23 Photo Essay Ideas and Examples (to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing!)

A Post By: Kevin Landwer-Johan

Ideas for compelling photo essays

Looking for inspiration? Our 23 photo essay ideas will take your photography skills to new heights!

A single, strong photograph can convey a lot of information about its subject – but sometimes we have topics that require more than one image to do the job. That’s when it’s time to make a photo essay: a collection of pictures that together tell the bigger story around a chosen theme.

In the following sections, we’ll explore various photo essay ideas and examples that cover a wide range of subjects and purposes. From capturing the growth of your children to documenting local festivals, each idea offers an exciting opportunity to tell a story through your lens, whether you’re a hobbyist or a veteran professional.

So grab your camera, unleash your creativity, and let’s delve into the wonderful world of photo essay examples!

What is a photo essay?

Simply put, a photo essay is a series of carefully selected images woven together to tell a story or convey a message. Think of it as a visual narrative that designed to capture attention and spark emotions.

Karen woman portrait

Now, these images can revolve around a broad theme or focus on a specific storyline. For instance, you might create a photo essay celebrating the joy of companionship by capturing 10 heartwarming pictures of people sharing genuine laughter. On the other hand, you could have a photo essay delving into the everyday lives of fishermen in Wales by following a single fisherman’s journey for a day or even a week.

It’s important to note that photo essays don’t necessarily have to stick to absolute truth. While some documentary photographers prefer to keep it authentic, others may employ techniques like manipulation or staging to create a more artistic impact. So there is room for creativity and interpretation.

Why you should create a photo essay

Photo essays have a way of expressing ideas and stories that words sometimes struggle to capture. They offer a visual narrative that can be incredibly powerful and impactful.

Firstly, photo essays are perfect when you have an idea or a point you want to convey, but you find yourself at a loss for words. Sometimes, emotions and concepts are better conveyed through images rather than paragraphs. So if you’re struggling to articulate a message, you can let your photos do the talking for you.

Second, if you’re interested in subjects that are highly visual, like the mesmerizing forms of architecture within a single city, photo essays are the way to go. Trying to describe the intricate details of a building or the play of light and shadows with words alone can be challenging. But through a series of captivating images, you can immerse your audience in the architecture.

And finally, if you’re aiming to evoke emotions or make a powerful statement, photo essays are outstanding. Images have an incredible ability to shock, inspire, and move people in ways that words often struggle to achieve. So if you want to raise awareness about an environmental issue or ignite a sense of empathy, a compelling series of photographs can have a profound impact.

Photo essay examples and ideas

Looking to create a photo essay but don’t know where to start? Here are some handy essay ideas and examples for inspiration!

1. A day in the life

Your first photo essay idea is simple: Track a life over the course of one day. You might make an essay about someone else’s life. Or the life of a location, such as the sidewalk outside your house. 

The subject matter you choose is up to you. But start in the morning and create a series of images showing your subject over the course of a typical day.

(Alternatively, you can document your subject on a special day, like a birthday, a wedding, or some other celebration.)

woman with a backpack getting on a train photo essay ideas

2. Capture hands

Portraits focus on a subject’s face – but why not mix it up and make a photo essay that focuses on your subject’s hands?

(You can also focus on a collection of different people’s hands.)

Hands can tell you a lot about a person. And showing them in context is a great way to narrate a story.

people on a train

3. Follow a sports team for a full season

Sports are all about emotions – both from the passionate players and the dedicated fans. While capturing the intensity of a single game can be exhilarating, imagine the power of telling the complete story of a team throughout an entire season.

For the best results, you’ll need to invest substantial time in sports photography. Choose a team that resonates with you and ensure their games are within a drivable distance. By photographing their highs and lows, celebrations and challenges, you’ll create a compelling photo essay that traces their journey from the first game to the last.

4. A child and their parent

Photographs that catch the interaction between parents and children are special. A parent-child connection is strong and unique, so making powerful images isn’t challenging. You just need to be ready to capture the special moments as they happen. 

You might concentrate on a parent teaching their child. Or the pair playing sports. Or working on a special project.

Use your imagination, and you’ll have a great time with this theme.

5. Tell a local artist’s story 

I’ve always enjoyed photographing artists as they work; studios have a creative vibe, so the energy is already there. Bring your camera into this environment and try to tell the artist’s story!

An artist’s studio offers plenty of opportunities for wonderful photo essays. Think about the most fascinating aspects of the artist’s process. What do they do that makes their art special? Aim to show this in your photos.

Many people appreciate fine art, but they’re often not aware of what happens behind the scenes. So documenting an artist can produce fascinating visual stories.

artist at work with copper

6. Show a tradesperson’s process

Do you have a plumber coming over to fix your kitchen sink? Is a builder making you a new deck?

Take photos while they work! Tell them what you want to do before you start, and don’t forget to share your photos with them.

They’ll probably appreciate seeing what they do from another perspective. They may even want to use your photos on their company website.

hot iron in crucible

7. Photograph your kids as they grow

There’s something incredibly special about documenting the growth of our little ones. Kids grow up so quickly – before you know it, they’re moving out. Why not capture the beautiful moments along the way by creating a heartwarming photo essay that showcases their growth?

There are various approaches you can take, but one idea is to capture regular photos of your kids standing in front of a distinct point of reference, such as the refrigerator. Over a year or several years, you can gather these images and place them side by side to witness your childrens’ incredible transformations.

8. Cover a local community event

A school fundraiser, a tree-planting day at a park, or a parade; these are are all community events that make for good photo essay ideas.

Think like a photojournalist . What type of images would your editor want? Make sure to capture some wide-angle compositions , some medium shots, and some close-ups.

(Getting in close to show the details can often tell as much of a story as the wider pictures.)

9. Show fresh market life

Markets are great for photography because there’s always plenty of activity and lots of characters. Think of how you can best illustrate the flow of life at the market. What are the vendors doing that’s most interesting? What are the habits of the shoppers?

Look to capture the essence of the place. Try to portray the people who work and shop there.

woman at the fresh market

10. Shoot the same location over time

What location do you visit regularly? Is there a way you can make an interesting photo essay about it?

Consider what you find most attractive and ugly about the place. Look for aspects that change over time. 

Any outdoor location will look different throughout the day. Also think about the changes that occur from season to season. Create an essay that tells the story of the place.

11. Document a local festival

Festivals infuse cities and towns with vibrant energy and unique cultural experiences. Even if your own town doesn’t have notable festivals, chances are a neighboring town does. Explore the magic of these celebrations by documenting a local festival through your lens.

Immerse yourself in the festivities, arriving early and staying late. Capture the colorful displays and the people who make the festival come alive. If the festival spans multiple days, consider focusing on different areas each time you visit to create a diverse and comprehensive photo essay that truly reflects the essence of the event.

12. Photograph a garden through the seasons

It might be your own garden . It could be the neighbor’s. It could even be the garden at your local park.

Think about how the plants change during the course of a year. Capture photos of the most significant visual differences, then present them as a photo essay.

lotus flower

13. Show your local town or city

After spending several years in a particular area, you likely possess an intimate knowledge of your local town or city. Why not utilize that familiarity to create a captivating photo essay that showcases the essence of your community?

Delve into what makes your town special, whether it’s the charming streets, unique landmarks, or the people who shape its character. Dedicate time to capturing the diverse aspects that define your locale. If you’re up for a more extensive project, consider photographing the town over the course of an entire year, capturing the changing seasons and the dynamic spirit of your community.

14. Pick a local cause to highlight

Photo essays can go beyond passive documentation; they can become a part of your activism, too!

So find a cause that matters to you. Tell the story of some aspect of community life that needs improvement. Is there an ongoing issue with litter in your area? How about traffic; is there a problematic intersection?

Document these issues, then make sure to show the photos to people responsible for taking action.

15. Making a meal

Photo essay ideas can be about simple, everyday things – like making a meal or a coffee.

How can you creatively illustrate something that seems so mundane? My guess is that, when you put your mind to it, you can come up with many unique perspectives, all of which will make great stories.

plate of Thai curry photo essay ideas

16. Capture the life of a flower

In our fast-paced lives, it’s easy to overlook the beauty that surrounds us. Flowers, with their mesmerizing colors and rapid life cycles, offer a captivating subject for a photo essay. Try to slow down and appreciate the intricate details of a flower’s existence.

With a macro lens in hand, document a single flower or a patch of flowers from their initial shoots to their inevitable wilting and decomposition. Experiment with different angles and perspectives to bring viewers into the enchanting world of the flower. By freezing these fleeting moments, you’ll create a visual narrative that celebrates the cycle of life and the exquisite beauty found in nature’s delicate creations.

17. Religious traditions

Religion is often rich with visual expression in one form or another. So capture it!

Of course, you may need to narrow down your ideas and choose a specific aspect of worship to photograph. Aim to show what people do when they visit a holy place, or how they pray on their own. Illustrate what makes their faith real and what’s special about it.

photo essay idea monks walking

18. Historic sites

Historic sites are often iconic, and plenty of photographers take a snapshot or two.

But with a photo essay, you can illustrate the site’s history in greater depth.

Look for details of the location that many visitors miss. And use these to build an interesting story.

19. Show the construction of a building

Ever been away from a familiar place for a while only to return and find that things have changed? It happens all the time, especially in areas undergoing constant development. So why not grab your camera and document this transformation?

Here’s the idea: Find a building that’s currently under construction in your area. It could be a towering skyscraper, a modern office complex, or even a small-scale residential project. Whatever catches your eye! Then let the magic of photography unfold.

Make it a habit to take a photo every day or two. Watch as the building gradually takes shape and evolves. Capture the construction workers in action, the cranes reaching for the sky, and the scaffolding supporting the structure.

Once the building is complete, you’ll have a treasure trove of images that chronicle its construction from start to finish!

20. Document the changing skyline of the city

This photo essay example is like the previous one, except it works on a much larger scale. Instead of photographing a single building as it’s built, find a nice vantage point outside your nearest city, then photograph the changing skyline.

To create a remarkable photo essay showcasing the changing skyline, you’ll need to scout out the perfect vantage point. Seek high ground that offers a commanding view of the city, allowing you to frame the skyline against the horizon. Look for spots that give you an unobstructed perspective, whether a rooftop terrace, a hillside park, or even a nearby bridge.

As you set out on your photography expedition, be patient and observant. Cities don’t transform overnight; they change gradually over time. Embrace the passage of days, weeks, and months as you witness the slow evolution unfold.

Pro tip: To capture the essence of this transformation, experiment with various photographic techniques. Play with different angles, framing, and compositions to convey the grandeur and dynamism of the changing skyline. Plus, try shooting during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset , when the soft light bathes the city in a warm glow and accentuates the architectural details.

21. Photograph your pet

If you’re a pet owner, you already have the perfect subject for a photo essay!

All pets , with the possible exception of pet rocks, will provide you with a collection of interesting moments to photograph.

So collect these moments with your camera – then display them as a photo essay showing the nature and character of your pet.

Woman and elephant

22. Tell the story of a local nature preserve

Ah, the wonders of a local nature preserve! While it may not boast the grandeur of Yosemite National Park, these hidden gems hold their own beauty, just waiting to be discovered and captured through the lens of your camera.

To embark on this type of photo essay adventure, start by exploring all the nooks and crannies of your chosen nature preserve. Wander along its winding trails, keeping an eye out for unique and captivating subjects that convey the essence of the preserve.

As you go along, try to photograph the intricate details of delicate wildflowers, the interplay of light filtering through a dense forest canopy, and the lively activities of birds and other wildlife.

23. Show the same subject from multiple perspectives

It’s possible to create an entire photo essay in a single afternoon – or even in a handful of minutes. If you don’t love the idea of dedicating yourself to days of photographing for a single essay, this is a great option.

Simply find a subject you like, then endeavor to capture 10 unique images that include it. I’d recommend photographing from different angles: up above, down low, from the right and left. You can also try getting experimental with creative techniques, such as intentional camera movement and freelensing. If all goes well, you’ll have a very cool set of images featuring one of your favorite subjects!

By showcasing the same subject from multiple perspectives, you invite viewers on a visual journey. They get to see different facets, textures, and details that they might have overlooked in a single photograph. It adds depth and richness to your photo essay, making it both immersive and dynamic.

Photo essay ideas: final words

Remember: Photo essays are all about communicating a concept or a story through images rather than words. So embrace the process and use images to express yourself!

Whether you choose to follow a sports team through a thrilling season, document the growth of your little ones, or explore the hidden treasures of your local town, each photo essay has its own magic waiting to be unlocked. It’s a chance to explore your creativity and create images in your own style.

So look at the world around you. Grab your gear and venture out into the wild. Embrace the beauty of nature, the energy of a bustling city, or the quiet moments that make life special. Consider what you see every day. What aspects interest you the most? Photograph those things.

You’re bound to end up with some amazing photo essays!

Now over to you:

Do you have any photo essay examples you’re proud of? Do you have any more photo essay ideas? Share your thoughts and images in the comments below!

23 Photo Essay Ideas and Examples (to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing!)

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Kevin Landwer-Johan

Kevin Landwer-Johan is a photographer, photography teacher, and author with over 30 years of experience that he loves to share with others.

Check out his website and his Buy Me a Coffee page .

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How to Create an Engaging Photo Essay (with Examples)

Photo essays tell a story in pictures. They're a great way to improve at photography and story-telling skills at once. Learn how to do create a great one.

Learn | Photography Guides | By Ana Mireles

Photography is a medium used to tell stories – sometimes they are told in one picture, sometimes you need a whole series. Those series can be photo essays.

If you’ve never done a photo essay before, or you’re simply struggling to find your next project, this article will be of help. I’ll be showing you what a photo essay is and how to go about doing one.

You’ll also find plenty of photo essay ideas and some famous photo essay examples from recent times that will serve you as inspiration.

If you’re ready to get started, let’s jump right in!

Table of Contents

What is a Photo Essay?

A photo essay is a series of images that share an overarching theme as well as a visual and technical coherence to tell a story. Some people refer to a photo essay as a photo series or a photo story – this often happens in photography competitions.

Photographic history is full of famous photo essays. Think about The Great Depression by Dorothea Lange, Like Brother Like Sister by Wolfgang Tillmans, Gandhi’s funeral by Henri Cartier Bresson, amongst others.

What are the types of photo essay?

Despite popular belief, the type of photo essay doesn’t depend on the type of photography that you do – in other words, journalism, documentary, fine art, or any other photographic genre is not a type of photo essay.

Instead, there are two main types of photo essays: narrative and thematic .

As you have probably already guessed, the thematic one presents images pulled together by a topic – for example, global warming. The images can be about animals and nature as well as natural disasters devastating cities. They can happen all over the world or in the same location, and they can be captured in different moments in time – there’s a lot of flexibility.

A narrative photo essa y, on the other hand, tells the story of a character (human or not), portraying a place or an event. For example, a narrative photo essay on coffee would document the process from the planting and harvesting – to the roasting and grinding until it reaches your morning cup.

What are some of the key elements of a photo essay?

  • Tell a unique story – A unique story doesn’t mean that you have to photograph something that nobody has done before – that would be almost impossible! It means that you should consider what you’re bringing to the table on a particular topic.
  • Put yourself into the work – One of the best ways to make a compelling photo essay is by adding your point of view, which can only be done with your life experiences and the way you see the world.
  • Add depth to the concept – The best photo essays are the ones that go past the obvious and dig deeper in the story, going behind the scenes, or examining a day in the life of the subject matter – that’s what pulls in the spectator.
  • Nail the technique – Even if the concept and the story are the most important part of a photo essay, it won’t have the same success if it’s poorly executed.
  • Build a structure – A photo essay is about telling a thought-provoking story – so, think about it in a narrative way. Which images are going to introduce the topic? Which ones represent a climax? How is it going to end – how do you want the viewer to feel after seeing your photo series?
  • Make strong choices – If you really want to convey an emotion and a unique point of view, you’re going to need to make some hard decisions. Which light are you using? Which lens? How many images will there be in the series? etc., and most importantly for a great photo essay is the why behind those choices.

9 Tips for Creating a Photo Essay

photo essay things to do

Credit: Laura James

1. Choose something you know

To make a good photo essay, you don’t need to travel to an exotic location or document a civil war – I mean, it’s great if you can, but you can start close to home.

Depending on the type of photography you do and the topic you’re looking for in your photographic essay, you can photograph a local event or visit an abandoned building outside your town.

It will be much easier for you to find a unique perspective and tell a better story if you’re already familiar with the subject. Also, consider that you might have to return a few times to the same location to get all the photos you need.

2. Follow your passion

Most photo essays take dedication and passion. If you choose a subject that might be easy, but you’re not really into it – the results won’t be as exciting. Taking photos will always be easier and more fun if you’re covering something you’re passionate about.

3. Take your time

A great photo essay is not done in a few hours. You need to put in the time to research it, conceptualizing it, editing, etc. That’s why I previously recommended following your passion because it takes a lot of dedication, and if you’re not passionate about it – it’s difficult to push through.

4. Write a summary or statement

Photo essays are always accompanied by some text. You can do this in the form of an introduction, write captions for each photo or write it as a conclusion. That’s up to you and how you want to present the work.

5. Learn from the masters

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Making a photographic essay takes a lot of practice and knowledge. A great way to become a better photographer and improve your storytelling skills is by studying the work of others. You can go to art shows, review books and magazines and look at the winners in photo contests – most of the time, there’s a category for photo series.

6. Get a wide variety of photos

Think about a story – a literary one. It usually tells you where the story is happening, who is the main character, and it gives you a few details to make you engage with it, right?

The same thing happens with a visual story in a photo essay – you can do some wide-angle shots to establish the scenes and some close-ups to show the details. Make a shot list to ensure you cover all the different angles.

Some of your pictures should guide the viewer in, while others are more climatic and regard the experience they are taking out of your photos.

7. Follow a consistent look

Both in style and aesthetics, all the images in your series need to be coherent. You can achieve this in different ways, from the choice of lighting, the mood, the post-processing, etc.

8. Be self-critical

Once you have all the photos, make sure you edit them with a good dose of self-criticism. Not all the pictures that you took belong in the photo essay. Choose only the best ones and make sure they tell the full story.

9. Ask for constructive feedback

Often, when we’re working on a photo essay project for a long time, everything makes perfect sense in our heads. However, someone outside the project might not be getting the idea. It’s important that you get honest and constructive criticism to improve your photography.

How to Create a Photo Essay in 5 Steps

photo essay things to do

Credit: Quang Nguyen Vinh

1. Choose your topic

This is the first step that you need to take to decide if your photo essay is going to be narrative or thematic. Then, choose what is it going to be about?

Ideally, it should be something that you’re interested in, that you have something to say about it, and it can connect with other people.

2. Research your topic

To tell a good story about something, you need to be familiar with that something. This is especially true when you want to go deeper and make a compelling photo essay. Day in the life photo essays are a popular choice, since often, these can be performed with friends and family, whom you already should know well.

3. Plan your photoshoot

Depending on what you’re photographing, this step can be very different from one project to the next. For a fine art project, you might need to find a location, props, models, a shot list, etc., while a documentary photo essay is about planning the best time to do the photos, what gear to bring with you, finding a local guide, etc.

Every photo essay will need different planning, so before taking pictures, put in the required time to get things right.

4. Experiment

It’s one thing to plan your photo shoot and having a shot list that you have to get, or else the photo essay won’t be complete. It’s another thing to miss out on some amazing photo opportunities that you couldn’t foresee.

So, be prepared but also stay open-minded and experiment with different settings, different perspectives, etc.

5. Make a final selection

Editing your work can be one of the hardest parts of doing a photo essay. Sometimes we can be overly critical, and others, we get attached to bad photos because we put a lot of effort into them or we had a great time doing them.

Try to be as objective as possible, don’t be afraid to ask for opinions and make various revisions before settling down on a final cut.

7 Photo Essay Topics, Ideas & Examples

photo essay things to do

Credit: Michelle Leman

  • Architectural photo essay

Using architecture as your main subject, there are tons of photo essay ideas that you can do. For some inspiration, you can check out the work of Francisco Marin – who was trained as an architect and then turned to photography to “explore a different way to perceive things”.

You can also lookup Luisa Lambri. Amongst her series, you’ll find many photo essay examples in which architecture is the subject she uses to explore the relationship between photography and space.

  • Process and transformation photo essay

This is one of the best photo essay topics for beginners because the story tells itself. Pick something that has a beginning and an end, for example, pregnancy, the metamorphosis of a butterfly, the life-cycle of a plant, etc.

Keep in mind that these topics are linear and give you an easy way into the narrative flow – however, it might be difficult to find an interesting perspective and a unique point of view.

  • A day in the life of ‘X’ photo essay

There are tons of interesting photo essay ideas in this category – you can follow around a celebrity, a worker, your child, etc. You don’t even have to do it about a human subject – think about doing a photo essay about a day in the life of a racing horse, for example – find something that’s interesting for you.

  • Time passing by photo essay

It can be a natural site or a landmark photo essay – whatever is close to you will work best as you’ll need to come back multiple times to capture time passing by. For example, how this place changes throughout the seasons or maybe even over the years.

A fun option if you live with family is to document a birthday party each year, seeing how the subject changes over time. This can be combined with a transformation essay or sorts, documenting the changes in interpersonal relationships over time.

  • Travel photo essay

Do you want to make the jump from tourist snapshots into a travel photo essay? Research the place you’re going to be travelling to. Then, choose a topic.

If you’re having trouble with how to do this, check out any travel magazine – National Geographic, for example. They won’t do a generic article about Texas – they do an article about the beach life on the Texas Gulf Coast and another one about the diverse flavors of Texas.

The more specific you get, the deeper you can go with the story.

  • Socio-political issues photo essay

This is one of the most popular photo essay examples – it falls under the category of photojournalism or documental photography. They are usually thematic, although it’s also possible to do a narrative one.

Depending on your topic of interest, you can choose topics that involve nature – for example, document the effects of global warming. Another idea is to photograph protests or make an education photo essay.

