Use The 8 Classic Shots Of Photo Essays To Tell Better Stories

Every picture tells a story. Combine pictures to form an essay, and your storytelling options multiply. This is one way to tell a more complete story, add depth, complexity, counterpoint, nuance, show change over time, and so much more. A photo essay transcends a single lucky shot. It demonstrates commitment, focus, versatility, and skills of another order. 

Essays have definite structures, with a clear beginning, middle, and end – often with standard components that flesh out and advance a story in critical ways. Journalists excel at this type of storytelling. Sometimes they even use cinematic conventions, components, and strategies. Moviemakers storyboard their creations before filming commences. Cinematographers and film editors ultimately develop their own styles with how they handle these devices, and they can also become a part of your style.

Identifying the necessary components of an essay is the first step. Once you know the types of images you need to tell your story, you’ll know what to shoot while you’re on location and maybe even when you need to be there. If you don’t identify these elements beforehand and make sure you come back with each of them, you may find you lack critical pieces. There will be holes in your story. And you may have to return to finish it – if you can. 

Even if your work isn’t narrative, learning these skills will help you create more images, be more versatile, make stronger comparisons and contrasts, and create more effective continuity and transitions between images.

These are the classic elements used to structure a photo essay presented in order of appearance.

1 Introduction
2 Set the Stage
3 Identify the Main Character
4 Significant Detail
5 Human Interest
6 Decisive Moment
7 Outcome
8 Conclusion 

You could say all other images included in an essay are just variations of these few types of images. I’d be surprised if exceptions couldn’t be found, but they would be exceptions. These are worth committing to memory and ultimately making second nature. If you do, you’ll become a more capable and versatile photographer.

What is the function of each image type? 


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Use The Power Of Storyboarding To Structure Your Photographic Explorations

The first time I went to Namibia I used this storyboard to find more ideas and structure my thinking.

Find out how it worked out at the end of this article.

 

Movies are rarely shot without storyboarding them. Consider storyboarding your still photography projects too.

A storyboard is a hand-drawn map or timeline that identifies the various types of images needed to advance a story and the transitions between them. They identify the beginning, middle, and end of a story and the shots needed to move from one to the other. Storyboards create a guiding structure or framework that can help focus and strengthen your work. 

You can use storyboards to structure your thinking when you’re developing still photography projects. Storyboards can help you do many different things, including finding out what your story is, generating ideas, identifying the shots you need, creating stronger relationships between separate images, and telling your story in more compelling ways.

Creating a storyboard doesn’t take long. You can create a simple storyboard in as few as two sketches – before and after or beginning and end. Then you can continue adding more frames to develop your story further.


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Continuity


Continuity. Every screenwriter needs to create it. Every storyboard needs to interpret it. Every director needs to guide it. Every editor needs to refine it. If you’re a still photographer, you may be called to do all of these things.
Continuity lies at the heart of the art of storytelling. The types of images selected and the transitions made between images presented in groups can be powerful tools for visual communication. Sequences can provide useful comparisons and contrasts between separate images and their contents. They set a pace and rhythm for looking. Carefully orchestrated they can create the illusion of moving in time forward or backward, linearly or non-linearly. They can be used in extremely creative ways. The best sequences make images clearer, more meaningful, and more moving.
Photographers can use continuity to guide and structure initial explorations on site; use a storyboard as a checklist to make sure no angle goes uncovered. Photographers can use continuity to find missing gaps or resolve challenging transitions in ongoing projects; update a storyboard and find the out what you’ve got too much of and what you don’t have enough of or find a bridges to connect disparate images. Photographers can use continuity to edit, sequence, and present existing work more effectively; fine tune a story in sophisticated and compelling ways; there are many possible solutions.
There are many classic strategies for sequencing images and creating transitions between them.
Persistence
Pans
Zooms
Fades
Numbers
Cuts
Include continuity in your work and you’ll find you’ll be able to solve many more visual challenges in many more ways and make the reception of your work more effective and powerfully felt. Once you understand what the many possibilities are and how they work, you can be extremely creative with them. Some artists have even been celebrated more for their use of continuity than their singular images. Continuity is so powerful that it can be an art in and of itself.
Read more on AfterCapture.
Learn more about storytelling here.
Learn more in my digital photography workshops.