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18 Immersive Photo Essay Examples & Tips

By Tata Rossi 13 days ago, Professional photography

photo essays by students

A photo essay tells a story or evokes emotion through a series of photographs. The essays allow you to be creative and fully explore an idea. Such essays exist in a variety of forms – from photos only to images with brief comments or written essays accompanied by shots. Choose a photo essay example that you can easily do based on your professional level and the equipment you use.

1. Protests

  • View the “Resistance” photo essay by David Moore .

A great idea for photo essays for students is to shoot the protest to show its power. You can capture people with signs and banners to demonstrate what they are standing for. Besides, you can learn how to capture moving subjects. Use the best example of photo essay and don’t forget about angles, composition, and framing.

To create a photo essay , go up to the front and photograph the leader of the protesters walking forward. After that, go back to the end of the group to take pictures of families joining the protest. As a result, you will gain experience shooting big groups of people in motion.

2. Transformation

  • View the “A Self-Portrait Every Day” photo essay by Noah Kalina .

This idea is all about capturing the way a person changes. You may take photos of a pregnant woman and then capture the same model with a child. By documenting the development of the child for several years, you can tell a great story in the form of a photo essay.

However, you can also create a photo essay about the transformation of different objects. For instance, you can create a time-lapse series to capture the history of a renovated building. While you will have to take a lot of similar photos to bring this idea to life, it will allow you to achieve an impressive result.

3. Local Event

  • View the “Monday Marathon” photo essay by Quinn G. Perini .

Whether you are a resident of a large city or a small town, you can find an opportunity to visit a local event, like a marathon or a festival. This is a nice chance to follow modern photography trends and bring photo essay ideas to life.

You can capture the before-and-after stages of the event. Arrive earlier and take pictures of the preparation activities, then shoot the actual event starting with the official beginning.

Keep photographing even when the event is over and capture the cleaning up and disassembling processes.

4. Photowalk

  • View the “Empty Campus” photo essay by Elise Trissel .

Explore the location where you live and find interesting objects to capture in the vicinity. Using the most interesting photo essay examples, you can decide how to make the best decisions. Don’t hurry and try to discover which angles you can use to capture the unique atmosphere of each place.

If you live in the city, you may capture architectural details, wide shots of busy streets, or just take photos of passersby and street signs. Think about the details that make every location unique. For instance, you can try capturing reflections to see how they allow you to see the city from an unusual angle. You can find reflections everywhere, so be sure to pay attention to mirrored buildings, puddles, and fountains.

5. Place Over Time

  • View the “At Home in the Ozarks” photo essay by Kylee Cole .

If you want to document changes and show how the streets, buildings, and parks in your city change over time, select your favorite locations and start to visit them regularly to capture the way they look during different seasons.

  • View the “Last Moments” photo essay by Ross Taylor .

You don’t necessarily have to focus on profound photo essay topics to evoke emotions. Capturing pets enjoying their worry-free and untroubled life seems like an easy but interesting activity.

Choose any animal – from a domestic bird to a dog, cat, or horse. For more emotional images, use such pet photography ideas when your pet is still a baby and recreate these shots when it is older or is in its final days.

7. Street Style

  • View the Tribal Street Photography photo essay by Hans Eijkelboom .

People often express themselves with the help of clothes. The way passers-by on the streets are dressed may reflect the clothing style of a whole society. That’s why you can travel around the world and capture people’s outfits in various areas. When taking portrait photos in the streets, you can also include some of the surroundings to put them in the context.

You can ask people in the streets to pose for you or try to capture them in movement. Select a suitable location for taking photos and create a photo essay to document what kinds of people one can meet in this location. When doing urban photography , you should ask people for permission before taking photos of them. You can ask their contacts and send them your photos later.

8. Abandoned Building

  • View the “Lost Collective” photo essay by Bret Pattman .

Old buildings are excellent architecture photography essay topics for students since you can capture a large number of elements. They allow you to imagine what a particular street looked like in the past. You may use a photo essay example for students as references.

Get approval before going in, but mind that such places are far from being totally safe. Bring various lenses: the macro lenses – for details and the wide-angle one – when you want to include many elements in one shot.

9. Alternative Lifestyles

  • View the “Last Nomad Hippies” photo essay by Roberto Palomo .

Some people decide to lead a lifestyle that differs from the one generally accepted by society. Explore different areas and look for people with an unusual way of living. You can capture candid photos of regular people or take pictures of a person with an unusual hobby.

Take pictures of those, who reside in extraordinary conditions, representatives of various subcultures, or the LBGTQ community. These photo essay topics show other people that it is okay to go out of their comfort zone and run against the wind.

10. Social Issues

  • View the “Juveniles in Prison” photo essay by Isadora Kosofsky .

The best photo essay examples for students are related to social issues, like unemployment, domestic violence, gender discrimination, and more. Address the topic carefully and look for a proper perspective.

Your shots may draw the people’s attention to a truly burning and relevant matter and have a stronger effect than any text.

11. Behind the Scenes

  • View the “Follow Me” photo essay by Marius Masalar .

If you are going to visit an event, get ready to take some behind-the-scenes photos. For instance, you can document the preparations for a festival. Capture the work of the lead event planner and other professionals to tell the story of the festival from an unusual angle.

Alternatively, you can capture the events happening backstage during a drama production. Take pictures of actors and actresses when they are getting ready for the performance. Try capturing the emotions of the main lead and show how stage workers make final preparations. You can also document the work of designers and makeup professionals.

12. Landmarks

  • View the “Volte-Face” photo essay by Oliver Curtis .

The pictures of landmarks are typically taken from a certain spot. One of the best photo essay ideas is to try shooting sights from various angles. You will also have an opportunity to improve your composition and your framing skills.

If you take a look at any pictorial essay example, you will see that the variety of perspectives is endless: through the streets, in the morning, afternoon, and evening, with a drone or including reflections.

    • View the “Family” photo essay by Olivia Moore .

You can capture the way family members interact with each other and demonstrate the strong connection they share. In some cases, it makes sense to focus on capturing candid photos when doing family photography .

However, you may also opt for a different approach and focus on more difficult social topics. For instance, if you want to examine the issue of immigration, you can take pictures of a family from another country. In addition, you may show how families cope with other social issues, including poverty or unequal access to healthcare.

14. A Day in the Life

  • View the “A Day in the Life of Carlos Gaytan” photo essay by Sandy Noto .

One of the best photo essays concepts is related to a day in a person’s life. The main character can be any person – a relative, family member, teacher, writer, or policeman.

People are generally interested in finding out facts about the lives and daily routines of others. The life of every human is incredible, especially if you learn it in more detail. This idea is especially suitable for taking documentary photos. For instance, you can select any photo essay sample you like and then capture a portrait of a person with the tools they use for their work.

15. Education

  • View the “School Day” photo essay by Nancy Borowick .

You can also take great photos in the classroom capturing the interactions of teachers and their students. Avoid distracting them, as it will be easier for you to take natural shots. Using a variety of settings, you can make your photo essay more engaging. For instance, you may visit chemistry labs, capture teachers during a break, and take photos in other locations.

  • View the “Meals From the Motherland” photo essay by James Tran .

You can also focus on specific meals to create a professional photo essay about food. To make it more attention-grabbing, try using different food photography ideas .

For instance, you can take photos of popular meals, capture the meals made by a specific person, or document cooking traditions in different countries. When taking photos in a restaurant, pay attention to the surroundings as well to capture the unique atmosphere of a place.

17. Capture the Neighbors

  • View the “Our Neighbors” photo essay by Jeanne Martin .

Regardless of the place where you live, you have to establish good relationships with your neighbors. People who live nearby can also be great models for professionals who specialize in portrait photography. To implement this idea, make sure to capture people at home or in front of their houses to include some of the surroundings in your photo essay.

You will discover many interesting facts about people who live nearby. Shooting a photo essay will allow you to learn them better and establish a strong connection with them. This way, you can create a sense of community and discover what holds its members together.

18. Climate Change

  • View the “Effects of Climate Change” photo essay by Sanya Gupta .

It is possible to a variety of photo story ideas bring to life examining the impact of climate change. Travel to places most affected by climate change, for instance, glaciers or famous resorts.

Capture the way the continuous drought has influenced the environment, animals, and the inhabitants. As an alternative, take pictures of environmentalist protests or inexhaustible energy sources.

Photo Essay Tips for Students

Explore your topic . An in-depth exploration of the main topic of your photo essay will help you find the best ideas for conveying your message. You can also find some sources for inspiration and useful materials. This stage allows you to learn more about your subject and select the best way of organizing your photo essay.

Create a storyboard . Using a storyboard, you can better understand what shots you need to take and what order can help you to tell a story in the best way. It will also allow you to create the right mood.

Take as many pictures as you can . To create a compelling story, make sure to take a lot of photos. It will allow you to choose the best pictures for your photo essay. Besides, you will always have backup photos if some of your pictures get damaged.

Experiment with different techniques . By changing the angle and using a variety of editing techniques, you can transform the way your photos look. When taking photos, try using different angles to capture the subject in the best way. You can also try changing the distance from the model, using black-and-white film, or employing a range of developing methods.

Add text . While some photographers create photo essays without text, it can still help you bring your point across more clearly and make it easier for a viewer to understand what you imply. By providing extra information, such as some facts, you can change the perception of your image. If you don’t know how to write descriptions, you can hire a professional writer to perform this task.

Enhance your photos . To edit your pictures, make sure to use professional photo editing software like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. Using the available tools, you can improve and change your photos. They allow you to fix issues with lighting, adjust WB, make colors richer, crop your pics to improve the composition, and perform other tasks. In case you need to edit your photos in a consistent style, you can use Photoshop Actions or Lightroom Presets.

