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18 Immersive Photo Essay Examples & Tips

By Tata Rossi 13 days ago, Professional photography

digital photo essay example

A photo essay tells a story or evokes emotion through a series of photographs. The essays allow you to be creative and fully explore an idea. Such essays exist in a variety of forms – from photos only to images with brief comments or written essays accompanied by shots. Choose a photo essay example that you can easily do based on your professional level and the equipment you use.

1. Protests

  • View the “Resistance” photo essay by David Moore .

A great idea for photo essays for students is to shoot the protest to show its power. You can capture people with signs and banners to demonstrate what they are standing for. Besides, you can learn how to capture moving subjects. Use the best example of photo essay and don’t forget about angles, composition, and framing.

To create a photo essay , go up to the front and photograph the leader of the protesters walking forward. After that, go back to the end of the group to take pictures of families joining the protest. As a result, you will gain experience shooting big groups of people in motion.

2. Transformation

  • View the “A Self-Portrait Every Day” photo essay by Noah Kalina .

This idea is all about capturing the way a person changes. You may take photos of a pregnant woman and then capture the same model with a child. By documenting the development of the child for several years, you can tell a great story in the form of a photo essay.

However, you can also create a photo essay about the transformation of different objects. For instance, you can create a time-lapse series to capture the history of a renovated building. While you will have to take a lot of similar photos to bring this idea to life, it will allow you to achieve an impressive result.

3. Local Event

  • View the “Monday Marathon” photo essay by Quinn G. Perini .

Whether you are a resident of a large city or a small town, you can find an opportunity to visit a local event, like a marathon or a festival. This is a nice chance to follow modern photography trends and bring photo essay ideas to life.

You can capture the before-and-after stages of the event. Arrive earlier and take pictures of the preparation activities, then shoot the actual event starting with the official beginning.

Keep photographing even when the event is over and capture the cleaning up and disassembling processes.

4. Photowalk

  • View the “Empty Campus” photo essay by Elise Trissel .

Explore the location where you live and find interesting objects to capture in the vicinity. Using the most interesting photo essay examples, you can decide how to make the best decisions. Don’t hurry and try to discover which angles you can use to capture the unique atmosphere of each place.

If you live in the city, you may capture architectural details, wide shots of busy streets, or just take photos of passersby and street signs. Think about the details that make every location unique. For instance, you can try capturing reflections to see how they allow you to see the city from an unusual angle. You can find reflections everywhere, so be sure to pay attention to mirrored buildings, puddles, and fountains.

5. Place Over Time

  • View the “At Home in the Ozarks” photo essay by Kylee Cole .

If you want to document changes and show how the streets, buildings, and parks in your city change over time, select your favorite locations and start to visit them regularly to capture the way they look during different seasons.

  • View the “Last Moments” photo essay by Ross Taylor .

You don’t necessarily have to focus on profound photo essay topics to evoke emotions. Capturing pets enjoying their worry-free and untroubled life seems like an easy but interesting activity.

Choose any animal – from a domestic bird to a dog, cat, or horse. For more emotional images, use such pet photography ideas when your pet is still a baby and recreate these shots when it is older or is in its final days.

7. Street Style

  • View the Tribal Street Photography photo essay by Hans Eijkelboom .

People often express themselves with the help of clothes. The way passers-by on the streets are dressed may reflect the clothing style of a whole society. That’s why you can travel around the world and capture people’s outfits in various areas. When taking portrait photos in the streets, you can also include some of the surroundings to put them in the context.

You can ask people in the streets to pose for you or try to capture them in movement. Select a suitable location for taking photos and create a photo essay to document what kinds of people one can meet in this location. When doing urban photography , you should ask people for permission before taking photos of them. You can ask their contacts and send them your photos later.

8. Abandoned Building

  • View the “Lost Collective” photo essay by Bret Pattman .

Old buildings are excellent architecture photography essay topics for students since you can capture a large number of elements. They allow you to imagine what a particular street looked like in the past. You may use a photo essay example for students as references.

Get approval before going in, but mind that such places are far from being totally safe. Bring various lenses: the macro lenses – for details and the wide-angle one – when you want to include many elements in one shot.

9. Alternative Lifestyles

  • View the “Last Nomad Hippies” photo essay by Roberto Palomo .

Some people decide to lead a lifestyle that differs from the one generally accepted by society. Explore different areas and look for people with an unusual way of living. You can capture candid photos of regular people or take pictures of a person with an unusual hobby.

Take pictures of those, who reside in extraordinary conditions, representatives of various subcultures, or the LBGTQ community. These photo essay topics show other people that it is okay to go out of their comfort zone and run against the wind.