It doesn’t have to be a big global issue; you can choose something specific to your community – are there too many stray dogs? Make a photo essay about a local animal shelter. The topics are endless.

  • Behind the scenes photo essay

A behind-the-scenes always make for a good photo story – people are curious to know what happens and how everything comes together before a show.

Depending on your own interests, this can be a photo essay about a fashion show, a theatre play, a concert, and so on. You’ll probably need to get some permissions, though, not only to shoot but also to showcase or publish those images.

4 Best Photo Essays in Recent times

Now that you know all the techniques about it, it might be helpful to look at some photo essay examples to see how you can put the concept into practice. Here are some famous photo essays from recent times to give you some inspiration.

Habibi by Antonio Faccilongo

This photo essay wan the World Press Photo Story of the Year in 2021. Faccilongo explores a very big conflict from a very specific and intimate point of view – how the Israeli-Palestinian war affects the families.

He chose to use a square format because it allows him to give order to things and eliminate unnecessary elements in his pictures.

With this long-term photo essay, he wanted to highlight the sense of absence and melancholy women and families feel towards their husbands away at war.

The project then became a book edited by Sarah Leen and the graphics of Ramon Pez.

photo essay things to do

Picture This: New Orleans by Mary Ellen Mark

The last assignment before her passing, Mary Ellen Mark travelled to New Orleans to register the city after a decade after Hurricane Katrina.

The images of the project “bring to life the rebirth and resilience of the people at the heart of this tale”, – says CNNMoney, commissioner of the work.

Each survivor of the hurricane has a story, and Mary Ellen Mark was there to record it. Some of them have heartbreaking stories about everything they had to leave behind.

Others have a story of hope – like Sam and Ben, two eight-year-olds born from frozen embryos kept in a hospital that lost power supply during the hurricane, yet they managed to survive.

photo essay things to do

Selfie by Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman is an American photographer whose work is mainly done through self-portraits. With them, she explores the concept of identity, gender stereotypes, as well as visual and cultural codes.

One of her latest photo essays was a collaboration with W Magazine entitled Selfie. In it, the author explores the concept of planned candid photos (‘plandid’).

The work was made for Instagram, as the platform is well known for the conflict between the ‘real self’ and the one people present online. Sherman started using Facetune, Perfect365 and YouCam to alter her appearance on selfies – in Photoshop, you can modify everything, but these apps were designed specifically to “make things prettier”- she says, and that’s what she wants to explore in this photo essay.

Tokyo Compression by Michael Wolf

Michael Wolf has an interest in the broad-gauge topic Life in Cities. From there, many photo essays have been derived – amongst them – Tokyo Compression .

He was horrified by the way people in Tokyo are forced to move to the suburbs because of the high prices of the city. Therefore, they are required to make long commutes facing 1,5 hours of train to start their 8+ hour workday followed by another 1,5 hours to get back home.

To portray this way of life, he photographed the people inside the train pressed against the windows looking exhausted, angry or simply absent due to this way of life.

You can visit his website to see other photo essays that revolve around the topic of life in megacities.

Final Words

It’s not easy to make photo essays, so don’t expect to be great at it right from your first project.

Start off small by choosing a specific subject that’s interesting to you –  that will come from an honest place, and it will be a great practice for some bigger projects along the line.

Whether you like to shoot still life or you’re a travel photographer, I hope these photo essay tips and photo essay examples can help you get started and grow in your photography.

Let us know which topics you are working on right now – we’ll love to hear from you!

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Ana Mireles is a Mexican researcher that specializes in photography and communications for the arts and culture sector.

Penelope G. To Ana Mireles Such a well written and helpful article for an writer who wants to inclue photo essay in her memoir. Thank you. I will get to work on this new skill. Penelope G.

Herman Krieger Photo essays in black and white

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How to Create a Photo Essay in 9 Steps (with Examples)

Photo Editing , Tutorials

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What is a photo essay?

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How to share your photo essays

Read Time: 11 minutes

Gather up a handful of images that seem to go together, and voila! It’s a photo essay, right? Well… no. Though, this is a common misconception.

In reality, a photo essay is much more thoughtful and structured than that. When you take the time to craft one, you’re using skills from all facets of our craft – from composition to curation.

In this guide, you’ll learn what makes a photo essay an amazing project that stretches your skills. You'll also learn exactly how to make one step by step.

  • Photo essay vs photo story

A photo essay is a collection of images based around a theme, a topic, a creative approach, or an exploration of an idea. Photo essays balance visual variety with a cohesive style and concept.

What's the difference between a photo essay and a photo story?

The terms photo essay and photo story are often used interchangeably. Even the dictionary definition of “photo essay” includes using images to convey either a theme or a story.

But in my experience, a photo essay and a photo story are two different things. As you delve into the field of visual storytelling, distinguishing between the two helps you to take a purposeful approach to what you’re making .

The differences ultimately lie in the distinctions between theme, topic and story.

Themes are big-picture concepts. Example: Wildness

Topics are more specific than themes, but still overarching. Example : Wild bears of Yellowstone National Park

Stories are specific instances or experiences that happen within, or provide an example for, a topic or theme. Example: A certain wild bear became habituated to tourists and was relocated to maintain its wildness

Unlike a theme or topic, a story has particular elements that make it a story. They include leading characters, a setting, a narrative arc, conflict, and (usually) resolution.

With that in mind, we can distingush between a photo essay and a photo story.

Themes and Topics vs Stories

A photo essay revolves around a topic, theme, idea, or concept. It visually explores a big-picture something .

This allows a good deal of artistic leeway where a photographer can express their vision, philosophies, opinions, or artistic expression as they create their images.

A photo story  is a portfolio of images that illustrate – you guessed it – a story.

Because of this, there are distinct types of images that a photo story uses that add to the understanding, insight, clarity and meaning to the story for viewers. While they can certainly be artistically crafted and visually stunning, photo stories document something happening, and rely on visual variety for capturing the full experience.

A photo essay doesn’t need to have the same level of structured variety that a photo story requires. It can have images that overlap or are similar, as they each explore various aspects of a theme.

An urban coyote walks across a road near an apartment building

Photo essays can be about any topic. If you live in a city, consider using your nature photography to make an essay about the wildlife that lives in your neighborhood . 

The role of text with photos

A photo story typically runs alongside text that narrates the story. We're a visual species, and the images help us feel like we are there, experiencing what's happening. So, the images add significant power to the text, but they're often a partner to it.

This isn’t always the case, of course. Sometimes photo stories don’t need or use text. It’s like reading a graphic novel that doesn’t use text. Moving through the different images that build on each other ultimately unveils the narrative.

Photo essays don’t need to rely on text to illuminate the images' theme or topic. The photographer may use captions (or even a text essay), or they may let the images speak for themselves.

Definitions are helpful guidelines (not strict rules)

Some people categorize photo essays as either narrative or thematic. That's essentially just calling photo stories “narrative photo essays” and photo essays “thematic photo essays.”

But, a story is a defined thing, and any writer/editor will tell you themes and topics are not the same as stories. And we use the word “story” in our daily lives as it’s defined. So, it makes far more sense to name the difference between a photo essay and a photo story, and bask in the same clarity writers enjoy .

Photo stories illustrate a particular experience, event, narrative, something that happened or is happening.

Photo essays explore an idea, concept, topic, theme, creative approach, big-picture something .

Both photo essays and photo stories are immensely powerful visual tools. And yes, the differences between them can certainly be blurred, as is always the case with art.

Simply use this distinction as a general guideline, providing extra clarity around what you’re making and why you're making it.

To dig into specific types of images used to create powerful photo stories, check out this training: 6 Must-Have Shots for a Photo Story. 

Meanwhile, let’s dig deeper into photo essays.

A sea nettle jellyfish floats alone on a white surface

Photo essays are a chance to try new styles or techniques that stretch your skills and creativity. This image was part of an essay exploring simplicity and shape, and helped me learn new skills in black and white post-processing.

How photo essays improve your photography

Creating photo essays is an amazing antidote if you’ve ever felt a lack of direction or purpose in your photography. Photo essays help build your photographic skills in at least 3 important ways.

1. You become more strategic in creating a body of work

It's easy to get stuck in a rut of photographing whatever pops up in front of you. And when you do, you end up with a collection of stand-alone shots.

These singles may work fine as a print, a quick Instagram post, or an addition to your gallery of shots on your website. But amassing a bunch of one-off shots limits your opportunities as a photographer for everything from exhibits to getting your work published.

Building photo essays pushes you to think strategically about what you photograph, why, and how. You're working toward a particular deliverable – a cohesive visual essay – with the images you create.

This elevates your skills in crafting your photo essay, and in how you curate the rest of your work, from galleries on your website to selecting images to sell as prints .

2. You become more purposeful in your composition skills

Composition is so much more than just following the rule of thirds, golden spirals, or thinking about the angle of light in a shot.

Composition is also about thinking ahead in what you’re trying to accomplish with a photograph – from what you’re saying through it to its emotional impact on a viewer – and where it fits within a larger body of work.

Photo essays push you to think critically about each shot – from coming up with fresh compositions for familiar subjects, to devising surprising compositions to fit within a collection, to creating compositions that expand on what’s already in a photo essay.

You’re pushed beyond creating a single pleasing frame, which leads you to shoot more thoughtfully and proactively than ever.

(Here’s a podcast episode on switching from reactive shooting to proactive shooting.)

3. You develop strong editing and curation skills

Selecting which images stay, and which get left behind is one of the hardest jobs on a photographer’s to-do list. Mostly, it’s because of emotional attachment.

You might think it’s an amazing shot because you know the effort that went into capturing it. Or perhaps when you look at it, you get a twinge of the joy or exhilaration you felt the moment you captured it. There’s also the second-guessing that goes into which of two similar images is the best – which will people like more? So you’re tempted to just show both.

Ultimately, great photographers appear all the more skilled because they only show their best work. That in and of itself is a skill they’ve developed through years of ruthlessly editing their own work.

Because the most powerful photo essays only show a handful of extraordinary images, you’re bound to develop the very same critical skill (and look all the more talented because of it).

Photo essays are also a great stepping stone to creating photo stories. If you’re interested in moving beyond stand-alone shots and building stories, shooting photo essays will get your creative brain limbered up and ready for the adventure of photo stories.

An American dipper looks into the water of a stream on a cold morning

A photo essay exploring the natural history of a favorite species is an exciting opportunity for an in-depth study. For me, that was a photo essay on emotive images of the American dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) as it hunts in streams. 

9 Simple steps to create your photo essays

1. clarify your theme.

Choose a theme, topic, or concept you want to explore. Spend some time getting crystal clear on what you want to focus on. It helps to write out a few sentences, or even a few paragraphs noting:

  • What you want the essay to be about
  • What kinds of images you want to create as part of it
  • How you’ll photograph the images
  • The style, techniques, or gear you might use to create your images
  • What “success” looks like when you’re done with your photo essay

You don’t have to stick to what you write down, of course. It can change during the image creation process. But fleshing your idea out on paper goes a long way in clarifying your photo essay theme and how you’ll go about creating it.

2. Create your images

Grab your camera and head outside!

As you’re photographing your essay, allow yourself some freedom to experiment. Try unusual compositions or techniques that are new to you.

Stretch your style a little, or “try on” the style of other photographers you admire who have photographed similar subjects.

Photo essays are wonderful opportunities to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and grow as a photographer.

Remember that a photo essay is a visually cohesive collection of images that make sense together. So, while you might stretch yourself into new terrain as you shoot, try to keep that approach, style, or strategy consistent.

Don’t be afraid to create lots of images. It’s great to have lots to choose from in the editing process, which comes up next.

3. Pull together your wide edit

Once you’ve created your images, pull together all the images that might make the cut. This could be as many as 40-60 images. Include anything you want to consider for the final essay in the wide edit.

From here, start weeding out images that:

  • are weaker in composition or subject matter
  • stand out like a sore thumb from the rest of the collection
  • Are similar to other stronger images in the collection

It's helpful to review the images at thumbnail size. You make more instinctive decisions and can more easily see the body of work as a whole. If an image is strong even at thumbnail size to stand out from similar frames while also partnering well with other images in the collection, that's a good sign it's strong enough for the essay.

4. Post-process your images for a cohesive look

Now it’s time to post-process the images. Use whatever editing software you’re comfortable with to polish your images.

Again, a photo essay has a cohesive visual look. If you use presets, filters, or other tools, use them across all the images.

5. Finalize your selection

It’s time to make the tough decisions. Select only the strongest for your photo essay from your group of images.

Each image should be strong enough to stand on its own and make sense as part of the whole group.

Many photo essays range from 8-12 images. But of course, it varies based on the essay. The number of images you have in your final photo essay is up to you.

Remember, less is more. A photo essay is most powerful when each image deserves to be included.

6. Put your images in a purposeful order

Create a visual flow with your images. Decide which image is first, and build from there. Use compositions, colors, and subject matter to decide which image goes next, then next, then next in the order.

Think of it like music: notes are arranged in a way that builds energy, or slows it down, surprise listeners with a new refrain, or drop into a familiar chorus. How the notes are ordered creates emotional arcs for listeners.

How you order your images is similar.

Think of the experience a viewer will have as they look at one image, then the next, and the next. Order your images so they create the experience you want your audience to have.

7. Get feedback

The best photographers make space for feedback, even when it’s tough to hear. Your work benefits from not just hearing feedback, but listening to it and applying what you learn from it.

Show your photo essay to people who have different sensibilities or tastes. Friends, family members, fellow photographers – anyone you trust to give you honest feedback.

Watch their reactions and hear what they say about what they’re seeing. Use their feedback to guide you in the next step.

8. Refine, revise, and finalize

Let your photo essay marinate for a little while. Take a day or two away from it. Then use your freshened eyes and the feedback you received from the previous step to refine your essay.

Swap out any selects you might want to change and reorder the images if needed.

9. Add captions

Even if you don’t plan on displaying captions with your images, captioning your images is a great practice to get into. It gives context, story, and important information to each image. And, more than likely, you will want to use these captions at some point when you share your photo essay, which we dive into later in this article.

Add captions to the image files using Lightroom, Bridge, or other software programs.

Create a document, such as a Google or Word doc, with captions for each image.

In your captions, share a bit about the story behind the image, or the creation process. Add whatever makes sense to share that provides a greater understanding of the image and its purpose.

Two rocks sit near each other on a wind-blown beach with long lines of texture in the sand

Photo essays allow you to explore deliberate style choices, such as a focus on shapes, patterns, textures, and lines. Since each photo is part of a larger essay, it encourages you to be bold with choices you might not otherwise make. 

5 Examples of amazing nature photo essays

1. “how the water shapes us” from the nature conservancy.

screenshot of the landing page of photo essay How The Water Shapes Us from Nature Conservancy

This gorgeous essay, crafted with the work of multiple photographers, explores the people and places within the Mississippi River basin. Through the images, we gain a sense of how the water influences life from the headwater all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Notice how each photographer is tasked with the same theme, yet approaches it with their own distinct style and vision. It is a wonderful example of the sheer level of visual variety you can have while maintaining a consistent style or theme.

View it here

2. “A Cyclist on the English Landscape” from New York Times’ The World Through A Lens series

screenshot of the landing page of photo essay A Cyclist on the English Landscape from New York Times

This photo essay is a series of self-portraits by travel photographer Roff Smith while “stuck” at home during the pandemic. As he peddled the roads making portraits, the project evolved into a “celebration of traveling at home”. It’s a great example of how visually consistent you can be inside a theme while making each image completely unique.

3. “Vermont, Dressed In Snow” from New York Times’ The World Through A Lens series

screenshot of the landing page of photo essay Vermont, Dressed in Snow from New York Times

This essay by aerial photographer Caleb Kenna uses a very common photo essay theme: snow. Because all images are aerial photographs, there’s a consistency to them. Yet, the compositions are utterly unique from one another. It’s a great example of keeping viewers surprised as they move from one image to the next while still maintaining a clear focus on the theme.

4. “Starling-Studded Skies” from bioGraphic Magazine

screenshot of the landing page of photo essay Starling-Studded-Skies from bioGraphic Magazine

This beautiful essay is by Kathryn Cooper, a physicist trained in bioinformatics, and a talented photographer. She used a 19th century photographic technique, chronophotography, to create images that give us a look at the art and science of starling murmurations. She states: “I’m interested in the transient moments when chaos briefly changes to order, and thousands of individual bodies appear to move as one.” This essay is a great example of deep exploration of a concept using a specific photographic technique.

View it here   (Note: must be viewed on desktop)

5. “These Scrappy Photos Capture the Action-Packed World Beneath a Bird Feeder” from Audubon Magazine

screenshot of the landing page of photo essay by Carla Rhodes from Audubon Online

This photo essay from conservation photographer Carla Rhodes explores the wildlife that takes advantage of the bounty of food waiting under bird feeders . Using remote camera photography , Rhodes gives viewers a unique ground-level perspective and captures moments that make us feel like we’re in conversation with friends in the Hundred Acre Woods. This essay is a great example of how perspective, personality, and chance can all come into play as you explore both an idea and a technique.

25 Ideas for creative photo essays you can make

The possibilities for photo essays are truly endless – from the concepts you explore to the techniques you use and styles you apply.

Choose an idea, hone your unique perspective on it, then start applying the 9 simple steps from above. 

  • The life of a plant or animal (your favorite species, a species living in your yard, etc)
  • The many shapes of a single species (a tree species, a bird species, etc)
  • How a place changes over time
  • The various moods of a place
  • A conservation issue you care about
  • Math in nature
  • Urban nature
  • Seasonal changes
  • Your yard as a space for nature
  • Shifting climate and its impacts
  • Human impacts on environments
  • Elements: Water, wind, fire, earth
  • Day in the life (of a person, a place, a stream, a tree…)
  • Outdoor recreation (birding, kayaking, hiking, naturalist journaling…)
  • Wildlife rehabilitation
  • Lunar cycles
  • Sunlight and shadows
  • Your local watershed
  • Coexistence

A Pacific wren sings from a branch in a sun dappled forest

As you zero in on a photo essay theme, consider two things: what most excites you about an idea, and what about it pushes you out of your comfort zone. The heady mix of joy and challenge will ensure you stick with it. 

Your photo essay is ready for the world! Decide how you’d like to make an impact with your work. You might use one or several of the options below.

1. Share it on your website

Create a gallery or a scrollytelling page on your website. This is a great way to drive traffic to your website where people can peruse your photo essay and the rest of the photography you have.

Putting it on your website and optimizing your images for SEO helps you build organic traffic and potentially be discovered by a broader audience, including photo editors.

2. Create a scrollytelling web page

If you enjoy the experience of immersive visual experiences, consider making one using your essay. And no, you don’t have to be a whiz at code to make it happen.

Shorthand helps you build web pages with scrollytelling techniques that make a big impression on viewers. Their free plan allows you to publish 3 essays or stories.

3. Create a Medium post

If you don’t have a website and want to keep things simple, a post on Medium is a great option.

Though it’s known for being a platform for bloggers, it’s also possible to add images to a post for a simple scroll.

And, because readers can discover and share posts, it’s a good place for your photos to get the attention of people who might not otherwise come across it.

4. Share it on Instagram

Instagram has changed a lot over the last couple of years, but it’s still a place for photographers to share their work thoughtfully.

There are at least 3 great ways to share your photo essay on the platform.

– Create a single post for each image. Add a caption. Publish one post per day until the full essay is on your feed. Share each post via Instagram Stories to bring more attention and interaction to your photo essay.

– Create a carousel post. You can add up 10 photos to a carousel post, so you may need to create two of them for your full photo essay. Or you might create a series of carousel posts using 3-4 images in each.

– Create a Reel featuring your images as a video.  The algorithm heavily favors reels, so turning your photo essay into a video experience can get it out to a larger audience.

I ran a “create a reel” challenge in my membership community. One member created a reel with her still images around a serious conservation issue. It gathered a ton of attention and landed her opportunities to share her message through YouTube and podcast interviews and publishing opportunities. Watch it here.

5. Exhibit it locally

Reach out to local galleries, cafes, pubs, or even the public library to see if they’re interested in hanging your photo essay for display. Many local businesses and organizations happily support the work of local artists.

6. Pitch your photo essay to publications

One of the best ways to reach an audience with your work is to get it published. Find publications that are a great fit for the theme and style of your photo essay, then pitch your essay for consideration. You gain a fantastic opportunity to share your work widely and can earn a paycheck at the same time.

Remember that if you want to get your photo essay published, you may want to hold back from sharing it publicly before you pitch it to publications.

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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

Street photography of a group of people protesting.

16. Transformation Photo Essays

A photo essay example shot of a couple, the man kissing the pregnant womans stomach

15. Photograph the Same Place

A photo essay example photography grid of 9 photographs.

14. Create a Photowalk

Street photography photo essay shot of a photographer in the middle of the street

13. Follow the Change

Portrait photography of a man shaving in the mirror. Photo essay examples.

12. Photograph a Local Event

Documentary photography essay of a group of people at an event by a lake.

11. Photograph an Abandoned Building

Atmospheric and dark photo of the interior of an abandoned building as part of a photo-essay

10. Behind the Scenes of a Photo Shoot

Photograph of models and photographers behind the scenes at a photo shoot. Photo essay ideas.

9. Capture Street Fashion

Street photography portrait of a girl outdoors at night.

8. Landmark Photo Essay

9 photo grid of the Eiffel tour. Photo essays examples.

7. Fathers & Children

An essay photo of the silhouettes of a man and child standing in a dark doorway.

6. A Day In the Life

 Photo essay examples of a bright red and orange building under blue sky.

5. Education Photo Essay

Documentary photoessay example shot of a group of students in a classroom watching their teacher

4. Fictitious Meals

 Photo essay detail of someone placing a sugar cube into a cup of tea.

3. Photograph Coffee Shops Using Cafenol

A photo of a coffee shop interior created with cafenol.

2. Photograph the Photographers

Street photography of a group of media photographers.

