Tuesday, January 3, 2012
The Art & Craft Of Modern Storytelling
How to make a compelling photo essay in the Internet age
|This Article Features Photo Zoom|
What makes a photo essay or picture story (the terms are interchangeable) is a sequence of photographs that all together tell a story to an audience. A photo essay can't exist without an audience, which is worth bearing in mind when it comes to crafting one. If you simply want to show your best images, the place to do that is a gallery wall or a gallery feature in a magazine; it wouldn't qualify as a photo essay.
The Fundamental Structure Of A Photo Essay
A photo essay always has a theme, a reason for being and a carefully thought-through sequence of images. It's never just a collection of images thrown into a folder and up-loaded to make a scattering of images in print, on a gallery wall or in a slideshow. I don't mean this as throwaway advice, but as a way of introducing the idea of structure. The photo essay evolved, particularly through the 1940s to 1960s, as a way of telling a story mainly through pictures, and the heart always remained the "story."
A horse caravan passing the Bending Building in the 600-year-old town of Heshun in southwest Yunnan, China.
Look at any good photo essay—and there are many great examples from the history of magazine feature photojournalism—and you'll see that it has a clear structure. There's the opening shot, the body of the essay and the closing shot. These are the three. In addition, there will be one or maybe two high-impact images somewhere within the story. These are the "key shots," the one in three plus one. This structure forms the basic building blocks of any photo essay, and it also forms the basic structure of other narrative and artistic forms like the short story or music. Naturally, there are variations and complications that can be played with, but if you follow this fundamental structure, you're following a dramatic outline that works. Each photograph has a defined job to do.
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