How to Plan, Create and Execute a Photo Essay

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Photo essays are an awesome way to get messages across and have become even more important in today’s world since society is much more visual than they are textual. Traditionally, they were a fundamental tool for newspapers, but as time went on, websites and magazines started to use them to illustrate points and to inform. Today, they’re used even more so and in different ways of story telling. We did one a while back, but they can be far more developed than this and usually are.

Get the Idea

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer CAnon 1D X and 24-70mm f2.8 II Top Chep cookoff at Photo Plus 2012 (12 of 23)ISO 400

Well first off, you need an idea. There has to be some sort of purpose and reason that spurs the creation of whatever your photo essay will be about. It’s best if this reason affects other people or can be related to by others.

Photographers get ideas from various things like social problems, which are a big one for many photojournalists and for people that genuinely want to change or fix a problem. They can, however, be applied to other aspects of life, too, such as the creation of an awesome pastry or chronicling an athlete as they work through a struggle.

Get a solid idea first and then start to build on it.

Consider The Purpose

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 50mm f1.8 STM first impressions photos (1 of 43)ISO 1001-160 sec at f - 2.8

Here is the big part: the purpose. What exactly is the purpose of your photo essay? More over, why should someone pay attention to it or care about it?

In general, there are five different ways that photo essays can work:

Inform: this is a photo essay that works on telling a story to someone about an important event of some sort. Some great examples are the photo essays that came out of the Boston Bombing.

Entertain: Other photo essays can be used to entertain masses. This usually elicits some sort of emotion or response from the person. One of the biggest and most popular examples is images of cats.

Inspire: Photo essays that inspire look to get someone to care about a subject to the point where they actually take some sort of action.

Satiate: Indeed, there are photo essays out there that pretty much just satiate a human need. When I was a paparazzo, I learned about this from the agencies I worked for. Some people just like to look at images of specific things. It’s much more common than we all think.

Educate: The last type of photo essay looks to teach the viewer about something. The short essay we did on lens maintenance is an example of this type of essay.

Once you figure out what kind of an essay you want to do, you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to achieve that goal through your images. These goals should be kept in mind even after you’re done shooting and deep into the editing process.

Make a Plan and Execute

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 24-240mm f3.5-6.3 FE review images (63 of 64)ISO 2001-1000 sec at f - 5.6

After you have an idea, you have to figure out how you’re going to go about actually executing it. This may require travel, partnering up with other folks, or setting up something right at home. You’ll have to get a plan in action to actually accomplish your goals.

When you’re finishing making the plan, go ahead and go shoot. But keep in mind that your mind may be changed halfway through the project and you’ll get another idea of some sort–your plan may change and you’ll need to check it against your original goals.

Editing

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sony 24-240mm f3.5-6.3 FE review images (6 of 64)ISO 64001-1250 sec at f - 3.5

You’re almost done. When you’re all done shooting (or as you’re in the process of shooting), go through the images and make selections of the best ones that suit your goals. Images don’t need to be in chronological order necessarily. They just need to tell a story.

Pitch

Lastly, you’ll most likely want to pitch your photo essay. In your pitch, consider the fact that an Editor or gatekeeper of some sort is on limited time. You’ll need to find a way to make them care about the project within a short amount of time and get them to maybe click links or page through your work. Here’s where you need to bundle the project and make it all about them. Each pitch to individuals should be tailored accordingly, and you should never make the same pitch twice.