth shared to her as a citizen. The first photograph contains the phrase: ‘This is no fantasy: it will be achieved by concrete steps to solve’ could suggest Holzer’s disappointment towards the government and suggest that maybe she believes they are not doing their job properly. The question asked in the second photograph ‘National interest?’ could be Holzer referencing the money crisis and the national debt. However, it could also be a question aimed towards the government considering whether the choices they have chosen really were for the interest of the nation and its citizens. Whereas the third phrase ‘Secrecy, in a free and open society’ creates a hint of sarcasm further hinting at the feel of deceit towards the citizens of America from its own government. Furthermore, by projecting onto the trees, Holzer highlights them perhaps to show us the glaringly obvious fact of the government’s secrecy and yet we fail to see this. Without these phrases, one could have read these images in a completely different aspect. For example, the perspective of the buildings towering over the woodlands could have suggested the idea of destruction of natural environment by the pollution of city life. However, with the addition of the phrases we can recognise that this towering over of the buildings signifies the power that the government have and the lack that the citizens hold. This proves that although the meaning in each photograph is only slightly different, the addition of them helps to make Holzer’s message more obvious to the audience by literally spelling it out for the viewer and making them address the important issues and examine what is really happening in the world.
Barbara Kruger ImageBarbara Kruger is also an American conceptual artist who was born 26th January 1945 and currently lives and works in Los Angeles and New York. Kruger has also worked as a magazine editorial designer during her early career. The majority of her work consists of black and white photographs overlaid with declarative captions – in white on red Futura Bold Oblique or Helvetica Ultra Condensed. The phrases used in her work usually include pronouns, perhaps in a way to engage and address her audience with the message she is trying to express. Kruger’s work usually tries to involve the viewer in some idea of struggle for power and control, whether in the theme of feminism, consumerism or individual autonomy. Kruger collects her images from mainstream magazines and juxtaposes the image with her text which criticises the sexism and the circulation of power within cultures. This juxtaposition is very powerful as the magazines she takes her images from sell the ideas that Kruger is in fact criticising. Kruger said that ‘I work with pictures and words because they have the ability to determine who we are and who we aren’t’.2 Kruger’s pre-digital works, usually referred to as ‘paste-ups’ are evident of her influence from her work as a magazine editorial designer. For her later work, Kruger uses a computer before transferring her work to billboard-sized images. We can see many of Kruger’s personal qualities in her work ‘Stopwatches’:
The black and white photograph consists of a hand reaching from the top, left hand corner. We can assume that the hand belongs to a woman due to the long acrylic nails. The hand is holding a non-digital stopwatch with the fingers hiding just a small section of the face of the clock so that the stopwatch is still visible. The thumb is placed over the button of the stopwatch, which creates the idea of time running out. This image is repeated nine times but with a different word underneath: Happy, Sad, Awake, Asleep, Hopeful, Doubtful, Relaxed, Tense, and Alive. Each word is written in white font with a black background. From looking at Kruger’s work, we can assume that the original photograph of the hand was possibly taken with one high powered studio light, positioned slightly above the hand and angled downwards. We can also recognise that the photograph was shot on a white background. Judging by the square format of the image, we can suspect that the photograph was possibly shot on a medium format, perhaps 4” x 4” or 5” x 5”. The perspective of the photograph is true to the human eye with everything in proportion and there is no perceivable distortion. This tells us that it was shot on a telephoto lens rather than a wide angle lens, possibly a 50mm or 80mm lens. The difference in words seems to be Kruger expressing how one thing can mean different things to different people. It almost seems as if Kruger creates something extraordinary out of the ordinary. It seems as if the words work in pairs of opposites: happy and sad, awake and asleep, hopeful and doubtful, relaxed and tense. This seems to allude to the ‘times’ that can occur to us during our lifetime: for example a happy time in our lives or a sad time in our lives. Furthermore, the pair of awake and asleep seems to allude to the idea of day and night. These ideas are further emphasised by the singular ‘Alive’ which could further suggest that all these different emotions and moments occur throughout our lives. However, the final ‘Alive’ being singular creates a sort of cliff-hanger; however the viewer can recognise the pair would probably be ‘Dead’. This creates a slightly morbid tone to Kruger’s work. However, it seems as if Kruger is trying to emphasise to the viewer that they must live their life before time runs out. This idea of time running out seems to be emphasised by the thumb resting over the button, as if suggesting it has control over when your life begins and ends. This seems to create a religious allusion to the hand, which is further emphasised through the hand appearing downwards from the top, left hand corner as if alluding to the hand of God. This could also link to Kruger’s criticism towards the women portrayed in magazines – shown through the acrylic nails – and how women idolize to be like them. The use of words could be Kruger emphasising her highly important message: to live your life to the fullest.