10. Social Issues

  • View the “Juveniles in Prison” photo essay by Isadora Kosofsky .

The best photo essay examples for students are related to social issues, like unemployment, domestic violence, gender discrimination, and more. Address the topic carefully and look for a proper perspective.

Your shots may draw the people’s attention to a truly burning and relevant matter and have a stronger effect than any text.

11. Behind the Scenes

  • View the “Follow Me” photo essay by Marius Masalar .

If you are going to visit an event, get ready to take some behind-the-scenes photos. For instance, you can document the preparations for a festival. Capture the work of the lead event planner and other professionals to tell the story of the festival from an unusual angle.

Alternatively, you can capture the events happening backstage during a drama production. Take pictures of actors and actresses when they are getting ready for the performance. Try capturing the emotions of the main lead and show how stage workers make final preparations. You can also document the work of designers and makeup professionals.

12. Landmarks

  • View the “Volte-Face” photo essay by Oliver Curtis .

The pictures of landmarks are typically taken from a certain spot. One of the best photo essay ideas is to try shooting sights from various angles. You will also have an opportunity to improve your composition and your framing skills.

If you take a look at any pictorial essay example, you will see that the variety of perspectives is endless: through the streets, in the morning, afternoon, and evening, with a drone or including reflections.

    • View the “Family” photo essay by Olivia Moore .

You can capture the way family members interact with each other and demonstrate the strong connection they share. In some cases, it makes sense to focus on capturing candid photos when doing family photography .

However, you may also opt for a different approach and focus on more difficult social topics. For instance, if you want to examine the issue of immigration, you can take pictures of a family from another country. In addition, you may show how families cope with other social issues, including poverty or unequal access to healthcare.

14. A Day in the Life

  • View the “A Day in the Life of Carlos Gaytan” photo essay by Sandy Noto .

One of the best photo essays concepts is related to a day in a person’s life. The main character can be any person – a relative, family member, teacher, writer, or policeman.

People are generally interested in finding out facts about the lives and daily routines of others. The life of every human is incredible, especially if you learn it in more detail. This idea is especially suitable for taking documentary photos. For instance, you can select any photo essay sample you like and then capture a portrait of a person with the tools they use for their work.

15. Education

  • View the “School Day” photo essay by Nancy Borowick .

You can also take great photos in the classroom capturing the interactions of teachers and their students. Avoid distracting them, as it will be easier for you to take natural shots. Using a variety of settings, you can make your photo essay more engaging. For instance, you may visit chemistry labs, capture teachers during a break, and take photos in other locations.

  • View the “Meals From the Motherland” photo essay by James Tran .

You can also focus on specific meals to create a professional photo essay about food. To make it more attention-grabbing, try using different food photography ideas .

For instance, you can take photos of popular meals, capture the meals made by a specific person, or document cooking traditions in different countries. When taking photos in a restaurant, pay attention to the surroundings as well to capture the unique atmosphere of a place.

17. Capture the Neighbors

  • View the “Our Neighbors” photo essay by Jeanne Martin .

Regardless of the place where you live, you have to establish good relationships with your neighbors. People who live nearby can also be great models for professionals who specialize in portrait photography. To implement this idea, make sure to capture people at home or in front of their houses to include some of the surroundings in your photo essay.

You will discover many interesting facts about people who live nearby. Shooting a photo essay will allow you to learn them better and establish a strong connection with them. This way, you can create a sense of community and discover what holds its members together.

18. Climate Change

  • View the “Effects of Climate Change” photo essay by Sanya Gupta .

It is possible to a variety of photo story ideas bring to life examining the impact of climate change. Travel to places most affected by climate change, for instance, glaciers or famous resorts.

Capture the way the continuous drought has influenced the environment, animals, and the inhabitants. As an alternative, take pictures of environmentalist protests or inexhaustible energy sources.

Photo Essay Tips for Students

Explore your topic . An in-depth exploration of the main topic of your photo essay will help you find the best ideas for conveying your message. You can also find some sources for inspiration and useful materials. This stage allows you to learn more about your subject and select the best way of organizing your photo essay.

Create a storyboard . Using a storyboard, you can better understand what shots you need to take and what order can help you to tell a story in the best way. It will also allow you to create the right mood.

Take as many pictures as you can . To create a compelling story, make sure to take a lot of photos. It will allow you to choose the best pictures for your photo essay. Besides, you will always have backup photos if some of your pictures get damaged.

Experiment with different techniques . By changing the angle and using a variety of editing techniques, you can transform the way your photos look. When taking photos, try using different angles to capture the subject in the best way. You can also try changing the distance from the model, using black-and-white film, or employing a range of developing methods.

