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Photo Essays  

This LibGuide introduces students to the development and publication of Photo Essays.
Last Updated: May 14, 2010 URL: Print Guide

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Time for Research!

Whether you are documenting the cultural history of you grandfather, uncovering the process of breaking down an organism, or investigating the assassination of President Lincoln, you will need to do some research.  This is an important aspect of the photo essay, and one that requires you to study sources outside your own experience.  You can do this in many ways.  For example, to document the cultural history of your grandfather, you could:

  • hold an interview session with your grandfather and gather first-hand information.  
  • talk to any siblings or others that grew up with him to get different perspectives. 
  • research the time period and area in which your grandfather grew up so you can add specific details throughout the essay as needed. 

The same process will work for the other two topics listed above, as well as your own.  Who can you talk to about the topic?  What resources can you utilize that will help you in gathering facts and statistics? (e.g. textbooks, newspapers or magazines, journals, on-line forums).  There is so much information out there - you need to find it and use it wisely. 


Plan Your Approach

As you develop your photo essay, really think about how you are going to approach the topic.  This can certainly be a strong narrative or informational piece, but you can also approach it thematically.  For example, you can create a photo essay that focuses on the theme of child poverty, in which case you would document cases from your community or across the nation and use statistics and numerous stories to develop that theme.  However, you can also choose one child's story - a day in the life of a child of poverty.  In this case, you would record the experiences of that one child.  It is your decision, but it is an important one. 

Create a Storyboard

You have the idea for your photo essay, and you have been doing some preliminary research.  Now it's time to draft a storyboard so you can begin thinking about how your essay might be structured.  Don't worry if you don't have all the pieces yet; this is just an opportunity for you to begin plotting your ideas.  Sketch in possible pictures and write in ideas for text.  You can always change them later when you revise your piece.



First, I am going to show a picture of a seed and

explain how it gets transplanted from one place

to another, until it eventually takes root and

begins to grow. (Maybe 2 pictures instead)


Next, I think I'll show a picture of the seed underground

with a tiny plant growing from it, peeking out of the soil

to get sun.


Photo Tips

Here are a few of many websites that focus on photography.  The first website includes basic tips for taking good photographs, while the second website offers free digital photos for download.


Take Photos!

Now that you have the idea for your photo essay, it's time to plan your shots.  Consider the following questions as you prepare to take your pictures:

1.  From what point of view will your photos be "telling" the story? (from the point of view of the subject, the observer, or some other person?)

2.  What is the most important element you want to capture in each photo?

3.  What part of your essay does each picture represent?

4.  How will lighting, exposure, angle, etc. help capture the feeling you want in each photo?

5.  How can you avoid taking the same "kinds" of shots every time?







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