Photo-Essay Ideas Part 2

Photo-Essay Ideas Part 2 follows on from my Photo Essay Ideas article which gives guidelines for creating an essay.

I would suggest you read that one first and then come back to this one afterwards to the most out of the two articles.


Photo Essay Ideas No 1:   

Although the photographs don't necessarily need any text with them, you need good captions. Be aware though, the captions are not there to tell the story, they are there to offer the facts. The photo must tell the story. There is a difference. Captions are short by their very nature so you need to learn how to be concise while putting across the information you want.

Photo Essay Ideas No 2: 

Although variety is important in your photos, if it is longish, say 15 photos or more,  then you need to give it a structure otherwise visually it just becomes a series of one photo after the other.

Photo Essay Ideas No 3:  

Not all photo essays are linear. You can pick a theme and show a variety of aspects around that theme but even though the pictures won't be sequential they must still make sense to your reader. So the order of the photos is important.

Photo Essay Ideas No 4: 

When you edit down from say 50 photographs to 10 photographs, be ruthless. Often we are attached to certain photographs that have for example a powerful composition but it may just be the case that the photo in question doesn't really fit in with the sequence. It can be hard sometimes to spot this. It isn't always the most emotional pictures that need to go in, your audience also needs information so try to balance the two.

Photo-Essay Ideas No. 5: Learn to Critique Your Own Work

Learn to critique your own work. Criticizing Photographs by Terry Barrett is designed to do just that. Barrett helps both beginning and advanced students of photography better develop and articulate thoughtful criticism. helps both beginning and advanced students of photography better develop and articulate thoughtful criticism.

Organized around the major activities of criticism (describing, interpreting, evaluating, and theorizing), the book provides a clear framework and vocabulary for students' critical skill development. offers a broad discussion of digital images, and a chapter on studio critiques and writing about photographs, plus examples of student writing and critique. 

Photo-Essay Ideas No. 6: Study the Work of Others

Study the photo essays of great photographers - this is the best way to learn. One of the best documentary photographers today is Mary Ellen Mark. Two great books by Mark are The Photo Essay, which contains photographs of famine victims in Ethiopia, the white ruling-class of Zimbabwe after its government was ousted, and, probably her most famous series, prostitutes along Bombay's Falkland Road.

Keep up-to-date with photo essays online - visit Time.com for more great examples.

If you would like to see a photo essay which I created whilst travelling through China, follow the link to the online magazine article on China's female spiritual imams or spiritual teachers (ahong in Mandarin). If you don't want to read the introductory blurb you can click where it says VIEW THE PHOTO ESSAY to jump straight in.

Photo-Essay Ideas: No 7: Get Your Own Work Online

Please don't leave your work on your hard drive - there are so many opportunities to show your work  online, at little cost if any, and I highly recommend SocialDocumentary.net, an organisation for photographers from all over the world who want to document and exhibit photographs concerning issues that affect them and us.

SDN invites photographers to exhibit their photo essays online, and they have fairly high standards. Your work must be aesthetically good and technically acceptable. However, less than 10% of exhibits are rejected so it's definitely worth considering, even for beginners.

You do have to pay a small sum to exhibit with them though - it is $0.85 per image per year. However, you can also take advantage of their 90-day free  trial - no credit card required. If you go for the free-trial option there is an upper limit of 36 images for your essay. All exhibits, paid or otherwise, must be at least six images. So a six-image online photo-essay would cost a mere $5.01 for one year. Affordable! And six images is doable!

Even if you don't want to exhibit with them, you can become a member free of charge and they will send you their monthly newsletter which contains links to some really interesting documentary exhibits. This is a great resource if you want to learn more about how to make a photo essay and documentary photography in general.

Photo-Essay Ideas No. 8: Make Money 

If you want to make money from your photo essays, you might be interested in The Photo Essay - How to Make Money With Your Camera which is available for Kindle only at around $3-4. If you don't have a Kindle you can download the software for your desktop PC or your laptop from Amazon, and of course it's free.

Photo-Essay Ideas No. 9: Have Fun!

Making a photo essay is a chance for you to add another level of creativity to your images. It's virtually an art form in itself. You are the editor, and you have total control over what goes in and what doesn't. So my final tip is to be creative and, more importantly, have fun!


I hope you enjoyed this article. You might also enjoy reading my articles on Documentary Photography  and Photojournalism.  Also, I have a whole section on Famous Photographers which is well worth browsing.

› Photo-Essay Ideas Part 2


Top of Page