Add text . While some photographers create photo essays without text, it can still help you bring your point across more clearly and make it easier for a viewer to understand what you imply. By providing extra information, such as some facts, you can change the perception of your image. If you don’t know how to write descriptions, you can hire a professional writer to perform this task.

Enhance your photos . To edit your pictures, make sure to use professional photo editing software like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. Using the available tools, you can improve and change your photos. They allow you to fix issues with lighting, adjust WB, make colors richer, crop your pics to improve the composition, and perform other tasks. In case you need to edit your photos in a consistent style, you can use Photoshop Actions or Lightroom Presets.

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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

digital photo essay example

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

digital photo essay example

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

digital photo essay example

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.

digital photo essay example

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.

digital photo essay example

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.

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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!

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digital photo essay example

How to create a photo essay: Step-by-step guide with examples

Published by Feature Shoot • 3 years ago

In the 1930s, Life magazine did something radical; while most magazines of the time prioritized words, its editors published pages and pages of photographs, sometimes accompanied only by brief captions.

Over the next few decades, Life ’s photographers—Gordon Parks, Margaret Bourke-White, and W. Eugene Smith among them—would help pioneer a new genre known as the “photo essay.” They often photographed ordinary people—families, midwives, laborers, and more—and shared their stories with an audience of millions.

By 1945, Life was the most popular magazine in America, read by an estimated 13.5 million people. Throughout its run, the magazine published 200,000 pages of photo essays, proving that often, images could tell stories, promote understanding, and inspire action at least as well as the written word.

75 years later, the photo essay remains a gold standard for photographers of all genres. While it’s a medium most commonly associated with photojournalism and documentary photography, modern photo essays can take many forms, from newspaper spreads to wedding albums. A photo essay is a collection of images that work together to tell a story.

Photo essays come in all forms, from day-in-the-life series to long-term documentaries; they can feature people, animals, events, or landmarks. They might capture international news and politics or uncover the lives of regular citizens overlooked by mainstream media. They can convey a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, or they can be thematic, built around a common subject.

Below, we share our tips for how to make a photo essay, separated into eight steps, with inspiring examples from photo history as well as the 500px community.

Do your research

Daily Life Road Pollution in Nepal by Skanda Gautam on 500px.com

When finding a subject for your essay, it’s often a good idea to start close to home. Look for topics that are both original and accessible. Follow the local news, talk to members of your community, and keep an eye out for those untold, hidden stories. In 2018, for example, Skanda Gautam , a photojournalist with The Himalayan Times daily newspaper in Nepal, created a remarkable essay on air pollution in Kathmandu.

Pollution in Nepal by Skanda Gautam on 500px.com

By then, the air quality was so poor that it posed serious threats to the public, and Skanda, who calls the city home, set out to document everyday life for its citizens. He photographed the polluted streets and activists crying out for change; the images were shared around the world, bringing much-needed attention to this pressing issue.

Daily Pollution Life in Nepal by Skanda Gautam on 500px.com

Stories like this one exist everywhere, if you’re willing to look for them. Find subjects that affect you personally or that resonate with you. Maybe it’s a protest taking place in your hometown or a community group making waves in your neighborhood. Once you find a subject that interests you, dig deeper and do some research. Check to see if any other photographers have already covered it, and if not, reach out to the people involved to see if you can learn more.

This news-gathering and research phase might take a while, but it’s the first step toward creating a meaningful photo essay.

Build trust

When we hear the term “photo essay,” one of the first works that comes to mind is Country Doctor , shot by W. Eugene Smith for Life magazine in 1948. The essay told the story of Dr. Ernest Ceriani, a general practitioner in Kremmling, Colorado, who served as the only physician across a 400-square-mile area.

Smith spent 23 days in the Rocky Mountains documenting Dr. Ceriani and his life’s work. In the beginning, he famously shot without film in his camera; the idea was to get Dr. Ceriani to feel comfortable with him before actually taking any pictures. Eventually, it was like Smith wasn’t even there; he faded into the background.

Trust forms the foundation of every great photo essay, so spend some time getting to know your subjects—without the camera. Take as much time as you need to do this, even if it’s weeks, months, or years. Tell your subject right off the bat what your intentions are, and keep the lines of communication open.

Keep an open mind

Afghanistan by Moe Zoyari on 500px.com

Sometimes, you’ll go into a project with an idea of what you want only to find another story lingering beneath the surface. In 2009, for instance, when the award-winning photojournalist Moe Zoyari was on assignment for United Press International (UPI) to cover the presidential election in Afghanistan, he also took the time to document daily life in its cities.

