Telling a compelling story with no words seems hardly possible until you remember the immense power of photography. Through a photo essay, you can convey any emotion or thought you may want your audience to learn. However, creating a photo essay is not a random process — it takes a lot of knowledge and effort to curate a photo essay that will truly resonate with the audience.
The three most important aspects of a photo essay are stories, discoveries, and possibilities. On its own, all three of those words have a specific meaning, but when used together in the context of a photo essay, they serve as a foundation for a memorable narrative. If you use all three in your photo essay, then the audience won’t need to know the title or the circumstances surrounding the creation of the essay — they will be able to know everything they need from the work alone.
We are used to thinking of photo essays as collections of documentary photography, but the truth is that you don’t need to be a professional documentary photographer to create a strong essay. Your essay can contain anything from nature photography to wedding shots. Here are six tips that will help you in your creative process.
Set a Specific Theme or Topic
When creating a photo essay, you can choose from two types: narrative and thematic. With a narrative essay, you use the photos to tell your audience a story, while a thematic essay is subjected to a universal theme. You will need to choose the type and the theme of your essay early on and work to achieve your objective.
The key to choosing a successful topic or theme for your photo essay is to pick something you are personally interested in. Only when you are telling a story of something you feel extremely passionate about, you can transfer a large part of that passion to your work and, subsequently, to your audience. Most importantly, the theme of your photo essay needs to be accessible to you.
Consider the Subjects of Your Photos
The subject of your photos will be the first and most attention-grabbing thing your audience sees, so it makes perfect sense to put a special focus on them. There are a few factors to consider when working on the subjects of your photos.
The first factor is the relevance of the subjects to the theme of your essay. Will the subjects in your photos help you convey the message to the audience or will they serve as nothing but a distraction? Another important factor is whether your audience is willing to see the subjects of your photos. Always take the interests of the audience into account when choosing the photo subjects for your essay.
If you are creating photos for your essay from scratch and not just using the works from your portfolio, you have even more opportunities for making the subjects of your photos fit the narrative of the essay perfectly. When you have control over the appearance, posing, and other aspects of subject photography, you can achieve a flawless narrative for your essay.
Go for the Variety
Think of the composition of your photo essay as the structure of a regular essay you might write in school or college. The first few photos are similar to the essay introduction in a way that they help ease the audience into the narrative. From there, your narrative is further developed with the various photography elements you use in your works. After you consider your story to be completed, add one or more closing images that will serve as the conclusion of your photo essay.
With a photo essay, it is important to add variety to your work. Whether it’s different locations, lighting, perspectives, or angles, these photography tricks will keep your audience interested until the very last image.
When you are creating a photo essay, especially if it’s your first one, you can experience a range of emotions and not all of them are going to be positive. However, doubting yourself or believing your works are not good enough will not get you anywhere. If you feel like you are being overcome by those negative emotions, but a lot of effort into overcoming them — only when you enjoy your own work, you can expect others to enjoy it as well.
On the other hand, it is important to keep a fair perspective of your work to know when something is good and when something isn’t. That is why it’s a good idea to ask someone to act as a critic of your essay. That way you will see the advantages and disadvantages of your work with a fresh pair of eyes and be able to correct anything that is not perfect.
Edit Your Essay
Once you have picked the right photos to include in your essay, comes the important part of editing and perfecting your work. Do the photos work without titles or do they need additional descriptions to help the audience understand what is going on? Should you rearrange the photos or does this particular order work great? If you take out some of the photos, does the narrative remain clearly visible? With your first photo essay, it is best to limit the number of photos to 5-10 to achieve a concise narrative.
Finish Your Photo Essay
As soon as the previous steps are completed, all that is left to do is a couple of finishing touches. First, you will need to devise a title and written statement for your essay, which will help the audience understand what kind of work they are looking at.
Depending on the specifics and purpose of your photo essay, the written statement can be anywhere between a few words and a few paragraphs long, although it is always better to keep the text limited and let the photos speak for themselves. The statement can be placed at the beginning of the end of the essay — in both cases, it will work to your advantage.