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16+ Photo Essay Examples & Samples in PDF

Photo Essay Examples

We all know that photographs tell a story. These still images may be seen from various perspectives and are interpreted in different ways. Oftentimes, photographers like to give dramatic meaning to various scenarios. For instance, a blooming flower signifies a new life. Photographs always hold a deeper meaning than what they actually are.

In essay writing , photographs along with its supporting texts, play a significant role in conveying a message. Here are some examples of these kinds of photo-text combinations.

What is Photo Essay?

A photo essay is a visual storytelling method that utilizes a sequence of carefully curated photographs to convey a narrative, explore a theme, or evoke specific emotions. It goes beyond individual images, aiming to tell a cohesive and impactful story through the arrangement and combination of pictures.

Components of a Photo Essay:

1. Introduction or Lead Photo:

The first photo serves as an introduction, capturing attention and setting the tone for the narrative.

2. Scene-setting Shots:

Establish the context and location through images that provide an overview of the environment or situation.

3. Detail Shots:

Close-up shots focus on specific elements or details, adding depth and nuance to the story.

4. Sequential Flow:

Photos are organized in a logical sequence to guide viewers through the narrative, creating a visual flow.

5. Captions and Text:

Captions or accompanying text provide context, background information, and insights, enhancing the viewer’s understanding.

6. Variety of Perspectives:

Incorporate a variety of perspectives, angles, and compositions to maintain visual interest.

7. Emotional Impact:

Use images that evoke emotions, allowing viewers to connect with the story on a personal level.

8. Conclusion or Closing Image:

Conclude the essay with a strong, conclusive image that leaves a lasting impression.

Examples of Photo Essay Topics:

  • Documenting a community event or festival
  • Exploring social issues or human rights topics
  • Capturing the daily life of a specific profession or community
  • Telling a personal journey or life experience
  • Portraying environmental changes or conservation efforts

Tips for Creating a Photo Essay:

1. Theme and Purpose:

Clearly define the theme or message you want to convey through your photo essay.

2. Planning and Research:

Plan your shots in advance, conduct research on the subject, and be prepared to adapt as the story unfolds.

3. Consistency in Style:

Maintain a consistent photographic style, including color schemes, editing techniques, and composition.

4. Narrative Flow:

Ensure a smooth and logical progression of images to guide viewers through the story.

5. Engaging Captions:

Craft captions that complement and enhance the visual elements, providing additional context or insights.

6. Viewer Consideration:

Keep your target audience in mind, considering how they will perceive and connect with the visual narrative.

Best Photo Essay Example?

One notable example of a powerful photo essay is “The Photographic Essay: Paul Fusco’s ‘RFK Funeral Train'” by Paul Fusco. This photo essay captures the emotional journey of the train carrying the body of Robert F. Kennedy from New York to Washington, D.C., after his assassination in 1968.

Fusco’s images beautifully and poignantly document the mourning and respect shown by people along the train route. The series is a moving portrayal of grief, unity, and the impact of a historical moment on the lives of ordinary individuals. The photographs are both artistically compelling and deeply human, making it a notable example of the potential for photo essays to convey complex emotions and historical narratives.

16+ Photo Essay Examples in PDF

1. narrative photo essay format example.

narrative photo essay

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2. Student Photo Example Example

student photo example

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3. Great Depression Essay Example

great depression essay

4. Example of Photo Essay

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5. Photo Essay Examples About Nature

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What Is a Photo Essay?

From the name given, a photo essay is a written article consisting of a collection of images and texts. It has the ability to tell a story through a progression of events, emotions, and concepts. You see, there are times when photographs cannot stand alone.

You can present a picture of an old, worn-out chair and nobody will see it more than it is. If you create a photo essay to explain how such a chair was used by President Roosevelt, then people will begin to look at the photograph with awe. This is the same for free essays , as it is sometimes difficult to create mental images through mere wording.

Overall, a photo essay is still the same as a normal short essay , except that ideas are translated into visual images.

How to Write a Photo Essay

First of all, you would need to find a topic that you are interested in. With this, you can conduct thorough research on the topic that goes beyond what is common. This would mean that it would be necessary to look for facts that not a lot of people know about. Not only will this make your essay interesting, but this may also help you capture the necessary elements for your images.

Remember, the ability to manipulate the emotions of your audience will allow you to build a strong connection with them. Knowing this, you need to plan out your shots. With the different emotions and concepts in mind, your images should tell a story along with the essay outline .

6. Travel Photo Example

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7. Free Photo Essay Example

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Purpose of a Photo Essay

With good writing skills , a person is able to tell a story through words. However, adding images for your essay will give it the dramatic effect it needs. The photographs and the text work hand in hand to create something compelling enough to attract an audience.

This connection goes beyond something visual, as photo essays are also able to connect with an audience emotionally. This is to create an essay that is effective enough to relay a given message.

5 Tips for Creating a Photo Essay

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. Find the right angle and be dramatic with your description, just be creative.
  • Pay attention to detail. Chances are, your audience will notice every single detail of your photograph.
  • Shoot everything. Behind a single beautiful photo is a hundred more shots.
  • Don’t think twice about editing. Editing is where the magic happens. It has the ability to add more drama to your images.
  • Have fun. Don’t stress yourself out too much but instead, grow from your experience.

Most Interesting Photo Essays of 2019

Now that you are educated with the fundamentals of photo essays, why not lay eyes on some great photo essays for inspiration. To give you a glimpse of a few epitomes, we collected the best and fascinating photo essays for you. The handpicked samples are as follows:

8. Toys and Us

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This photo essay presents its subject which is the latest genre of photography, toy photography. In this type of picture taking, the photographer aims to give life on the toys and treat them as his/her model. This photography follows the idea of a toy researcher, Katrina Heljakka, who states that also adults and not only children are interested in reimagining and preserving the characters of their toys with the means of roleplay and creating a story about these toys. This photo essay is based on the self-reflection of the author on a friend’s toys in their home environment.

9. The Faces of Nature Example

the faces of nature

This photo essay and collection caters the creativity of the author’s mind in seeing the world. In her composition, she justified that there are millions of faces that are naturally made that some of us have not noticed. She also presented tons of photos showing different natural objects that form patterns of faces. Though it was not mentioned in the essay itself, the author has unconsciously showcased the psychological phenomenon, pareidolia. This is the tendency to translate an obscure stimulus that let the observer see faces in inanimate objects or abstract patterns, or even hearing concealed messages in music.

10. The Country Doctor Example

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This photo essay depicts the medical hardships in a small rural town in Colorado called Kremling. For 23 days, Smith shadowed Dr. Ernest Ceriani, witnessing the dramatic life of the small town and capturing the woeful crisis of the region. The picture in this photographic essay was photographed by Smith himself for Life magazine in 1948 but remained as fascinating as it was posted weeks ago.

11. New York City Coffeehouses

new york city coffeehouses

Café Latte, cappuccino, espresso, or flat white—of course, you know these if you have visited a coffee shop at least once. However, the photographer of this photo essay took it to a whole new level of experience. Within two to three days of visiting various coffee places, Mr. Gavrysh stayed most of his day observing at the finest details such as the source of the coffee, the procedure of delivering them, and the process of roasting and grounding them. He also watched how did the baristas perfect the drinks and the reaction of the customers as they received their ordered coffee with delights in their faces. Gavrysh did not mean to compose a coffeehouse guide, but to make a composition that describes modern, local places where coffee is sipped and treated with respect.

12. Hungry Planet: What The World Eats

hungry planet

13. Photo Essay Example

photo essay example

14. Photo Essay in PDF

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15. Sample Photo Essay Example

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16. Basic Photo Essay Example

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17. Printable Photo Essay Example

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One of the basic necessity of a person to live according to his/her will is food. In this photo essay, you will see how these necessities vary in several ways. In 2005, a pair of Peter Menzel and Faith D’ Aluisio released a book that showcased the meals of an average family in 24 countries. Ecuador, south-central Mali, China, Mexico, Kuwait, Norway, and Greenland are among the nations they visited.  This photo essay is written to raise awareness about the influence of environment and culture to the cost and calories of the foods laid on the various dining tables across the globe.

Photo essays are not just about photographic aesthetics but also the stories that authors built behind those pictures. In this collection of captivating photo essays, reflect on how to write your own. If you are allured and still can’t get enough, there’s no need for you to be frantic about. Besides, there are thousands of samples and templates on our website to browse. Visit us to check them all out.

What are good topics for a photo essay?

1. Urban Exploration:

Document the unique architecture, street life, and cultural diversity of urban environments.

2. Environmental Conservation:

Capture the beauty of natural landscapes or document environmental issues, showcasing the impact of climate change or conservation efforts.

3. Everyday Life in Your Community:

Showcase the daily lives, traditions, and activities of people in your local community.

4. Family Traditions:

Document the customs, rituals, and special moments within your own family or another family.

5. Youth Culture:

Explore the lifestyle, challenges, and aspirations of young people in your community or around the world.

6. Behind-the-Scenes at an Event:

Provide a backstage look at the preparation and execution of an event, such as a concert, festival, or sports competition.

7. A Day in the Life of a Profession:

Follow a professional in their daily activities, offering insights into their work, challenges, and routines.

8. Social Issues:

Address important social issues like homelessness, poverty, immigration, or healthcare, raising awareness through visual storytelling.

9. Cultural Celebrations:

Document cultural festivals, ceremonies, or celebrations that showcase the diversity of traditions in your region or beyond.

10. Education Around the World:

Explore the various facets of education globally, from classrooms to the challenges students face in different cultures.

11. Workplace Dynamics:

Capture the atmosphere, interactions, and diversity within different workplaces or industries.

12. Street Art and Graffiti:

Document the vibrant and dynamic world of street art, capturing the expressions of local artists.

13. Animal Rescues or Shelters:

Focus on the efforts of organizations or individuals dedicated to rescuing and caring for animals.

14. Migration Stories:

Explore the experiences and challenges of individuals or communities affected by migration.

15. Global Food Culture:

Document the diversity of food cultures, from local markets to family meals, showcasing the role of food in different societies.

How do you start a picture essay?

1. Choose a Compelling Theme or Topic:

Select a theme or topic that resonates with you and has visual storytelling potential. It could be a personal project, an exploration of a social issue, or a visual journey through a specific place or event.

2. Research and Conceptualize:

Conduct research on your chosen theme to understand its nuances, context, and potential visual elements. Develop a conceptual framework for your photo essay, outlining the key aspects you want to capture.

3. Define Your Storytelling Approach:

Determine how you want to convey your narrative. Consider whether your photo essay will follow a chronological sequence, a thematic structure, or a more abstract and conceptual approach.

4. Create a Shot List:

Develop a list of specific shots you want to include in your essay. This can help guide your photography and ensure you capture a diverse range of images that contribute to your overall narrative.

5. Plan the Introduction:

Think about how you want to introduce your photo essay. The first image or series of images should grab the viewer’s attention and set the tone for the narrative.

6. Consider the Flow:

Plan the flow of your photo essay, ensuring a logical progression of images that tells a cohesive and engaging story. Consider the emotional impact and visual variety as you sequence your photographs.

7. Shoot with Purpose:

Start capturing images with your conceptual framework in mind. Focus on images that align with your theme and contribute to the overall narrative. Look for moments that convey emotion, tell a story, or reveal aspects of your chosen subject.

8. Experiment with Perspectives and Techniques:

Explore different perspectives, compositions, and photographic techniques to add visual interest and depth to your essay. Consider using a variety of shots, including wide-angle, close-ups, and detail shots.

9. Write Descriptive Captions:

As you capture images, think about the accompanying captions. Captions should provide context, additional information, or insights that enhance the viewer’s understanding of each photograph.

10. Review and Edit:

Regularly review and edit your collection of images. Ensure that each photo contributes meaningfully to the overall narrative. Consider the visual flow, composition, and the effectiveness of each image in telling your story.

11. Create a Strong Conclusion:

Plan a concluding set of images that leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. The final images should bring closure to your story and leave the audience with a strong takeaway.

12. Organize and Present:

Organize your images in a logical sequence and choose a platform for presenting your photo essay, whether it’s in a physical photo book, an online gallery, or through a slideshow.

What are the key elements of a photo essay?

1. Theme or Topic:

Clearly defined subject matter or theme that unifies the photographs and tells a cohesive story.

2. Narrative Structure:

An intentional narrative structure that guides the viewer through the photo essay, whether chronological, thematic, or conceptual.

3. Introduction:

A strong introduction that captures the viewer’s attention and sets the tone for the photo essay.

4. Captivating Images:

A series of high-quality and visually compelling images that effectively convey the chosen theme or story.

5. Variety of Shots:

A variety of shots, including wide-angle, close-ups, detail shots, and different perspectives, to add visual interest and depth.

6. Sequencing:

Careful sequencing of images to create a logical flow and emotional impact, guiding the viewer through the narrative.

7. Captions and Text:

Thoughtful captions or accompanying text that provide context, additional information, or insights, enhancing the viewer’s understanding.

8. Conclusion:

A concluding section that brings the photo essay to a satisfying close, leaving a lasting impression on the viewer.

9. Consistent Style:

Consistency in photographic style, including color schemes, editing techniques, and composition, for a cohesive visual experience.

10. Emotional Resonance:

The incorporation of images that evoke emotions and connect with the viewer on a personal or empathetic level.

11. Attention to Detail:

Attention to details that add depth and nuance to the story, helping to create a rich and immersive experience.

12. Organization and Presentation:

Thoughtful organization of the photo essay, whether in a physical photo book, an online gallery, or through a slideshow.

13. Impactful Conclusion:

A conclusion that leaves a strong impression, summarizing the narrative and leaving the viewer with a memorable takeaway.

14. Purposeful Editing:

Purposeful editing to select the strongest and most relevant images, ensuring each photograph contributes meaningfully to the overall story.

15. Viewer Engagement:

Consideration of the audience, aiming to engage and connect with viewers by addressing universal themes or issues.

16. Ethical Considerations:

Ethical considerations in the representation of subjects, ensuring respect, dignity, and sensitivity in the portrayal of individuals or communities.

FAQ’s

What is a photo essay for school?

A school photo essay is a visual storytelling project for educational purposes, typically assigned to students. It involves creating a narrative using a series of carefully curated photographs on a chosen theme.

How many pictures should be in a photo essay?

The number of pictures in a photo essay varies based on the chosen theme and narrative structure. It can range from a few impactful images to a more extensive series, typically around 10-20 photographs.

Is a photo essay a story?

Yes, a photo essay is a visual storytelling form. It uses a series of carefully curated photographs to convey a narrative, evoke emotions, or communicate a specific message or theme.

What makes a photo essay unforgettable?

An unforgettable photo essay is characterized by a powerful theme, emotionally resonant images, a well-crafted narrative structure, attention to detail, and a connection that leaves a lasting impact on viewers.

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17 Awesome Photo Essay Examples You Should Try Yourself

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If you’re looking for a photo essay example (or 17!), you’ve come to the right place. But what is the purpose of a photo essay? A photo essay is intended to tell a story or evoke emotion from the viewers through a series of photographs. They allow you to be creative and fully explore an idea. But how do you make one yourself? Here’s a list of photo essay examples. Choose one that you can easily do based on your photographic level and equipment.

Top 17 Photo Essay Examples

Here are some fantastic ideas to get you inspired to create your own photo essays!

17. Photograph a Protest

Street photography of a group of people protesting.

16. Transformation Photo Essays

A photo essay example shot of a couple, the man kissing the pregnant womans stomach

15. Photograph the Same Place

A photo essay example photography grid of 9 photographs.

14. Create a Photowalk

Street photography photo essay shot of a photographer in the middle of the street

13. Follow the Change

Portrait photography of a man shaving in the mirror. Photo essay examples.

12. Photograph a Local Event

Documentary photography essay of a group of people at an event by a lake.

11. Photograph an Abandoned Building

Atmospheric and dark photo of the interior of an abandoned building as part of a photo-essay

10. Behind the Scenes of a Photo Shoot

Photograph of models and photographers behind the scenes at a photo shoot. Photo essay ideas.

9. Capture Street Fashion

Street photography portrait of a girl outdoors at night.

8. Landmark Photo Essay

9 photo grid of the Eiffel tour. Photo essays examples.

7. Fathers & Children

An essay photo of the silhouettes of a man and child standing in a dark doorway.

6. A Day In the Life

 Photo essay examples of a bright red and orange building under blue sky.

5. Education Photo Essay

Documentary photoessay example shot of a group of students in a classroom watching their teacher

4. Fictitious Meals

 Photo essay detail of someone placing a sugar cube into a cup of tea.

3. Photograph Coffee Shops Using Cafenol

A photo of a coffee shop interior created with cafenol.

2. Photograph the Photographers

Street photography of a group of media photographers.

1. Capture the Neighbors

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Photo essays tell stories. And there are plenty of amazingly interesting stories to tell! Photographing photo essays is a great way to practice your photography skills while having fun. You might even learn something! These photo essay examples are here to provide you with the inspiration to go out and tell your own stories through photos!

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How to Create an Engaging Photo Essay (with Examples)

Photo essays tell a story in pictures. They're a great way to improve at photography and story-telling skills at once. Learn how to do create a great one.

Learn | Photography Guides | By Ana Mireles

Photography is a medium used to tell stories – sometimes they are told in one picture, sometimes you need a whole series. Those series can be photo essays.

If you’ve never done a photo essay before, or you’re simply struggling to find your next project, this article will be of help. I’ll be showing you what a photo essay is and how to go about doing one.

You’ll also find plenty of photo essay ideas and some famous photo essay examples from recent times that will serve you as inspiration.

If you’re ready to get started, let’s jump right in!

Table of Contents

What is a Photo Essay?

A photo essay is a series of images that share an overarching theme as well as a visual and technical coherence to tell a story. Some people refer to a photo essay as a photo series or a photo story – this often happens in photography competitions.

Photographic history is full of famous photo essays. Think about The Great Depression by Dorothea Lange, Like Brother Like Sister by Wolfgang Tillmans, Gandhi’s funeral by Henri Cartier Bresson, amongst others.

What are the types of photo essay?

Despite popular belief, the type of photo essay doesn’t depend on the type of photography that you do – in other words, journalism, documentary, fine art, or any other photographic genre is not a type of photo essay.

Instead, there are two main types of photo essays: narrative and thematic .

As you have probably already guessed, the thematic one presents images pulled together by a topic – for example, global warming. The images can be about animals and nature as well as natural disasters devastating cities. They can happen all over the world or in the same location, and they can be captured in different moments in time – there’s a lot of flexibility.

A narrative photo essa y, on the other hand, tells the story of a character (human or not), portraying a place or an event. For example, a narrative photo essay on coffee would document the process from the planting and harvesting – to the roasting and grinding until it reaches your morning cup.

What are some of the key elements of a photo essay?

  • Tell a unique story – A unique story doesn’t mean that you have to photograph something that nobody has done before – that would be almost impossible! It means that you should consider what you’re bringing to the table on a particular topic.
  • Put yourself into the work – One of the best ways to make a compelling photo essay is by adding your point of view, which can only be done with your life experiences and the way you see the world.
  • Add depth to the concept – The best photo essays are the ones that go past the obvious and dig deeper in the story, going behind the scenes, or examining a day in the life of the subject matter – that’s what pulls in the spectator.
  • Nail the technique – Even if the concept and the story are the most important part of a photo essay, it won’t have the same success if it’s poorly executed.
  • Build a structure – A photo essay is about telling a thought-provoking story – so, think about it in a narrative way. Which images are going to introduce the topic? Which ones represent a climax? How is it going to end – how do you want the viewer to feel after seeing your photo series?
  • Make strong choices – If you really want to convey an emotion and a unique point of view, you’re going to need to make some hard decisions. Which light are you using? Which lens? How many images will there be in the series? etc., and most importantly for a great photo essay is the why behind those choices.

9 Tips for Creating a Photo Essay

photo essays by students

Credit: Laura James

1. Choose something you know

To make a good photo essay, you don’t need to travel to an exotic location or document a civil war – I mean, it’s great if you can, but you can start close to home.

Depending on the type of photography you do and the topic you’re looking for in your photographic essay, you can photograph a local event or visit an abandoned building outside your town.

It will be much easier for you to find a unique perspective and tell a better story if you’re already familiar with the subject. Also, consider that you might have to return a few times to the same location to get all the photos you need.

2. Follow your passion

Most photo essays take dedication and passion. If you choose a subject that might be easy, but you’re not really into it – the results won’t be as exciting. Taking photos will always be easier and more fun if you’re covering something you’re passionate about.

3. Take your time

A great photo essay is not done in a few hours. You need to put in the time to research it, conceptualizing it, editing, etc. That’s why I previously recommended following your passion because it takes a lot of dedication, and if you’re not passionate about it – it’s difficult to push through.

4. Write a summary or statement

Photo essays are always accompanied by some text. You can do this in the form of an introduction, write captions for each photo or write it as a conclusion. That’s up to you and how you want to present the work.

5. Learn from the masters

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Making a photographic essay takes a lot of practice and knowledge. A great way to become a better photographer and improve your storytelling skills is by studying the work of others. You can go to art shows, review books and magazines and look at the winners in photo contests – most of the time, there’s a category for photo series.

6. Get a wide variety of photos

Think about a story – a literary one. It usually tells you where the story is happening, who is the main character, and it gives you a few details to make you engage with it, right?

The same thing happens with a visual story in a photo essay – you can do some wide-angle shots to establish the scenes and some close-ups to show the details. Make a shot list to ensure you cover all the different angles.

Some of your pictures should guide the viewer in, while others are more climatic and regard the experience they are taking out of your photos.

7. Follow a consistent look

Both in style and aesthetics, all the images in your series need to be coherent. You can achieve this in different ways, from the choice of lighting, the mood, the post-processing, etc.

8. Be self-critical

Once you have all the photos, make sure you edit them with a good dose of self-criticism. Not all the pictures that you took belong in the photo essay. Choose only the best ones and make sure they tell the full story.

9. Ask for constructive feedback

Often, when we’re working on a photo essay project for a long time, everything makes perfect sense in our heads. However, someone outside the project might not be getting the idea. It’s important that you get honest and constructive criticism to improve your photography.

How to Create a Photo Essay in 5 Steps

photo essays by students

Credit: Quang Nguyen Vinh

1. Choose your topic

This is the first step that you need to take to decide if your photo essay is going to be narrative or thematic. Then, choose what is it going to be about?

Ideally, it should be something that you’re interested in, that you have something to say about it, and it can connect with other people.

2. Research your topic

To tell a good story about something, you need to be familiar with that something. This is especially true when you want to go deeper and make a compelling photo essay. Day in the life photo essays are a popular choice, since often, these can be performed with friends and family, whom you already should know well.

3. Plan your photoshoot

Depending on what you’re photographing, this step can be very different from one project to the next. For a fine art project, you might need to find a location, props, models, a shot list, etc., while a documentary photo essay is about planning the best time to do the photos, what gear to bring with you, finding a local guide, etc.

Every photo essay will need different planning, so before taking pictures, put in the required time to get things right.

4. Experiment

It’s one thing to plan your photo shoot and having a shot list that you have to get, or else the photo essay won’t be complete. It’s another thing to miss out on some amazing photo opportunities that you couldn’t foresee.

So, be prepared but also stay open-minded and experiment with different settings, different perspectives, etc.

5. Make a final selection

Editing your work can be one of the hardest parts of doing a photo essay. Sometimes we can be overly critical, and others, we get attached to bad photos because we put a lot of effort into them or we had a great time doing them.

Try to be as objective as possible, don’t be afraid to ask for opinions and make various revisions before settling down on a final cut.

7 Photo Essay Topics, Ideas & Examples

photo essays by students

Credit: Michelle Leman

  • Architectural photo essay

Using architecture as your main subject, there are tons of photo essay ideas that you can do. For some inspiration, you can check out the work of Francisco Marin – who was trained as an architect and then turned to photography to “explore a different way to perceive things”.

You can also lookup Luisa Lambri. Amongst her series, you’ll find many photo essay examples in which architecture is the subject she uses to explore the relationship between photography and space.

  • Process and transformation photo essay

This is one of the best photo essay topics for beginners because the story tells itself. Pick something that has a beginning and an end, for example, pregnancy, the metamorphosis of a butterfly, the life-cycle of a plant, etc.

Keep in mind that these topics are linear and give you an easy way into the narrative flow – however, it might be difficult to find an interesting perspective and a unique point of view.

  • A day in the life of ‘X’ photo essay

There are tons of interesting photo essay ideas in this category – you can follow around a celebrity, a worker, your child, etc. You don’t even have to do it about a human subject – think about doing a photo essay about a day in the life of a racing horse, for example – find something that’s interesting for you.

  • Time passing by photo essay

It can be a natural site or a landmark photo essay – whatever is close to you will work best as you’ll need to come back multiple times to capture time passing by. For example, how this place changes throughout the seasons or maybe even over the years.

A fun option if you live with family is to document a birthday party each year, seeing how the subject changes over time. This can be combined with a transformation essay or sorts, documenting the changes in interpersonal relationships over time.

  • Travel photo essay

Do you want to make the jump from tourist snapshots into a travel photo essay? Research the place you’re going to be travelling to. Then, choose a topic.

If you’re having trouble with how to do this, check out any travel magazine – National Geographic, for example. They won’t do a generic article about Texas – they do an article about the beach life on the Texas Gulf Coast and another one about the diverse flavors of Texas.

The more specific you get, the deeper you can go with the story.

  • Socio-political issues photo essay

This is one of the most popular photo essay examples – it falls under the category of photojournalism or documental photography. They are usually thematic, although it’s also possible to do a narrative one.

Depending on your topic of interest, you can choose topics that involve nature – for example, document the effects of global warming. Another idea is to photograph protests or make an education photo essay.

It doesn’t have to be a big global issue; you can choose something specific to your community – are there too many stray dogs? Make a photo essay about a local animal shelter. The topics are endless.

  • Behind the scenes photo essay

A behind-the-scenes always make for a good photo story – people are curious to know what happens and how everything comes together before a show.

Depending on your own interests, this can be a photo essay about a fashion show, a theatre play, a concert, and so on. You’ll probably need to get some permissions, though, not only to shoot but also to showcase or publish those images.

4 Best Photo Essays in Recent times

Now that you know all the techniques about it, it might be helpful to look at some photo essay examples to see how you can put the concept into practice. Here are some famous photo essays from recent times to give you some inspiration.

Habibi by Antonio Faccilongo

This photo essay wan the World Press Photo Story of the Year in 2021. Faccilongo explores a very big conflict from a very specific and intimate point of view – how the Israeli-Palestinian war affects the families.

He chose to use a square format because it allows him to give order to things and eliminate unnecessary elements in his pictures.

With this long-term photo essay, he wanted to highlight the sense of absence and melancholy women and families feel towards their husbands away at war.

The project then became a book edited by Sarah Leen and the graphics of Ramon Pez.

photo essays by students

Picture This: New Orleans by Mary Ellen Mark

The last assignment before her passing, Mary Ellen Mark travelled to New Orleans to register the city after a decade after Hurricane Katrina.

The images of the project “bring to life the rebirth and resilience of the people at the heart of this tale”, – says CNNMoney, commissioner of the work.

Each survivor of the hurricane has a story, and Mary Ellen Mark was there to record it. Some of them have heartbreaking stories about everything they had to leave behind.

Others have a story of hope – like Sam and Ben, two eight-year-olds born from frozen embryos kept in a hospital that lost power supply during the hurricane, yet they managed to survive.

photo essays by students

Selfie by Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman is an American photographer whose work is mainly done through self-portraits. With them, she explores the concept of identity, gender stereotypes, as well as visual and cultural codes.

One of her latest photo essays was a collaboration with W Magazine entitled Selfie. In it, the author explores the concept of planned candid photos (‘plandid’).

The work was made for Instagram, as the platform is well known for the conflict between the ‘real self’ and the one people present online. Sherman started using Facetune, Perfect365 and YouCam to alter her appearance on selfies – in Photoshop, you can modify everything, but these apps were designed specifically to “make things prettier”- she says, and that’s what she wants to explore in this photo essay.

Tokyo Compression by Michael Wolf

Michael Wolf has an interest in the broad-gauge topic Life in Cities. From there, many photo essays have been derived – amongst them – Tokyo Compression .

He was horrified by the way people in Tokyo are forced to move to the suburbs because of the high prices of the city. Therefore, they are required to make long commutes facing 1,5 hours of train to start their 8+ hour workday followed by another 1,5 hours to get back home.

To portray this way of life, he photographed the people inside the train pressed against the windows looking exhausted, angry or simply absent due to this way of life.

You can visit his website to see other photo essays that revolve around the topic of life in megacities.

Final Words

It’s not easy to make photo essays, so don’t expect to be great at it right from your first project.

Start off small by choosing a specific subject that’s interesting to you –  that will come from an honest place, and it will be a great practice for some bigger projects along the line.

Whether you like to shoot still life or you’re a travel photographer, I hope these photo essay tips and photo essay examples can help you get started and grow in your photography.

Let us know which topics you are working on right now – we’ll love to hear from you!

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Ana Mireles is a Mexican researcher that specializes in photography and communications for the arts and culture sector.

Penelope G. To Ana Mireles Such a well written and helpful article for an writer who wants to inclue photo essay in her memoir. Thank you. I will get to work on this new skill. Penelope G.

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Ten examples of immersive photo essays

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By Marissa Sapega — Contributing Writer

Photo essays are one of the most powerful forms of storytelling in the last century. From the great depression photographer W. Eugene Smith to the photojournalism of National Geographic or Life Magazine , the best photo essays entertain, educate, and move readers more than words alone ever could. 

But photo essays have changed. Over the last decade, web publishing technologies — including web browsers and file formats — have improved by leaps and bounds. A good photo essays today is more than a collection of images. It’s a truly interactive, immersive, and multimedia experiences.

In this guide, we introduce 10 stunning examples of visually arresting interactive photo essays to fuel your creative juices.

Now, let's set the scene with a short introduction to immersive, interactive photo essays on the web.

What do the BBC, Tripadvisor, and Penguin have in common? They craft stunning, interactive web content with Shorthand. And so can you! Publish your first story for free — no code or web design skills required. Sign up now.

The rise of immersive, interactive photo essays

What is an immersive, interactive photo essay? Let's take these terms one at a time. 

An immersive photo essay uses rich media and story design to capture and keep the reader's attention. Immersive content is typically free of the most distracting elements of the web, such as pop-ups, skyscrapers, and other intrusions on the reading experience.

As a basic rule of thumb, immersive content respects the reader's attention. 

An interactive photo essay is one that allows the reader to control how the content appears. It may include interactive elements, like maps and embedded applications.

More commonly, modern interactive photo stories use a technique known as scrollytelling . Scrollytelling stories allow the reader to trigger animations and other visual effects as they scroll. Many of the examples in this guide use scrollytelling techniques. Read more scrollytelling examples .

Until relatively recently, immersive, interactive photo essays could only be created with the help of a designer or web developer. But with the rise of digital storytelling platforms , anyone can create compelling, dynamic stories without writing a single line of code.

If you're looking to learn more about how to create a photo essay — or are looking for more photo essay ideas  — check out our introduction to photo essays . 

Photo essay topics

If you’re looking for photo essay examples, chances are you’re looking to create a photo essay for yourself. If you’re just getting started, you might want some guidance on exactly what kinds of topics make for great photo essays.

More experienced photographers — feel free to skip this section. But for those who are just starting out, here’s a quick list of classic photo essay subject matter, for all types of photo essays.

  • Local events. A great way to start out is photograph local events in your community, such as a high school fundraiser. A bonus is that you’ll have a ready
  • Historic sites. Another classic photo essay topic is an exploration of a historic site. This could be a building, a monument, or even just a specific location that has significance.
  • Profile of a person. A great way to get to know someone is to profile them in a photo essay. This could be a family member, friend, or even just someone you’ve met.
  • Animals in captivity. Another popular subject matter for photo essays is animals in captivity, whether that’s at a zoo or elsewhere.
  • A day in the life. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live someone else’s life for a day? Why not find out and document it in a photo essay?
  • Street photography. Another great way to practice your photography skills is to head out into the streets and photograph the everyday lives of people around you. The world has plenty of photo essays of cities like New York and London. But what about street photography in your own backyard?
  • Still life photography. Still life photography is all about capturing inanimate objects on film. This could be anything from flowers to furniture to food. It’s a great way to practice your photography skills and learn about composition
  • Landscapes . Landscape photography is one of the most popular genres, and for good reason. There are endless possibilities when it comes to finding interesting subjects to shoot. So get out there and start exploring!
  • Abandoned buildings. There’s something fascinating about abandoned buildings. They offer a glimpse into the past, and can be eerily beautiful. If you have any in your area, they make for great photo essay subjects.
  • Lifestyles. Document someone who lives a lifestyle that’s different from your own. This could be a portrayal of an everyday person, or it could be someone with an unusual job or hobby.
  • Social issues. Take photos depicting significant social issues in your community, remembering to respect your subjects.

Ten inspiring photo essay examples

photo essays by students

Pink lagoon and peculiar galaxies — July’s best science images

photo essays by students

In Pink lagoon and peculiar galaxies , Nature present a mesmerising series of images from the natural world. Highlights include:

  • a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it photo of rare albino orcas performing feats of synchronized swimming;
  • an arresting aerial view of the aftermath of the flash floods in Germany; and,
  • a scarlet gawping Venus flytrap sea anemone. 

The best part? Nature publishes similarly powerful photo essays every month, showcasing some of the best and most creative photography of the natural world anywhere on the web.

Pink lagoon and peculiar galaxies — July’s best science images

Vanishing Lands

A plain, with a lake and mountains in the distance, from Vanishing lands — an ominously interesting photo essay from media company Stuff

Vanishing lands — an ominously interesting photo essay from media company Stuff — opens with a bucolic visual featuring meandering sheep flanked by breathtaking mountains that blur into obscurity.

Soon, more awe-inspiring photos of breathtaking New Zealand farmland appear, accompanied by expressive prose whose tone matches the visuals’ stark beauty.

In this unflinchingly honest photographic essay, Stuff takes the viewer behind the scenes with a day in the life of a high country sheep farmer facing an uncertain future. One stunning photo fades into the next as you scroll through, broken only by the occasional noteworthy quote and accompanying narrative.

Screenshots from Vanishing lands — an ominously interesting photo essay from media company Stuff

Olympic photos: Emotion runs high

An athlete is a karate uniform lying flat on the ground

This emotionally wrought sports story from NBC begins with a close-up of an anxious Simone Biles, her expression exemplifying the tension and frustration echoed on so many of her fellow athletes’ faces.

The subtitle puts it perfectly: “The agony—and thrill—of competition at the Olympics is written all over their faces.”

Devastation, disappointment, and defeat take centre stage in this piece — but not all the subjects of the photos in this compelling photography essay depict misery. Some of the images, like that taken of the gold medal-winning Russian artistic gymnasts, manage to project the athletes’ joy almost beyond the edges of the screen.

The NBC editors who created this visual story chose to display the series of photos using the entire screen width and limit the copy to simple captions, letting the visuals speak for themselves. The result is a riveting montage of photographs that manage to capture the overarching sentiment of the 2020 Olympic Games.

Screenshots from an NBC story on the agony—and thrill—of competition at the Olympics

James Epp: A Twist of the Hand

Photo of a various sculptures in a museum

In A Twist of the Hand , the Museum of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge have produced a gorgeous photo essay. This online art show showcases artist James Epp’s installation, combining photographs of the exhibit with images of museum prints and authentic artefacts.

As you scroll down, close-up shots of the installation make you feel like you’re physically wandering among the ancient sculptures, able to examine hairline spider cracks and tiny divots marking the surface of every antiquated figure. In between the photos—and often flanked by museum prints—are James Epp's musings about what inspired him to create the pieces. It’s an absorbing virtual gallery that will no doubt inspire real life visits to the exhibition.

Screenshots from the University of Cambridge photo essay that showcases artist James Epson’s installation in the Museum of Classical Archaeology

The Café Racer Revolution

A helmeted man standing beside a motorbike

Though it’s a cleverly built piece of interactive content marketing , Honda’s “ Café Racer Revolution ” is also a great photo essay. Alongside information about the latest and greatest motorcycles Honda has to offer, it details the history of the bikers who sought to employ motorcycles (specifically “café racers”) as a way to forge an identity for themselves and project a “statement of individuality.”

Scroll down, and nostalgic black-and-white photos give way to contemporary action shots featuring fully decked-out motorcyclists on various Honda models.

Dynamic photos of bikes rotate them 360 degrees when you mouse over them, and text superimposed over flashy shots rolls smoothly down the screen as you scroll. This photo essay will stir a longing to hit the open road for anyone who has ever dreamed of owning one of Honda’s zippy bikes.

Screenshots from Honda's photo essay, a Café Racer Revolution

Built to keep Black from white

Four children standing against a white wall

In Built to keep Black from white , NBC News and BridgeDetroit have built a stunning narrative photo essay that encapsulates the history of Detroit’s Birwood Wall — a literal dividing line intended to separate neighborhoods inhabited by people of different races. 

The piece begins with a brief history of the concrete barrier. Between paragraphs of text, it weaves in quotes from residents who grew up as the wall was erected and a short video. Animated maps highlighting the affected neighborhoods unspool across the screen as you scroll down, accompanied by brief explanations of what the maps represent.

In the series of photographs that follow, contemporary images transition into decades-old shots of the wall when it was newly constructed. This is followed by images of original real estate documents, resident portraits, and additional animated maps — each considering the issue from different angles.

The piece ends with an interactive display of how Detroit’s racial makeup has changed over the past several decades, from majority white to black, and how the wall has impacted the lives of its residents who lived (and died) within its borders.

Screenshots from NBC's 'Built to keep Black from white,' a stunning narrative photo essay that encapsulates the history of Detroit’s Birwood Wall

The story of Black Lives Matter in sport

A footballer with 'Black Lives Matter' on his shirt.

The BBC pairs illustrations and bold imagery in this photo essay on how athletes participated in the Black Lives Matter movement . At the start, a narrow column of text leads into an iconic image of American football players kneeling during the pre-game national anthem in a solemn protest against police brutality. 

The first excerpt, a summary of Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012, draws you in with piercing prose capped off with photographs that bleed into one another. Every account in the photo essay follows this layout.

Screenshots from a BBC story on the Black Lives Matter movement in sport.

WaterAid Climate Stories

Dozens of boats sitting in a shallow harbour

Climate change affects everyone on the planet, but some people are feeling the effects more than others. WaterAid’s scrollytelling photo essay illuminates the plight of individuals living in areas where extreme weather conditions — caused by climate change — have drastically impacted the water supply and environment, endangering their livelihoods and ability to survive.

This climate change story starts with an engrossing video that provides an up-close and personal look at the devastation that climate change-induced droughts have wreaked on people and the environment. As you scroll down, images of massively depleted bodies of water with superimposed text and quotes unfold before your eyes. It’s an efficient way to drive home the critical message WaterAid wants to convey: climate change is real, and it’s harming real people.

Each extreme weather story focuses on an individual to help viewers empathise and understand that climate change has real, drastic consequences for millions of people worldwide. The piece ends with a call to action to learn more about and financially support WaterAid’s fight to assist people living in the desperate situations depicted in the essay.

Screenshots from WaterAid’s scrollytelling photo essay

28 Days in Afghanistan

A bike, a bus, and car in the thick smoke of Kabul

In this piece, Australian photo-journalist Andrew Quilty tells the story of the four weeks he spent in Afghanistan . He captures daily events ranging from the mundane—like a casual visit to his barber—to jarring. More than one photo documents blood-spattered victims of violence.

Viewers must scroll through the piece to follow Andrew’s daily musings and the striking photos that accompany them. His photo essay is a powerful example of how scrollytelling is transforming the art of long-form journalism .

Australian photo-journalist Andrew Quilty tells the story of the four weeks he spent in Afghanistan

La carrera lunática de Musk y Bezos (Musk and Bezos' lunatic careers)

An illustration of a SpaceX rocket careening away from Earth

Billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are angling to conquer the final frontier: space.

El Periódico captures their story via a whimsically illustrated photo essay, filled with neon line drawings and bold photos of the massive spaceships, the hangars that house them, and footprints on the moon. La carrera lunática de Musk y Bezos describes the battle between the two titans’ space companies (Blue Origin and SpaceX) for the honor of partially funding NASA’s next mission to the moon.

As you scroll down, white and fluorescent yellow words on a black background roll smoothly over images. The team at El Periódico slips in stylistic animations to break up the text—such as rocket ships with shimmering “vapour trails”—then ups the ante with a series of moon images that transition into portraits of the 12 U.S. astronauts who visited the celestial body.

The photo essay ends with the question: “Who will be the next to leave their footprints on the dusty lunar soil?” At the time of publishing, NASA had not yet decided between the two companies. (Spoiler alert: SpaceX won .)

Screenshots from El Periódico's story on the lunatic attempts by tech billionaires to go to space.

Marissa Sapega is a seasoned writer, editor, and digital marketer with a background in web and graphic design.

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Pictures That Tell Stories: Photo Essay Examples

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Like any other type of artist, a photographer’s job is to tell a story through their pictures. While some of the most creative among us can invoke emotion or convey a thought with one single photo, the rest of us will rely on a photo essay.

In the following article, we’ll go into detail about what a photo essay is and how to craft one while providing some detailed photo essay examples.

What is a Photo Essay? 

A photo essay is a series of photographs that, when assembled in a particular order, tell a unique and compelling story. While some photographers choose only to use pictures in their presentations, others will incorporate captions, comments, or even full paragraphs of text to provide more exposition for the scene they are unfolding.

A photo essay is a well-established part of photojournalism and have been used for decades to present a variety of information to the reader. Some of the most famous photo essayists include Ansel Adams , W. Eugene Smith, and James Nachtwey. Of course, there are thousands of photo essay examples out there from which you can draw inspiration.

Why Consider Creating a Photo Essay?

As the old saying goes, “a picture is worth 1000 words.” This adage is, for many photographers, reason enough to hold a photo essay in particularly high regard.

For others, a photo essay allow them to take pictures that are already interesting and construct intricate, emotionally-charged tales out of them. For all photographers, it is yet another skill they can master to become better at their craft.

As you might expect, the photo essay have had a long history of being associated with photojournalism. From the Great Depression to Civil Rights Marches and beyond, many compelling stories have been told through a combination of images and text, or photos alone. A photo essay often evokes an intense reaction, whether artistic in nature or designed to prove a socio-political point.

Below, we’ll list some famous photo essay samples to further illustrate the subject.

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Famous Photo Essays

“The Great Depression” by Dorothea Lange – Shot and arranged in the 1930s, this famous photo essay still serves as a stark reminder of The Great Depression and Dust Bowl America . Beautifully photographed, the black and white images offer a bleak insight to one of the country’s most difficult times.

“The Vietnam War” by Philip Jones Griffiths – Many artists consider the Griffiths’ photo essay works to be some of the most important records of the war in Vietnam. His photographs and great photo essays are particularly well-remembered for going against public opinion and showing the suffering of the “other side,” a novel concept when it came to war photography.

Various American Natural Sites by Ansel Adams – Adams bought the beauty of nature home to millions, photographing the American Southwest and places like Yosemite National Park in a way that made the photos seem huge, imposing, and beautiful.

“Everyday” by Noah Kalina – Is a series of photographs arranged into a video. This photo essay features daily photographs of the artist himself, who began taking capturing the images when he was 19 and continued to do so for six years.

“Signed, X” by Kate Ryan – This is a powerful photo essay put together to show the long-term effects of sexual violence and assault. This photo essay is special in that it remains ongoing, with more subjects being added every year.

Common Types of Photo Essays

While a photo essay do not have to conform to any specific format or design, there are two “umbrella terms” under which almost all genres of photo essays tend to fall. A photo essay is thematic and narrative. In the following section, we’ll give some details about the differences between the two types, and then cover some common genres used by many artists.

⬥ Thematic 

A thematic photo essay speak on a specific subject. For instance, numerous photo essays were put together in the 1930s to capture the ruin of The Great Depression. Though some of these presentations followed specific people or families, they mostly told the “story” of the entire event. There is much more freedom with a thematic photo essay, and you can utilize numerous locations and subjects. Text is less common with these types of presentations.

⬥ Narrative 

A narrative photo essay is much more specific than thematic essays, and they tend to tell a much more direct story. For instance, rather than show a number of scenes from a Great Depression Era town, the photographer might show the daily life of a person living in Dust Bowl America. There are few rules about how broad or narrow the scope needs to be, so photographers have endless creative freedom. These types of works frequently utilize text.

Common Photo Essay Genres

Walk a City – This photo essay is when you schedule a time to walk around a city, neighborhood, or natural site with the sole goal of taking photos. Usually thematic in nature, this type of photo essay allows you to capture a specific place, it’s energy, and its moods and then pass them along to others.

The Relationship Photo Essay – The interaction between families and loved ones if often a fascinating topic for a photo essay. This photo essay genre, in particular, gives photographers an excellent opportunity to capture complex emotions like love and abstract concepts like friendship. When paired with introspective text, the results can be quite stunning. 

The Timelapse Transformation Photo Essay – The goal of a transformation photo essay is to capture the way a subject changes over time. Some people take years or even decades putting together a transformation photo essay, with subjects ranging from people to buildings to trees to particular areas of a city.

Going Behind The Scenes Photo Essay – Many people are fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes of big events. Providing the photographer can get access; to an education photo essay can tell a very unique and compelling story to their viewers with this photo essay.

Photo Essay of a Special Event – There are always events and occasions going on that would make an interesting subject for a photo essay. Ideas for this photo essay include concerts, block parties, graduations, marches, and protests. Images from some of the latter were integral to the popularity of great photo essays.

The Daily Life Photo Essay – This type of photo essay often focus on a single subject and attempt to show “a day in the life” of that person or object through the photographs. This type of photo essay can be quite powerful depending on the subject matter and invoke many feelings in the people who view them.

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Photo Essay Ideas and Examples

One of the best ways to gain a better understanding of photo essays is to view some photo essay samples. If you take the time to study these executions in detail, you’ll see just how photo essays can make you a better photographer and offer you a better “voice” with which to speak to your audience.

Some of these photo essay ideas we’ve already touched on briefly, while others will be completely new to you. 

Cover a Protest or March  

Some of the best photo essay examples come from marches, protests, and other events associated with movements or socio-political statements. Such events allow you to take pictures of angry, happy, or otherwise empowered individuals in high-energy settings. The photo essay narrative can also be further enhanced by arriving early or staying long after the protest has ended to catch contrasting images. 

Photograph a Local Event  

Whether you know it or not, countless unique and interesting events are happening in and around your town this year. Such events provide photographers new opportunities to put together a compelling photo essay. From ethnic festivals to historical events to food and beverage celebrations, there are many different ways to capture and celebrate local life.

Visit an Abandoned Site or Building  

Old homes and historical sites are rich with detail and can sometimes appear dilapidated, overgrown by weeds, or broken down by time. These qualities make them a dynamic and exciting subject. Many great photo essay works of abandoned homes use a mix of far-away shots, close-ups, weird angles, and unique lighting. Such techniques help set a mood that the audience can feel through the photographic essay.

Chronicle a Pregnancy

Few photo essay topics could be more personal than telling the story of a pregnancy. Though this photo essay example can require some preparation and will take a lot of time, the results of a photographic essay like this are usually extremely emotionally-charged and touching. In some cases, photographers will continue the photo essay project as the child grows as well.

Photograph Unique Lifestyles  

People all over the world are embracing society’s changes in different ways. People live in vans or in “tiny houses,” living in the woods miles away from everyone else, and others are growing food on self-sustaining farms. Some of the best photo essay works have been born out of these new, inspiring movements.

Photograph Animals or Pets  

If you have a favorite animal (or one that you know very little about), you might want to arrange a way to see it up close and tell its story through images. You can take photos like this in a zoo or the animal’s natural habitat, depending on the type of animal you choose. Pets are another great topic for a photo essay and are among the most popular subjects for many photographers.

Show Body Positive Themes  

So much of modern photography is about showing the best looking, prettiest, or sexiest people at all times. Choosing a photo essay theme like body positivity, however, allows you to film a wide range of interesting-looking people from all walks of life.

Such a photo essay theme doesn’t just apply to women, as beauty can be found everywhere. As a photo essay photographer, it’s your job to find it!

Bring Social Issues to Life  

Some of the most impactful social photo essay examples are those where the photographer focuses on social issues. From discrimination to domestic violence to the injustices of the prison system, there are many ways that a creative photographer can highlight what’s wrong with the world. This type of photo essay can be incredibly powerful when paired with compelling subjects and some basic text.

Photograph Style and Fashion

If you live in or know of a particularly stylish locale or area, you can put together an excellent thematic photo essay by capturing impromptu shots of well-dressed people as they pass by. As with culture, style is easily identifiable and is as unifying as it is divisive. Great photo essay examples include people who’ve covered fashion sub-genres from all over the world, like urban hip hop or Japanese Visual Kei. 

Photograph Native Cultures and Traditions  

If you’ve ever opened up a copy of National Geographic, you’ve probably seen photo essay photos that fit this category. To many, the traditions, dress, religious ceremonies, and celebrations of native peoples and foreign cultures can be utterly captivating. For travel photographers, this photo essay is considered one of the best ways to tell a story with or without text.

Capture Seasonal Or Time Changes In A Landmark Photo Essay

Time-lapse photography is very compelling to most viewers. What they do in a few hours, however, others are doing over months, years, and even decades. If you know of an exciting landscape or scene, you can try to capture the same image in Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall, and put that all together into one landmark photo essay.

Alternatively, you can photograph something being lost or ravaged by time or weather. The subject of your landmark photo essay can be as simple as the wall of an old building or as complex as an old house in the woods being taken over by nature. As always, there are countless transformation-based landmark photo essay works from which you can draw inspiration.

Photograph Humanitarian Efforts or Charity  

Humanitarian efforts by groups like Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders can invoke a powerful response through even the simplest of photos. While it can be hard to put yourself in a position to get the images, there are countless photo essay examples to serve as inspiration for your photo essay project.

How to Create a Photo Essay

There is no singular way to create a photo essay. As it is, ultimately, and artistic expression of the photographer, there is no right, wrong, good, or bad. However, like all stories, some tell them well and those who do not. Luckily, as with all things, practice does make perfect. Below, we’ve listed some basic steps outlining how to create a photo essay

Photo essay

Steps To Create A Photo Essay

Choose Your Topic – While some photo essayists will be able to “happen upon” a photo story and turn it into something compelling, most will want to choose their photo essay topics ahead of time. While the genres listed above should provide a great starting place, it’s essential to understand that photo essay topics can cover any event or occasion and any span of time

Do Some Research – The next step to creating a photo essay is to do some basic research. Examples could include learning the history of the area you’re shooting or the background of the person you photograph. If you’re photographing a new event, consider learning the story behind it. Doing so will give you ideas on what to look for when you’re shooting.  

Make a Storyboard – Storyboards are incredibly useful tools when you’re still in the process of deciding what photo story you want to tell. By laying out your ideas shot by shot, or even doing rough illustrations of what you’re trying to capture, you can prepare your photo story before you head out to take your photos.

This process is especially important if you have little to no control over your chosen subject. People who are participating in a march or protest, for instance, aren’t going to wait for you to get in position before offering up the perfect shot. You need to know what you’re looking for and be prepared to get it.

Get the Right Images – If you have a shot list or storyboard, you’ll be well-prepared to take on your photo essay. Make sure you give yourself enough time (where applicable) and take plenty of photos, so you have a lot from which to choose. It would also be a good idea to explore the area, show up early, and stay late. You never know when an idea might strike you.

Assemble Your Story – Once you develop or organize your photos on your computer, you need to choose the pictures that tell the most compelling photo story or stories. You might also find some great images that don’t fit your photo story These can still find a place in your portfolio, however, or perhaps a completely different photo essay you create later.

Depending on the type of photographer you are, you might choose to crop or digitally edit some of your photos to enhance the emotions they invoke. Doing so is completely at your discretion, but worth considering if you feel you can improve upon the naked image.

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Best Photo Essays Tips And Tricks

Before you approach the art of photo essaying for the first time, you might want to consider with these photo essay examples some techniques, tips, and tricks that can make your session more fun and your final results more interesting. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best advice we could find on the subject of photo essays. 

Guy taking a photo

⬥ Experiment All You Want 

You can, and should, plan your topic and your theme with as much attention to detail as possible. That said, some of the best photo essay examples come to us from photographers that got caught up in the moment and decided to experiment in different ways. Ideas for experimentation include the following: 

Angles – Citizen Kane is still revered today for the unique, dramatic angles used in the film. Though that was a motion picture and not photography, the same basic principles still apply. Don’t be afraid to photograph some different angles to see how they bring your subject to life in different ways.

Color – Some images have more gravitas in black in white or sepia tone. You can say the same for images that use color in an engaging, dynamic way. You always have room to experiment with color, both before and after the shoot.

Contrast – Dark and light, happy and sad, rich and poor – contrast is an instantly recognizable form of tension that you can easily include in your photo essay. In some cases, you can plan for dramatic contrasts. In other cases, you simply need to keep your eyes open.

Exposure Settings – You can play with light in terms of exposure as well, setting a number of different moods in the resulting photos. Some photographers even do random double exposures to create a photo essay that’s original.

Filters – There are endless post-production options available to photographers, particularly if they use digital cameras. Using different programs and apps, you can completely alter the look and feel of your image, changing it from warm to cool or altering dozens of different settings.

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If you’re using traditional film instead of a digital camera, you’re going to want to stock up. Getting the right shots for a photo essay usually involves taking hundreds of images that will end up in the rubbish bin. Taking extra pictures you won’t use is just the nature of the photography process. Luckily, there’s nothing better than coming home to realize that you managed to capture that one, perfect photograph. 

⬥ Set the Scene 

You’re not just telling a story to your audience – you’re writing it as well. If the scene you want to capture doesn’t have the look you want, don’t be afraid to move things around until it does. While this doesn’t often apply to photographing events that you have no control over, you shouldn’t be afraid to take a second to make an OK shot a great shot. 

⬥ Capture Now, Edit Later 

Editing, cropping, and digital effects can add a lot of drama and artistic flair to your photos. That said, you shouldn’t waste time on a shoot, thinking about how you can edit it later. Instead, make sure you’re capturing everything that you want and not missing out on any unique pictures. If you need to make changes later, you’ll have plenty of time! 

⬥ Make It Fun 

As photographers, we know that taking pictures is part art, part skill, and part performance. If you want to take the best photo essays, you need to loosen up and have fun. Again, you’ll want to plan for your topic as best as you can, but don’t be afraid to lose yourself in the experience. Once you let yourself relax, both the ideas and the opportunities will manifest.

⬥ It’s All in The Details 

When someone puts out a photographic essay for an audience, that work usually gets analyzed with great attention to detail. You need to apply this same level of scrutiny to the shots you choose to include in your photo essay. If something is out of place or (in the case of historical work) out of time, you can bet the audience will notice.

⬥ Consider Adding Text

While it isn’t necessary, a photographic essay can be more powerful by the addition of text. This is especially true of images with an interesting background story that can’t be conveyed through the image alone. If you don’t feel up to the task of writing content, consider partnering with another artist and allowing them tor bring your work to life.

Final Thoughts 

The world is waiting to tell us story after story. Through the best photo essays, we can capture the elements of those stories and create a photo essay that can invoke a variety of emotions in our audience.

No matter the type of cameras we choose, the techniques we embrace, or the topics we select, what really matters is that the photos say something about the people, objects, and events that make our world wonderful.

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Teaching the Photo Essay

A picture is worth 1,000 words.

photo essays by students

Your students, if they’re anything like mine, love to communicate through images—photos on Instagram , GIFs shared in a text, photo stories on Snapchat. And yet, so much of our conversation in school revolves around words. Understanding text is critical to students’ success now and in the future. But do we also help students identify, read and understand images in order to become literate in the visual language that is all around us? The photo essay can be a great middle or high school assignment that will have strong appeal and grow your students’ writing skills.

What Is a Photo Essay?

For those who aren’t familiar with the term “photo essay,” have no fear. A photo essay, in its simplest form, is a series of pictures that evokes an emotion, presents an idea or helps tell a story. You’ve been exposed to photo essays for your entire life—possibly without even knowing it. For example, you may have seen Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother:

teachingphotoessay

An iconic image of the Great Depression, this picture, along with Lange’s other gripping photos, helped Americans better understand the effects of poverty in California as well as across the nation. Migrant Mother is one of countless photographs that helped persuade, influence or engage viewers in ways that text alone could not.

Photo essays can feature text through articles and descriptions, or they can stand alone with simple captions to give context. The versatility of photo essays has helped the medium become a part of our culture for centuries, from the American Civil War to modern environmental disasters like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. This versatility is also what makes the photo essay a great educational asset in classrooms today; teachers can use them in any content area. Math students can use them to show a geometric concept in real life. Science students can document a chemistry process at home. Auto students can photograph the technique—and joys and frustrations—of learning a new procedure.

So, where does a teacher begin? Read further for tips and ideas for making photo essays a part of your teaching toolbox.

Start With Photos

Introducing photo essays as a means of changing lives and changing society can hook student interest in the medium. Begin by simply showing pictures and letting students discuss their reactions. Consider this famous photo of the field at Antietam during the Civil War. Share some of the photos from this collection from CNN of 25 of the Most Iconic Photograph s or this list of 50 Influential Photographs That Changed Our World .

Each of these photographs stirs emotion and sends our minds searching for answers. As a warm-up assignment or series of assignments, have students choose (or assign randomly) a photograph to write about. What’s the story? Why did this happen? Who was involved?

DIY Photographs

Before giving a formal photo essay assignment, give students an opportunity to practice and receive feedback. Consider presenting students with several open-ended, ungraded challenges like “For class tomorrow, take a photo that depicts ‘Struggle.’” Other possible photo topics: chaos, frustration, friendship, school. Have students email you their photo homework and share it as a slideshow. Talk about the images. Do they convey the theme?