Comparison From studying and analysing Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger’s work, we can recognise some comparisons. It seems that both conceptual artists seem to use words in order to create a clearer and more precise understanding of the message or opinion that they are trying to portray through their work. Both Holzer and Kruger seem to create large-scale versions of their work, whether on billboards or projected over public monuments, in order to express their opinions and views to a wider audience. We can also see that both artists use of words can create a completely different effect on the same image. Although the main message behind the photographs is similar, the use of different words can change how we read the image. I find that the idea of words effects on the same image is particularly interesting and would like to experiment this in my own work. I would perhaps like to try this with subjects holding a straight face and writing a happy moment and a sad moment on the same image in order to investigate whether the viewer will read the expressions differently.
Conclusion Overall, I have found that the inclusion of words to an image can make more than a great impact in expressing the message behind the photograph. It is with Kruger’s use of words that she includes her audience and clearly shows her juxtaposition of feminist views through her text with the images taken from magazines she is criticising. Whereas for Holzer, it clearly states her opinions and views and her projection of these words on to public monuments and buildings allows her to express her opinions to a large viewing audience. As I further my own investigation of the effect of words on an image, I would like to continue to see if not only words, but perhaps music can affect how we read a photograph.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Holzer, Jenny. Washington 2007. 2007. Photograph. Jenny Holzer Website, Washington. Washington 2007 – Jenny Holzer. Jenny Holzer. Web. 26 Oct. 2013. http://projects.jennyholzer.com/projections/washington-2007. Kruger, Barbara. Stopwatches. N.d. Photograph. Barbara Kruger Website. Art – Barbara Kruger. Barbara Kruger. Web. 30 Oct. 2013. http://www.barbarakruger.com/art/stopwatches.jpg Kruger, Barbara, and Richard Prince. “BOMB Magazine: All Tomorrow’s Parties by Barbara Kruger and Richard Prince.” Atom. BOMB Magazine, n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. http://bombsite.com/issues/3/articles/63 Reuters. “Financial Crisis of 2007–08.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Oct. 2013. Web. 29 Oct. 2013. Stadelmann, Marcus. “Examining the Presidency of John F. Kennedy.” – For Dummies. For Dummies, n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2013 http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/examining-the-presidency-of-john-f-kennedy.html
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What is a Photo Essay? 9 Photo Essay Examples You Can Recreate
A photo essay is a series of photographs that tell a story. Unlike a written essay, a photo essay focuses on visuals instead of words. With a photo essay, you can stretch your creative limits and explore new ways to connect with your audience. Whatever your photography skill level, you can recreate your own fun and creative photo essay.
9 Photo Essay Examples You Can Recreate
- Photowalk Photo Essay
- Transformation Photo Essay
- Day in the Life Photo Essay
- Event Photo Essay
- Building Photo Essay
- Historic Site or Landmark Photo Essay
- Behind the Scenes Photo Essay
- Family Photo Essay
- Education Photo Essay
Stories are important to all of us. While some people gravitate to written stories, others are much more attuned to visual imagery. With a photo essay, you can tell a story without writing a word. Your use of composition, contrast, color, and perspective in photography will convey ideas and evoke emotions.
To explore narrative photography, you can use basic photographic equipment. You can buy a camera or even use your smartphone to get started. While lighting, lenses, and post-processing software can enhance your photos, they aren’t necessary to achieve good results.