Afghanistan by Moe Zoyari on 500px.com

Over 44 days, he discovered a new project, ultimately titled Life After War , about the vibrancy of civilian life and the resilience of the people. He saw the scars of war, but he also found children playing and local businesses thrumming with life. Moe’s series is a testament to the importance of an open mind; allow your instincts to guide you, and take as many photos as possible, even if they aren’t what you originally planned.

Afghanistan by Moe Zoyari on 500px.com

The final story might reveal itself later, when you’re back home at the computer, but while you’re out there in the field, take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. Look for overlooked details, interesting moments, and unexpected happenings.

Aim for variety

We’ve already mentioned the importance of taking as many photos as you can, but you also want to look for ways to make them all different. As the legendary photo editor Howard Chapnick once put it, great photo essays avoid redundancy, and every image captures a different perspective.

For some, that might mean using different lenses or angles, getting details as well as wide shots, and for others, it might mean capturing one subject in many different settings and scenarios. You can combine portraits and landscapes. In short, it’s not just about quantity; it’s also about diversity.

Morning Washing by Drew Hopper on 500px.com

When the Australian photographer Drew Hopper documented life on the River Ganges, for example, he woke up early and stayed out late; he saw a man performing his morning prayers, women doing laundry, and boats heading out at dusk. In capturing all these moments, he painted a dynamic and nuanced portrait of a single place, rich with meaning and layers of understanding.

Twilight Boats by Drew Hopper on 500px.com

Limit yourself

In the heyday of Life magazine, photographers were at least somewhat beholden to editors in terms of image selection and layout. There was only room for a fixed number of images, and because they captured hundreds if not thousands of frames, many had to be cut.

Today’s photographers aren’t limited by the cost of film or limited space; using social media, they can publish as many images as they wish. But at the same time, editing remains at the heart of the photo essay, so be objective and ruthless. Sometimes, the most powerful stories are told with a select few images. Give yourself a number—say, ten to fifteen images—and then try to hold yourself to it.

Cut any images that don’t serve the larger story—or any that feel redundant—and then ask friends and colleagues for their opinions. Sometimes, seeking an outside perspective can be invaluable; you might be attached to an image emotionally, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the strongest of the bunch. Don’t rush the process; take several passes over several days or weeks, gradually narrowing down your images.

Also, keep in mind that even if you cut an image from your essay, that doesn’t mean you have to discard it completely. Parks, Smith, and Bourke-White had countless photos cut from publication; many have been published and exhibited throughout the decades.

Trust your gut

Photo essays require an investment of your time, energy, and empathy, so even if a friend suggests you cut this photo and keep that one, the final choice is yours. If you feel strongly about an element of your story, trust that instinct.

In 1961, Gordon Parks did just that. He’d spent weeks documenting the life of a boy named Flavio da Silva and his family, who lived in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, but when his editors saw the images, they initially wanted to include only one photo of Flavio. Still, Parks insisted, and in the end, he convinced them to publish a full ten-page spread focusing on Flavio and his family. They remained in touch for years afterward.

Trusting your gut can be especially important when it comes to the first and last image in your essay. These are your bookends; one introduces your audience to the subject, and the other leaves a final impression. Make sure to select images that pack an emotional punch and make a strong statement.

Incorporate text and captions

Sherbrooke by Chris Forsyth on 500px.com

From 2014-2017, the architecture photographer Chris Forsyth created a captivating photo essay about the metro stations of Berlin, Montreal, Munich, and Stockholm. Part of the joy of discovery came in researching their history, designs, and nuances, and his captions always provide insight into the meaning and significance of each space.

Berri UQAM by Chris Forsyth on 500px.com

There’s no rule that says you have to include text in your photo essay, but often, captions can go a long way. When documenting your story, keep a journal of some kind where you can jot down locations, dates, and descriptions. If you interview someone, take notes. You don’t have to publish these notes, but they’ll help you keep track of information as it comes.

Jean-Talon by Chris Forsyth on 500px.com

Publish your images

In 1951, three years after C ountry Doctor , W. Eugene Smith photographed Maude Callen, a midwife and nurse in South Carolina, for Life . The piece inspired readers to make donations and send food; in the end, $20,000 was raised and used to open the Maude Callen clinic and support her work. One subscriber put it this way : “In all the years I have been reading Life , I have never been so moved or affected by anything as by your article on Maude Callen.”

Photo essays still have the power to transform lives, except these days, you don’t need to be published in Life to reach millions of people. Whether you’re publishing with a magazine or sharing your work online, your images have the potential to create change and make a difference, so when you’re ready, don’t be afraid to share them with the world.

Not on 500px yet? Sign up here to explore more impactful photography.

