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.


Comment on this

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: