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!

Requirements: 

  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.

TIPS and SUGGESTIONS

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.

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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 …

Picture Story proposals …

Just some follow up on picture story proposals. Still haven’t heard from some of you. We’ve got to get rolling, and I need to see something concrete here on the website by Wednesday. I know you all are working on your Light assignment, as well. Make sure you make deadline for that. In light of that (ha ha), I need to see picture story proposals posted here on the website by Wednesday (March 6). You will have until midnight to get something up. If I see anything posted after midnight, it will be considered late.

Once your story proposal is posted, start watching out for comments by me. I will either give you the go-ahead to begin work on your story, or I will make some suggestions and ask you to re-write your proposal base on those suggestions.

Some of you have posted your initial ideas on the website. Good! Just make sure you read the comments I made and follow my suggestions for your final proposal.

Again, you can email me your initial ideas, but you need to post your final proposal on the website.

A few more words about story ideas:

  • Make sure you re-read the assignment so you are clear about what kinds of subjects or topics will work and what information is necessary in your proposal.
  • Please no more story ideas about one-time events! You need to select something you can continue to work on the rest of the semester.
  • Be careful about selecting something that you participate in.
  1. I know I said to try and pick a subject that you are interested in. I think that’s important so you will be encouraged to stay with your subject and spend time with it. However …
  2. The role of a photojournalist is primarily to be a WITNESS, not a participant in events he or she is covering. I think it’s important to develop a relationship with subjects, but there still needs to be a certain amount of professional distance. You are not producing a photo album for your friends. You need to maintain your independence and create a visual narrative that a wide audience can understand.
  3. Additionally, you cannot concentrate on making photographs and developing your visual narrative while you are physically participating in an activity. You need to invest time to tell the stories of your subjects. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to put the camera down in order to participate. That not only creates a potential conflict-of-interest, but it is physically impossible to try and do both.
  • Try to pick a subject that’s outside your ordinary experience, if you can. You need to make an investment in your subject or topic. Don’t pick something just because you would be doing it anyway and it’s easy bring your camera along with you. Your subjects deserve your undivided attention when you’re with them. Make time to work on your story and do nothing else during that time.
  • While hashing out your story ideas, try to describe at least 5 DIFFERENT situations or circumstances you can make photographs of. If you can’t think of at least 5, you probably need to further develop your story idea or pick a different subject or topic.
  • When imagining those circumstances, don’t just think in terms of what people are doing. A group of pictures portraying expressionless people doing a variety of activities will not advance your narrative. Remember that you need to capture storytelling moments and show interaction within those circumstances. That will help you decide WHEN you need to spend time with your subjects.

Anyway, consider these things and get your ideas to me as soon as you can!

Dave LaBelle: On Storytelling

We watched this video in class, but I wanted to post it in case you wanted to watch it again.

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.

 

I’m including a BONUS video! 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 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 …

 

Make an investment in your subject. Every picture (in a story) is like a word in a sentence. And never forget this: The secret to great storytelling is to get out of the way!

Follow up on class (2/20) – Quiz and Picture stories!

Don’t forget about the quiz next week. Start reviewing the handouts cited in the study sheet. You can view and download the study sheet here:

Quiz 1 study sheet

And review the class presentation on working angles and perspectives, as there was no handout but there are a couple of important concepts you need to remember:

Presentation-Perspectives_Portraits

Again, make sure your read the chapter in your textbook on “The Photo Story.”

There are good discussions on the topic and lots of things to consider as you brainstorm story ideas. There are also some really good examples of stories.

If you need to view and download the handouts from class, here are the links:

A4.Picture Story Proposal

Picture Stories (overview)

Tips for shooting and editing photo stories

And here’s the presentation from class for review and downloading: Presentation_PictureStories

 

For further reading, try this article: The Art & Craft Of Modern Storytelling – How to make a compelling photo essay in the Internet age.

Looking for some inspiration as you brainstorm ideas? Look at what others have done. Like I said, sometimes simple ideas can turn into a story with universal appeal. Here’s an example from Nancy Andrews from the Washington Post, who spent weeks with a single dad for a picture story which ran on Fathers Day: Fathers Day.

Try viewing the website for Western Kentucky University’s Mountain Workshop. This is one of the premiere and best-known workshops for photojournalism students and young professionals, so you’ll get to see what can happen when your college peers fan out and visually document a community over a long weekend. Of course, this project involves total emersion into the projects, but there’s no reason why you can’t produce some similar results by spending a couple of hours per week (or so) with your subjects. There are over 50 stories from last year’s workshop alone, linked right on the homepage, you can look at for inspiration.

The University of Missouri has a similar Photo Workshop. Perhaps look there, as well, for some inspiration.

If you want to see examples of some of the best work in the world, perhaps check out the links to the Pictures of the Year International, Best of Photojournalism, and World Press Photo contests linked on the side bar under the Photojournalism Sites header. Many of the winning stories are made overseas, but don’t let that discourage you. Some of the topics can be universal in nature, regardless of where the pictures were made. And some of the winners are made in small communities right here in the U.S. The main thing is to draw inspiration to find interesting subjects and see how picture stories are constructed.

I’m not going to direct you much as you work on these stories, as we have a lot of subject matter to cover during class time. Plus, I’ve found the best way to learn how to shoot picture stories is by doing it. That’s why we start early – if you mess up or miss something, you will likely have a chance to return to your subject and keep trying until you capture something that will round your stories out.

Use the materials I’ve given you to help you plan and edit. And I highly encourage you share some of your results along the way – both with me and the class right on the website. And you can always contact me for advice and feedback along the way.

Don’t be intimidated in any way. I’m not looking for expansive, epic stories of great social consequence. Remember: 5-10 photographs are what you are shooting for. The main thing is to spend some time with your subjects and learn the process of creating a visual narrative.

I’m looking forward to seeing your ideas start to roll in!

More to come …