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Ten examples of immersive photo essays

Camera sitting on a tripod, overlooking a mountain scene

By Marissa Sapega — Contributing Writer

Photo essays are one of the most powerful forms of storytelling in the last century. From the great depression photographer W. Eugene Smith to the photojournalism of National Geographic or Life Magazine , the best photo essays entertain, educate, and move readers more than words alone ever could. 

But photo essays have changed. Over the last decade, web publishing technologies — including web browsers and file formats — have improved by leaps and bounds. A good photo essays today is more than a collection of images. It’s a truly interactive, immersive, and multimedia experiences.

In this guide, we introduce 10 stunning examples of visually arresting interactive photo essays to fuel your creative juices.

Now, let's set the scene with a short introduction to immersive, interactive photo essays on the web.

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.

The rise of immersive, interactive photo essays

What is an immersive, interactive photo essay? Let's take these terms one at a time. 

An immersive photo essay uses rich media and story design to capture and keep the reader's attention. Immersive content is typically free of the most distracting elements of the web, such as pop-ups, skyscrapers, and other intrusions on the reading experience.

As a basic rule of thumb, immersive content respects the reader's attention. 

An interactive photo essay is one that allows the reader to control how the content appears. It may include interactive elements, like maps and embedded applications.

More commonly, modern interactive photo stories use a technique known as scrollytelling . Scrollytelling stories allow the reader to trigger animations and other visual effects as they scroll. Many of the examples in this guide use scrollytelling techniques. Read more scrollytelling examples .

Until relatively recently, immersive, interactive photo essays could only be created with the help of a designer or web developer. But with the rise of digital storytelling platforms , anyone can create compelling, dynamic stories without writing a single line of code.

If you're looking to learn more about how to create a photo essay — or are looking for more photo essay ideas  — check out our introduction to photo essays . 

Photo essay topics

If you’re looking for photo essay examples, chances are you’re looking to create a photo essay for yourself. If you’re just getting started, you might want some guidance on exactly what kinds of topics make for great photo essays.

More experienced photographers — feel free to skip this section. But for those who are just starting out, here’s a quick list of classic photo essay subject matter, for all types of photo essays.

  • Local events. A great way to start out is photograph local events in your community, such as a high school fundraiser. A bonus is that you’ll have a ready
  • Historic sites. Another classic photo essay topic is an exploration of a historic site. This could be a building, a monument, or even just a specific location that has significance.
  • Profile of a person. A great way to get to know someone is to profile them in a photo essay. This could be a family member, friend, or even just someone you’ve met.
  • Animals in captivity. Another popular subject matter for photo essays is animals in captivity, whether that’s at a zoo or elsewhere.
  • A day in the life. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live someone else’s life for a day? Why not find out and document it in a photo essay?
  • Street photography. Another great way to practice your photography skills is to head out into the streets and photograph the everyday lives of people around you. The world has plenty of photo essays of cities like New York and London. But what about street photography in your own backyard?
  • Still life photography. Still life photography is all about capturing inanimate objects on film. This could be anything from flowers to furniture to food. It’s a great way to practice your photography skills and learn about composition
  • Landscapes . Landscape photography is one of the most popular genres, and for good reason. There are endless possibilities when it comes to finding interesting subjects to shoot. So get out there and start exploring!
  • Abandoned buildings. There’s something fascinating about abandoned buildings. They offer a glimpse into the past, and can be eerily beautiful. If you have any in your area, they make for great photo essay subjects.
  • Lifestyles. Document someone who lives a lifestyle that’s different from your own. This could be a portrayal of an everyday person, or it could be someone with an unusual job or hobby.
  • Social issues. Take photos depicting significant social issues in your community, remembering to respect your subjects.

Ten inspiring photo essay examples

digital photo essay example

Pink lagoon and peculiar galaxies — July’s best science images

digital photo essay example

In Pink lagoon and peculiar galaxies , Nature present a mesmerising series of images from the natural world. Highlights include:

  • a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it photo of rare albino orcas performing feats of synchronized swimming;
  • an arresting aerial view of the aftermath of the flash floods in Germany; and,
  • a scarlet gawping Venus flytrap sea anemone. 

The best part? Nature publishes similarly powerful photo essays every month, showcasing some of the best and most creative photography of the natural world anywhere on the web.

Pink lagoon and peculiar galaxies — July’s best science images

Vanishing Lands

A plain, with a lake and mountains in the distance, from Vanishing lands — an ominously interesting photo essay from media company Stuff

Vanishing lands — an ominously interesting photo essay from media company Stuff — opens with a bucolic visual featuring meandering sheep flanked by breathtaking mountains that blur into obscurity.