Whether you need to complete a photo essay assignment or want to pursue one for fun or professional purposes, you can use these photo essay ideas for your photography inspiration . Once you know the answer to “what is a photo essay?” and find out how fun it is to create one, you’ll likely be motivated to continue your forays into photographic storytelling.
1 . Photowalk Photo Essay
One popular photo essay example is a photowalk. Simply put, a photowalk is time you set aside to walk around a city, town, or a natural site and take photos. Some cities even have photowalk tours led by professional photographers. On these tours, you can learn the basics about how to operate your camera, practice photography composition techniques, and understand how to look for unique shots that help tell your story.
Set aside at least two to three hours for your photowalk. Even if you’re photographing a familiar place—like your own home town—try to look at it through new eyes. Imagine yourself as a first-time visitor or pretend you’re trying to educate a tourist about the area.
Walk around slowly and look for different ways to capture the mood and energy of your location. If you’re in a city, capture wide shots of streets, close-ups of interesting features on buildings, street signs, and candid shots of people. Look for small details that give the city character and life. And try some new concepts—like reflection picture ideas—by looking for opportunities to photographs reflections in mirrored buildings, puddles, fountains, or bodies of water.
2 . Transformation Photo Essay
With a transformation photography essay, you can tell the story about change over time. One of the most popular photostory examples, a transformation essay can document a mom-to-be’s pregnancy or a child’s growth from infancy into the toddler years. But people don’t need to be the focus of a transformation essay. You can take photos of a house that is being built or an urban area undergoing revitalization.
You can also create a photo narrative to document a short-term change. Maybe you want to capture images of your growing garden or your move from one home to another. These examples of photo essays are powerful ways of telling the story of life’s changes—both large and small.
3 . Day in the Life Photo Essay
Want a unique way to tell a person’s story? Or, perhaps you want to introduce people to a career or activity. You may want to consider a day in the life essay.
With this photostory example, your narrative focuses on a specific subject for an entire day. For example, if you are photographing a farmer, you’ll want to arrive early in the morning and shadow the farmer as he or she performs daily tasks. Capture a mix of candid shots of the farmer at work and add landscapes and still life of equipment for added context. And if you are at a farm, don’t forget to get a few shots of the animals for added character, charm, or even a dose of humor. These types of photography essay examples are great practice if you are considering pursuing photojournalism. They also help you learn and improve your candid portrait skills.
4 . Event Photo Essay
Events are happening in your local area all the time, and they can make great photo essays. With a little research, you can quickly find many events that you could photograph. There may be bake sales, fundraisers, concerts, art shows, farm markets, block parties, and other non profit event ideas . You could also focus on a personal event, such as a birthday or graduation.
At most events, your primary emphasis will be on capturing candid photos of people in action. You can also capture backgrounds or objects to set the scene. For example, at a birthday party, you’ll want to take photos of the cake and presents.
For a local or community event, you can share your photos with the event organizer. Or, you may be able to post them on social media and tag the event sponsor. This is a great way to gain recognition and build your reputation as a talented photographer.
5. Building Photo Essay
Many buildings can be a compelling subject for a photographic essay. Always make sure that you have permission to enter and photograph the building. Once you do, look for interesting shots and angles that convey the personality, purpose, and history of the building. You may also be able to photograph the comings and goings of people that visit or work in the building during the day.
Some photographers love to explore and photograph abandoned buildings. With these types of photos, you can provide a window into the past. Definitely make sure you gain permission before entering an abandoned building and take caution since some can have unsafe elements and structures.
6. Historic Site or Landmark Photo Essay
Taking a series of photos of a historic site or landmark can be a great experience. You can learn to capture the same site from different angles to help portray its character and tell its story. And you can also photograph how people visit and engage with the site or landmark. Take photos at different times of day and in varied lighting to capture all its nuances and moods.
You can also use your photographic essay to help your audience understand the history of your chosen location. For example, if you want to provide perspective on the Civil War, a visit to a battleground can be meaningful. You can also visit a site when reenactors are present to share insight on how life used to be in days gone by.
