Visualizing your work: a Photo Essay

IMG_0047Guide to shooting a Photo Essay

A photo essay is a collection of selected photographs that are threaded together with supporting text, length between 2 – 40 lines.

Sophisticated photo series follow a carefully developed story board and have several common threads portrayed such as people, scenery, theme or style.

A good photo story requires a range of different photographs.


It’s a good idea to plan the story before you start taking the pictures, although a series of action shots can be assembled, if they are selected with your story plot in mind. An effective start is a photo that introduces your subject to the readers or viewers.

PMK's work

PMK’s work


  • Pick a subject that interests you.
  • Decide on a theme or your viewpoint.
  • Make a list of shots that would reinforce and illustrate the theme.
  • Make a list of possible locations to take a picture.
  • Visit the site for several days and at different times.
  • Get to know your subjects in the picture,
  • In any case ask their permission and hunt for quotes
  • Sort the pictures by relevance.
  • Construct photo essay into a flowing story

Use close-up photos as well as some wider pictures to show your subject’s environment, but remember to include something in the foreground to add impact.

Practical tip: When you take the picture, remember to look up or down to see what is around you. You might get a better shot if you kneel, or find a position to look down from. Mid day photographs with full sun often lack shadows and interesting detail, experiment with taking a similar shot at different times of the day

A completed photo essay will have no more than 12 photographs, but you can add a few more as background or ask the editor to choose from.



Final Customer display

Words: Each picture will need a caption, banner or headline

The Who, what, why, where and when is a good place to start when gathering information for the caption.

Make sure to use text that brings the essay to life.

Different methods can be used for this, such as: use quotes from the people in the picture; give a description of how you are feeling; Real questions are another powerful strategy to follow or a simple plot of building up interest or some tension.

Be careful not to use to many words. A Rule of Thumb: no more than 40 per picture.

Shooting a Photo Essay:

The theme you choose to follow or highlight is your signature and acknowledges the  intended viewpoint or thesis you want to present, similar to a written essay.

The photos reinforce the thesis. Pictures can tell the story of a thousand words! Shooting photo essays is not difficult and offers great practice for the photographer. It forces the photographer to think out the photo shoot in advance and to plan the shots accordingly.



Remember to carry model release forms with you and ask permission before shooting. Some people are flattered to be asked and others may treat you like a criminal. Respect their wishes and get a signed permission form whenever possible,

especially if working with children.


All photo’s courtesy of Peter Maarten Kerkhoven, Tierra BV. Use of pictures by third parties only after prior permission.

[1] based on Teacher Dude's Grill and BBQ Too Teaching, journalism, photography and the like and  Photo Essays Step by Step - Wendy Folse

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