How to Start Writing Your Photo-essay?

Today I wanna give you a short introduction on how to do a photoessay, based on my experiences, so as always there might be better or more compelling ways. So feel free to add those in the comments. The photoessay is also when it comes to multimedia productions the body of it as it tries to tell a story, so it is interesting to get a bit into that. Here are some ideas to think about.

1. Topic: At first and before any further thoughts what pictures you might need, you should think about the topic. What is the story? What do you wanna tell with the pictures? I always try to make that as clear as possible to myself to be sure what i need.

2. Research: If we start looking at it even before the shoot, do your research to get to know as much as possible about the story. It gives you the freedom to move and react more while you shoot. Normally, as long as you do documentary photography, it is not possible and also not the best way to start with a clear idea in your head, so that you just shoot what you thought before. That leads to stereotypes or at least single perspectives. I always try to be as open for everything what happens. I once was shooting a story on monks in Laos. I had this pictures in my head of them being so puristic, sleeping on the hard ground, eating once a day, of them praying and so on. And this was true in one way, but there were many more stories. That Phra, one of the monks had a computer and a english dictionary in his room. And while I was shooting suddenly a cellphone rang – of one of the monks. They started taking pictures of me as well with their phones. And at the end they gave me their mail adresses to sent them the pictures. Not really what I was thinking of before. But it was good to do the reasearch as it allowed me to see that in perspective and react on that.

3. Angle: Now you have done your shoot and it is about thinking about what you will need for this story. What are the major parts you want to tell? Where should it lead the attention to? Do you have a starting point and an end? Are there different angles to tell the story? Think outside the box. Try new stuff, new point of views (not only in the pictures).

4. Length: A photoessay, especially when presented in the web should normally not be longer than 15 pictures is my experience so far. We are used to a big amount of speed and it is hard to keep the attention, even when you have great pictures. A photoessay with ten really good pictures that combine all important aspects to make a far better story then when you put in your 30 best pictures, but they repeat the same aspects. Really try to think again: What tells the story? What is important for the story?

5. Parts: Think about the essay as a story. Every good story has a starting point, a body and a conclusion. In the classic photoessay this is shaped with a couple of different shots you include.

◾The establishing shot gives you an introduction and shows you where the story is taking place. Most of the times is is a wide-angle shot.
◾The medium shot is leading into the subject. It tells you more about it and how it belongs to the enviroment.
◾The close-up is a classic detail shot, giving you important single parts of the story.
◾The portrait is bringing the subject close and personal.
◾The moment is giving you special moments of the story. It could tell a little story in itself or be part of the bigger picture.
◾The closer is the shot that sums up the essay and leaves you with a thought or a conclusion.

This different parts don’t have to be in every photoessay in general. They are more giving you a direction what might help to tell the story, even when most photoessays at least have a establishing shot and a conclusion.

Talking about the speed of consum in the internet, it is important to catch the attention of the viewer directly. So maybe try switching the parts. Make your first shot not the establishing shot, but something like a ‘hook shot’ that pulls the viewer directly in the story. As always experiment with that.

6. Captions: The captions are another important part of the photoessay most of the times. I always try to have captions that do not tell what we already see in the picture. Let the captions add what your picture might not tell, like the names of people, their background or important information that could not be photographed. The captions allow you to give the story the last precision.

7. Experiment: All what I wrote before should be seen as a starting point. As there are thousand approaches to tell a story, if classic linear or non-linear, you have also all freedoms in your photoessay. Maybe you want to start with a certain moment and tell the story from there with what happend before and where it leads to. Or you mix different perspectives. Try it out. At the end it is important what tells the story best.