7 . Behind the Scenes Photo Essay
Another fun essay idea is taking photos “behind the scenes” at an event. Maybe you can chronicle all the work that goes into a holiday festival from the early morning set-up to the late-night teardown. Think of the lead event planner as the main character of your story and build the story about him or her.
Or, you can go backstage at a drama production. Capture photos of actors and actresses as they transform their looks with costuming and makeup. Show the lead nervously pacing in the wings before taking center stage. Focus the work of stagehands, lighting designers, and makeup artists who never see the spotlight but bring a vital role in bringing the play to life.
8. Family Photo Essay
If you enjoy photographing people, why not explore photo story ideas about families and relationships? You can focus on interactions between two family members—such as a father and a daughter—or convey a message about a family as a whole.
Sometimes these type of photo essays can be all about the fun and joy of living in a close-knit family. But sometimes they can be powerful portraits of challenging social topics. Images of a family from another country can be a meaningful photo essay on immigration. You could also create a photo essay on depression by capturing families who are coping with one member’s illness.
For these projects on difficult topics, you may want to compose a photo essay with captions. These captions can feature quotes from family members or document your own observations. Although approaching hard topics isn’t easy, these types of photos can have lasting impact and value.
9. Education Photo Essay
Opportunities for education photo essays are everywhere—from small preschools to community colleges and universities. You can seek permission to take photos at public or private schools or even focus on alternative educational paths, like homeschooling.
Your education photo essay can take many forms. For example, you can design a photo essay of an experienced teacher at a high school. Take photos of him or her in action in the classroom, show quiet moments grading papers, and capture a shared laugh between colleagues in the teacher’s lounge.
Alternatively, you can focus on a specific subject—such as science and technology. Or aim to portray a specific grade level, document activities club or sport, or portray the social environment. A photo essay on food choices in the cafeteria can be thought-provoking or even funny. There are many potential directions to pursue and many great essay examples.
While education is an excellent topic for a photo essay for students, education can be a great source of inspiration for any photographer.
Why Should You Create a Photo Essay?
Ultimately, photographers are storytellers. Think of what a photographer does during a typical photo shoot. He or she will take a series of photos that helps convey the essence of the subject—whether that is a person, location, or inanimate object. For example, a family portrait session tells the story of a family—who they are, their personalities, and the closeness of their relationship.
Learning how to make a photo essay can help you become a better storyteller—and a better photographer. You’ll cultivate key photography skills that you can carry with you no matter where your photography journey leads.
If you simply want to document life’s moments on social media, you may find that a single picture doesn’t always tell the full story. Reviewing photo essay examples and experimenting with your own essay ideas can help you choose meaningful collections of photos to share with friends and family online.
Learning how to create photo essays can also help you work towards professional photography ambitions. You’ll often find that bloggers tell photographic stories. For example, think of cooking blogs that show you each step in making a recipe. Photo essays are also a mainstay of journalism. You’ll often find photo essays examples in many media outlets—everywhere from national magazines to local community newspapers. And the best travel photographers on Instagram tell great stories with their photos, too.
With a photo essay, you can explore many moods and emotions. Some of the best photo essays tell serious stories, but some are humorous, and others aim to evoke action.
You can raise awareness with a photo essay on racism or a photo essay on poverty. A photo essay on bullying can help change the social climate for students at a school. Or, you can document a fun day at the beach or an amusement park. You have control of the themes, photographic elements, and the story you want to tell.
5 Steps to Create a Photo Essay
Every photo essay will be different, but you can use a standard process. Following these five steps will guide you through every phase of your photo essay project—from brainstorming creative essay topics to creating a photo essay to share with others.
Step 1: Choose Your Photo Essay Topics
Just about any topic you can imagine can form the foundation for a photo essay. You may choose to focus on a specific event, such as a wedding, performance, or festival. Or you may want to cover a topic over a set span of time, such as documenting a child’s first year. You could also focus on a city or natural area across the seasons to tell a story of changing activities or landscapes.
