Assignment 7 – Picture Story/Photo Essay

The Assignment:

Select a topic, issue, or subject and create a visual narrative or photo essay. This is not a “survey” assignment where you simply present a variety of photographs of something. Tell me a story with your photographs and make each picture count! Use everything you’ve learned this semester about timing, light and composition. Utilize the concepts of visual variety. Practice the strategies we learned in order to go beyond the immediate and superficial. Put it all together!


  1. Your story should consist of 5-10 pictures. No more and no less. The goal is to find the “right” number of pictures to tell your story. Again, no more, no less.
  2. Introduction. Write a short introduction for your story to set the stage before you let your photographs take over the narrative. One paragraph should do it. No more than three short ones.
  3. Captions. Strict AP Style is not required for this assignment. You should include sufficient information and enough context to compliment your photos and move your narrative forward. Use AP Style first-reference rules, but – as in a written story – you don’t have to repeat full information that’s been previously introduced.
  4. Post to the WordPress site no later than the end of class on April 26 First, your introduction should be at the top of your post. Don’t skip this step! Then, post your pictures, with captions, one at a time so they can be viewed by scrolling – your first picture should be at the top of your post (after the introduction) and the last is at the bottom, so sequence your pictures accordingly.

NOTE: Please don’t use the gallery or slideshow options – these options often cut off parts of your captions, and captions are extremely important with this assignment.


Make the time to build trust with the people who will be your subjects. You don’t have a ton of time before the end of the semester, so perhaps find a person or subject that you have a certain comfort level with and are interested in. Still, shadowing people with a camera can be awkward at first, for both the photographer and the people being photographed. That’s normal. Keep shooting. If you are photographing people being themselves in their environment, you’ll find that the initial awkwardness fades away relatively quickly and you can really get to work.

Visual Variety! Don’t shoot every picture from the same distance and focal length. Mix it up. And don’t forget your shooters mantra. It will help your pictures communicate more quickly and cleanly. Technique will only take you so far, however.

Concentrate on good, story-telling moments.  Don’t give up on situations until you get one. Pay attention to your own emotions while shooting, and see if you can translate those feelings through your photographs.

Remember 3 + 1. This basic structure will help your pictures become a story instead of a mere collection of images. Remember that your story needs an opening image and a closing image. Keep this in mind while you’re shooting and editing. The body is made up of the pictures in between your opener and closer that develop your narrative. Contained within the body should be your “key” or “signature” shot. Your preceding pictures should build up to your showcase image.

Try out the Life magazine formula. The old Life magazine formula for a photo essay is a good template for building your story and giving it structure. The formula also helps ensure that there is visual variety within the story. You don’t want a series of redundant images.

It is not necessary to include every category in your finished story, but if you try to shoot at least one of each category, you are increasing your chances of having a more dynamic, complete final product.

  1. Introductory or Opener
  2. Medium
  3. Close-up
  4. Portrait
  5. Interaction
  6. Signature
  7. Sequence
  8. Closer or Clincher

Take notes and get quotes while shooting. Incorporate them into your captions to help give your story context and a present a better understanding of your story.

Shoot often, but edit your photos even more often. It is extremely important to evaluate your photos as you move forward. Don’t wait until the end! Be ruthless and objective when editing yourself.

You need to learn the difference between your favorite pictures and the pictures that best express the story you are trying to tell.  They are not always the same. To that end, it’s a good idea get other opinions, especially those from people with photography backgrounds. They can help you be more objective during the editing process.

Evaluate and Re-shoot. This should be a continuing process. Don’t think you’re done after shooting one time. This is the step that distinguishes a picture story or photo essay from a package of photos from a single event. Also, the “Day in the Life” approach is passé and rarely successful as a meaningful story. Avoid this approach. This is a good opportunity to use the Life magazine formula. If you are missing some of the categories, try to fill them the next time you shoot. Your pictures should emphasize the human elements over processes. If your pictures are looking like a “How To” manual, go back and reshoot.  Ask yourself some of these questions:

  • Are my pictures visually compelling, or do they look like snapshots?
  • Do my pictures present visual variety, or do they all look like they are shot from the same distance and perspective?
  • Do my pictures have graphic appeal? (Light, creative composition)
  • Am I capturing story-telling moments?
  • Are my pictures emotionally appealing?
  • Have I shot any intimate pictures, revealing something private and unique about my subject?

Some moments, if you miss them, they are gone forever, and you can’t re-shoot them. But, more often than not, there are plenty of recurring elements in any story that can be shot over and over until you capture that element in a compelling way. Insist on that kind of excellence.

Laying out your final story. Aim for a group of five to ten pictures in your finished project. More than 10 is way too much for the amount of time you will be spending on this assignment. Edit tightly. Include only excellent ones, and use the fewest pictures it takes to tell your story. Your story will only be as strong as your weakest photo. These stories will be presented in a linear fashion, by scrolling through your post. Sequencing is important in this type of presentation, so pay attention to the order in which they are presented.

Enjoy what you’re doing! Part of this assignment is to understand the process of visual story telling and the professional standards by which it is judged. But the act and process of visual story telling should be rewarding. Documenting the human condition, even just a little part of it, helps us to understand ourselves. Hopefully, you’ll take some satisfaction from tackling this project.