1. Capture the Neighbors

Street photography of 2 pink front doors of brick houses.

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! These photo essay examples are here to provide you with the inspiration to go out and tell your own stories through photos!

Popular Content

photo essay things to do

How to create a photo essay

By Marissa Sapega

A close up of a camera that might be used to create a photo essay.

According to LDV Capital, there will be 45 billion cameras in the world by 2022 . The proliferation of smartphones with hi-res cameras — coupled with our obsession with documenting the mundane on social media — has led to a glut of images shared on the web .

We're talking 3.2 billion images shared online every single day.

A decade ago, observers were predicting that this would spell the end of professional photography. But as we all know from our Instagram feeds, the need for professional photography — properly produced, contextualised, and published — has never been greater.

With the emergence of next generation digital publishing platforms, we're seeing a new era for photographic essays. Many of the most powerful examples are from journalism, where immersive photos are transforming long-form journalism into a more dynamic and interactive experience.

But powerful photos — coupled with immersive, interactive digital storytelling techniques — are being increasingly incorporated in marketing and communications across multiple industries, from brands to nonprofits. 

In this guide, we'll cover:

  • The main types of photo essays
  • The new era of photo essays
  • Tips for making thoughtful and powerful photo essays
  • How to make a compelling photo essay
  • We'll also provide a range of photo essay examples as we go

If you're looking for more examples, check out our roundup of photo essay examples .

Let's dive in!

What do the BBC, Tripadvisor, and Penguin have in common? They craft stunning, interactive web content with Shorthand. And so can you! Publish your first story for free — no code or web design skills required. Sign up now.

Types of photo essays

There are two primary types of photo essays: thematic and narrative.

Thematic photo essays

Thematic essays focus on a topical story (like a natural disaster). One example of a great thematic essay comes from NBC News Olympics photos: Emotion runs high .

This piece encapsulates the overall gloom of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics — through a series of powerful behind-the-scenes photographs of athletes in varying levels of distress — but does not focus on a particular subject. 

Screenshots from NBC's photo essay on the Olympics, spread across several devices.

Another example of a great photo story comes from the BBC. In “ From Trayvon Martin to Colin Kaepernick , they tell the story of how Black Lives Matter became entwined with sports. 

Screenshots from the BBC's photo essay on Black Lives Matter in sport , spread across several devices.

Narrative photo essays

Narrative photo essays take the story a step further and tell a specific story through images. 

One striking example is SBS's 28 Days in Afghanistan . This narrative essay documents photojournalist Andrew Quilty's time in the war-ravaged nation through stark photographs and supplementary text.

Screenshots from SBS's photo essay on Afghanistan, spread across several devices.

What is a photo essay in 2023?

A traditional photo essay aims to replace the written word with photographs. Done poorly, it is nothing more than series of images lumped together. Done well, though, the photojournalist or artist takes the reader on an engaging journey.

The main difference between photo essays of yore and photo essays in 2023 is the sophistication of digital publishing. With the rise of digital storytelling platforms, we're seeing a rise in truly interactive and immersive digital photo essays. 

Today, many digital photo essays include quotes and text to supplement the visuals and are formatted using interactive scrollytelling techniques. Scrollytelling is a form of visual storytelling that leverages user engagement (scrolling) to reveal images and text in an interesting and dynamic way. The interactivity compels the viewer to continue consuming the content, and creators have a wide latitude when designing the overall effect.    

Given the benefits of a more dynamic and interactive form of photo essays, it’s easy to see why they have become so popular in recent years. But as with any photo essay, creating an exceptional digital photo essays requires planning, structure, and know-how.

Let's take a closer look with ten tips for great photo essays.

Looking to learn more about interactive visual storytelling? Check out our guide, 8 tips for powerful visual storytelling .

10 tips for great photo essays

A close up of a camera that might be used to create a photo essay.

1. Create visual structure

An authentic photo essay requires visual markers to help transform a collection of images into a narrative. For example, photo chapter headings in Growing up young introduce each new girl in the story.

Similarly, in SBS’s photojournalism story — 28 days in Afghanistan , mentioned above — each dated header delineates a part of the story, providing an easy-to-follow chronological structure and pace.

Daniel Boud intersperses his own thoughts in between a haunting series of photographs of the iconic Sydney Opera House as it underwent a restoration during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in The Sydney Opera House at Rest .

Text can add depth to the photo essay—but take care where you add it. It should support and enhance the final product, not overshadow it.

Screenshots from the Sydney Opera House's photo essay on life during lockdown, spread across several devices.

2. Make it interactive

In 2023, the best photo essays are interactive. 

One great example of an interactive photo essay is WaterAid’s essay, Water and Climate . This photo essay highlights the people climate change has impacted most brutally, including a video, stark close-up photography, and graphics to get its point across. 

The photo essay uses minimal text, preferring to allow the images to speak for themselves. As a user scrolls, it exposes them to more content. Each visual and supplemental text further immerses the viewer into the story until the end, where they encounter a call to action to join WaterAid in helping those in need.

Nonprofits like WaterAid often use interactive photo essays to compel people to act , because they work. Half the battle of convincing someone to part with their money is creating an emotional connection with them—something a photo essay does particularly well.

Screenshots from the WaterAid's photo essay, spread across several devices.

3. Produce more content than you need

Have you ever seen how much film footage ends up on the cutting room floor for the average movie (known as the shooting ratio)? It’s a lot.   

Why is this? First, filmmakers know that many of the shots they take will be either poor-quality or simply not up to their exacting standards. Second, if a director included all the footage they took throughout the entire production in the final product, her movie would be a bloated mess.

The editor’s job is to strip away the dead weight to reveal a clean, refined, final product that keeps viewers raptly engaged. However, an editor may struggle to do his job if the director has not provided enough usable footage.

The same principles apply to creating an exceptional photo essay. Always assemble more visuals and content than you think you’ll need so you can use the cream of the crop for the final product. Shedding content may be difficult, but it’s necessary, so be prepared to edit your piece without mercy.

Publishing photos on the web, but confused about the range of file formats? Check out our guide to file formats .

4. Use only the best photos

A photo essay is not an excuse to throw together all the imagery you have. Just like any good story, it needs a focused and compelling narrative that keeps things connected. Each image needs to bring something to the table. 

Remember that photo quality plays a significant role in the overall caliber of a photo essay. If your iPhone isn’t doing your subject justice, don’t be afraid to pull in a professional to make your work come alive.

A great example of this comes from Sky Sports. In their photo essay, Pictured: Diego Maradona , they had to be ruthless when deciding upon the imagery to include.

Screenshots from the Sky New's photo essay, spread across several devices.

They no doubt had hundreds — perhaps thousands — of photos to choose from from the many photo shoots in Maradona's life. Yet they knew that each one had to be poignant and compelling in its own way. 

5. Don’t be afraid to edit your photos

Not everyone can be Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz. Happily, with the readily available photo-editing software like Photoshop and high-quality cameras on every smartphone, you don’t need to be. Do your best to acquire top-quality photos, but don’t be timid about improving them!

Thanks to heavy exposure to advertising, viewers today now expect doctored images. Whether you’re refining a photo for a flawless finish or adding a touch of grittiness, use this expectation to your advantage. Dial up the contrast, crop out unnecessary elements, and use filters if they suit your needs.

6. Visit the archives

With so many gleaming, airbrushed-to-perfection photographs online today, exposure to imagery that’s not polished within an inch of its life can be a refreshing change. 

For example, take a look at Mancity’s My Debut Trevor Francis (v Stoke 1981) , which exclusively uses archival images. Not only was this a necessity (the focus was on a decades-old football match), but it lent the entire piece a tattered legitimacy. You wouldn’t expect “Insta-worthy” images because that’s not the experience the author is trying to convey.

Screenshots from the Man City's photo essay, spread across several devices.

7. Storyboard before building

You wouldn’t build a house without drafting a blueprint, would you? (Well, not unless you weren’t too invested in the end-product.) Much like a blueprint, a storyboard helps you convert the vision inside your head into a concrete plan for construction. It can also contribute to your shot list for your photography project. 

Storyboarding forces you to take a step back and evaluate how each element fits into the larger narrative. You may find that half your content is no longer necessary, and that’s okay. It may seem like a barrier to “getting to the fun part” of adding fancy flourishes and creative details, but it’s a critical step for building a good photo essay that genuinely influences viewers.

8. Experiment!

While there are certainly best practices to follow when creating a photo essay, no “one true path” will culminate in perfection every time. Photo essays are a way to express a story; such art is not limited to a template or cookie-cutter outputs.

So, mix it up! Test out different photos, filter effects, text, quotes, and visuals. Pretend you’re playing with a Rubik’s cube when you’re storyboarding and shuffle the content around with abandon. There is no right way to draft a photo essay, and you’ll never settle on one that you believe best conveys your story without a bit of experimentation. (Of course, your first iteration may end up being your best, but at least this way you won’t have any doubts.)

9. Combine data and maps

Adding hard metrics and maps to a photo essay can help support a narrative in ways that photographs can’t. In this essay on segregation in Detroit , NBC included interactive maps of the city that underscored the severity of Detroit’s redlining policy. 

These maps drive home this multimedia photo essay’s primary takeaway: Detroit’s enforced segregation has resulted in almost a century of lower quality of life for its black residents.

10. Get inspired

No matter how compelling the vision in your head is, you can still benefit from a little inspiration. If you're looking for photo essay ideas, consider: 

  • Focusing on a single subject for a day (known as a day in the life photo essay).
  • Document local events, such as art shows, protests, or community gatherings — this is an endless source of photo essay topics.
  • Capture social issues from your local area.
  • Start a photo series, in which you document the same specific subject over a period of time.
  • Research the great photo essayists from history, such as W. Eugene Smith, and James Nachtwey.
  • Dive into the archives of the great photo essay magazines, such as National Geographic and Life Magazine.
  • Do some research on your potential subject. This will help you formulate different angles from which to approach your photo essay.
  • Sign up to Shorthand's newsletter , which rounds up the best visual stories on the web every other week. 

Now, let's dive into how to make a stunning photo essay using Shorthand.

How to make a stunning digital photo essay

Traditionally, photo essays on the web were little more than a series of images pasted into a blog post. Because most blogs are structured primarily for words, these photos essays didn't do justice to their source media. 

However, as web browsers became more powerful and bandwidth increased, a range of content platforms — including no-code digital storytelling platforms like Shorthand — have evolved to make it easier to create stunning visual stories. We've linked to many of these in this guide. 

In this section, we're going to run through how to make a photo essay using Shorthand. If you're not a Shorthand customer, you can sign up here and follow along.

1. Create a new story

In your Shorthand dashboard, click 'New Story.' If you'd like, you can choose from any of our templates to help you get started. For now, though, we're going to start with a blank canvas.

A screenshot of the template gallery in the Shorthand app.

The template chooser

2. Add your title image

Every photo essay needs a stunning title image to hook the reader. Depending on what kind of photo essay you're creating, this could be a photo of the subject or theme of the piece. You can also choose to add a title, subtitle, and author. 

A screenshot of the title image in the Shorthand app

3. Add a text section

Every photo essay needs a written introduction, to help contextualise the images that follow. Simply click 'New Section' and 'Text', before pasting in your introductory copy.

A screenshot of how to select a Text section in the Shorthand app

Adding a Text section.

4. Add your first photo

Now it's time to add the first photo in your essay. Simply click 'New Section' and 'Media.' In photo essays, hierarchy is critical, so make sure you've thought about which photo is most appropriate at the top of your essay. In Shorthand, your photo will appear in all its  full-screen glory.

A screenshot of how to add a photo to your photo essay in the Shorthand app

Image in a 'Media' section.

5. Add a Reveal section

You also have the option of adding a 'Reveal' section, which allows you to add text that floats over your images. This text can act as a commentary or de facto caption for each photo in your essay.

Simply click 'New Section' and 'Reveal.' You'll be able to also upload a version of the image for mobile, and set focus areas to make sure the most important parts of your image are shown.

photo essay things to do

A 'Reveal' section with accompanying text box.

6. Add transition effects

Depending on the nature of your photo essay, you may wish to add transition effects between some images. A ‘Reveal’ section is the best way to achieve this. You'll have the option of choosing from several types of transitions that occur as your reader scrolls from one full-screen image to the next, and each image can have its own text box, too.

Testing a Reveal section in the Shorthand editor

7. Add Scrollmation effects

If you want to use images in concert with large amounts of text, then consider using Shorthand's Scrollmation feature. This allows you to transition through a range of images as the reader scrolls down a column of text. 

To do this — you guessed it — simply click 'New Section' and 'Scrollmation' or 'Background Scrollmation.' 

The difference between the two is simple: In a Scrollmation section, the text appears in a column beside your images, while in a Background Scrollmation section,  images fill the screen and the text column appears over the images. A sequence of related images can give the effect of animation triggered by the reader’s scrolling.

A Scrollmation section within the editor

Background Scrollmation in the editor

8. Add a Media Gallery

If you have many different images, and want to create a mosaic effect in your essay, then you can use a media gallery. To do this, simply click 'New Section' and 'Media Gallery.' 

You can then upload your images, and experiment with their size and arrangement to achieve your intended effect.

A screenshot of a Media Gallery in the Shorthand app

Creating a Media Gallery section in the editor

9. Preview your story

Photo essays — more than many other genres of content on the web — can run into problems with different screen sizes. Before you publish, make sure you test your story using Shorthand's preview option. 

You'll be able to see what your story looks like on desktop, mobile, and tablet viewports, and make adjustments as needed. You can also share your preview link with collaborators, and get pre-publication feedback and quality-assurance.

Examples of previews of a Shorthand story in two different devices.

Story previews in the editor, simulating a phone and iPad.

10. Publish 🚀

The final step is to publish your essay to the world! You now have an immersive, potentially interactive photo essay — without writing a line of code. 

Contemporary photo essays are creative endeavours rife with opportunities for interactivity. Organisations and artists alike use them as modern, impactful vehicles to convey powerful stories. Try creating one for yourself using Shorthand for free today!

Publish your first story free with Shorthand

Craft sumptuous content at speed. No code required.

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photo essay things to do

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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How to Make a Photo Essay

Last Updated: September 27, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Heather Gallagher . Heather Gallagher is a Photojournalist & Photographer based in Austin, Texas. She runs her own photography studio named "Heather Gallagher Photography" which was voted Austin's Best Family Photographer and top 3 Birth Photographers in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Heather specializes in family Photojournalism and has over 15 years of experience documenting individuals, families, and businesses all over the world. Her clients include Delta Airlines, Oracle, Texas Monthly, and her work has been featured in The Washington Post and The Austin American Statesman. She is a member of the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers (IAPBP). There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 287,117 times.

Photo essays are an increasingly popular medium for journalists, bloggers, and advertisers alike. Whether you’re trying to show the emotional impact of a current news story or share your hobby with friends and family, images can capture your topic in a personal, emotional, and interesting way. Creating a photo essay can be as easy as choosing a topic, getting your images, and organizing the essay.

Things You Should Know

  • Reflect long and hard on your topic, considering your audience, current events, and whether to go for a thematic or narrative approach.
  • Create an outline, including your focus image, establishing shot, clincher, and other image details.
  • When you finally take your photos, remember to take more photos than you think you need and don't be afraid to let the project change as you create it.

Finding Your Topic

Step 1 Review current events.

  • Offer a photo essay of your place of business as a training tool.
  • Use a photo essay about your business as a sales or social tool by publishing it on your website or social media page.
  • Create a how to photo essay to help others learn about your hobby, so they can take it up as well. [4] X Research source

Step 4 Select an interesting subject.

  • Thematic subjects are big ideas including things like local gun laws, at-risk youth, or welcoming home soldiers.
  • Narrative essays can include a day in the life, how to tutorials, or progression series that show changes over time such as tracking a building project.
  • If you have been given a commission or specific publication to work with, you may need to choose a topic that will fit a thematic or narrative approach as outlined by the publication. Make sure you are aware of any publication guidelines in advance.

Organizing Your Shoot

Step 1 Get permission.

  • Consider how difficult it will be to get permission to photograph your subjects. If you already have relationships established, it will be easier. If not, allow for extra time to get permission and/or waivers.
  • Schools, daycares, and other places with kids typically have more regulations on who can be photographed and for what purposes. You’ll usually need to get parental approval, in addition to permission from those in charge. [7] X Research source

Step 2 Research your subject.

  • Consider doing interviews with people involved prior to the shoot. Ask things like, “What’s the most interesting thing you do during this event?” or “How long have you been involved with this organization?”
  • These interviews are also a great opportunity to ask for permission and get waivers.
  • If you’re going to visit a job site, charitable event, or other large group activity, ask the person or persons in charge to explain what you’re doing to everyone before you arrive. [8] X Research source

Step 3 Create an outline.

Capturing Your Images

Step 1 Check the light.

  • Many new photographers stay away from high ISO shots because they allow more light through producing a “busy” image. However, these images are often easier to edit later as there’s more information to work with. [11] X Research source
  • If it’s very bright in your location or you’ve set up artificial lighting, a low ISO is likely adequate, For darker areas, you’ll likely need to use a higher ISO.
  • If you need one second to capture an image with a base ISO of 100, you’ll need one eighth of a second to capture with an ISO of 800. [13] X Research source

Step 2 Consider composition.

  • Even snapping candid shots, which you may need to capture quickly, take a few moments to think about how objects are placed to make the most impact.
  • Always think about how the main subject’s surroundings play into the overall image, and try to create different levels and points of interest.
  • You can change composition as part of the editing process in some cases, so if you can’t line up the shot just right, don’t let it deter you from capturing the image you want. [14] X Research source

Step 3 Take more photos than you need.

Organizing the Essay

Step 1 Exclude photos you don’t need.

  • If you’re doing a day in the life photo essay about a frustrated person working in an office, an image of that person struggling to open the front door against the wind might be an apt focus shot.
  • If your essay is about the process of building a home, your focus image may be something like a contractor and architect looking at blue prints with the framed up home in the background.
  • If your essay is about a family reunion, the focus image may be a funny shot of the whole family making faces, pretending to be fighting, or a serious photo of the family posed together. Capture whatever seems natural for the family. [18] X Research source

Step 3 Categorize your remaining photos.

  • Regardless of essay type, you’ll need a focus image to grab attention.
  • Use an overall shot to give context to your essay. Where is it, when is it happening, who’s involved, what’s going on, and why should someone be interested? The five “W’s” of journalism are a great way to determine what your overall shot should capture.
  • Find your final image. This should be something provocative that asks your viewer to think about the topic.
  • Between the focus and overall shot and ending image, include a series of images that move the viewer from the lead-in shots to its result. Use images that build in intensity or draw the viewers further into the essay.

Step 5 Ask for feedback.

  • If the images aren’t telling the story, ask your friends to look at your other photos and ask, “I wanted this image to make this point. You got a different idea. Would any of these images make this point to you more clearly?”
  • If the others like the images you’ve chosen, you may still want to ask them to look at your other photos and tell you if they think any of the images you didn’t include should be added in. They may see something you missed. [20] X Research source

Step 6 Add text.

  • If you're commissioned to add photos to an essay, you should make sure images reflect the written word, but also add emotion and context the writing could not capture. For example, an essay on poverty may include an image of a child and parent living on the street could capture more emotional context.
  • Captions should only include information the viewer could not derive from the photo itself. For instance, you can include a date, the subject’s name, or a statistic relevant to your subject in the caption.
  • If you choose not to have any text or just a title and some introductory and/or closing words, make sure you convey all necessary information succinctly. [21] X Research source

Expert Q&A

Heather Gallagher

  • Be creative with your topics. However, something as simple as "things I like" will suffice so long as you stay creative. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Make sure you're familiar with your camera. It will make the photo composition a lot easier. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Don't get discouraged. It may take several tries to get the desired results in your photos. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0

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Write an Essay

  • ↑ http://digital-photography-school.com/5-photo-essay-tips/
  • ↑ Heather Gallagher. Professional Photojournalist & Photographer. Expert Interview. 8 April 2020.
  • ↑ http://improvephotography.com/30816/10-ideas-creative-photo-essays/
  • ↑ http://www.apogeephoto.com/how-to-create-a-photo-essay/
  • ↑ https://petapixel.com/how-to-create-a-photo-essay/
  • ↑ http://photo.journalism.cuny.edu/week-5/
  • ↑ http://clickitupanotch.com/2010/12/creating-a-photo-essay/
  • ↑ https://photographylife.com/what-is-iso-in-photography
  • ↑ https://wiredimpact.com/blog/how-to-make-a-photo-essay-nonprofit/
  • ↑ http://digital-photography-school.com/5-tips-for-creating-a-photo-essay-with-a-purpose/
  • ↑ https://www.format.com/magazine/resources/photography/how-to-make-photo-essay-examples

About This Article

Heather Gallagher

To make a photo essay, start by selecting a subject that is easy to capture and that inspires you, like a friend or a family pet. Then, decide if you want to present your photo essay as thematic, which shows specific examples of a big idea, or narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end. Next, create an outline of your essay to determine which photos you’ll need, like an establishing shot. Finally, take your photos, select which images you want to use in your essay, and organize them according to your theme before adding text to explain the essay. To learn how to capture the best images, keep scrolling! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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How to create an outstanding Photo Essay

how to create a photo essay

If you are working on your photo essay and would wish to know how to create a successful one, we have some tips, tricks, and techniques outlined in this article. With the sophistication of digital publishing, you need to be on your A-game when creating digital photos that tell a story.

As a custom essay writing service , our ultimate goal in this article is to guide you on creating a photo essay without straining. We like it when writing, and creativity is fun altogether. Therefore, we have outlined examples, classifications, and a framework that you can use when creating your photo essay.

This article also bears the definition of what a photo essay is. And although you could use this as a professional or a student, you can pay someone to do your essay on our website. When you do so, a polished essay writer will work with you in creating a good photo essay,

We have creatives with expertise, a knack for experimentation, critical thinking and creativity, and an insatiable urge to produce top content. If it sounds like you could use our help, let us know the best way we can assist you in creating a perfect photography essay.