Since the best photo essays convey meaning and emotion, choose a topic of interest. Your passion for the subject matter will shine through each photograph and touch your viewer’s hearts and minds.
Step 2: Conduct Upfront Research
Much of the work in a good-quality photo essay begins before you take your first photo. It’s always a good idea to do some research on your planned topic.
Imagine you’re going to take photos of a downtown area throughout the year. You should spend some time learning the history of the area. Talk with local residents and business owners and find out about planned events. With these insights, you’ll be able to plan ahead and be prepared to take photos that reflect the area’s unique personality and lifestyles.
For any topic you choose, gather information first. This may involve internet searches, library research, interviews, or spending time observing your subject.
Step 3: Storyboard Your Ideas
After you have done some research and have a good sense of the story you want to tell, you can create a storyboard. With a storyboard, you can write or sketch out the ideal pictures you want to capture to convey your message.
You can turn your storyboard into a “shot list” that you can bring with you on site. A shot list can be especially helpful when you are at a one-time event and want to capture specific shots for your photo essay. If you’ve never created a photo essay before, start with ten shot ideas. Think of each shot as a sentence in your story. And aim to make each shot evoke specific ideas or emotions.
Step 4: Capture Images
Your storyboard and shot list will be important guides to help you make the most of each shoot. Be sure to set aside enough time to capture all the shots you need—especially if you are photographing a one-time event. And allow yourself to explore your ideas using different photography composition, perspective, and color contrast techniques.
You may need to take a hundred images or more to get ten perfect ones for your photographic essay. Or, you may find that you want to add more photos to your story and expand your picture essay concept.
Also, remember to look for special unplanned, moments that help tell your story. Sometimes, spontaneous photos that aren’t on your shot list can be full of meaning. A mix of planning and flexibility almost always yields the best results.
Step 5: Edit and Organize Photos to Tell Your Story
After capturing your images, you can work on compiling your photo story. To create your photo essay, you will need to make decisions about which images portray your themes and messages. At times, this can mean setting aside beautiful images that aren’t a perfect fit. You can use your shot list and storyboard as a guide but be open to including photos that weren’t in your original plans.
You may want to use photo editing software—such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop— to enhance and change photographs. With these tools, you can adjust lighting and white balance, perform color corrections, crop, or perform other edits. If you have a signature photo editing style, you may want to use Photoshop Actions or Lightroom Presets to give all your photos a consistent look and feel.
You order a photo book from one of the best photo printing websites to publish your photo story. You can add them to an album on a photo sharing site, such as Flickr or Google Photos. Also, you could focus on building a website dedicated to documenting your concepts through visual photo essays. If so, you may want to use SEO for photographers to improve your website’s ranking in search engine results. You could even publish your photo essay on social media. Another thing to consider is whether you want to include text captures or simply tell your story through photographs.
Choose the medium that feels like the best space to share your photo essay ideas and vision with your audiences. You should think of your photo essay as your own personal form of art and expression when deciding where and how to publish it.
Photo Essays Can Help You Become a Better Photographer
Whatever your photography ambitions may be, learning to take a photo essay can help you grow. Even simple essay topics can help you gain skills and stretch your photographic limits. With a photo essay, you start to think about how a series of photographs work together to tell a complete story. You’ll consider how different shots work together, explore options for perspective and composition, and change the way you look at the world.
Before you start taking photos, you should review photo essay examples. You can find interesting pictures to analyze and photo story examples online, in books, or in classic publications, like Life Magazine . Don’t forget to look at news websites for photojournalism examples to broaden your perspective. This review process will help you in brainstorming simple essay topics for your first photo story and give you ideas for the future as well.
Ideas and inspiration for photo essay topics are everywhere. You can visit a park or go out into your own backyard to pursue a photo essay on nature. Or, you can focus on the day in the life of someone you admire with a photo essay of a teacher, fireman, or community leader. Buildings, events, families, and landmarks are all great subjects for concept essay topics. If you are feeling stuck coming up with ideas for essays, just set aside a few hours to walk around your city or town and take photos. This type of photowalk can be a great source of material.
