On Sequence, Part 1: Developing the Fundamentals

One of my (many) favorite things about photography is the depth and complexity it can achieve in a series format. Photographs portraying myriad people, places and things can be put next to one another, and suddenly a story emerges that wasn’t apparent until you arranged them in a specific order.

There is point and counterpoint, narration and narrative, a beginning and an end. But if you mix those very same photographs up into a different sequence, another story will emerge. That is the power of sequence. And that’s why it’s so important to get it right.

To me, this part of the process is what separates casual photographers from the dedicated and passionate, simply because the act of sequencing is so time-consuming and difficult, not to mention elusive. It’s a daunting process because there can be countless combinations in how you arrange the sequence of images. But that shouldn’t deter you from your goal: What story do you want to tell? And what selection and sequence tells that story?

A really powerful collection of images reads like potent literature—an essay, a poem, a short story or a novel. And just as in other art forms, including photography, the underpinnings of these literary forms of storytelling usually go unnoticed by the reader.

Today, visual communication is more common than ever, but just how it communicates messages mostly takes place subconsciously, a bit under the radar, much like effective advertising campaigns do. Sometimes how an image manages to affect us is a mystery. However, oftentimes, if you look closely, you’ll realize that you’ve actually seen that image in the midst of other images.   

Sequencing for the photographer is a lot about developing visual literacy, which means closely studying a great many collections of photographs in order to understand which sequences make you feel something. You’ll then need to analyze how a photographer or photo editor achieves such cohesion and engagement.

This is when having mentors and peers is really key, because you can talk it out together. When you come across a really moving body of work, how did it manage to be so moving? Sometimes the answer to that question can only be unearthed when you have a conversation out loud about it.

Later this week, we’ll share more thoughts that pull back the curtain on sequencing. Stay tuned!



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