If, however, all you need is insights to point you in the right direction, here is how to create a good photo essay without straining. Let’s explore!

What is a Photo Essay?

Visual storytelling appeals to everyone who has a sense of sight.

Unlike your typical essay in college, a photo essay is a project where you present a series of photographs or images to tell a story, share a narrative, or push a theme/agenda. Thus, a photo essay facilitates picture-led storytelling , which is a creative innovation in photojournalism.

It is also known as a photographic or picture essay. A great photo essay powerfully evokes emotions and appeals to the understanding of its intended audience without using words or with minimal words alongside the series of images.

A perfectly-created photo essay narrates a story using many photographs that take the viewer along your narrative journey. Indeed, it proves that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, since there are many pictures/images, you could say a photo essay is rich in words, flavor, and content, yet it does not have words.

Talking of photo essays, Ansel Adams is one of the revered and famous photo essayists. Other photo essayists include James Nachtwey, Eugene Smith, and Nancy Borowick .

How to Create a Photo Essay in a step-by-step format

Here is a step-by-step approach to follow to successfully create a compelling and engaging photo essay:

Step 1 – Do your Research

If you are to create an attractive and relevant photo essay, begin by researching the best framework to adopt. Look at what people are doing out there and find out how creatively you can do it better. There are inexhaustible ideas and concepts that you can explore when writing a photo essay. If you’ve not chosen a topic, thorough research can help you decide on a topic and handle it well.

Step 2 - Choose a theme for your photo essay

With the research, you can already identify a specific theme or narrative for your picture essay. Therefore, highlight the theme or narrative, write some notes about the direction you will tackle and how you will reach and satisfy your audience.

Step 2 – Choose a topic that aligns with the theme

Following the findings from your research, choose a great topic. You are not that lucky photo essayist who opportunistically happens upon a story and turns it into a brilliant photo essay. Therefore, you should choose an attractive, reasonable, short, and memorable topic. You are free to select any topic that interests you and one that you find fun to work on. Your chosen theme or narrative can help define the topic for your photo essay.

Step 3 – Pick your subjects

With the theme/narrative and the topic, you can then choose your subjects. These are the people, things, sceneries, or places of central focus in your photography essay.  

The subjects are the ones that give your photo essay a voice, strengthen your narrative, and engage the audience.

Step 4 – Select your top images

Define the appropriate number of images that you intend to use when telling the story. For example, if you intend to leave the audience under suspense, choose which images to use and their order of appearance.  Your photo essay project does not have to use all your images but the best.

The best way to integrate your theme, narrative, and subjects is to create a storyboard that helps you decide how to tell the story. Then, when you lay your ideas out, a storyboard helps you focus on what is essential, especially when you have little control over a given subject.

Step 5 – ask for insights and input from others

After creating the storyboard, choosing the photos, and writing a narrative or theme statement, you can share it with someone knowledgeable for critique. You should also invite views and comments from another person. Ensure that you give the entire photo cache to the person so that they can choose, then compare with your best photos and tweak your choice accordingly.

Step 6 – Write the captions and text

With everything set, write the accompanying content for your photo essay. As well, make sure you caption each photo to enhance your visual narrative. Nothing is cast in stone here because you can also drop using image captions. You can experiment with lighting, tone, color, composition, angles, and location so that the narrative flows. Also, don’t forget to create introductory messages and closing messages. You need to have your signature introductory and closing images well-decided.

Step 7 – Edit your work

Now that you have created a photo essay, it is now time to edit everything. You can ask for help or rest and do it when you are energetic and objective. If you want a skilled essay writer to write you an excellent narrative to post alongside your photo essay, you can always trust our essay website.  We can also edit the narrative to maintain a good flow.

Step 8 – Publish/submit your work

If everything else is okay, convert the photo essay to the correct format and submit or publish it. Remember, photo essays can be a portion of a webpage, a webpage, a document, fashion publication, photo editorial, collage of images, or mixed media.

Helpful Tips when compiling your Photographic Essay

If you are on track to become a photo essayist, you need to grasp the most critical photo essaying tips, techniques, and tricks. Here is some best advice you could use to find a subject for your photo essay.

1. Try to tell a diverse and confident story

When you get out there to tell a story, make sure you do it most awesomely. Understand your target audience, do anything that will resonate with their needs, appeal to their emotions, logic, and thoughts, and leave them musing over your narrative. It is, therefore, vital that you consider what your key message will be and be confident when handling it in your photo essay.

2.Storyboard before building

Architects, surgeons, artists, engineers, you name the profession, all begin with either a sketch, blueprint or a plan to visualize the entire concept or creation before its actualization. In the real of photo essays, you have to be invested right from the beginning. Therefore, you need to create a storyboard that helps you to convert your vision, abstract thoughts, and ideas to a concrete plan that you can execute to succeed in your project. A storyboard also doubles as a shortlist for your photography project.

When storyboarding, you will notice that you take an outsider view, which helps you evaluate how every element fits into the larger picture – your narrative/theme. When doing it, you can discard otherwise burdensome but irrelevant content, which saves you time and leaves you to focus more.

Storyboarding is a critical, creative step when building a perfect photo essay as it ensures the flow to your viewers.

3. Have a visual structure

A contemporary photo essay follows a simple or basic framework that gives your theme direction and scope. Therefore, having a visual structure, marker, or framework helps you transform the photo series into a narrative. For instance, this Growing up young photo essay published in the BBC chooses to have quotes from the subjects running alongside the photos. Likewise, the picture essay done by photojournalist Stefanie Glinski titled  One Month in Kabul Under Taliban rule – a photo essay has narrative and captions to further illustrate the themes, content, and narratives.

4. Have a variety of images

To write an exceptional photo essay, ensure that you have as many photos or images as possible. Assemble as much as you think you will need for the project, then use your ruthless photo editing skills to pick the best photos.

Although shedding content hurts, it’s the only best way to achieve the best piece. It is also better to be in a dilemma of which photos to use than wish that you included a specific shot. Having multiple shots ensures that everything is captured. Then compiling your photo series becomes easier.

5. Edit your photos well

When editing, do it ruthlessly. While you cannot be Annie Leibovitz, Stefanie Glinski, or Ansel Adams, you certainly have to up your game to be at par with them. You can either use a professional editor. Alternatively, you can edit your photos using Photoshop, Illustrator, or other image-editing software. Whatever you choose your struggle to be, ensure that you end up with high-quality photos that make sense to your theme or narrative. If you have to refine an image to remove blemish or flaws, use it as long as it ends up fine. Make sure that the focus of each photo is visible and that unwanted areas are cropped out. If you are editing on your own, edit the photos a few days after the shoot to have an objective mind when doing it.

6. Choose the top 10 images

You are not just going to lazily throw images and words all over a structure and have it for the best photo essay out there. Instead, you need to select quality photos that will tell your narrative. Be keen enough to ensure that any photo that makes it to the top 10 list is compelling and poignant. If you notice that you don’t have good equipment to produce or capture quality photos, don’t be afraid to pull in a professional photographer.

7. Use outside input to perfect your choice

When working on a photo essay project, you are not necessarily an island. The photo essayists we’ve mentioned work with teams. You equally need to get a trusted, visually active, and sophisticated individual, professional, or friend to help you.

Have them look at the photos you took and ask them to choose the best. As well, provide them with a written description of your narrative and ask them to select their 10 best photos.

Compare their choice with yours and if they differ, make a point of asking the reason. Listen keenly and tweak your narrative and choice as they most likely reflect what an audience would perceive from the photo essay.

8. Select the best photos from the best

Based on the reasons from your external source (friend, editor, or photographer), select the 10 best photographs to use in telling your story. As well, change the narration if there is a need to tweak it.

9. Write reasonable captions

For your final choice of 10 images, write a befitting caption that will help to enhance your visual narrative. You need to be concise, brief, and clear. If the photos have a strong or exciting background story you wish to run, have the narrative written as content alongside the photos.

However, if you feel like the images can stand alone without captions, don’t beat yourself over it; leave them out. After all, using captions is not a must.

Look at this example of Black Lives Matter Photo Essay (Link to external site).

Apart from the caption, you can add text that contains data, complex metrics, or maps to support your narrative. Using maps can help drive the point home.

10. Focus on the details

Yes, the devil is always in the details. When you eventually display your photo essay to an audience, everybody analyzes it their way. However, when you capture the details, you will take care of each perspective, judgment, and reasoning from your audience. Ensure that you place everything in context and that everything is up to date.

11. Make it fun

Unlike college essays that come with challenges, creating a photo essay should be fun. Therefore, enjoy every bit of the project. Doing so helps you to step up your game, inspire creativity, and relaxes your mind. There is nothing creative and innovative you cannot do in a photo essay with a let loose sort of spirit.

12. Set the scene

When telling a story through photography, you are equally writing your story. Therefore, ensure that you set a scene to capture the moment that appeals to your audience.

For the events that you have no control over, try as much as possible to take photos that match your narrative or theme.

13. Experiment more when taking photos

There is no single bullet to creating an outstanding photo essay. To achieve perfection, let your photo essay express your story in the best way it can. Therefore, you need to test filter effects, use fonts, adjust the visuals, check the contrast, adjust color, hue, and feel, and crop your photos well. With experimentation comes creativity and innovativeness, which birth perfection.

Classification of Photo Essays

In terms of classification, there are two general classes of photo essays where all the genres of photo essays fall. These classes are narrative and thematic.

1. Narrative Photo Essays

A narrative photo essay, as the name suggests, tells a specific story. But, mainly, these types of photo essays tend to tell a peculiar and more direct story.

Unlike thematic photo essays, narrative photo essays give less freedom to the photo essayist. The use of text is to have some sense of completion to the story.

For instance, the 28 Days in Afghanistan by Andrew Quilty published in the SBS is a narrative photo essay that documents the photographer’s experience in the war-torn nation using both text and unadulterated photos.

The picture essay by photojournalist Stefanie Glinski titled  One Month in Kabul Under Taliban rule – a photo essay also falls under this category as it highlights her one-month encounter in Kabul.

2. Thematic photo Essays

Thematic photo essays are topic-specific. For example, they can be on politics, pollution, police brutality, global pandemic, poverty, crime, etc.

You have the freedom of choosing the subjects, location, and you do not necessarily have to incorporate text.

An example of a thematic photo essay is the “ They call us bewitched ” picture essay published in the Guardian. We also bumped into the Olympics Photos: Emotion runs high by the NBC News, which we find as an excellent thematic photo essay. Next, look at this Hurricane Katrina photo essay. It is thematic in the sense that it focuses on a natural disaster. Finally, if you want more examples, this photo essay titled “ From Trayvon Martin to Colin Kaepernick ” details the theme of Black Lives Matter/ police brutality.

Typical Photo Essay Examples/Genres to inspire your creativity

  • The daily life photo essay – A Day-in-the-life photo essay tells a story about the day-to-day life of a given subject. It could be a lawyer, president, celebrity, farmer, industrialist, pope, student, etc. most of these photographic essays evoke emotions and help the audience enter into the subject's world.
  • Transitioning through life photo essay – These are essays that detail photos of how people transform through life. It can be a photo of a celebrity, president, farmer, or famous person since they were young to date.
  • Special events photo essays – As the name suggests, these are photo essays on special events, festivities, and occurrences. The events can be weddings, burials, art exhibitions, car shows, auction events, or celebrations. They have very elaborate and relatable background objects that connect to the main idea.
  • Family photo essays – These can be photo essays on family members. You can include photos that show how the family has grown or detailing the family tree. They can also be family business photos that detail the leaders assigned roles to family businesses.
  • Protest photo essays – These are thematic photo essays that detail how protests occurred and paint a clear picture of the theme of such protests as the Black Lives Matter protests. When creating a protest photo essay, you should have information about the particular protest. Focus on incidents and protests that occurred in history.
  • Sports photo essays – Sports essays can be on sports events such as Olympics, Wimbledon, football leagues, or about sportsmen and women. For instance, the Skysports’ picture essay on Diego Maradona titled Diego Maradona: Images of a football Icon .
  • Medical Photo Essays – Organizations such as WHO , Universities , or CDC have various examples of medical photo essays. These visual illustrations focus on medical research, medical practice, diseases, and medical breakthroughs.
  • Scientific Photo Essays – Like medical essays, these photo essays detail scientific encounters, breakthroughs, inventions, etc.
  • Celebrity photo essays – You can create a photo essay on a celebrity.
  • Political photo essays are photo essays that capture and narrate political events, history, and news in a series of photographs and narratives. It could be about leftist and rightist politics or geopolitics as well as policy-making.
  • War photo essays – Captures the critical and significant elements of conflict, war, and peace. There are many samples online.
  • Timelapse photo essays – These are transformational photo essays that capture the changes of a subject through time. They might take longer to develop and can be on buildings, estates, cities, trees, or landscapes.
  • Relationship photo essays – This photo essay genre captures the interaction between people, families, and loved ones. It is the most common assignment in journalism class. It offers an excellent chance to capture emotions like love, family, and friendship.
  • Poverty photo essays – This genre of photo essays captures poverty from the standpoint of the subject. They can contain infrastructure, housing, amenities, food, water, etc. They are very emotional and can use narratives. They are the same as drought photo essays that capture how the drought has ravaged a geographic region of interest.
  • City photo essays – These are photographic essays that capture a city's feel, life, and pleasures. They are thematic in nature and allow you to focus on specific areas, moods, and feeling that such places evoke.
  • Education photo essays – Details issues in education. For instance, it can be a photo essay showing the disparity in access, challenges in education, or infrastructure in education. An example is The Many Faces of Learning, published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Another one is Embracing Education , published by the Lutheran World Federation.

As long as you can think of any topic, there is always a picture or photo essay genre where it can fall under. Remember, you can be asked to create a photo essay on a Word Document or PDF for class, which is where you get the chance to display your prowess and creativity.

Common Photo Essay Examples

Here are the famous photo essays that you can draw inspiration from:

  • Various American Natural Sites by Ansel Adams
  • “Everyday” by Noah Kalina
  • “Signed, X” by Kate Ryan 
  • “The Vietnam War” by Philip Jones Griffiths
  • “The Great Depression” by Dorothea Lange

Structure/Anatomy of a Photo Essay

Here is a blueprint or skeleton of how a basic photo essay can look like

Introductory text/content

This is where you type the text that explains or introduces the photo essay to your audience.

Signature Image

This is the strongest image that has a visual impact on the story you are running. It should be an image that invites the viewers to your story to be interested in looking further. In simple terms, this is your window, attention grabber, or icon; make it count.

This is the picture of a key player or the main subject of your story. You must ensure that the foreground and background elements reinforce the theme or narrative.

Where the subject is caught in real moments, such as in environmental portraits, is reportedly more compelling. You can use a series of posed portraits as well.

Overall wider view

This is the photograph that gives the viewers a sense of the place or part of the place where the story happens. You use such images to create a scene. It can also be a series of detailed images bundled together to set the scene.

Here, you need to follow up with a photograph that explains the finer details. The photo can be abstract but eye-catching in the sense that it draws the attention of the audience. It should be an image that reveals to the audience some aspect that is otherwise missed in a wider shot. You are allowed to use series of small detail photos as a mosaic in one image .

When defining an action, look for a photograph that shows the main theme in your story. For instance, if it is a Black Lives Matter protest, focus on a photo that captures banners, police, and protesters.  Specifically, focus on the most poignant or dramatic images that capture people interacting with one another. You can as well capture gestures or moments that amplify the visual narrative you want to communicate.

Closing Photo and text

This is the powerful closing photograph that lets your audience ponder more about your visual narrative. You can follow it with a text highlighting the thoughts you want the audience to reason with as they come to the end of your photo essay.

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Photography for the Serious Amateur

How to Create Photo Stories

How To Create a Memorable Photo Essay

Susheel Chandradhas

  • March 17, 2007
  • Photo Project

In this Photo Project, we are going to explore how you can develop “Photo Stories”, or “Photo Essays”. Being able to tell a visual story without too many words is an important part of your capacity as a visual storyteller, and one skill that I had to take time and effort to develop. There are a number of different skills that you can develop and fine tune as you conceptualize, write, and photograph these stories, and learning how to create an engaging Photo Essay is one skill that you will take a lifetime to develop. That’s a guarantee.

As you develop your style, and your voice you will find your own ways to document, interpret and display the topic that you want to speak about, but let’s start with some simple steps that almost anyone will find useful!

Table of Contents

What Are Photo Stories?

Photo Stories or photo essays are a sequence of photographs that tell a story by themselves when placed together. They aim to inform, educate and to invoke emotion and empathy in the viewer. They’re a form of documentary photojournalism, and you’ll see them frequently in magazines along with some text. One of my favourite sources of photo stories is National Geographic magazine. You can usually understand most of what the text is about simply by looking at the accompanying photographs. Of course, the content is gripping too, but for many people it is the photographs that make the magazine what it is.

How Can I Photograph a Photo Story?

Now, down to business. It’s easy to start making photo stories, but as you develop your skill, you’ll find that it can also be challenging. Here are a few guiding steps to help you get started with creating engaging Photo Essays.

Pick a Topic to Document in Your Photo Essay

You would start by choosing a topic, preferably something which is close to your heart and easy to access. Try doing something like “A day in the life of…” series for your family or just a series of photographs of something in your neighbourhood. This will get you in the mood for more challenging series…

A sequence of images that tell a surreal story.

You could then move on to more interesting time-based stories, like capturing certain buildings and their interiors over the passage of a day, or a year! The working of a local charity, featuring the key people behind it and the work that they do, the people their work benefits would make an impressive photo story. Here’s a decent attempt at capturing a Russian, Ilya, and the 44 disabled dogs that he cares for. The photo story is in Russian , but it could be in any language and not make much of a difference. The story is still there.

Don’t Feel Intimidated By The Task

Photo stories are most often seen in journalism and reportage of events as in this photo story about Riots in Dublin but there’s no reason why they can’t be used to tell interesting everyday stories too, like this “ Story of a parrot ” by Subhasish or Surreal stories like Xylonets ‘ “ If You Go Out to the Barn Tonight . . . You Better Not Go Alone ” and this one about the “ Modern Family ” by bihua .

Try To Capture Moments and Emotions

Remember that what you are trying to do is to capture the key moments that define what ever it is you are photographing. You can imagine that you’re capturing multiple slices of time that convey the story that you want to tell. Capture different types of images, portraits, action shots, sequences, establishing shots showing locations and environments. Don’t hold back, capture it all.

Among those shots, also try capturing a variety of emotions , good moments, sad moments, interactions between people, interactions between things – objects and places – and also capture some of the surroundings in these shots to convey some of the contextual information that can’t be put into words.

Essential skills that you’ll need will be good composition, a discerning eye for detail that could add meaning to the photograph and good communication skills (if your story is about people). But, worry not if this list sounds daunting, for we are all learning… That’s why I asked you to start with an easy topic, remember?

Creating photo-stories helps you to refine your skill in composition and portraiture, and if you’re doing something outdoors, maybe even your landscape skills. Remember, there are no hard and fast rules as long as you capture the essence of what you are trying to convey.

Get Familiar With Your Equipment

If you are intimately familiar with your equipment, you are free to focus your attention on the world around you, and the scenes that are unfolding around you all the time. That’s not to say that you should not pay attention to the technical aspects of photography… By all means, be aware of your exposure settings, and the aesthetics of the photograph that you’re trying to capture, but also be aware of your surroundings, and observant of what is about to happen next .

Edit Before You Show

In writing, an editor is a person who looks over your work, understands what it is about, and makes or suggests changes to make the piece more cohesive, understandable and polished. They may suggest that you add or remove content of the overall piece to be more understandable. You should do the same with your Photo Essay.

Once you have your photographs ready, look at them objectively and try to remove all the fluff . This is difficult as it requires you to put aside your own attachment to the images that you have just now captured so lovingly. However, removing extra images from the ones that you will eventually display makes the overall story more understandable, easier to take in, and quicker to get your message across.

If you feel that you have missed out an important part of the overall message, you may want to go back and take a few more photographs to complete your story.

Presenting Your Photo Story

The ideal old-world finish to the photo-story is to print your pictures out and paste them in a photo-book with larger pictures wherever you want to emphasise the photograph and to show some extra detail in it. You could also put together a multimedia presentation like this one made by the baltimore sun . These days, its not all that difficult to do. Otherwise you can just put them together in a folder on your computer and number them 001, 002, and so on so that they are displayed in order when seen with a slide show software. [TIP:] The two zeros in front of numerals zero to nine ensure that they are not displayed just before ten and twenty.

Remember that your work needs a title and a short introduction to set the stage. After that, let the images speak for themselves.

Each time you create a photo essay, you will learn more, and it will be come an easier process as you become more adept at knowing what you’re trying to achieve with each photograph. But each step forward will most likely also show you a few more steps down your journey. There is so much to learn on the way to your destination.

Share Your Work With Us

We’d love to see your work! Feel free to tag us on Instagram , and use the hashtag #BPTprojects . I encourage other members of the BPT community to offer their thoughts in a constructive manner so that we can all grow together. Remember to be kind, and generous with your critique.

You can also leave a link to your photo-essay in the comments down below.

Challenge Yourself with More Photo Projects

If you’re interested in more photo projects, check out the other Photo Projects that we already have, ready for you at the Photo Project page . Get into the game and continue to develop your eye, with more projects like this.

Thank you for reading this, and we hope that you have a great deal of fun working on your first photo-essay.

Help Us To Continue Creating

Get our email newsletter to stay up-to-date with our latest posts. It’s easy to read and is mailed once in 2 weeks.

The easiest way to support Beyond Photo Tips is by using our affiliate links when you buy anything at all. It will never cost you anything extra, and we get a small commission from it, which helps us a LOT! We share our recommended equipment list here .

Some of the links to products on this website are affiliate links, and we only ever link out to gear that we recommend.

