Creativity Exercise: How to Take a Photo Essay

There are many times when we will want more than just one picture of a event or activity, and there is where a photo essay comes in! Telling a story through images can be made much easier when we use several frames, rather than attempting to capture everything in just one or two shots.

To try to get the whole breadth of the story across, today I'm going to share with you a shooting "framework" that you can try to use to help make sure you capture it all when taking multiple images of the same activity. It's by no means exhaustive, but if you are the type of person (like me) who prefers to have something to work to, then you might just love this! 

Now, because it can be tricky to remember this framework when you are actually shooting, at least to begin with, I've created a little download for you which gives you a "cheat sheet" for the framework laid out in this post, and it also has ANOTHER another way of thinking about a photo essay that you may find easier. Grab it by clicking on the image below! (Did I mention it's free? No? It is 😄)

Let's get on with the photo essay "framework"!

1. The "Scene Setting" Shot

Your first shot is where you can "set the scene".

Although this can be absolutely anything, a good idea is to try to  show where the activity is taking place. However, that said, it definitely doesn't have to be a "pull back" - it could just as easily be a shot of the paints lined up ready for art time, or all the baking ingredients for making your kids favourite snack, or the snow boots lined up at the front door ready for your outing.  Basically, it's the starting point of your story and you are telling your viewer what the story is going to be about, or showing where it is taking place. 

2. The Smaller Details

I've said it before and I'll say it again (I'm not boring am I??!) it’s often the detail shots that tell the story best for me and will generally take a few of these, depending on how many things I want to capture, or how long I think I have before my subject downs tools and takes off 😃.

Try to include some of these tighter detail shots in your essay - this could be little hands holding a paintbrush, the way the light is coming in through the blinds,  or the mixing bowl from baking.  Anything that shows the smaller elements of the story.

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3. Who The Subject Is

Next, we want to show who is in our story.  Take close up of faces, and / or show the interaction between the subjects if you have more than one person in the frame.  It can also be an "environmental" portrait - where you show where the subject is.  This is great if you haven't done this back in the scene setting shot. 

4. Capture A Moment

There may be a moment during the activity where there is some activity going on that you want to capture - for example, a gesture, an expression or when your subject is at the peak of the action.  

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5. The End Shot

Finally, try to wrap up the story with a photograph that shows the ending of the activity.  Again, this can be anything - the finished muffins, the painting drying on the wall, or even the mess of your kitchen worktop after baking.  It can be of whatever seems like a natural place to end your story,

As you can see from the images that go along with this post, you can do this with absolutely any activity, big or small. 

Some tips for capturing your own photo essay.

1) Shoot from a variety from perspectives and angles

Shoot from above your subject, below, both sides and even below your subject! Each vantage point allows you to tell a different point of view or a different story, or just allows the viewer to feel more "immersed" in the story.  Shoot from close and afar to tell different parts of the story.  Need some inspiration? Check out this post about getting creative with your angles. 

2)  Try to different compositions

Shooting a variety of images is a great time to try out some different compositions. Start with the rule of thirds, but try to see if you can incorporate some more into your photo essay for good variety.  Yep, I got you covered here too, here's 10 different composition tools you can use. 

3) Shoot From The Heart

Allow yourself to shoot from the heart.  Although the above is formulaic, that doesn't meet your shooting needs to be! If you worry too much about making sure that your image is compositionally perfect, and has a good range of angles, and is technically sound, you may miss some of the moments that make the story. Be open to doing things differently and be ready to capture the unexpected! 

Your Creativity Exercise Challenge!

Although this is a creativity exercise you can do any time, this is part of an ongoing series of monthly challenges. So, if you like the idea of a monthly flex of your photography muscles, come back at the first Tuesday of every month for your creative assignment! (Missed January's? You can find it here)  

Here is your creative exercise for February! Take an everyday activity such as eating lunch or painting, and try to make a photo essay from it. Tell the story through setting the scene, introducing the characters, following the action and providing an end point. Remember to use different angles and perspectives to get different viewpoints, and to add detail shots to bring your story to life! 

Remember to download your free cheat sheet to help you with this exercise. Simply click on the image below to get it delivered instantly to your inbox! 

I’d love it if you could shareyour images on Instagram - use the hashtag #livesnaplove so we can all find one another!! 

P.S If you want to get your hands on a free photoshop and Lightroom collage template that is perfect for this exercise, go here,  See you in there!