Soon, more awe-inspiring photos of breathtaking New Zealand farmland appear, accompanied by expressive prose whose tone matches the visuals’ stark beauty.

In this unflinchingly honest photographic essay, Stuff takes the viewer behind the scenes with a day in the life of a high country sheep farmer facing an uncertain future. One stunning photo fades into the next as you scroll through, broken only by the occasional noteworthy quote and accompanying narrative.

Screenshots from Vanishing lands — an ominously interesting photo essay from media company Stuff

Olympic photos: Emotion runs high

An athlete is a karate uniform lying flat on the ground

This emotionally wrought sports story from NBC begins with a close-up of an anxious Simone Biles, her expression exemplifying the tension and frustration echoed on so many of her fellow athletes’ faces.

The subtitle puts it perfectly: “The agony—and thrill—of competition at the Olympics is written all over their faces.”

Devastation, disappointment, and defeat take centre stage in this piece — but not all the subjects of the photos in this compelling photography essay depict misery. Some of the images, like that taken of the gold medal-winning Russian artistic gymnasts, manage to project the athletes’ joy almost beyond the edges of the screen.

The NBC editors who created this visual story chose to display the series of photos using the entire screen width and limit the copy to simple captions, letting the visuals speak for themselves. The result is a riveting montage of photographs that manage to capture the overarching sentiment of the 2020 Olympic Games.

Screenshots from an NBC story on the agony—and thrill—of competition at the Olympics

James Epp: A Twist of the Hand

Photo of a various sculptures in a museum

In A Twist of the Hand , the Museum of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge have produced a gorgeous photo essay. This online art show showcases artist James Epp’s installation, combining photographs of the exhibit with images of museum prints and authentic artefacts.

As you scroll down, close-up shots of the installation make you feel like you’re physically wandering among the ancient sculptures, able to examine hairline spider cracks and tiny divots marking the surface of every antiquated figure. In between the photos—and often flanked by museum prints—are James Epp's musings about what inspired him to create the pieces. It’s an absorbing virtual gallery that will no doubt inspire real life visits to the exhibition.

Screenshots from the University of Cambridge photo essay that showcases artist James Epson’s installation in the Museum of Classical Archaeology

The Café Racer Revolution

A helmeted man standing beside a motorbike

Though it’s a cleverly built piece of interactive content marketing , Honda’s “ Café Racer Revolution ” is also a great photo essay. Alongside information about the latest and greatest motorcycles Honda has to offer, it details the history of the bikers who sought to employ motorcycles (specifically “café racers”) as a way to forge an identity for themselves and project a “statement of individuality.”

Scroll down, and nostalgic black-and-white photos give way to contemporary action shots featuring fully decked-out motorcyclists on various Honda models.

Dynamic photos of bikes rotate them 360 degrees when you mouse over them, and text superimposed over flashy shots rolls smoothly down the screen as you scroll. This photo essay will stir a longing to hit the open road for anyone who has ever dreamed of owning one of Honda’s zippy bikes.

Screenshots from Honda's photo essay, a Café Racer Revolution

Built to keep Black from white

Four children standing against a white wall

In Built to keep Black from white , NBC News and BridgeDetroit have built a stunning narrative photo essay that encapsulates the history of Detroit’s Birwood Wall — a literal dividing line intended to separate neighborhoods inhabited by people of different races. 

The piece begins with a brief history of the concrete barrier. Between paragraphs of text, it weaves in quotes from residents who grew up as the wall was erected and a short video. Animated maps highlighting the affected neighborhoods unspool across the screen as you scroll down, accompanied by brief explanations of what the maps represent.

In the series of photographs that follow, contemporary images transition into decades-old shots of the wall when it was newly constructed. This is followed by images of original real estate documents, resident portraits, and additional animated maps — each considering the issue from different angles.

The piece ends with an interactive display of how Detroit’s racial makeup has changed over the past several decades, from majority white to black, and how the wall has impacted the lives of its residents who lived (and died) within its borders.

Screenshots from NBC's 'Built to keep Black from white,' a stunning narrative photo essay that encapsulates the history of Detroit’s Birwood Wall

The story of Black Lives Matter in sport

A footballer with 'Black Lives Matter' on his shirt.

The BBC pairs illustrations and bold imagery in this photo essay on how athletes participated in the Black Lives Matter movement . At the start, a narrow column of text leads into an iconic image of American football players kneeling during the pre-game national anthem in a solemn protest against police brutality. 

The first excerpt, a summary of Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012, draws you in with piercing prose capped off with photographs that bleed into one another. Every account in the photo essay follows this layout.

Screenshots from a BBC story on the Black Lives Matter movement in sport.