You could also show your appreciation by buying us a coffee . Finally, we appreciate you being a part of the community, so do say hi!

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Susheel Chandradhas

  • Susheel Chandradhas

Susheel Chandradhas is a Product Photographer and Filmmaker based in India. He has been taking photographs (almost) all his life. He has a diploma and a bachelors degree in Visual Communication, where his classmates all believed that he would write a book on photography... Instead, he writes on this website (because - isn't a community more fun?).

His passions include photography, parkour, wide-angle lenses, blue skies, fire extinguishers, and fast computers.

In addition to writing for Beyond Photo Tips, Susheel is a staff writer for Fstoppers.com , and owns and runs ColoursAlive, a photography, and video production studio.

You can connect with Susheel on Twitter , Instagram , or LinkedIn .

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Memorable Photographs – How They Got That Way

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Hey, thanks for this brilliant idea! I’ve started Bullet Journalling and photo stories will be the perfect way to supplement what I write. I’ll report back when I’m done! 😀

I’m sure everyone here would love to see some of your photo stories, if they aren’t too personal, of course. We have a group on Flickr, so if you’re up for it you can upload to Flickr, and share your stories in the group. https://www.flickr.com/groups/beyondphototips/

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Published: March 17, 2007 | Last Updated: June 9, 2023

photo essay things to do

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How to create a photo essay

  • Author Picfair
  • Level Intermediate
  • Reading Time 8 minutes

Cover images by James Gourley

Create a meaningful set of images by producing a photo essay or story

A photographic essay is a deeper and more meaningful way to use your photography than a single image tends to be. Typically associated with documentary and news-gathering, a photo essay doesn’t necessarily have to follow those genres, but can be used as a way to tell a longer or more in-depth story about all manner of subjects. Creating a photo essay however is about more than just taking a set of images and presenting them as one package. They require more forethought, planning and editing than many other forms of photography, but the results are often more rewarding, too. Follow our guide below if it’s something you’d like to consider putting together. ‍ ‍

1 Find a story

The first thing you will need to do is to figure out what you want to do your photo essay on.

"Inspiration can come from anywhere, but a good starting to place is to look at news sources to see if something catches your eye."

Inspiration can come from anywhere, but a good starting to place is to look at news sources to see if something catches your eye. If you’re not sure where to begin, you could start by looking at what’s going on in your local area - if nothing else, it’ll make the practicalities easier. Start jotting down ideas that you can explore and figure out exactly why you want to do it. Try to be as active as you can in discovering what’s going on in the world and eventually something will keep your attention for long enough that it will seem like the right idea.

photo essay things to do

‍ 2 Do your research

‍ Next, try and find out as much as you can about whatever it is you want to create your photo story on.

"If you find that others have done photo essays on the same or similar subject, then that’s something you should be aware of."

Importantly, you’ll need to see what else already exists out there - if anything - on your story. If you find that others have done photo essays on the same or similar subject, then that’s something you should be aware of. That’s not to say that you can’t also do one, but it pays to be prepared so that you can perhaps approach it in a different way. You’ll also need to do some research into the practicalities that will be required to help you along the way. You’ll need to look into people you should be contacting, how you will get to the destination (if it’s not local), any requirements you need for visiting the location, any restrictions on what you can and cannot shoot and so on. Doing as much research ahead of time as possible will make the project run smoothly when it comes to actually shooting it. ‍

photo essay things to do

3 Make a structured plan  

Once your research is complete, it’s time to make a detailed and structured plan about how you’re going to go about shooting your photo essay. It doesn’t have to be completely rigid so as to disallow flexibility, but sorting out shoot times, shoot dates, shoot locations will give you something to work with, even if things eventually go off plan. Some photo essays can be shot in an afternoon, others might take several months or even years to complete. Having an idea of how long you want to spend on a particular project can help focus your mind and give you an end date for when you might want to publish the essay. It’s also useful to tell subjects and those involved with the shoot a rough timeline of events. You might find it helpful to organise everything together in one easily accessible place - such as online calendars and spreadsheets, so you can quickly refer to anything you need to.

photo essay things to do

4 Tell a story

Your photo essay needs to be more than just a set of images on a similar theme.

"...including some introductory or contextualising shots before you get into the heart of the subject matter is a good approach."

Think of it exactly like a story, which usually requires a beginning, a middle and an end. That’s a very simplistic way of putting it, but photographically, including some introductory or contextualising shots before you get into the heart of the subject matter is a good approach. There might not necessarily be a neat “resolution” to whatever story you’re trying to tell, and it might not always be a happy ending, but having that at least in your mind as you go along can help to create a neatly-packaged story that has a definite and well-constructed narrative.

photo essay things to do

5 Stick with a cohesive style

Exactly how you’re going to shoot your photo essay is entirely up to you, but in order for your story to have a cohesive look, it’s usually best if you stick to the same style throughout.

"With a photo essay, you want the images to hang extremely well together as a set, so keeping things consistent will help you do that..."

That could be as simple as not mixing black and white and colour, always using a particular lens, always shooting in a particular way, or even applying the same post-processing techniques to the finished shots. With a photo essay, you want the images to hang extremely well together as a set, so keeping things consistent will help you do that - that is, unless you’re actively trying to use disparate styles as an artistic or storytelling technique. ‍

photo essay things to do

5 Create a strong edit

The chances are that in the process of creating your photo essay, you will have shot dozens, if not hundreds of images.

"It can help to step away from your essay for at least a few days if you can to give yourself some distance and perspective - don’t be afraid to be brutal and keep your final selection down to only those that are the strongest or the best."

For the final edit of your photo story, you need to make sure that the images selected to appear are the strongest of the set, with each adding something unique to the finished story. Try to avoid “padding out” your story with too many fillers, even if you think they are strong images on their own. It’s a good idea to avoid too much repetition, and here again you should look to include images that create a strong story arc with a defined beginning, middle and end. It can help to step away from your essay for at least a few days if you can to give yourself some distance and perspective - don’t be afraid to be brutal and keep your final selection down to only those that are the strongest or the best. There’s no defined number for how many images should be included in a final story, but as a general rule, you’ll probably want it to be under 20 for the most impact.  ‍

photo essay things to do

6 Ask for input

It’s very easy to get so close to your subject and your images that you become blind to any flaws in them, or the structure of your story. Asking for advice and input from somebody you trust can help to tighten up your story even further.

"Asking for advice and input from somebody you trust can help to tighten up your story even further."

In certain situations, it can be helpful to ask the subject of the photographs themselves what they think, to make it more of a collaborative process - but you should be able to determine whether that’s appropriate on a case-by-case basis. If you have any contacts who are photographers, editors or publishers, asking them to cast an eye over your finished story is a good idea, too. ‍

7 Add some text  

It can be a good idea to add some text or individual captions for a photo essay, to give some background information and context to whatever is shown in the pictures. If you’re not a writer, try to keep it as basic as possible - including things such as names, locations and dates. A short introduction to the piece to give some background information is useful, too. Ask somebody you trust to check it over for sense, clarity and mistakes.

photo essay things to do

8 Get the story seen

Once your story is complete and you’re happy with it, the next stage is to get it seen - also known as, the hard part.

"Once your story is complete and you’re happy with it, the next stage is to get it seen - also known as, the hard part."

A sensible first step is to create an album on your Picfair store which is dedicated to your photo essay. That way, anybody who is looking for that particular piece won’t have to wade through all of your other work to find it. ‍ You can then start sending out information about the work to editors and publishers, including a link to the album on your Picfair page as an easy way for them to look at it.

photo essay things to do

Editor's tip: ‍ If you're not sure where to begin with pitching to publishers, be sure to check our how to pitch guide .

photo essay things to do

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How To Craft the Perfect Travel Photo Essay (from the Pros)

Published/Updated: Nov 16, 2021 · Laura Kiniry · 4 minute read

photo essay things to do

A picture is worth a thousand words, so imagine what a series of images can convey.

Photographic storytelling—or what we know as photo essays—can say so much about a subject. It might be the visual narrative of a Berlin neighborhood undergoing gentrification through a minimalist café or capturing the delight of a Midwest summer carnival through a couple riding the carousel (or the close-up decadence of deep-fried Oreos).

There’s no need to be a professional photographer to lay out a captivating tale. Whether it’s using an iPhone camera to snap pics or exploring drone imagery , these tips from award-winning, renowned travel National Geographic and New York Times photographers will help you capture great photos and the story behind them.

It’s not only about telling a story that’s eye-catching, but also buzz-worthy. Mark Edward Harris , a photographer who has led workshops for Nikon and B&H, points out, “Look for stories that you relate to or have some personal interest in before looking outwards. Many of the best stories are in our own backyards.”

Remember, a location is not a story.

photo essay things to do

(Courtesy of Mark Edward Harris)

“There’s no real equation or instruction manual for photographic storytelling,” says editorial photographer James Wasserman , whose work has graced The New York Times, Forbes and Fortune.

He does say, don’t be afraid to let loose.

Think about the story you’re interested in sharing. Perhaps it is about documenting the history of a place like Philadelphia's Old City, or telling the story of a popular Parisian restaurant from start-to-finish on a busy night.

Remember, a location is not necessarily a story. This is the mantra that travel and documentary photographer Mark Edward Harris , author of The Travel Photo Essay Describing a Journey Through Images  and whose work has appeared in Condé Nast Traveler and National Geographic, follows.

Its meaning: Dig deeper into a place for a story rather simply skimming the surface.

For instance, Harris recently visited Lubbock, Texas, and while there, discovered it was the birthplace of rock and roll legend Buddy Holly. So, in tandem, he created a photo essay on how the city was memorializing Holly. In doing so, Harris captured the spirit of Lubbock (click to see contact sheet).

For other examples, see below.

Choosing and establishing a sense of place.

When it comes to connecting with a subject, Wasserman is a pro.

Take Old City, Philadelphia , a neighborhood where he’s lived on and off for years. “I was walking past the buildings here multiple times a day,” he says, “and watching them change. I developed a relationship to them.”

Start getting to know the places and people around you. Pay attention. Ask questions.

Take note of things, like the way a local bodega owner might leave a bowl of water out for the neighborhood cat each evening. Or how a parking lot transforms into an impromptu concert venue on Thursday nights.

photo essay things to do

Windows of time. (James Wasserman / Old City)

Businesses come and go; places change, notes Wasserman. “But often, the most compelling images are ones that become windows into another time.”

They also capture a sense of place. A good example is Wasserman's Chengdu Eats , which features the story of Chengdu, China, recently designated as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.

To do this, Wasserman looked at what makes Chengdu’s culinary scene so great. He visited a local cooking school, explored the energy of its farmers’ markets, and familiarized himself with the dishes themselves. Like everywhere from Mexico to Morocco, Chengdu's food and its culture are undeniably linked.

Conveying this kind of connection will make your images that much more powerful.

Other examples could be kimchi-making parties in South Korea, or a typical workday of Japanese Ama, the female deep-sea divers who search for sea cucumbers and abalone. Telling these stories through different viewpoints will help them become more whole.

It's always helpful to have a shot list so that you know beforehand what types of images you'd like to include. But leave room for spontaneity: Some photos can occur spur-of-the-moment. Other photos might be arranged shots.

It's OK to include both.

Harris tries to go into new situations with what he calls an “empty cup,” filling it up with interesting ideas and asides as he goes. “That said, I do some basic research before I head out to a location,” he says.

Contemplating the range of images.

photo essay things to do

Cooking school. (James Wasserman / Chengdu Eats)

Once you have an idea in your mind of the overall theme, start looking at it from a range of different angles.

For example, says Wasserman, “If it's a person whose story you want to convey, ask yourself: Where does that person reside? Where do they work? What are the environments that are important to them?”

If something interests you, snap a pic. Snap more than several pictures, and do so from multiple angles and distances. Shoot wide angles from above (this is a time where that drone could come in handy), and zoom in close.

Take action shots and portraits. In particular, Harris loves the camera’s ability to freeze a moment in time, using a fast-enough shutter speed “to capture a bear catching a salmon at Brooks Falls, Alaska, ” he says, “or an officer directing traffic in Pyongyang, North Korea .”

Basic images should include a strong establishing shot , some detail shots , and a closing shot , says Harris.

If it’s a story about food, this might mean capturing images of chefs cooking it, people eating it, and close-ups of the dishes themselves.

photo essay things to do

Chicken feet. A great example of a close-up shot. (James Wasserman / Chengdu Eats)

In the case of the Buddy Holly story, one of Harris’s detail shots is a photo of Holly’s famous eyeglasses. “[It was also the same] pair of glasses Holly was wearing when his plane crashed on that freezing, wintery night in 1959,” he says. (Holly died in the plane crash.)

Environmental portraits, or a portrait of a person in a place they’re connected with [ like this image of Bruce Springsteen in Asbury Park, NJ ], are also a key element to photographic storytelling.

Curating, and presenting, the story.

Though it’s both expected and encouraged that different angles, varying subjects, and a range of foci will be included in the story’s universal theme, fight the urge to include everything .

Seriously. As much as you might be dying to feature all 150 photos from a visit to Alcatraz Island, don’t. An onslaught of images is boring, and the story gets lost within them.

“The viewers are always creating their own stories,” says Wasserman. Allow them the chance.

“If you study the classic LIFE magazine photo essays by photographers such as W. Gene Smith, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White, and Gordon Parks,” Harris points out, “a strong story should be able to be told in a dozen photos or so.”

Once you decide on the images you’re going to use, arrange them in an order that makes sense. Begin with a strong establishing shot, such as the cooking school from Wasserman’s Chengdu Eats story.

Then end with a closing shot: One like the pile of rubble in Harris’s Vanity Fair photo essay on the aftermath of the 2015 Nepal Earthquake. Use the in-between to fill in the blanks.

After all, that is where the magic happens.

photo essay things to do

(Backroads / Mark Edward Harris)

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Creating Photo Essays About Community: A Guide to Our Where We Are Contest

Step-by-step directions for depicting what’s memorable and meaningful about groups and the places where they gather.

A group of young people lying on a weathered wooden stage, with their heads resting on one another's stomachs and their arms embracing one another. Some of the people are texting or holding their phones up to take selfies.

By Katherine Schulten

It’s hard not to be inspired by the immersive 2023 photo-essay series Where We Are .

As you scroll through and are introduced to young female wrestlers in India , rappers in Spain , band kids in Ohio and Black debutantes in Detroit , you can’t help but think about the communities you have been a part of — or have noticed in your own neighborhood or school.

That’s why we hope you’ll participate in our new contest , which invites teenagers to use these photo essays as mentor texts to document the local, offline communities that most interest them.

How do you go about that? The steps are outlined below.

Have fun, and if you are submitting to our contest, make sure you do so by March 20.

How to Create Your Photo Essay

Step 1: read the where we are series closely., step 2: decide what local community will be the subject of your photo essay., step 3: take photos that show both the big picture and the small details., step 4: interview members of the community about why it is special., step 5: give your photo essay context via a short written introduction., step 6: write captions for your photos that give new information or add depth or color., step 7: edit all the pieces together and submit..

Immerse yourself in several of these photo essays, using our related activity sheet to help you start to notice and name some of the things that make this series special.

When you’re done, we’ll help you use those same strategies to document the community you have chosen.

Here are free links to the entire series:

1. The Magic of Your First Car 2. At This Mexican Restaurant, Everyone is Family 3. Where the Band Kids Are 4. In This Nigerian Market, Young Women Find a Place of Their Own 5. At Camp Naru, Nobody Is ‘an Outlier’ 6. For Black Debutantes in Detroit, Cotillion Is More Than a Ball 7. At This Wrestling Academy, Indian Girls Are ‘Set Free’ 8. In Seville, Spain, These Young Rappers Come Together to Turn ‘Tears Into Rhymes’ 9. For a Queer Community in Los Angeles, This Public Park Is a Lifeline 10. In Guatemala, a Collective of Young Artists Finds Family Through Film 11. On a Caribbean Island, Young People Find Freedom in ‘Bike Life’ 12. At This Texas Campus Ministry, ‘Inclusive Love’ Is the Mission 13. For Young Arab Americans in Michigan, the Hookah Lounge Feels like Home

A local band and its fans? The kids who hang out at a nearby basketball court? The people who tend a community garden? Your grandpa’s weekly breakfast with old friends at a local diner?

Our related Student Opinion forum will help you brainstorm ideas and then encourage you to detail what’s special about the people and place you choose. Remember that our rules allow you to work with up to three other people on this project, so consider sharing ideas with others to find a project that excites all of you.

Though we will allow you to choose a community you are a part of, we encourage you not to. Approaching a group as an outsider can help you notice and document aspects of that community with relative objectivity, capturing details that insiders may be too close to see.

Once you’ve chosen a group to photograph, begin by introducing yourself to ensure the participants are open to your project. Make sure they understand that, if you are a finalist, the pictures you take may be published on the New York Times website. You should also be sure to get contact information from each member of the group for any follow-up questions.

Next, spend a day or so just observing, noticing how and where the members of this community spend time, what they do together and how they relate to one another. Start to plan your piece, keeping in mind that, via six to eight photos, photo captions and a short introduction, you’ll need to impart the following:

What is this community?

Who is in it?

Where and when does it meet?

How did the community come to be? How does it operate?

Why does it matter to its participants? What is it about the connections people make in this space that makes it special? Why should it matter to viewers?

If there’s one thing to notice about the Where We Are series, it is that the photos and the writing both “zoom out” to provide a big picture and “zoom in” to focus on the meaningful details. If you have followed our related activity sheet , you’ve already noted how individual pieces do that.

You might have also observed that in each photo essay there are images that show the physical space; images that spotlight the people who gather there; and close-up images that focus on meaningful objects or details, like food, clothing, tattoos, jewelry, hair or hands.

Here are some steps you can take to do this too.

1. Ground your piece in a specific physical space.

Keep in mind that our contest allows you to submit only eight photos, so the more specific you can be about the place you choose, the easier it will be to tell a story. For example, rather than trying to document everything about the boys’ soccer team at your school, you might focus on their Wednesday practices at a local field.

Take photos that establish that space, perhaps at different times of day, from a variety of angles, with and without people. Here, for instance, is Sarapes, a Mexican restaurant in a quiet Connecticut suburb that is a “headquarters” for a group of 20-somethings.

As you look at this image and the ones below, ask yourself:

What can you tell about this space from the photograph?

What can you guess about the people who gather here, and what might this place might mean to them? What do you see that makes you say that?

Here is a meeting area at the Texas Wesley Foundation , a Methodist campus ministry group at University of Texas at Austin.

And here is the caption that comes with it:

“We call ourselves a Methodist group, but we are enthusiastic to accept people of other faiths, people who might not have any faith, or who are questioning their faith,” said Brandon. “We really like to meet people where they’re at.”

How do the caption and image echo and build on each other?

Next is one of many shots of Camp Naru , a summer camp for Korean American youth, where fostering a “strong, secure sense of identity and community is one of the main goals.” How can you see that in this image?

Finally, here is a big-picture look at the Southern California landscape that is the setting for “ The Magic of Your First Car .” What adjectives come to mind? Before you read the full piece, what can you already imagine about the teenagers who “get away from the prying eyes of parents” by driving? What additional images might you expect to see in the full essay?

2. Focus on the people who gather there.

Community is all about people, so consider the ways you can document both the ways they come together and the ways they might experience the group individually.

For instance, here is an arresting close-up image from “ For a Queer Community in Los Angeles, This Public Park Is a Lifeline .” What is interesting about it to you? How does the photo speak to the title of the piece?

Here is an image from “ Where the Band Kids Are .” What adjectives would you use to describe this community based on what you see here?

Here is another group shot. What adjectives would you use to describe this community? What would you expect individual portraits of its members to show?

Now, look at the related photo essay to see how close your answers were.

Here are some of the people that call Sarapes , the Mexican restaurant, their refuge. Action shots like this one often tell a viewer more than posed photos. What does this one say to you?

Finally, here is an image from “ On a Caribbean Island, Young People Find Freedom in ‘Bike Life.’ ” Though we don’t see any faces, the composition of the photo tells us a great deal. What do you think is going on here? What do you see that makes you say that? After you make your guesses, click into the photo essay and see how accurate your ideas were.

3. Zoom in on telling details about the people and the place.

You looked at a “zoomed out” image above from “ The Magic of Your First Car .” Here is a close-up. What does it tell you? What compositional elements give you that information? Why do you think the photographer chose this focus?

If you’ve already looked at several of the photo essays, you may have noticed that many, like this one, contain close-ups of hands. Why do you think that is?

Next, can you guess which photo essay the image below is from?

Before we reveal the answer, here is another close-up from the same photo essay, this one taken at night. Are you getting warmer?

Answer: “ At Camp Naru, Nobody Is ‘an Outlier.’ ” If you got it right, what clues in the photos helped? How do the images echo the idea expressed in the title?

Below is a photo that focuses on one member of a queer community in Los Angeles . What do you notice? What do you admire about the composition, the lighting, the angle or anything else? Why?

Now let’s look at a big-picture image and a close-up to see how they work together. Here is a shot from “ For Black Debutantes in Detroit, Cotillion Is More Than a Ball .”

Finally, here is a close-up. What do the two tell you together? What would be missing if you only took one type of shot?

4. Don’t forget to experiment and have fun.

If you’ve mastered the ideas above, now it’s time to play. As you worked through the images, you asked yourself, “How does composition convey meaning?” even if you didn’t realize that was what you were doing.

Our detailed photo guide , developed for an earlier contest, encourages you to think about how to experiment with basic composition techniques like rule of thirds, angle, depth of field, leading lines, framing and distance. It also helps you think about lighting, color and cropping, as well as making the best use of the tools available on most smartphones.

Read through it before and after you have documented your community and then look through the images you have taken. Do you have enough variety? Can you identify techniques like rule of thirds and leading lines in the images from the Where We Are series? If you haven’t used them in your own work, could you experiment?

Below are a few more images from Where We Are essays for inspiration. What do you notice? What compositional choices did the photographer make? How would different choices change the meaning?