More on visual narratives … learning the process

This last shooting assignment is a way for you to demonstrate what you have learned this semester. It’s a lot to fill your heads with, especially for those with Spring/Graduation fever. However, as society becomes more and more visually oriented and literate, the ability to create visual narratives can make a difference in your ability to be employed and contribute to a changing society. Hopefully, this assignment can give you a fundamental understanding of the process.

Producing visual narratives is a process. In the real world, it is typically a collaborative process that involves subjects, photographers/videographers, as well as editors and producers who help shape the final presentation. And, of course, all of this is conceived and practiced by keeping our audience in mind. Our work simply has to resonate with our audience – otherwise, we are wasting other people’s time.

This assignment requires you to find people/issues that need storytellers. And for YOU to be the storyteller. As we work our way through this, I would like to function as your editor, but I would also like you to recruit your classmates as collaborators. That way, we can all learn about some of the roles that are fulfilled by both content producers AND editors.

So, with that in mind, PLEASE share progress on your stories – either by email with me, or on this website, or on the Facebook group. I highly encourage you to share your progress with everyone! It might be just one, or two, or three pictures of a particular aspect of your story that you are having trouble with.

By sharing it with everyone, we can all take on the role of “editor.” We can call start applying the concepts we have learned in order to evaluate the work of others. And trust me – that is a role that many of you might find yourselves in, at various capacities in the future. For example, you might be a PR professional, and you are presented with multiple images – by both amateurs and professionals – that could make-or-break your latest promotional campaign. You simply HAVE to know what your audience expects.

In other words, many of you might find yourselves in a position to decide whether or not images have editorial or societal merit – so you need to have a foundational understanding of these attributes. Don’t think of this as a way to be judgmental about your classmates. Instead, look at this as a way to HELP your classmates to better evaluate their work, as well as developing your own sense of visual literacy.

SO – let’s start sharing ideas and progress, in pictures, as we generate our last shooting assignment.

Inspiration and review for your picture stories/photo essays

Reviewing some the materials might help you get started on your final shooting assignment for the semester. Make sure you thoroughly read through the assignment itself, though.

Here is the handout that accompanies the lesson on visual narratives. It contains lists for the formulas that we discussed in class. Referring to this will help you through the shooting and editing process:

Visual Narratives: The art of picture stories and photo essays

Here is the PDF version of the presentation on visual narratives. It might help to review the examples of picture stories we looked so you can see how the pictures work with one another, along with the captions, to create a narrative:

Presentation: Visual Narratives

Here is the key video we watched in class. Again, listen carefully as Dave explains how he discovers what he needs to shoot in order to tell someone’s story. Essentially, by talking to your subjects and getting to know them, they will lead you to where the pictures are. And understand the importance of projection. The best journalists, regardless of the medium they work in, learn how to put themselves in another’s shoes in order to tell their stories. And learn the importance of trust. You will never scratch below the surface and be able to move your audience without the trust of your subjects.


We didn’t watch this in class, but here is a follow-up, companion video to the one above. This is a master lesson in how to approach and think your way through shooting a picture story, in great detail. In the first video, Dave tells us about working with a student during a workshop on a story about a woman caring for her 97-year-old father. In this video, we get to hear an actual, unedited conversation between Dave and the student, specifically talking about how to approach the story, the student’s concerns, and Dave’s advice. It’s like being in the huddle with a master coach, and it offers some keen insight into the thought process and problem solving while shooting picture stories. It’s a little longer, but I highly recommend you find a little time to view it. Great advice on shooting and what to look for. Great advice on editing. Just great advice …

Feature Assignment- Taylor

feature assignment-2

Friends embrace the paint at the annual Georgia Southern University Holli Festival of Colors, Thursday March 23. (Photojournalism/Clairissa Taylor)

feature assignment-1

Gregory Taylor, 17, of Atlanta, Ga freezes for final alterations before leaving the nest to meet his date for senior prom. (Photojournalism/Clairissa Taylor)

City Hall (2 of 2)

  Ralph Williams, of Statesboro, Ga waits outside City Hall for his brother to pick him up.               Mr. Williams had to pay to a visit to City Hall after he woke up that morning to find an overdue bill on his door. He is retired and doesn’t drive so his brother dropped him off so he could speak to the city. His brother stated that he would back shortly and it has been hours since he heard from him.



Assignment 5: Feature


Georgia Southern University students celebrate the Holy festival on March 23, 2017. Students record the celebration on their phones.


Ricky Zanders, 21, of Roswell, Ga, donates his comforter at Statesboro’s Goodwill. He hopes someone puts it to good use.

Feature Photos


Shay Williams, of Buffalo, listens to music at John F. Kennedy Airport, N.Y. She is waiting for the flight to Buffalo on Sunday, Mar. 19, 2017.       (Photo by Jiaqi Wu)


Hiya Guha, middle, a Georgia Southern student from India, dances with other students on Georgia Ave. at University Store on the campus of Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Ga. on Thursday, Mar.23,2017. Guha is dancing along to the music to celebrate Holi, the “Festival of Colors,”She really enjoys it.       (Photo by Jiaqi Wu)