You’ll soon find that advanced planning is critical to your success. Brainstorming topics, conducting research, creating a storyboard, and outlining a shot list can help ensure you capture the photos you need to tell your story. After you’ve finished shooting, you’ll need to decide where to house your photo essay. You may need to come up with photo album title ideas, write captions, and choose the best medium and layout.
Without question, creating a photo essay can be a valuable experience for any photographer. That’s true whether you’re an amateur completing a high school assignment or a pro looking to hone new skills. You can start small with an essay on a subject you know well and then move into conquering difficult ideas. Maybe you’ll want to create a photo essay on mental illness or a photo essay on climate change. Or maybe there’s another cause that is close to your heart.
Whatever your passion, you can bring it to life with a photo essay.
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Ten examples of immersive photo essays
By Marissa Sapega — Contributing Writer
Photo essays are one of the most powerful forms of storytelling in the last century. From the great depression photographer W. Eugene Smith to the photojournalism of National Geographic or Life Magazine , the best photo essays entertain, educate, and move readers more than words alone ever could.
But photo essays have changed. Over the last decade, web publishing technologies — including web browsers and file formats — have improved by leaps and bounds. A good photo essays today is more than a collection of images. It’s a truly interactive, immersive, and multimedia experiences.
In this guide, we introduce 10 stunning examples of visually arresting interactive photo essays to fuel your creative juices.
Now, let's set the scene with a short introduction to immersive, interactive photo essays on the web.
Publish stunning photo essays for free. Build immersive photo essays with Shorthand. No code, no credit card, and no commitment required. Start publishing.
The rise of immersive, interactive photo essays
What is an immersive, interactive photo essay? Let's take these terms one at a time.
An immersive photo essay uses rich media and story design to capture and keep the reader's attention. Immersive content is typically free of the most distracting elements of the web, such as pop-ups, skyscrapers, and other intrusions on the reading experience.
As a basic rule of thumb, immersive content respects the reader's attention.
An interactive photo essay is one that allows the reader to control how the content appears. It may include interactive elements, like maps and embedded applications.
More commonly, modern interactive photo stories use a technique known as scrollytelling . Scrollytelling stories allow the reader to trigger animations and other visual effects as they scroll. Many of the examples in this guide use scrollytelling techniques. Read more scrollytelling examples .
Until relatively recently, immersive, interactive photo essays could only be created with the help of a designer or web developer. But with the rise of digital storytelling platforms , anyone can create compelling, dynamic stories without writing a single line of code.
If you're looking to learn more about how to create a photo essay — or are looking for more photo essay ideas — check out our introduction to photo essays .
Photo essay topics
If you’re looking for photo essay examples, chances are you’re looking to create a photo essay for yourself. If you’re just getting started, you might want some guidance on exactly what kinds of topics make for great photo essays.
More experienced photographers — feel free to skip this section. But for those who are just starting out, here’s a quick list of classic photo essay subject matter, for all types of photo essays.
- Local events. A great way to start out is photograph local events in your community, such as a high school fundraiser. A bonus is that you’ll have a ready
- Historic sites. Another classic photo essay topic is an exploration of a historic site. This could be a building, a monument, or even just a specific location that has significance.
- Profile of a person. A great way to get to know someone is to profile them in a photo essay. This could be a family member, friend, or even just someone you’ve met.
- Animals in captivity. Another popular subject matter for photo essays is animals in captivity, whether that’s at a zoo or elsewhere.
- A day in the life. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live someone else’s life for a day? Why not find out and document it in a photo essay?
- Street photography. Another great way to practice your photography skills is to head out into the streets and photograph the everyday lives of people around you. The world has plenty of photo essays of cities like New York and London. But what about street photography in your own backyard?
- Still life photography. Still life photography is all about capturing inanimate objects on film. This could be anything from flowers to furniture to food. It’s a great way to practice your photography skills and learn about composition
- Landscapes . Landscape photography is one of the most popular genres, and for good reason. There are endless possibilities when it comes to finding interesting subjects to shoot. So get out there and start exploring!