Last question: Two of the four images above are from the same photo essay. Which are they, which piece do they come from, and how did you know? What unites the two images?

According to the rules of our contest, you only need one quote from a member of the community you have chosen, but, of course, you are allowed to use many more. We encourage you to weave them into both your captions and your introduction, just as the authors of the Where We Are series did.

Never conducted an interview before? We have advice. Scroll down to Steps 3 and 4 in this guide we created for our Profile Contest to find many practical tips from Times journalists for preparing for and conducting an interview.

But to start, you just need a few good questions. For example, you might ask:

What’s special about this community for you?

What do you like to do here?

What are some of your favorite memories or stories about this group?

What would an outsider to this community not understand or notice?

Is there history about this place or these people that I should understand?

If you were photographing this community, what important places, objects or moments would you try to capture? Why?

Finally, many journalists end interviews with this question: “Is there anything I didn’t ask that you wish I did?” Sometimes the most interesting information is elicited that way!

Then look over what you wrote down and choose the best quotes. Maybe they give information that your photo essay needs, maybe they are colorful and show personality or maybe they do all of those things.

To see how this works, we’ll look at one of the essays, “ At This Texas Campus Ministry, ‘Inclusive Love’ Is the Mission .”

Here is how the first quote was used, in the introduction:

Sydney had grown up Methodist and thought she knew what to expect from a Christian student organization. But she was surprised by just how welcoming the Wesley was. The students and adult leaders seemed genuinely invested in drawing her out of her shell and getting to know her, with no agenda. “It’s really not about getting people into this religion,” she said. “It’s just about being a community who supports others and loves others. And that was huge to me.”

How does it both paraphrase Sydney’s words and directly quote her? What does that quote tell the reader up front about this community? Why is that information important, and why might a participant’s own words be a compelling way to express this?

Later we meet Ethan. What does his experience — again, both paraphrased and directly quoted — add to your understanding of the inclusivity of this community? What colorful description does he offer for what happens in this group? How does this description add information to what is depicted in the photos?

Ethan’s parents are Buddhist and were surprised when their son started spending so much time with a Methodist organization. For his part, Ethan describes himself as agnostic and says he hasn’t felt any pressure from the Wesley to change that, but he appreciates the camaraderie the group offers. “There was this one worship where, when there was a swell in the music, someone burst into tears, and then they hugged one of their friends. I am not sure what was going on there, but it was definitely a very profound experience,” he said.

Listen for the same things as you interview. How can one person’s description of an experience add necessary information, depth, history or background to what you have depicted in images? Did you get any quotes that are too good not to use? How could you highlight them? Do they belong in your introduction or as a photo caption?

The essays in the Where We Are series are longer than the introductions you will write if you are participating in this contest. Many of those essays are about 600 words, double what we have allowed student participants. (You have up to 300 words, but you can use fewer if you can still convey what you need to.)

But you can use the first few paragraphs of each essay — what appears before the first photos — as mentor texts for your own introductions, and we’ll show you how, below.

First though, let’s remember your broader goals. As we wrote at the top of this post, together, your introduction, photo essay and captions should answer these questions:

Why does it matter to its participants? Why should it matter to viewers?

Take a look at “ In This Nigerian Market, Young Women Find a Place of Their Own ” as an example. Here is the introduction, the first 200 or so words before the photo essay begins to scroll:

At the bustling Yaba Market in Lagos, Nigeria, there is something for everyone. Chatter rises from the traders, whose stalls sprawl over miles of cracked gray concrete and packed earth. They might be selling baskets of fresh fruit, wheelbarrows stuffed with phone cases, piles of sequined fabrics or racks of second-hand clothes. If you’re lucky, you might find a vintage jacket you’ve been searching for, or a pair of long-lasting Levi’s jeans. But you’re never going to be as lucky as Dencity : the coolest of the cool kids of Lagos. These skaters, often clad in a uniform of baggy pants and crop tops, head to the market to go thrifting each week. They’re armed with fashion knowledge only the young, fun and determined can possess and seek out the best streetwear they can find. Founded by 26-year-old Blessing Ewona in 2020 in response to the dearth of spaces for young queer people and female skaters in Nigeria, Dencity skate, dream and thrift together. From their trips to the market to regular skate meet-ups at the dilapidated National Stadium or Tarkwa Bay beach, they have traced their own map of the city.

How many of the questions we listed above do these paragraphs answer? How do they work with the top image, which we’ve embedded above this section? What descriptions stand out? What context and background does it provide?

Now let’s break your task down.

1. Make your writing as vivid and varied as your images.

Much of the writing in these essays is just as interesting as the photos, as the example above shows. Here is another, the opening of “ At This Wrestling Academy, Indian Girls Are ‘Set Free’ ”:

As the winter sun ascends over a mustard farm, pale orange bleeding into sharp yellow, a line of 36 girls all dressed alike — T-shirts, track pants, crew cuts — emerges into an open field, rubbing sleep from their eyes. Under a tin shed, they sit on their haunches, bent over stone mortars. For the next 20 minutes, they crush raw almonds into a fine paste, straining out a bottle of nut milk. They will need it to regain their strength.

And here is how “ On a Caribbean Island, Young People Find Freedom in ‘Bike Life’ ” begins:

On a warm evening in October 2021, Enzo Crispin mounted his cobalt motorcycle and set off into the night. Hundreds of others joined his caravan, the rumbles of their engines filling the air of Fort-de-France, the capital of the French Caribbean island territory of Martinique. The riders popped up on one wheel, stood up on their bikes, brushed their hands along the ground — all while zooming along at top speed. Completely exhilarating. Potentially illegal, at least on public streets. This is “cabrage,” which roughly translates from French as a rodeo on wheels.

How do these introductions both “zoom out” and “zoom in”? How do they play on your senses, helping you see, hear, taste, touch and smell this place and what happens in it? How could you do those things in your introduction?

2. Offer background to help viewers understand what they are seeing and what it means.

Here is the introduction to “ For Young Arab Americans in Michigan, the Hookah Lounge Feels Like Home ”:

Coming of age is marked by a series of firsts. Your first kiss. Your first job. Your first drink. Many who grew up in Dearborn, Mich., would add to the list: your first hookah. Located just outside downtown Detroit, Dearborn is home to one of the United States’ largest Arab American communities: Nearly 50 percent of residents identify as having Arab ancestry, according to the U.S. census . Middle Eastern shops, where you may find portable hookah cups , dot the streets. There is also the Arab American National Museum (which sells hookah-themed socks) and the Islamic Center of America , one of the nation’s oldest and largest mosques. And then there is the long list of hookah lounges, where locals spend hours leisurely smoking flavored tobacco through water pipes while catching up, watching soccer games or enjoying a live Arabic music performance. “A spot like a hookah lounge, it’s sacred,” particularly for immigrants and refugees far from home, said Marrim (pronounced Mariam) Akashi Sani, 25, who is Iraqi-Iranian. “And it’s something you have to create for yourself when you’re displaced, and you might not ever be able to go back home because you don’t really know what home is anymore.”

How do the opening two lines grab your attention? How does the demographic information in the third paragraph explain the focus on hookah lounges? How does the quote at the end offer important information that complements the demographic data and gives it meaning?

Next is the introduction to “ For Black Debutantes in Detroit, Cotillion Is More Than a Ball ”:

In a heady swirl of bright white silk and lace, the young ladies of the Cotillion Society of Detroit Educational Foundation are presented as debutantes. The Society’s annual ball is the culmination of eight months of etiquette lessons, leadership workshops, community service projects and cultural events. As the girls take to the dance floor, they become part of a legacy of Black debutantes in the city and beyond. Debutante balls, which traditionally helped girls from high society find suitable husbands, emerged from Europe in the 18th century. Black Americans have adopted a unique version of them since at least 1895 . Responding to the politics of the Jim Crow era, these balls, which emphasized women’s education, echoed the work of the racial upliftment movement and women’s clubs, said Taylor Bythewood-Porter, the curator of a recent exhibition on Black cotillions at the California African American Museum. Organizers saw the balls as a way to “dismiss the idea of Black people not being smart enough, or good enough, or worthy enough.” For today’s debutantes, many of whom grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods of Detroit, gaining an informal network of Black adult mentors was “life-changing,” said Sage Johnson, 17. “Signing up for debutantes, I thought it was just one big ball. But there were a lot more layers to it.”

How do the second and third paragraphs add key context and history to this photo essay? How does the quote at the end bring these cotillions into the 21st century, and help you anticipate what is to come?

Ask yourself, What background will my viewers need to understand what they are seeing, and appreciate its nuances? Do I need to add that information myself, or can some of the quotes from participants do that work for me?

In most traditional newspaper articles, you will find a caption under each photo explaining more detail about the image and its relationship to the story. As you scroll through Where We Are, however, you’ve probably noticed that, thanks to the elegant way these pieces are produced, the captions float up on or around the photos.

In these essays, the captions continue the story. Your captions will do that too. But in the Where We Are pieces, photo captions are interspersed with more of the written essay. Because you are doing a “mini” version of this project, however, after your initial introduction, the only writing we will read will come from your captions. Make sure they continue to tell your story in a way that makes sense to the reader and helps build meaning.

For instance, here is an image from “ In Guatemala, A Collective of Young Artists Finds Family Through Film .”

The caption?

The team has quickly become a family, meeting up for dinners and to celebrate each other’s birthdays. They are, said Sebastián, a community first and a production house second.

Notice how those words work with the image. Can you see “family” and “community” and “team” conveyed in the way this image is composed, the looks on the faces, the colors and light? How?

Here is another example, from “ In Seville, Spain, These Young Rappers Come Together to Turn ‘Tears Into Rhymes’ .” Before you read the caption, what do you imagine is happening in this picture?

Here is the caption, which both offers some background about the group and includes a wonderful quote:

Luis Rodríguez Collado, at right, the youngest of the group, grew up in Spain, the child of Mexican immigrants. “We aren’t just emoting with language, but with song and dance, with sounds and rhythm,” said Luis, a.k.a. Luis 3K. “At 19, I sincerely don’t know anything more liberating than this.”

As you construct your captions, ask yourself:

What information do I need to add to these images to make the meaning and nuances clear?

Can using quotes from participants work? What might they add?

How do these captions continue the story I started in my introduction? Do they build on one another and make sense both separately and together? Do they avoid repetition, with each other or with the introduction? Do they strengthen the key ideas of my piece? How?

At this point you may have dozens of images, and pages of notes. How do you put it all together?

Way back when you were first analyzing the Where We Are series, we called your attention to the fact that the images, essay and captions don’t repeat information exactly the same way . Each element adds something new.

We also talked about how, from the very first image, the one the authors chose for the top, a theme is hinted at, and then echoed in the introduction and continued in the captions. Whatever key ideas about this community you want to get across — maybe that it is a refuge or home, that it offers freedom or that it challenges participants creatively or athletically — look through your images and writing and find all the ways you think you have done that. Do you need more emphasis on this theme? A variety of ways of showing it?

Speaking of variety , that’s another lens to look through when considering your piece as a whole. In terms of both the photos and the writing, have you “zoomed out” enough to establish a place and a context? Have you “zoomed in” to show detail? Are your images taken from different angles and points of view? Do they show both the group and individuals? Are they dynamic and interesting and surprising?

Then, show your work to others, and, perhaps, ask them to analyze it using the last four questions on our related activity sheet . That will prompt them to tell you what is working, but make sure to also ask them if there is anything confusing about your piece, or if they think there is information missing.

Then, go back and fill in anything your piece needs, and play with the sequence of your images until they tell the story you want to tell.

Good luck. We can’t wait to see the results!

Katherine Schulten has been a Learning Network editor since 2006. Before that, she spent 19 years in New York City public schools as an English teacher, school-newspaper adviser and literacy coach. More about Katherine Schulten

Pictures That Tell Stories: Photo Essay Examples

laptop with someone holding film reel

Like any other type of artist, a photographer’s job is to tell a story through their pictures. While some of the most creative among us can invoke emotion or convey a thought with one single photo, the rest of us will rely on a photo essay.

In the following article, we’ll go into detail about what a photo essay is and how to craft one while providing some detailed photo essay examples.

What is a Photo Essay? 

A photo essay is a series of photographs that, when assembled in a particular order, tell a unique and compelling story. While some photographers choose only to use pictures in their presentations, others will incorporate captions, comments, or even full paragraphs of text to provide more exposition for the scene they are unfolding.

A photo essay is a well-established part of photojournalism and have been used for decades to present a variety of information to the reader. Some of the most famous photo essayists include Ansel Adams , W. Eugene Smith, and James Nachtwey. Of course, there are thousands of photo essay examples out there from which you can draw inspiration.

Why Consider Creating a Photo Essay?

As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth 1000 words.” This adage is, for many photographers, reason enough to hold a photo essay in particularly high regard.

For others, a photo essay allow them to take pictures that are already interesting and construct intricate, emotionally-charged tales out of them. For all photographers, it is yet another skill they can master to become better at their craft.

As you might expect, the photo essay have had a long history of being associated with photojournalism. From the Great Depression to Civil Rights Marches and beyond, many compelling stories have been told through a combination of images and text, or photos alone. A photo essay often evokes an intense reaction, whether artistic in nature or designed to prove a socio-political point.

Below, we’ll list some famous photo essay samples to further illustrate the subject.

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Famous Photo Essays

“The Great Depression” by Dorothea Lange – Shot and arranged in the 1930s, this famous photo essay still serves as a stark reminder of The Great Depression and Dust Bowl America . Beautifully photographed, the black and white images offer a bleak insight to one of the country’s most difficult times.

“The Vietnam War” by Philip Jones Griffiths – Many artists consider the Griffiths’ photo essay works to be some of the most important records of the war in Vietnam. His photographs and great photo essays are particularly well-remembered for going against public opinion and showing the suffering of the “other side,” a novel concept when it came to war photography.

Various American Natural Sites by Ansel Adams – Adams bought the beauty of nature home to millions, photographing the American Southwest and places like Yosemite National Park in a way that made the photos seem huge, imposing, and beautiful.

“Everyday” by Noah Kalina – Is a series of photographs arranged into a video. This photo essay features daily photographs of the artist himself, who began taking capturing the images when he was 19 and continued to do so for six years.

“Signed, X” by Kate Ryan – This is a powerful photo essay put together to show the long-term effects of sexual violence and assault. This photo essay is special in that it remains ongoing, with more subjects being added every year.

Common Types of Photo Essays

While a photo essay do not have to conform to any specific format or design, there are two “umbrella terms” under which almost all genres of photo essays tend to fall. A photo essay is thematic and narrative. In the following section, we’ll give some details about the differences between the two types, and then cover some common genres used by many artists.

⬥ Thematic 

A thematic photo essay speak on a specific subject. For instance, numerous photo essays were put together in the 1930s to capture the ruin of The Great Depression. Though some of these presentations followed specific people or families, they mostly told the “story” of the entire event. There is much more freedom with a thematic photo essay, and you can utilize numerous locations and subjects. Text is less common with these types of presentations.

⬥ Narrative 

A narrative photo essay is much more specific than thematic essays, and they tend to tell a much more direct story. For instance, rather than show a number of scenes from a Great Depression Era town, the photographer might show the daily life of a person living in Dust Bowl America. There are few rules about how broad or narrow the scope needs to be, so photographers have endless creative freedom. These types of works frequently utilize text.

Common Photo Essay Genres

Walk a City – This photo essay is when you schedule a time to walk around a city, neighborhood, or natural site with the sole goal of taking photos. Usually thematic in nature, this type of photo essay allows you to capture a specific place, it’s energy, and its moods and then pass them along to others.

The Relationship Photo Essay – The interaction between families and loved ones if often a fascinating topic for a photo essay. This photo essay genre, in particular, gives photographers an excellent opportunity to capture complex emotions like love and abstract concepts like friendship. When paired with introspective text, the results can be quite stunning. 

The Timelapse Transformation Photo Essay – The goal of a transformation photo essay is to capture the way a subject changes over time. Some people take years or even decades putting together a transformation photo essay, with subjects ranging from people to buildings to trees to particular areas of a city.

Going Behind The Scenes Photo Essay – Many people are fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes of big events. Providing the photographer can get access; to an education photo essay can tell a very unique and compelling story to their viewers with this photo essay.

Photo Essay of a Special Event – There are always events and occasions going on that would make an interesting subject for a photo essay. Ideas for this photo essay include concerts, block parties, graduations, marches, and protests. Images from some of the latter were integral to the popularity of great photo essays.

The Daily Life Photo Essay – This type of photo essay often focus on a single subject and attempt to show “a day in the life” of that person or object through the photographs. This type of photo essay can be quite powerful depending on the subject matter and invoke many feelings in the people who view them.

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Photo Essay Ideas and Examples

One of the best ways to gain a better understanding of photo essays is to view some photo essay samples. If you take the time to study these executions in detail, you’ll see just how photo essays can make you a better photographer and offer you a better “voice” with which to speak to your audience.

Some of these photo essay ideas we’ve already touched on briefly, while others will be completely new to you. 

Cover a Protest or March  

Some of the best photo essay examples come from marches, protests, and other events associated with movements or socio-political statements. Such events allow you to take pictures of angry, happy, or otherwise empowered individuals in high-energy settings. The photo essay narrative can also be further enhanced by arriving early or staying long after the protest has ended to catch contrasting images. 

Photograph a Local Event  

Whether you know it or not, countless unique and interesting events are happening in and around your town this year. Such events provide photographers new opportunities to put together a compelling photo essay. From ethnic festivals to historical events to food and beverage celebrations, there are many different ways to capture and celebrate local life.

Visit an Abandoned Site or Building  

Old homes and historical sites are rich with detail and can sometimes appear dilapidated, overgrown by weeds, or broken down by time. These qualities make them a dynamic and exciting subject. Many great photo essay works of abandoned homes use a mix of far-away shots, close-ups, weird angles, and unique lighting. Such techniques help set a mood that the audience can feel through the photographic essay.

Chronicle a Pregnancy

Few photo essay topics could be more personal than telling the story of a pregnancy. Though this photo essay example can require some preparation and will take a lot of time, the results of a photographic essay like this are usually extremely emotionally-charged and touching. In some cases, photographers will continue the photo essay project as the child grows as well.

Photograph Unique Lifestyles  

People all over the world are embracing society’s changes in different ways. People live in vans or in “tiny houses,” living in the woods miles away from everyone else, and others are growing food on self-sustaining farms. Some of the best photo essay works have been born out of these new, inspiring movements.

Photograph Animals or Pets  

If you have a favorite animal (or one that you know very little about), you might want to arrange a way to see it up close and tell its story through images. You can take photos like this in a zoo or the animal’s natural habitat, depending on the type of animal you choose. Pets are another great topic for a photo essay and are among the most popular subjects for many photographers.

Show Body Positive Themes  

So much of modern photography is about showing the best looking, prettiest, or sexiest people at all times. Choosing a photo essay theme like body positivity, however, allows you to film a wide range of interesting-looking people from all walks of life.

Such a photo essay theme doesn’t just apply to women, as beauty can be found everywhere. As a photo essay photographer, it’s your job to find it!

Bring Social Issues to Life  

Some of the most impactful social photo essay examples are those where the photographer focuses on social issues. From discrimination to domestic violence to the injustices of the prison system, there are many ways that a creative photographer can highlight what’s wrong with the world. This type of photo essay can be incredibly powerful when paired with compelling subjects and some basic text.

Photograph Style and Fashion

If you live in or know of a particularly stylish locale or area, you can put together an excellent thematic photo essay by capturing impromptu shots of well-dressed people as they pass by. As with culture, style is easily identifiable and is as unifying as it is divisive. Great photo essay examples include people who’ve covered fashion sub-genres from all over the world, like urban hip hop or Japanese Visual Kei. 

Photograph Native Cultures and Traditions  

If you’ve ever opened up a copy of National Geographic, you’ve probably seen photo essay photos that fit this category. To many, the traditions, dress, religious ceremonies, and celebrations of native peoples and foreign cultures can be utterly captivating. For travel photographers, this photo essay is considered one of the best ways to tell a story with or without text.

Capture Seasonal Or Time Changes In A Landmark Photo Essay

Time-lapse photography is very compelling to most viewers. What they do in a few hours, however, others are doing over months, years, and even decades. If you know of an exciting landscape or scene, you can try to capture the same image in Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall, and put that all together into one landmark photo essay.

Alternatively, you can photograph something being lost or ravaged by time or weather. The subject of your landmark photo essay can be as simple as the wall of an old building or as complex as an old house in the woods being taken over by nature. As always, there are countless transformation-based landmark photo essay works from which you can draw inspiration.

Photograph Humanitarian Efforts or Charity  

Humanitarian efforts by groups like Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders can invoke a powerful response through even the simplest of photos. While it can be hard to put yourself in a position to get the images, there are countless photo essay examples to serve as inspiration for your photo essay project.

How to Create a Photo Essay

There is no singular way to create a photo essay. As it is, ultimately, and artistic expression of the photographer, there is no right, wrong, good, or bad. However, like all stories, some tell them well and those who do not. Luckily, as with all things, practice does make perfect. Below, we’ve listed some basic steps outlining how to create a photo essay

Photo essay

Steps To Create A Photo Essay

Choose Your Topic – While some photo essayists will be able to “happen upon” a photo story and turn it into something compelling, most will want to choose their photo essay topics ahead of time. While the genres listed above should provide a great starting place, it’s essential to understand that photo essay topics can cover any event or occasion and any span of time

Do Some Research – The next step to creating a photo essay is to do some basic research. Examples could include learning the history of the area you’re shooting or the background of the person you photograph. If you’re photographing a new event, consider learning the story behind it. Doing so will give you ideas on what to look for when you’re shooting.  

Make a Storyboard – Storyboards are incredibly useful tools when you’re still in the process of deciding what photo story you want to tell. By laying out your ideas shot by shot, or even doing rough illustrations of what you’re trying to capture, you can prepare your photo story before you head out to take your photos.