WaterAid Climate Stories

Dozens of boats sitting in a shallow harbour

Climate change affects everyone on the planet, but some people are feeling the effects more than others. WaterAid’s scrollytelling photo essay illuminates the plight of individuals living in areas where extreme weather conditions — caused by climate change — have drastically impacted the water supply and environment, endangering their livelihoods and ability to survive.

This climate change story starts with an engrossing video that provides an up-close and personal look at the devastation that climate change-induced droughts have wreaked on people and the environment. As you scroll down, images of massively depleted bodies of water with superimposed text and quotes unfold before your eyes. It’s an efficient way to drive home the critical message WaterAid wants to convey: climate change is real, and it’s harming real people.

Each extreme weather story focuses on an individual to help viewers empathise and understand that climate change has real, drastic consequences for millions of people worldwide. The piece ends with a call to action to learn more about and financially support WaterAid’s fight to assist people living in the desperate situations depicted in the essay.

Screenshots from WaterAid’s scrollytelling photo essay

28 Days in Afghanistan

A bike, a bus, and car in the thick smoke of Kabul

In this piece, Australian photo-journalist Andrew Quilty tells the story of the four weeks he spent in Afghanistan . He captures daily events ranging from the mundane—like a casual visit to his barber—to jarring. More than one photo documents blood-spattered victims of violence.

Viewers must scroll through the piece to follow Andrew’s daily musings and the striking photos that accompany them. His photo essay is a powerful example of how scrollytelling is transforming the art of long-form journalism .

Australian photo-journalist Andrew Quilty tells the story of the four weeks he spent in Afghanistan

La carrera lunática de Musk y Bezos (Musk and Bezos' lunatic careers)

An illustration of a SpaceX rocket careening away from Earth

Billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are angling to conquer the final frontier: space.

El Periódico captures their story via a whimsically illustrated photo essay, filled with neon line drawings and bold photos of the massive spaceships, the hangars that house them, and footprints on the moon. La carrera lunática de Musk y Bezos describes the battle between the two titans’ space companies (Blue Origin and SpaceX) for the honor of partially funding NASA’s next mission to the moon.

As you scroll down, white and fluorescent yellow words on a black background roll smoothly over images. The team at El Periódico slips in stylistic animations to break up the text—such as rocket ships with shimmering “vapour trails”—then ups the ante with a series of moon images that transition into portraits of the 12 U.S. astronauts who visited the celestial body.

The photo essay ends with the question: “Who will be the next to leave their footprints on the dusty lunar soil?” At the time of publishing, NASA had not yet decided between the two companies. (Spoiler alert: SpaceX won .)

Screenshots from El Periódico's story on the lunatic attempts by tech billionaires to go to space.

Marissa Sapega is a seasoned writer, editor, and digital marketer with a background in web and graphic design.

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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 287,000 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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  • ↑ 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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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.

Women holding polaroid

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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 ⬇️ 

Click here & get it today for a huge discount., ⬥ take more photos than you need .

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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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

digital photo essay example

The Photo Essay

About the Genre:

A photo essay is a collection of images that work together to tell a story. As we’ve seen, while photos are often considered incapable of lying because they “quote” from reality rather than altering it, pictures by themselves in isolation (both in time and space) are also often ambiguous and necessarily incomplete. Over time, the subjects of photos become distant and alien to their viewers. John Berger suggests that by creating stories with pictures, we can remedy such ambiguity and alienation by re-creating a “living context” that establishes a field of meaning that makes the photos come to life.

Unlike typical stories (say a written, oral, or video story), however, photo essays can’t provide continuous, seamless narrative meaning, since they are composed of single and “frozen” snapshots.  Therefore, the connections between images are always to a certain degree jarring and surprising. It is your job in this photo essay to compose a story that capitalizes on such surprise by helping the viewer see and build connections between your images. Together, they should contribute to a complex web of meaning that stimulates reflection on your topic and shows the things presented in a new and revealing light.  

S. Byttebier, PhD/Senior Lecturer

The Shot List  (ppt)

Photo essay storyboard

Handout on Captions and Cutlines

Handout on the Photo Essay Introduction

Student Example #1 “London in Color”

Student Example #2  “London: The Isolation of Rich and Poor”

IMAGES

  1. 17 Awesome Photo Essay Examples You Should Try Yourself

    digital photo essay example

  2. 17 Awesome Photo Essay Examples You Should Try Yourself

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  3. 15 Photo Essay Ideas (to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing)

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  4. Photo Essay Examples, and Tips for Writing a Good Photo Essay : Current

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  5. Pictures That Tell Stories: Photo Essay Examples Photography Skills

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  6. Photo Essay Rules [Examples for Students]

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VIDEO

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COMMENTS

  1. 18 Immersive Photo Essay Examples & Tips

    5. Place Over Time. View the "At Home in the Ozarks" photo essay by Kylee Cole. If you want to document changes and show how the streets, buildings, and parks in your city change over time, select your favorite locations and start to visit them regularly to capture the way they look during different seasons. 6.