- Abandoned buildings. There’s something fascinating about abandoned buildings. They offer a glimpse into the past, and can be eerily beautiful. If you have any in your area, they make for great photo essay subjects.
- Lifestyles. Document someone who lives a lifestyle that’s different from your own. This could be a portrayal of an everyday person, or it could be someone with an unusual job or hobby.
- Social issues. Take photos depicting significant social issues in your community, remembering to respect your subjects.
Ten inspiring photo essay examples
Pink lagoon and peculiar galaxies — July’s best science images
In Pink lagoon and peculiar galaxies , Nature present a mesmerising series of images from the natural world. Highlights include:
- a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it photo of rare albino orcas performing feats of synchronized swimming;
- an arresting aerial view of the aftermath of the flash floods in Germany; and,
- a scarlet gawping Venus flytrap sea anemone.
The best part? Nature publishes similarly powerful photo essays every month, showcasing some of the best and most creative photography of the natural world anywhere on the web.
Vanishing lands — an ominously interesting photo essay from media company Stuff — opens with a bucolic visual featuring meandering sheep flanked by breathtaking mountains that blur into obscurity.
Soon, more awe-inspiring photos of breathtaking New Zealand farmland appear, accompanied by expressive prose whose tone matches the visuals’ stark beauty.
In this unflinchingly honest photographic essay, Stuff takes the viewer behind the scenes with a day in the life of a high country sheep farmer facing an uncertain future. One stunning photo fades into the next as you scroll through, broken only by the occasional noteworthy quote and accompanying narrative.
Olympic photos: Emotion runs high
This emotionally wrought sports story from NBC begins with a close-up of an anxious Simone Biles, her expression exemplifying the tension and frustration echoed on so many of her fellow athletes’ faces.
The subtitle puts it perfectly: “The agony—and thrill—of competition at the Olympics is written all over their faces.”
Devastation, disappointment, and defeat take centre stage in this piece — but not all the subjects of the photos in this compelling photography essay depict misery. Some of the images, like that taken of the gold medal-winning Russian artistic gymnasts, manage to project the athletes’ joy almost beyond the edges of the screen.
The NBC editors who created this visual story chose to display the series of photos using the entire screen width and limit the copy to simple captions, letting the visuals speak for themselves. The result is a riveting montage of photographs that manage to capture the overarching sentiment of the 2020 Olympic Games.
James Epp: A Twist of the Hand
In A Twist of the Hand , the Museum of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge have produced a gorgeous photo essay. This online art show showcases artist James Epp’s installation, combining photographs of the exhibit with images of museum prints and authentic artefacts.
As you scroll down, close-up shots of the installation make you feel like you’re physically wandering among the ancient sculptures, able to examine hairline spider cracks and tiny divots marking the surface of every antiquated figure. In between the photos—and often flanked by museum prints—are James Epp's musings about what inspired him to create the pieces. It’s an absorbing virtual gallery that will no doubt inspire real life visits to the exhibition.
The Café Racer Revolution
Though it’s a cleverly built piece of interactive content marketing , Honda’s “ Café Racer Revolution ” is also a great photo essay. Alongside information about the latest and greatest motorcycles Honda has to offer, it details the history of the bikers who sought to employ motorcycles (specifically “café racers”) as a way to forge an identity for themselves and project a “statement of individuality.”
Scroll down, and nostalgic black-and-white photos give way to contemporary action shots featuring fully decked-out motorcyclists on various Honda models.
Dynamic photos of bikes rotate them 360 degrees when you mouse over them, and text superimposed over flashy shots rolls smoothly down the screen as you scroll. This photo essay will stir a longing to hit the open road for anyone who has ever dreamed of owning one of Honda’s zippy bikes.
Built to keep Black from white
In Built to keep Black from white , NBC News and BridgeDetroit have built a stunning narrative photo essay that encapsulates the history of Detroit’s Birwood Wall — a literal dividing line intended to separate neighborhoods inhabited by people of different races.