This process is especially important if you have little to no control over your chosen subject. People who are participating in a march or protest, for instance, aren’t going to wait for you to get in position before offering up the perfect shot. You need to know what you’re looking for and be prepared to get it.

Get the Right Images – If you have a shot list or storyboard, you’ll be well-prepared to take on your photo essay. Make sure you give yourself enough time (where applicable) and take plenty of photos, so you have a lot from which to choose. It would also be a good idea to explore the area, show up early, and stay late. You never know when an idea might strike you.

Assemble Your Story – Once you develop or organize your photos on your computer, you need to choose the pictures that tell the most compelling photo story or stories. You might also find some great images that don’t fit your photo story These can still find a place in your portfolio, however, or perhaps a completely different photo essay you create later.

Depending on the type of photographer you are, you might choose to crop or digitally edit some of your photos to enhance the emotions they invoke. Doing so is completely at your discretion, but worth considering if you feel you can improve upon the naked image.

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Best Photo Essays Tips And Tricks

Before you approach the art of photo essaying for the first time, you might want to consider with these photo essay examples some techniques, tips, and tricks that can make your session more fun and your final results more interesting. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best advice we could find on the subject of photo essays. 

Guy taking a photo

⬥ Experiment All You Want 

You can, and should, plan your topic and your theme with as much attention to detail as possible. That said, some of the best photo essay examples come to us from photographers that got caught up in the moment and decided to experiment in different ways. Ideas for experimentation include the following: 

Angles – Citizen Kane is still revered today for the unique, dramatic angles used in the film. Though that was a motion picture and not photography, the same basic principles still apply. Don’t be afraid to photograph some different angles to see how they bring your subject to life in different ways.

Color – Some images have more gravitas in black in white or sepia tone. You can say the same for images that use color in an engaging, dynamic way. You always have room to experiment with color, both before and after the shoot.

Contrast – Dark and light, happy and sad, rich and poor – contrast is an instantly recognizable form of tension that you can easily include in your photo essay. In some cases, you can plan for dramatic contrasts. In other cases, you simply need to keep your eyes open.

Exposure Settings – You can play with light in terms of exposure as well, setting a number of different moods in the resulting photos. Some photographers even do random double exposures to create a photo essay that’s original.

Filters – There are endless post-production options available to photographers, particularly if they use digital cameras. Using different programs and apps, you can completely alter the look and feel of your image, changing it from warm to cool or altering dozens of different settings.

Want to never run out of natural & authentic poses? You need this ⬇️ 

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If you’re using traditional film instead of a digital camera, you’re going to want to stock up. Getting the right shots for a photo essay usually involves taking hundreds of images that will end up in the rubbish bin. Taking extra pictures you won’t use is just the nature of the photography process. Luckily, there’s nothing better than coming home to realize that you managed to capture that one, perfect photograph. 

⬥ Set the Scene 

You’re not just telling a story to your audience – you’re writing it as well. If the scene you want to capture doesn’t have the look you want, don’t be afraid to move things around until it does. While this doesn’t often apply to photographing events that you have no control over, you shouldn’t be afraid to take a second to make an OK shot a great shot. 

⬥ Capture Now, Edit Later 

Editing, cropping, and digital effects can add a lot of drama and artistic flair to your photos. That said, you shouldn’t waste time on a shoot, thinking about how you can edit it later. Instead, make sure you’re capturing everything that you want and not missing out on any unique pictures. If you need to make changes later, you’ll have plenty of time! 

⬥ Make It Fun 

As photographers, we know that taking pictures is part art, part skill, and part performance. If you want to take the best photo essays, you need to loosen up and have fun. Again, you’ll want to plan for your topic as best as you can, but don’t be afraid to lose yourself in the experience. Once you let yourself relax, both the ideas and the opportunities will manifest.

⬥ It’s All in The Details 

When someone puts out a photographic essay for an audience, that work usually gets analyzed with great attention to detail. You need to apply this same level of scrutiny to the shots you choose to include in your photo essay. If something is out of place or (in the case of historical work) out of time, you can bet the audience will notice.

⬥ Consider Adding Text

While it isn’t necessary, a photographic essay can be more powerful by the addition of text. This is especially true of images with an interesting background story that can’t be conveyed through the image alone. If you don’t feel up to the task of writing content, consider partnering with another artist and allowing them tor bring your work to life.

Final Thoughts 

The world is waiting to tell us story after story. Through the best photo essays, we can capture the elements of those stories and create a photo essay that can invoke a variety of emotions in our audience.

No matter the type of cameras we choose, the techniques we embrace, or the topics we select, what really matters is that the photos say something about the people, objects, and events that make our world wonderful.

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The Cambridge University Boat Club women’s blue boat during a training session in freezing fog on the River Great Ouse in Cambridgeshire during February 2024.

Pulling together: how Cambridge came to dominate the Boat Race – a photo essay

The race along the River Thames between England’s two greatest universities spans 195 years of rivalry and is now one of the world’s oldest and most famous amateur sporting events. Our photographer has been spending time with the Cambridge University Boat Club over the past few months as they prepare for 2024’s races

T he idea of a Boat Race between the two universities dates back to 1829, sparked into life by a conversation between Old Harrovian schoolfriends Charles Merivale, a student at the time at St John’s College Cambridge, and Charles Wordsworth who was at Christ Church Oxford. On 12 March that year, following a meeting of the newly formed Cambridge University Boat Club, a letter was sent to Oxford.

The University of Cambridge hereby challenge the University of Oxford to row a match at or near London each in an eight-oar boat during the Easter vacation.

From then, the Cambridge University Boat Club has existed to win just one race against just one opponent, something Cambridge has got very good at recently. Last year the Light Blues won every race: the open-weight men’s and women’s races, both reserve races, plus both lightweight races – six victories, no losses, an unprecedented clean sweep. Cambridge women’s open-weight boat, or blue boat, has won the last six Boat Races while the men’s equivalent have won five out of the last seven. In such an unpredictable race, where external factors can play a large part, this dominance is startling.

Rough water as the two Cambridge women’s boats make their way along the River Thames near Putney Embankment during the Cambridge University Boat Race trials in December 2023.

Thames trials

Rough water as the two women’s boats make their way along the River Thames near Putney Embankment during the Cambridge University Boat Race trials.

It’s a mid-December day by the River Thames. The sky and water merge together in a uniform battleship grey and the bitter north wind whips the tops off the waves. Outside a Putney boathouse two groups of tense-looking women dressed in duck-egg blue tops and black leggings with festive antlers in their hair are huddling together, perhaps for warmth, maybe for solidarity. The odd nervous bout of laughter breaks out. For some of them this is about to be their first experience of rowing on the Tideway, a baptism of fire on the famous stretch of London water where the Boat Race takes place. “Perfect conditions,” remarks Paddy Ryan, the head coach for Cambridge University women, for this is trial eights day, when friends in different boats duel for coveted spots in the top boat.

A couple of hours later these women along with their male equivalents will have pushed themselves to the absolute limit, so much so that several of the men are seen trying to throw up over the side of their boats at the finish under Chiswick Bridge. This may be brutal but it’s just the start. For these students the next few months are going to be incredibly tough, balancing academic work with training like a professional athlete. Through the harshest months of the year they will be focused on preparing for the end of March and a very simple goal: beating Oxford in the Boat Race.

Agony for one of the men’s boats after the finish of the race on the River Thames near Chiswick Bridge during the Cambridge University Boat Race trials in December 2023.

Agony for one of the men’s boats after the finish of the race near Chiswick Bridge during the Cambridge University Boat Race trials.

Two of the Cambridge University Boat Club women’s boats head out in the early morning for a training session on the Great Ouse, Cambridgeshire on 28 February 2024.

Ely early mornings

Two of the women’s boats head out in the early morning for a training session on the Great Ouse.

Early winter mornings on the banks of the Great Ouse, well before the sun has risen, can be pretty bleak. In the pitch black a batch of light blue minivans drop off the men and women rowers together at the sleek Ely boathouse that was opened in 2016 at the cost of £4.9m – it’s here that all Cambridge’s on-water training takes place. Very soon a fleet of boats carrying all the teams takes to the water for a training session that may last a couple of hours. Then it’s a quick change, a lift to the train station and back to Cambridge for morning lectures.

The Cambridge University Boat Club women’s squad are dropped off at their Ely boathouse by minibus at 6am for a training session on the Great Ouse.

The women’s squad head into the Ely boathouse after a 6am drop-off.

As a rower descends the stairs to the bays where the boats are stored, there is a clear indication of why it was built and why they are there. “This is where we prepare to win Boat Races,” a sign says. Since this boathouse was built, Cambridge have won 30 of the 37 races across all categories.

The Cambridge University Boat Club men’s squad stretch in the boathouse before an early morning training session at their Ely training site in Cambridgeshire.

Top: The men’s squad stretch in the boathouse before an early morning training session and a member of the men’s blue boat descends the stairs into where the boats are kept. Below: One of the men’s teams set off for early morning training and the women’s blue boat rows past the women’s lightweight crew during a training session.

It’s a far cry from the old tin sheds with barely any heating and no showers. These current facilities are impressive, enabling the entire men’s and women’s squads to be there at the same time and get boats out.

The Cambridge University Boat Club men’s blue boat prepare to derig their boat at their Ely training site before packing it on a trailer to be transported down to London for the Boat Race.

Top: The men’s blue boat prepare to derig their boat at their Ely training site. Above: The women’s blue boat put their vessel back in the boathouse after a training session on the Great Ouse.

But it’s not just the boathouse that has contributed so much, it’s also the stretch of water they train on. In a year when floods have affected so many parts of the country it has really come into its own. Paddy Ryan, the chief women’s coach, explains: “Along this stretch the river is actually higher than the surrounding land. The water levels are carefully managed by dikes and pumps. As a result we haven’t lost a single session to flooding. That’s not the case for Oxford. I believe their boathouse has been flooded multiple times this year, unable to get to their boats. We’ve had multiple storms but we’ve been able to row through them all.”

The Cambridge University Boat Club men’s third boat practises on the Great Ouse at their Ely training site on 20 March 2024.

The men’s third boat practises on the Great Ouse.

It’s a flat, unforgiving landscape, especially in midwinter, definitely not the prettiest stretch of water, but Cambridge don’t care. Ryan says: “It might be a little dull on the viewing perspective but we could row on for 27km before needing to turn round. We have a 5km stretch that is marked out every 250m. We are lucky to have it.”

The men’s blue boat practise their starts on the long straight on the Great Ouse at their Ely training site on 20 March 2024.

The men’s blue boat practise their starts on the long straight on the Great Ouse.

Members of the Cambridge University Boat Club men’s squad using a mirror to look at their technique during a session on ergo machines at the Goldie boathouse in Cambridge during February 2024.

The sweat box

Members of the men’s squad check on their technique with the use of a mirror at the Goldie boathouse.

The old-fashioned Goldie boathouse is right in the centre of Cambridge perched on the banks of the River Cam. Built in 1873, its delicate exterior belies what goes on inside. This is the boat club’s pain cave, where the rowers sweat buckets, pushing themselves over and over again; it’s a good job the floor is rubberised and easy to wipe clean.

A wreath to the founder of the Boat Race, Charles Merivale, in the upstairs room at the Goldie boathouse which commemorates Cambridge crews that have competed in the Boat Race from 1829.

A wreath to Charles Merivale, the founder of the Boat Race, and wood panelling in the upstairs room at the Goldie boathouse which commemorates Cambridge crews that have competed in the Boat Race from 1829.

Seb Benzecry, men’s president of the Cambridge University Boat Club, sweats profusely during a long session on an ergo machine at the Goldie boathouse, Cambridge in February 2024.

(Top) Seb Benzecry, men’s president of the Cambridge University Boat Club, and (above) Martin Amethier, a member of the reserve Goldie crew, sweat during sessions on ergo machines.

Iris Powell of the women’s blue boat of the Cambridge University Boat Club, performing pull-ups during a training session at the Goldie boathouse, Cambridge on 5 March 2024.

Iris Powell of the women’s blue boat (above) performs pull-ups during a training session.

Hannah Murphy, the cox of the women’s blue boat, urges on four of her crew – Gemma King, Megan Lee, Jenna Armstrong and Clare Hole – as they undertake a long session on the ergo machines at the Goldie boathouse, Cambridge.

Above left: Hannah Murphy, the cox of the women’s blue boat, urges on four of her crew (left to right) Gemma King, Megan Lee, Jenna Armstrong and Clare Hole, as they undertake a long session on the ergo machines. Above right: Kenny Coplan, a member of the men’s blue boat crew, looks exhausted then writes in his times after his session on an ergo machine (below).

Kenny Coplan from the USA writes in his timings after a session on an ergo machine at the Goldie boathouse, Cambridge.

Brutal sessions on the various ergo machines, where thousands of metres are clocked and recorded, are a staple of the training regime set in place. If there is any slacking off the students just need to look up at one of the walls where a map of the Boat Race course hangs. The “S” shape of the Thames has been carefully coloured in the correct shade of blue and record timings for various key points on the course have been written in for both men and women. All but one record, and that one is shared, is held by Cambridge.

Four members of the men’s squad open up the doors of the Goldie boathouse looking out on the River Cam as they undertake a long session on the ergo machines.

Paddy Ryan, the women’s chief coach, talks to the women’s blue boat during a training session on the River Great Ouse in February.

A key ingredient in any successful team is the coaching. Cambridge’s setup is stable and well established. Paddy Ryan is the chief women’s coach, a genial, tall Australian, he has been part of the women’s coaching team since 2013. The care and devotion to his squad is perfectly clear. “I have my notebook next to my bed so I can jot things down. I wake up in the middle of the night going: am I making the right decisions? I care about them as people and I need to manage them … We joke as coaches that we are teaching some of the smartest people on the planet how to pull on a stick.”

Rob Baker, the chief men’s coach, has Cambridge rowing in the blood. Born and bred in the city, his father was a university boatman for 25 years. He even married into the sport – his wife, Hayley, rowed for Cambridge as a lightweight – so it was no surprise that he became part of the coaching setup way back in 2001. He was the first full-time women’s coach in 2015 then moved to take over the men in 2018.

Rob Baker, the men’s chief coach for the Cambridge University Boat Club, talks to his blue boat at their Ely training site in Cambridgeshire on 20 March 2024.

Rob Baker, the men’s chief coach, talks to his blue boat at their Ely training site.

Apart from an obvious role in the development of rowing skills, a key part of their job is making sure there is a balance for their student athletes. They understand they have to juggle training needs. “Every week we have a general plan,” says Baker, “but then someone might have an extra class or supervision they’ve got to do so we have to move around it. They are studying at one of the most competitive universities in the world with the highest standards so you’ve got to give them space to do that properly.” He goes on: “But when they get on the start line for their race, they’ll be just as competitive as if they were professionals.”

Jenna Armstrong and Seb Benzecry, the respective women’s and men’s presidents of Cambridge University Boat Club, hold a meeting to discuss their plans in the Great Hall at Jesus College on 5 March 2024.

The presidents

Jenna Armstrong and Seb Benzecry discuss their plans in the Great Hall at Jesus College.

Every year one man and one woman are elected presidents to represent Cambridge University Boat Club. They are the captains and leaders, not only responsible for helping design the training programme in conjunction with the coaches but also making budgetary and tactical decisions along the way. This year both of them, Jenna Armstrong and Seb Benzecry, are from the same college, Jesus, which helps the communication between the two of them. They share ideas and knowledge, thoughts and worries. Their lives, for these intense few months, are a juggling act.

Armstrong is a 30-year-old from New Jersey, and doing a PhD in physiology. Once a very keen competitive junior skier she was forced to abandon her hopes of a career on the slopes after a number of serious knee injuries. She only started rowing in 2011 and only became aware of the Boat Race when she saw it on TV a couple of years later.

Jenna Armstrong, the women’s president of the Cambridge University Boat Club, cycling down the Chimney, the grand entrance to Jesus College where she is a member, to go to the other side of the city to carry out more of her PhD research at the department of physiology, development and neuroscience.

Jenna Armstrong, cycling down the Chimney, the grand entrance to Jesus College, to go to the other side of the city to carry out more of her PhD research at the department of physiology, development and neuroscience.

The research she carries out at the university labs could be turn out to be life-saving. “I study mitochondrial function in placentas from women from all over the world to learn how genetic and environmental factors during pregnancy can influence placental metabolism and impact the health of both mother and baby. I’m particularly interested in growth restriction which affects about 10% of babies worldwide. That can have lifelong implications for these babies and currently we don’t have any treatment for this.”

Benzecry, 27, is studying for a PhD in film and screen studies, and comes from a completely different rowing background. He grew up just a stone’s throw from the Boat Race course and went to a school on the banks of the Thames. This will be his 14th year of competitive rowing but his fourth and last Boat Race.

“ I remember one year my birthday fell on race day and we watched after my birthday party. Because we live fairly close to the course, I’ve always felt connected to the race.”

Seb Benzecry, the men’s president of the Cambridge University Boat Club, stands next to an Antony Gormley statue in the Quincentenary Library at Jesus College as he conducts research for his dissertation as part of his PhD in film and screen studies.

Seb Benzecry stands next to an Antony Gormley statue in the Quincentenary Library at Jesus College as he conducts research for his dissertation which forms part of his PhD in film and screen studies.

Talking about how hard it is to get the right balance between academic student life and rowing, Benzecry says: “I guess you have to accept there are many, many things you can’t do, you just don’t have time for during the season. You have to put the blinkers on.”

Armstrong says: “I have to be very prepared, very strategic and organised. I pack everything the night before, and then once I leave my room in the morning, I don’t go back. That allows me to go to training, go to the lab, go to training again. It’s surreal actually, to come to a place like Cambridge, have one of the best educations in the world on top of the most incredible rowing experiences in the world. We have a thing now in the boat, when we are doing something incredibly hard, I say this is my ideal Saturday, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I would rather be here than in bed or on a date. And I make everyone else say it with me too. I’d rather be nowhere else.”

Benzecry states: “When it’s really bad, when training is so hard, we say Oxford aren’t doing this, they could never do this. It’s an incredibly powerful thing to be thinking we work harder than them, our culture is better than them. They don’t want to go hard as we do – they might think they do but they don’t, they just don’t have it.”

The Cambridge University Boat Club men’s and women’s blue boats during a training session on the Great Ouse, Cambridgeshire on.

Integration

The men’s and women’s blue boats during a training session on the River Great Ouse in February.

Until 1 August 2020, there were three separate university boat clubs in Cambridge: one for open-weight men, one for lightweight men, and one for open-weight and lightweight women. Since they merged to become one club, it has undoubtedly helped with everyone sharing the same resources and motivating and inspiring one another. No one is more important and everyone has a key part to play in the result. This year, Oxford have followed suit.

Baker says: “I definitely feel, for the athletes themselves, it makes a big difference. They all feel like they’re contributing to one common goal. Every cog in the wheel has to do its job but for sure it feels like one big team on a mission.”

Benzecry explains: “We’re seeing each other train, we’re all out on the water at the same time, we’re supporting each other throughout the season, building a sense of momentum for the whole club towards the races. Everyone’s just inspiring each other all the time and I think that’s been such a sort of cultural shift for Cambridge.”

The men’s blue boat pack their boat on to a trailer for the trip down to London for the Boat Race at their Ely training site, Cambridgeshire.

The men’s blue boat pack their craft on to a trailer at their Ely training site ready for the trip down to London for the Boat Race.

Siobhan Cassidy, the chair of the Boat Race, knows from first-hand how the integration has helped. She rowed for the Light Blues in 1995 and had a key role in the transition. “We could see the advantages of working together, collaborating as a bigger team, the positive impact we felt that could have on performance. But not just the output, actually the whole experience for the young people taking part.”

Siobhan Cassidy, the chair of the Boat Race, poses for a portrait in the Thames Rowing Club at Putney Embankment.

Siobhan Cassidy, the chair of the Boat Race, pictured at the Thames Rowing Club at Putney Embankment.

This Saturday, if the weather holds, an estimated 250,000 people, the vast majority of whom have no allegiance to one shade of blue or the other, will pack the banks of the Thames to see these races. It’s one of the largest free events in Britain. Broadcast live on BBC One, the race is also beamed to 200 countries across the world.

The starting stone for the University Boat Race at Putney Embankment.

The starting stone for the University Boat Race and pavement inscription: “The best leveller is the river we have in common” at Putney Embankment.

A map of the Boat Race course at the Goldie boathouse, with the Thames coloured in Cambridge blue and record timings written in for men and women showing almost total Cambridge dominance.

A map of the Boat Race course at the Goldie boathouse, with the Thames coloured in Cambridge blue and record timings written in for men and women showing almost total Cambridge dominance.

A sporting pinnacle being contested on a fast-flowing, unpredictable river by two teams of university students – it’s pretty bizarre. But maybe it’s that quirkiness that keeps the race, after almost two hundred years, still going strong. And even more bizarre to think that Cambridge, the current dominant force in the Boat Race, a sporting event that can’t shrug off its elitist stereotype, owes so much of that success to such egalitarian principles.

  • The Guardian picture essay
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San Jose   Travel Guide

Courtesy of by Frank Chen | Getty Images

photo essay things to do

9 Best Things to Do in San Jose, CA

Updated September 28, 2021

Whether you've come for business or not, you'll find a lot to do in your spare time. San Jose hosts a bunch of attractions that don't take too long to enjoy: Burn an hour or two downtown at the San Jose Museum of Art and the Children'

  • All Things To Do

photo essay things to do

Santana Row Santana Row free

Where do Silicon Valley tycoons go to spend their money? To Santana Row, a chic shopping development just a short drive west of downtown San Jose. Here you'll find delectable eateries, a movie theater and designer shops like Gucci and Kate Spade. And the apartments and the Hotel Valencia built above the ground-floor businesses create an urban vibe that particularly takes off at night when Santana Row becomes a nightlife hub. Many recent travelers claim that this is the best people-watching spot in the city. Also keep your eyes on the parking lot: Exotic sports cars like Lamborghinis and Ferraris are often spotted here.