  2. How to Create an Engaging Photo Essay (+ Examples)

    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.

  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. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 ...

  9. How to Create a Photo Essay

    Choose your photos according to whether or not they relate to and support the photo essay's title. Reject those photos that don't. If your collection seems to suggest a different angle, a ...

  10. How to Make a Photo Essay: 5 Tips for Impactful Results

    1. Find a topic you care about. Every good photo essay should start with an idea. Otherwise, you'll be shooting without a purpose - and while such an approach may eventually lead to an interesting series of photos, it's far, far easier to begin with a topic and only then take out your camera. As I emphasized above, a photo essay can be ...

  11. How to create a photo essay: Step-by-step guide with examples

    A photo essay is a collection of images that work together to tell a story. Photo essays come in all forms, from day-in-the-life series to long-term documentaries; they can feature people, animals, events, or landmarks. They might capture international news and politics or uncover the lives of regular citizens overlooked by mainstream media.

  12. Ten examples of immersive photo essays

    An immersive photo essay uses rich media and story design to capture and keep the reader's attention. Immersive content is typically free of the most distracting elements of the web, such as pop-ups, skyscrapers, and other intrusions on the reading experience. As a basic rule of thumb, immersive content respects the reader's attention.

  13. Ten Examples of Immersive Photo Essays

    By Marissa Sapega — Contributing Writer. Photo essays are one of the most powerful forms of storytelling in the last century. From the great depression photographer W. Eugene Smith to the photojournalism of National Geographic or Life Magazine, the best photo essays entertain, educate, and move readers more than words alone ever could.. But photo essays have changed.

  14. How to Make a Photo Essay (with Pictures)

    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.

  15. Pictures That Tell Stories: Photo Essay Examples

    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.

  16. Photo essay

    A photo essay is a form of visual storytelling that develops a narrative across a series of photographs. It originated during the late 1920s in German illustrated journals, initially presenting stories in the objective, distanced tone of news reporting. The photo essay gained wide popularity with the growth of photographically illustrated magazines such as VU (launched in Paris in 1928), LIFE ...

  17. Exploring the Picture Essay: Tips, Best Practices, and Examples

    Discover amazing picture essay examples, tips, and best practices. Publishers. ... From static pages of photos, to carousels and animated articles, photo essays come in many forms. With no-code tools like Vev, it's now easier than ever for journalists, designers, and publishers to create immersive, visually-led digital content to make their ...

  18. Digital Storytelling

    A jam-packed masterclass to level up your intuitiveness and confidence in creating a compelling photo essay. What you'll learn: Understand what is Digital Storytelling; Appreciate the advantages of using a Photo Essay to tell a story; Create a compelling Photo Essay with 4-step TAPE model; Strategies to speed up the creation of a Photo Essay

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

    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 ...

  20. 32 Photo Essay Examples (Plus Tips)

    32 Photo Essay Examples (Plus Tips) Photography is a medium that allows you to explore narratives and tell stories about the world around you. One form of storytelling is the photo essay. If you want to create your own photo essay, it can help to know the two main types of essays and some examples of potential subjects. In this article, we ...

  21. The Photo Essay

    The Photo Essay. About the Genre: A photo essay is a collection of images that work together to tell a story. As we've seen, while photos are often considered incapable of lying because they "quote" from reality rather than altering it, pictures by themselves in isolation (both in time and space) are also often ambiguous and necessarily ...

  22. Digital Storytelling

    Understand what is Digital Storytelling. Appreciate the advantages of using a Photo Essay to tell a story. Create a compelling Photo Essay with 4-step TAPE model. Strategies to speed up the creation of a Photo Essay. A systematic workflow that help you to intuit exactly which photos are the best fit for a photo essay.

  23. Photo essay assignments

    A photo essay is a series of photographs selected to tell a story. Photo essays may contain text but generally allow the photographs, or rather the subjects depicted in the photographs, to tell the story. Photo essay assignments are usually focused on the curatorial process of selecting the best images to create an impactful sequence of images.

  24. Why AP, other news organizations retracted photo of Princess Kate

    FILE - A dog walker passes Kensington Palace in London, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023. The first official photo of Kate, the Princess of Wales, since she underwent abdominal surgery nearly two months earlier, was pulled from circulation by The Associated Press and several other news organizations, Sunday, March 10, 2024, because the image appeared to have been manipulated.