The piece begins with a brief history of the concrete barrier. Between paragraphs of text, it weaves in quotes from residents who grew up as the wall was erected and a short video. Animated maps highlighting the affected neighborhoods unspool across the screen as you scroll down, accompanied by brief explanations of what the maps represent.
In the series of photographs that follow, contemporary images transition into decades-old shots of the wall when it was newly constructed. This is followed by images of original real estate documents, resident portraits, and additional animated maps — each considering the issue from different angles.
The piece ends with an interactive display of how Detroit’s racial makeup has changed over the past several decades, from majority white to black, and how the wall has impacted the lives of its residents who lived (and died) within its borders.
The story of Black Lives Matter in sport
The BBC pairs illustrations and bold imagery in this photo essay on how athletes participated in the Black Lives Matter movement . At the start, a narrow column of text leads into an iconic image of American football players kneeling during the pre-game national anthem in a solemn protest against police brutality.
The first excerpt, a summary of Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012, draws you in with piercing prose capped off with photographs that bleed into one another. Every account in the photo essay follows this layout.
WaterAid Climate Stories
Climate change affects everyone on the planet, but some people are feeling the effects more than others. WaterAid’s scrollytelling photo essay illuminates the plight of individuals living in areas where extreme weather conditions — caused by climate change — have drastically impacted the water supply and environment, endangering their livelihoods and ability to survive.
This climate change story starts with an engrossing video that provides an up-close and personal look at the devastation that climate change-induced droughts have wreaked on people and the environment. As you scroll down, images of massively depleted bodies of water with superimposed text and quotes unfold before your eyes. It’s an efficient way to drive home the critical message WaterAid wants to convey: climate change is real, and it’s harming real people.
Each extreme weather story focuses on an individual to help viewers empathise and understand that climate change has real, drastic consequences for millions of people worldwide. The piece ends with a call to action to learn more about and financially support WaterAid’s fight to assist people living in the desperate situations depicted in the essay.
28 Days in Afghanistan
In this piece, Australian photo-journalist Andrew Quilty tells the story of the four weeks he spent in Afghanistan . He captures daily events ranging from the mundane—like a casual visit to his barber—to jarring. More than one photo documents blood-spattered victims of violence.
Viewers must scroll through the piece to follow Andrew’s daily musings and the striking photos that accompany them. His photo essay is a powerful example of how scrollytelling is transforming the art of long-form journalism .
La carrera lunática de Musk y Bezos (Musk and Bezos' lunatic careers)
Billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are angling to conquer the final frontier: space.
El Periódico captures their story via a whimsically illustrated photo essay, filled with neon line drawings and bold photos of the massive spaceships, the hangars that house them, and footprints on the moon. La carrera lunática de Musk y Bezos describes the battle between the two titans’ space companies (Blue Origin and SpaceX) for the honor of partially funding NASA’s next mission to the moon.
As you scroll down, white and fluorescent yellow words on a black background roll smoothly over images. The team at El Periódico slips in stylistic animations to break up the text—such as rocket ships with shimmering “vapour trails”—then ups the ante with a series of moon images that transition into portraits of the 12 U.S. astronauts who visited the celestial body.
The photo essay ends with the question: “Who will be the next to leave their footprints on the dusty lunar soil?” At the time of publishing, NASA had not yet decided between the two companies. (Spoiler alert: SpaceX won .)
Marissa Sapega is a seasoned writer, editor, and digital marketer with a background in web and graphic design.
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REDress Photography Project Photo Essay
In 2010, Métis artist Jaime Black created an art exhibit that displayed over one hundred red dresses to represent missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
This symbolic use of red dresses inspired photographer Mufty Mathewson to start collecting photographs of red dresses in various locations. Since 2015, her REDress Photography Project has grown to a collection of 181 photos.
Today, red dresses continue to be used across Canada as a representation of the Indigenous women and girls lost to violent crime and as a call for action to prevent future violence.
Learn more about the REDress Photography Project through our photo essay that features photographs from the collection.
To start the photo essay, click on the photo below.
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