The shops and restaurants open around 10 a.m. and close around 9 p.m., although many that cater to the late-night crowds will stay open well past then. Visitors should be aware that parking can be extremely limited at busy times, so you might have to leave your car across the street at the less-trendy Westfield Valley Fair mall. For more information about special events and specific store hours, check out Santana Row's website .

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Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph free

Architecture buffs will want to set aside some time to see the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph, a large Roman Catholic church located in downtown San Jose. This structure is actually the fifth reincarnation and sits on the site of former basilicas that were damaged by earthquakes or fire in the 19th century. It draws in visitors with its architectural beauty, both inside and out. Reviewers were particularly enchanted by its domes and stained-glass windows (of which there are 39 colorful panes to behold). Aside from its impressive structural elements, the cathedral wins praise for its peaceful atmosphere.

The church offers a daily Mass (in both English and Spanish on the weekends), but you can also view its interior during a tour. You'll find the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph in downtown San Jose on Market Street. If you'd like to schedule a formal tour, you'll have to fill out a reservation form online, which can be accessed on the cathedral's website . Entering the church is free, but it suggests a $2 donation per person if you schedule a tour.

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Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum hosts the largest collection of ancient Egyptian finds on the West Coast, boasting more than 4,000 artifacts. Along with a tomb replica, the museum's many sarcophagi and mummies thrill most visitors. And many appreciate the detailed descriptions and timelines adjacent to the displays. A few recent travelers express mild disappointment, however, saying the museum may not appeal to those with a surface interest in ancient Egypt. Still, this off-the-beaten-path attraction (many locals said they didn't even know it existed) offers a unique and educational (not to mention affordable) alternative to some of the area's other top to-dos. What's more, you'll also find a planetarium on-site that screens three different space films. 

Situated less than 3 miles west of downtown San Jose, this Egyptian treasure trove is open Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission costs $10 for adults and $8 for kids ages 7 to 17, seniors and students with a school ID. For more information, check out the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum's website .

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The Tech Interactive The Tech Interactive

The Tech Interactive is right at home in San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley. This blue-domed facility in downtown brings in schoolchildren by the busload – literally. This place thrives off the curiosity of young people and offers plenty of hands-on learning opportunities that serve to educate museumgoers about scientific concepts, such as space exploration, biotechnology, clean energy, genetics and the science of sound. 

Recent visitors raved about the fun, yet educational exhibits for their children like the Social Robots gallery, an area that allows kids to design, build and program a real robot using sensors, controllers and actuators. The museum also has an on-site Imax theater that screens both educational and feature films. Those who ventured in without young children offered a word of caution for future visitors, saying the facility is better suited to elementary school kids and not necessarily an entertaining stop for adults or teens. 

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Children's Discovery Museum Children's Discovery Museum

Like the nearby Tech Museum , the Children's Discovery Museum offers hands-on experiences for kids as well as some interesting displays for adults. Recent travelers seem to have several favorite exhibits, but the WaterWays –  a large network of water-filled tubes through which colorful balls travel –  stands out above the rest. Parents like the sections of the museum that are designed for specific ages like the Wonder Cabinet, which caters to children age 4 and younger and encourages  exploration in a safe and stimulating setting (like an art studio) . And although there is a food court (which some say is a bit expensive), you're also permitted to bring your own lunch or snacks.

Located in downtown, the Children's Discovery Museum welcomes visitors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission costs $13 for both kids and adults. For more information, check out the museum's website .

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San Jose Museum of Art San Jose Museum of Art

The San Jose Art Museum brings a bit of high culture to the downtown area. Its collection focuses on 20th- and 21st-century works in a variety of media –  painting, video installation, photography and more. The temporary exhibits frequently feature a local Northern California artist, which gives some personality to the space. Although some reviewers remark on the museum's small size and limited collection, they do say it's worth a visit thanks to its interesting exhibits and reasonable admission prices. What's more, most appreciated that the museum can be viewed in a matter of hours thanks to its manageable size. 

The art museum sits along Cesar Chavez Park across from the Tech Museum . Entrance costs $10 for adults and $5 for youths ages 7 to 17; children 6 and younger enter for free. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and until 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month. For more information, check out the San Jose Museum of Art's website .

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Japanese Friendship Garden Japanese Friendship Garden free

Visitors frequently describe this small garden as "tranquil" and a nice place to let the kids run around. Built in 1965 as a symbol of everlasting friendship between the city of San Jose and its sister city, Okayama, Japan, the garden features Japanese bridges, waterfalls and koi fish (a favorite attraction among youngsters).

Recent visitors said the garden provided a peaceful backdrop for a relaxing stroll, though some were disappointed with its size, describing it as underwhelming. Because of its picturesque landscaping and romantic ambiance, it's also a popular spot for engagement photos and outdoor wedding ceremonies, according to reviewers.

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California's Great America California's Great America

It's no Disneyland , but this theme park in the Santa Clara neighborhood (about a 15-minute drive from downtown San Jose) will surely satisfy your family's craving for thrilling rides, water park fun and live entertainment. While the high-flying coasters like Flight Deck steal most of the attention (and the wait times), the theme park offers a wide variety of carnivalesque booths along with a few entertaining performances. You'll find many of the families with younger children enjoying the smaller thrills of Planet Snoopy. And to make this into a great summer attraction, Great America also offers the Boomerang Bay Water Park and its fun slides, cabana and wave pool.

Most visitors recommend planning a trip to California's Great America if you've got kids in tow, praising the manageable size and fun water park. However, more than a few reviewers complained of the overpriced, tasteless food offered on-site and suggested skipping meals inside the park in favor of the neighborhood's more affordable options.

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Winchester Mystery House Winchester Mystery House

Across the street from hip Santana Row , the Winchester Mystery House is both a piece of San Jose history and, according to some, a tourist trap. The incredibly superstitious Sarah Winchester –  heiress to the firearm fortune –  built this monstrous structure in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The estate boasts 161 rooms and a bevy of mind-boggling designs, such as a staircase to nowhere, secret passageways, a séance room and the Hall of Fires, which is equipped with four fireplaces and three hot air registers . While some visitors appreciate the architectural oddities, others quickly grow bored of the furniture-less rooms. Still, you might consider a visit: The house is one of San Jose's oldest homes, and some people won't believe you've truly seen the city if you don't make a quick stop here. What's more, it's a California Historical Landmark. Reviewers who visited with tweens and teens said it proved an entertaining activity for the whole family.

Just a short drive west of downtown, the Winchester Mystery House offers Behind-the-Scenes, Mansion and Grand Estate tours (prices vary by tour type, ranging from $25 to $44 per person). The estate maintains a complicated schedule of operating hours, so check the website before your trip.

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Lizzy & the Triggermen keep swing sharp

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Lizzy Shapiro fronts the Los Angeles band Lizzy & the Triggermen. (Photo Spike Marble)

Singer Lizzy Shapiro, who fronts the hip Los Angeles band Lizzy & the Triggermen, feels that swing music is anything but a relic from the past. “I’m really drawn to the subversiveness of it. It’s born out of needing to find joy in tough times, so there’s an interesting tension about it —the songs are about serious topics, but the music makes you want to dance. So even though some of our songs were written 100 years ago, to me it’s edgy and current and relevant.”

Hardly a polite throwback, the Triggermen are a full-throttle, ten-piece band, with Shapiro as a strong and sultry frontwoman. The set might include anything from vintage standards to originals, to Britney Spears and Strokes songs (Yes, they do a swing version of “…Baby One More Time”). They even have a trombone player who worked with Benny Goodman before his death in 1985. After stirring plenty of attention at home, the band is on its first national tour, making its Boston debut at the City Winery tonight.

Shapiro’s musical roots are actually close to Boston. “I fell in love with live performing at age four and a half, doing a production of “Annie” for Chelsea Community Theater. I ended up singing opera in Charlestown and later at Tanglewood.” But she realized she wasn’t cut out to be an opera star. “I had a bit of a hiatus, because I came to realize I was never going to be one of those fabulous, tubercular heroines who sing a dramatic high note and then drop dead. Basically, I was facing a lifetime of playing Mozart shepherdesses, which didn’t sound quite as cool.”

She went onto a successful career in Hollywood as a screenwriter and actress. But music came looking for her when she thought she was done with it. “One problem is that I have an old-fashioned voice and couldn’t find a context for it. But a friend of mine was having a 1920’s themed wedding and she asked me to sing, so I picked an obscure song (recorded by Annette Hanshaw in the 20’s) called ‘If You Want the Rainbow, You Must Have the Rain.’ It started raining at her wedding, just as I was singing, so that was my big lightbulb moment. I didn’t even know how to do it, but in that moment I became committed to putting together a vintage sounding swing band.”

That’s also where she found herself as a performer. “Lizzy onstage is a persona, but it’s closer to the real me than I am in everyday life. I come from the opera world so I love drama — and it seems our audience feels the same way, because they come to the shows in incredible outfits. We don’t have an opportunity for girls to dress up and play pretend.” And she doesn’t mind giving a spin to the sexual politics in the older songs. “What I initially fell in love with was the strong women singers — Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald. But of course most of those songs were written by men, and what was edgy then might not be edgy now. There’s so much that tells women to tone themselves down, and I like to push the other way.”

Since forming this band she’s gotten as deeply into vintage jazz as she was into opera. “There’s so much incredible music that has fallen through the cracks, so I have been passionate about finding those tunes and giving them life. I wouldn’t say I’m a musicologist, but I do enjoy going down YouTube rabbit holes.”

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I lived in Bali for 2 months. These 7 popular tourist spots were not worth the hype.

  • I spent two months living in Bali — it has so much to offer, and I really loved my time there.
  • But many things didn't live up to the hype for me, including the beaches I visited.
  • Tegallalang Rice Terraces and Campuhan Ridge Walk didn't look like what I expected.

Insider Today

In August, I left my corporate job to embark on a year of solo travel across Southeast Asia. I spent two months living in one of my bucket-list destinations — the tropical island of Bali.

Bali is a dream travel destination for many, and there's so much I loved about it — breathtaking scenery, warm and welcoming people, dozens of stunning waterfalls, and ancient Hindu temples to explore.

But there were also a few surprising things that didn't quite live up to my expectations.

And, with the Indonesian spot recently implementing a tax requiring tourists to pay to enter Bali , it's as important as ever to make sure you're getting your money's worth on future trips.

Here are seven things I experienced during my stay that I didn't quite think were worth the hype:

The 'iconic' Gates of Heaven felt like a tourist trap

Like any tourist attraction in Bali, I expected the Gates of Heaven to be crowded, so I showed up just after sunrise. Apparently, I was already too late, since there was a huge line of people already waiting to see them.

But the long line wasn't the main disappointment for me. Those photos you've likely seen of people posing between the gates with a perfect reflection beneath them … well, that's just a camera trick !

There's no reflecting pool, just a local holding a mirror below your phone camera to create the effect.

If you want a nice picture for Instagram, it's worth checking out. But I left shortly after arriving and probably could have saved myself a couple of hours had I done my research.

The beaches were mostly a letdown

The beaches in Bali aren't necessarily bad, and some are really nice. There's great surfing all around the island, and some areas, like Amed, have incredible snorkeling and diving right from the shore.

But for the most part, I found the beaches to be a little disappointing. Many I visited were filled with trash , which is in part due to a problem with waste management in the area.

Plus, the currents were too strong at many of the beaches, so I wasn't able to swim safely at some beautiful spots, like Kelingking Beach on nearby Nusa Penida.

Fortunately, many volunteer groups are working on cleaning Bali's beaches — and the tax requiring tourists to pay to enter the island may, in part, be used to improve the island's infrastructure and conservation efforts. Even so, there's much more work to be done.

Walking the streets of central Ubud was anything but peaceful for me

I loved Ubud , the spiritual and cultural center of Bali. But walking anywhere in Ubud felt far more chaotic than the romantic drama "Eat, Pray, Love" depicts.

I'm used to being solicited when I travel, and I understand that many locals rely on tourism dollars to make a living, but I have never experienced the level of constant solicitation that I did in Ubud.

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As I walked down the streets, I found myself getting asked if I needed a taxi, massage, dance tickets, or something else every few seconds.

The Tegallalang Rice Terraces weren't what I expected

For me, the famous Tegallalang Rice Terraces just outside Ubud turned out to be another case of "Instagram vs. Reality."

Having seen many beautiful rice terraces in other parts of Bali, and in other countries, these were a letdown for me.

They're smaller than I expected, and full of shops, cafés, abandoned swings, and props for photos. I can see why the terraces are a popular photo opportunity, but it felt more like a staged park than the place of natural beauty I expected.

Traffic and construction killed my vibe in Canggu

The coastal village Canggu is known for its surfing and cool vibes, and I could see its potential.

But with so many shops, hotels , and resorts being developed, Canggu looked and felt nothing like the beachy village I expected it to be. It felt a bit overbuilt and I passed so much construction .

The traffic getting in and out of Canggu was also a nightmare. Even with a motorbike, the roads become gridlocked at times, leaving me baking in the sun.

I thought the Campuhan Ridge Walk was boring, and the views weren't that special

Drone footage and overhead photos of the Campuhan Ridge Walk near Central Ubud are wildly beautiful and lush, with green trees everywhere.

But I wish I hadn't fallen for the dreamy aerial shots. The Campuhan Ridge Walk is much different on the ground.

I walked the whole length, dodging tourists and pesky flies in the heat, waiting for some spectacular view. But there really weren't any views of anything besides some treetops off to each side.

I think this Walk is best enjoyed from above.

Gili Air wasn't the idyllic paradise I expected

Indonesia's Gili Islands are not technically part of Bali, but ferry trips to it are popular among Bali visitors, so it feels worth mentioning.

I spent a week on Gili Air, known for its white-sand beaches with clear turquoise water. Although the island had a lot to offer, I didn't find it to be the tropical paradise I imagined.

On one side of the island, there's a very narrow strip of sand that seemed to be mostly privatized. The beaches on the other side of the island appeared to be full of hard and sharp dead coral that had washed ashore — far from the white-sand paradise I pictured.

When I got in the beautiful-looking water, I saw fish and sea turtles swimming among trash and was frequently stung by jellyfish larvae.

That said, there are local groups working on conservation efforts to preserve the area's famous reefs and local marine life. Visitors are also welcome to participate in clean-up efforts , which could be a thoughtful way to incorporate more responsible tourism into a future trip to Bali.

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There’s still time for a trip to see the total solar eclipse in ohio.

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On Monday, April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will be visible within parts of North America. If weather is permitting and there aren’t cloudy skies, total visibility will start along Mexico’s Pacific Coast. In the United States, the path of totality, which is the narrow ribbon of places where the full eclipse can be viewed, goes from Texas to Maine. NASA is offering a map that shows the path of totality as well as a timetable of when the eclipse should appear in some of the major locations where it can be viewed.

This is a photo from the total solar eclipse in 2017 in Madras, Oregon.

If you have never experienced a total eclipse but want to do so, it’s not too late to schedule a last-minute trip to enjoy it. After all, we’re not expected to have another total eclipse that’s visible in the U.S. for nearly a decade , and that one will only be visible from the U.S. in the state of Alaska. Beyond that, the next one is in 2044.

This 2024 eclipse will be the first time a total solar eclipse is visible from Ohio in 208 years. Some places booked up for the eclipse months in advance. However, you can still plan a last-minute trip to some cool and sometimes overlooked destinations in the path of totality in Ohio that are just as much fun the most known cities.

One spot to consider is Mansfield, a charming city in the foothills of the Allegheny Plateau of the Appalachian Mountains. Spectrum News 1 reported that the eclipse will start in Mansfield at 1:57 p.m. EST and plunge the city into darkness when it reaches totality at 3:12 p.m. That cover of darkness should last for about 3 minutes, 16 seconds as the moon passes between the sun and Earth. It will conceal the sun from view completely during that time. The overall eclipse should be over at 4:27 p.m.

While thousands of visitors are already expected in this north central Ohio city and its neighboring Richland County villages for the eclipse, there is still some availability, and you’ll find dozens of fun ways to celebrate the eclipse while there. Many local venues have planned events and crafted special menus.

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Here are some places in Mansfield where you can view or celebrate the total solar eclipse.

Yoga at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary

If you want to start your celebrations early in the day, the Ohio Bird Sanctuary will kick things off with Total Eclipse Yoga at 8:30 a.m. This class is led by the center’s director and will cost $10 per person.

Luminous Solar Eclipse Gathering at Mankind Murals Inc.

A pop-up art gallery and eclipse viewing party combine in a fun way in downtown Mansfield for this event at the Luminous City studio lot. Hosted by Mankind Murals Inc., the gathering at 88 North Diamond Street will showcase the eclipse-themed artwork of over a dozen local artists. A DJ will be playing fun music. There are planned patio games and selfie stations. A limited number of solar eclipse glasses will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis. They’ll also serve beer, wine and signature eclipse-themed craft cocktails with names like the Twilight Eclipse and the Screwball Eclipse.

Eclipse Viewing and More at the Snow Trails Ski Resort

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., you can hit the slopes, relax on the decks or patios, or tailgate at the Snow Trails Ski Resort to view the solar eclipse from this gorgeous resort. There are no overnight accommodations or parking here, so just plan to atten between the scheduled hours. They will have live music at The Snowflake Loft, and their onsite Lucky’s Cafeteria will be serving breakfast and lunch. The price of admission is $25 per car or $50 per larger RVs.

Eclipse Garden Party at the Kingwood Center Gardens

Eclipsed at the Estate is a celebration planned to take place from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Kingwood Center Gardens. With its 47 acres of formal and woodland gardens, this viewing party will certainly remind you of the beauty of nature on earth and in the skies. A limited amount of certified viewing glasses will be available to guests. Educational activities are planned during the event, too.

Mansfield and Richland County offers dozens of other terrific spots for viewing the eclipse, too. Many are free to the public. Go to the Richland County eclipse viewing page for many of the sites you may want to consider.

If you want to plan a last-minute trip to view and celebrate the eclipse in the Mansfield area of Ohio, it’s a good idea to book hotels and other activities as soon as possible. Keep in mind that some events will sell out, so it’s important to call to confirm your attendance and whether you need a reservation and ticket.

When planning how and when you will attend different festivities, consider that there will likely be extremely heavy traffic on April 8. Rather than planning to leave your viewing location immediately after viewing, it’s a good idea to come early then hang out late. Make a day of it and enjoy yourself for a while to avoid the worst of the traffic jams.

Robin Raven

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  1. 23 Photo Essay Ideas and Examples (to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing!)

    Here are some handy essay ideas and examples for inspiration! 1. A day in the life. Your first photo essay idea is simple: Track a life over the course of one day. You might make an essay about someone else's life. Or the life of a location, such as the sidewalk outside your house.

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    Take your time. A great photo essay is not done in a few hours. You need to put in the time to research it, conceptualizing it, editing, etc. That's why I previously recommended following your passion because it takes a lot of dedication, and if you're not passionate about it - it's difficult to push through. 4.

  3. How to Create a Photo Essay: Step-by-Step Guide With Examples

    4. Choose your top 10 images. Once a few days have passed, pick the best 100 photos from your shoot to start with. Then, a day or more later, look at those 100 images and narrow them down to the top 25. Finally, narrow the 25 down to the top 10 images, making sure each photo serves your original concept for the story. 5.

  4. How to Create a Photo Essay in 9 Steps (with Examples)

    Choose an idea, hone your unique perspective on it, then start applying the 9 simple steps from above. The life of a plant or animal (your favorite species, a species living in your yard, etc) The many shapes of a single species (a tree species, a bird species, etc) How a place changes over time.

  5. 17 Awesome Photo Essay Examples You Should Try Yourself

    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.

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  7. How to create a photo essay

    1. Create visual structure. An authentic photo essay requires visual markers to help transform a collection of images into a narrative. For example, photo chapter headings in Growing up young introduce each new girl in the story.. Similarly, in SBS's photojournalism story — 28 days in Afghanistan, mentioned above — each dated header delineates a part of the story, providing an easy-to ...

  8. What is a Photo Essay? 9 Photo Essay Examples You Can Recreate

    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.

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    7. Include a clincher. This image may not be apparent to you in the beginning, but most photographers say they know it when they see it. It's an image that wraps up the essay for the viewer. This image should say "the end," give a call to action, or show the end result of a day in the life or how to sequence.

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    Here is a step-by-step approach to follow to successfully create a compelling and engaging photo essay: Step 1 - Do your Research. If you are to create an attractive and relevant photo essay, begin by researching the best framework to adopt. Look at what people are doing out there and find out how creatively you can do it better.

  11. How To Create a Memorable Photo Essay

    Pick a Topic to Document in Your Photo Essay. You would start by choosing a topic, preferably something which is close to your heart and easy to access. Try doing something like "A day in the life of…" series for your family or just a series of photographs of something in your neighbourhood. This will get you in the mood for more ...

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    7 Add some text. It can be a good idea to add some text or individual captions for a photo essay, to give some background information and context to whatever is shown in the pictures. If you're not a writer, try to keep it as basic as possible - including things such as names, locations and dates.

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    Basic images should include a strong establishing shot, some detail shots, and a closing shot, says Harris. If it's a story about food, this might mean capturing images of chefs cooking it, people eating it, and close-ups of the dishes themselves. Chicken feet. A great example of a close-up shot.

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    The Municipal Rose Garden in San Jose is a 5.5-acre floral wonderland with over 250 different types of roses in bloom from April to November. It's popular among locals and wedding planners for its gorgeous location and beautiful blooms. Parking was on street, but easy and close. It was easy to socially distance.

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    Photo credit: Julie Markee via Flickr. Beyond the flashy storefronts and hip restaurants and bars, the Winchester Mystery House is by far one of the best things to do in San Jose. I went in the evening for their Halloween tour; during the day they offer a history tour through a completely different part of the house.

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  24. Lizzy & the Triggermen keep swing sharp

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