You can give examples or suggestions; however, giving too many examples and requirements can narrow students’ creativity. The purpose of this trial run is to generate conversation and introduce students to thinking like photographers, so don’t worry if the photos aren’t what you had in mind; it’s about getting feedback on what the student had in mind.

Technique 101

Even though the goal of a photo essay is to influence and create discussion, there is still benefit in giving students a crash course on simple photography concepts. Don’t feel like you have to teach a master-level course on dark-room development. Even a simple overview on the “Rule of Thirds” and the importance of perspective can be enough to help students create intentional, visually stirring photographs.

You can teach these ideas directly or have students do the work by researching on their own. They have most likely seen hundreds of movies, advertisements and photos, so these lessons are simply labeling what they’ve already experienced. Having some knowledge of composition will not only help students improve their visual literacy, it will also help empower them to take photos of their own.

Choose Your Purpose

Are students telling their own stories of their neighborhoods or their families? Are they addressing a social issue or making an argument through their images and text? A photo essay could be a great assignment in science to document a process or focus on nature.

If you are just getting started, start out small: Have students create a short photo essay (two to five images) to present a topic, process or idea you have been focusing on in class. Here’s a Photo Essay Planning Guide to share with your students.

Photo Essay Planning Guide Image

With pictures becoming a dominant medium in our image-filled world, it’s not a question of if we should give students practice and feedback with visual literacy, it’s a question of how . Photo essays are a simple, engaging way to start. So, what’s your plan?

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What is a photo essay?

  • Photo essays vs photo stories
  • How photo essays help you
  • 9 Steps to create photo essays

How to share your photo essays

Read Time: 11 minutes

Gather up a handful of images that seem to go together, and voila! It’s a photo essay, right? Well… no. Though, this is a common misconception.

In reality, a photo essay is much more thoughtful and structured than that. When you take the time to craft one, you’re using skills from all facets of our craft – from composition to curation.

In this guide, you’ll learn what makes a photo essay an amazing project that stretches your skills. You'll also learn exactly how to make one step by step.

  • Photo essay vs photo story

A photo essay is a collection of images based around a theme, a topic, a creative approach, or an exploration of an idea. Photo essays balance visual variety with a cohesive style and concept.

What's the difference between a photo essay and a photo story?

The terms photo essay and photo story are often used interchangeably. Even the dictionary definition of “photo essay” includes using images to convey either a theme or a story.

But in my experience, a photo essay and a photo story are two different things. As you delve into the field of visual storytelling, distinguishing between the two helps you to take a purposeful approach to what you’re making .

The differences ultimately lie in the distinctions between theme, topic and story.

Themes are big-picture concepts. Example: Wildness

Topics are more specific than themes, but still overarching. Example : Wild bears of Yellowstone National Park

Stories are specific instances or experiences that happen within, or provide an example for, a topic or theme. Example: A certain wild bear became habituated to tourists and was relocated to maintain its wildness

Unlike a theme or topic, a story has particular elements that make it a story. They include leading characters, a setting, a narrative arc, conflict, and (usually) resolution.

With that in mind, we can distingush between a photo essay and a photo story.

Themes and Topics vs Stories

A photo essay revolves around a topic, theme, idea, or concept. It visually explores a big-picture something .

This allows a good deal of artistic leeway where a photographer can express their vision, philosophies, opinions, or artistic expression as they create their images.

A photo story  is a portfolio of images that illustrate – you guessed it – a story.

Because of this, there are distinct types of images that a photo story uses that add to the understanding, insight, clarity and meaning to the story for viewers. While they can certainly be artistically crafted and visually stunning, photo stories document something happening, and rely on visual variety for capturing the full experience.

A photo essay doesn’t need to have the same level of structured variety that a photo story requires. It can have images that overlap or are similar, as they each explore various aspects of a theme.

An urban coyote walks across a road near an apartment building

Photo essays can be about any topic. If you live in a city, consider using your nature photography to make an essay about the wildlife that lives in your neighborhood . 

The role of text with photos

A photo story typically runs alongside text that narrates the story. We're a visual species, and the images help us feel like we are there, experiencing what's happening. So, the images add significant power to the text, but they're often a partner to it.

This isn’t always the case, of course. Sometimes photo stories don’t need or use text. It’s like reading a graphic novel that doesn’t use text. Moving through the different images that build on each other ultimately unveils the narrative.

Photo essays don’t need to rely on text to illuminate the images' theme or topic. The photographer may use captions (or even a text essay), or they may let the images speak for themselves.

Definitions are helpful guidelines (not strict rules)

Some people categorize photo essays as either narrative or thematic. That's essentially just calling photo stories “narrative photo essays” and photo essays “thematic photo essays.”

But, a story is a defined thing, and any writer/editor will tell you themes and topics are not the same as stories. And we use the word “story” in our daily lives as it’s defined. So, it makes far more sense to name the difference between a photo essay and a photo story, and bask in the same clarity writers enjoy .

Photo stories illustrate a particular experience, event, narrative, something that happened or is happening.

Photo essays explore an idea, concept, topic, theme, creative approach, big-picture something .

Both photo essays and photo stories are immensely powerful visual tools. And yes, the differences between them can certainly be blurred, as is always the case with art.

Simply use this distinction as a general guideline, providing extra clarity around what you’re making and why you're making it.

To dig into specific types of images used to create powerful photo stories, check out this training: 6 Must-Have Shots for a Photo Story. 

Meanwhile, let’s dig deeper into photo essays.

A sea nettle jellyfish floats alone on a white surface

Photo essays are a chance to try new styles or techniques that stretch your skills and creativity. This image was part of an essay exploring simplicity and shape, and helped me learn new skills in black and white post-processing.

How photo essays improve your photography

Creating photo essays is an amazing antidote if you’ve ever felt a lack of direction or purpose in your photography. Photo essays help build your photographic skills in at least 3 important ways.

1. You become more strategic in creating a body of work

It's easy to get stuck in a rut of photographing whatever pops up in front of you. And when you do, you end up with a collection of stand-alone shots.

These singles may work fine as a print, a quick Instagram post, or an addition to your gallery of shots on your website. But amassing a bunch of one-off shots limits your opportunities as a photographer for everything from exhibits to getting your work published.

Building photo essays pushes you to think strategically about what you photograph, why, and how. You're working toward a particular deliverable – a cohesive visual essay – with the images you create.

This elevates your skills in crafting your photo essay, and in how you curate the rest of your work, from galleries on your website to selecting images to sell as prints .

2. You become more purposeful in your composition skills

Composition is so much more than just following the rule of thirds, golden spirals, or thinking about the angle of light in a shot.

Composition is also about thinking ahead in what you’re trying to accomplish with a photograph – from what you’re saying through it to its emotional impact on a viewer – and where it fits within a larger body of work.

Photo essays push you to think critically about each shot – from coming up with fresh compositions for familiar subjects, to devising surprising compositions to fit within a collection, to creating compositions that expand on what’s already in a photo essay.

You’re pushed beyond creating a single pleasing frame, which leads you to shoot more thoughtfully and proactively than ever.

(Here’s a podcast episode on switching from reactive shooting to proactive shooting.)

3. You develop strong editing and curation skills

Selecting which images stay, and which get left behind is one of the hardest jobs on a photographer’s to-do list. Mostly, it’s because of emotional attachment.

You might think it’s an amazing shot because you know the effort that went into capturing it. Or perhaps when you look at it, you get a twinge of the joy or exhilaration you felt the moment you captured it. There’s also the second-guessing that goes into which of two similar images is the best – which will people like more? So you’re tempted to just show both.

Ultimately, great photographers appear all the more skilled because they only show their best work. That in and of itself is a skill they’ve developed through years of ruthlessly editing their own work.

Because the most powerful photo essays only show a handful of extraordinary images, you’re bound to develop the very same critical skill (and look all the more talented because of it).

Photo essays are also a great stepping stone to creating photo stories. If you’re interested in moving beyond stand-alone shots and building stories, shooting photo essays will get your creative brain limbered up and ready for the adventure of photo stories.

An American dipper looks into the water of a stream on a cold morning

A photo essay exploring the natural history of a favorite species is an exciting opportunity for an in-depth study. For me, that was a photo essay on emotive images of the American dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) as it hunts in streams. 

9 Simple steps to create your photo essays

1. clarify your theme.

Choose a theme, topic, or concept you want to explore. Spend some time getting crystal clear on what you want to focus on. It helps to write out a few sentences, or even a few paragraphs noting:

  • What you want the essay to be about
  • What kinds of images you want to create as part of it
  • How you’ll photograph the images
  • The style, techniques, or gear you might use to create your images
  • What “success” looks like when you’re done with your photo essay

You don’t have to stick to what you write down, of course. It can change during the image creation process. But fleshing your idea out on paper goes a long way in clarifying your photo essay theme and how you’ll go about creating it.

2. Create your images

Grab your camera and head outside!

As you’re photographing your essay, allow yourself some freedom to experiment. Try unusual compositions or techniques that are new to you.

Stretch your style a little, or “try on” the style of other photographers you admire who have photographed similar subjects.

Photo essays are wonderful opportunities to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and grow as a photographer.

Remember that a photo essay is a visually cohesive collection of images that make sense together. So, while you might stretch yourself into new terrain as you shoot, try to keep that approach, style, or strategy consistent.

Don’t be afraid to create lots of images. It’s great to have lots to choose from in the editing process, which comes up next.

3. Pull together your wide edit

Once you’ve created your images, pull together all the images that might make the cut. This could be as many as 40-60 images. Include anything you want to consider for the final essay in the wide edit.

From here, start weeding out images that:

  • are weaker in composition or subject matter
  • stand out like a sore thumb from the rest of the collection
  • Are similar to other stronger images in the collection

It's helpful to review the images at thumbnail size. You make more instinctive decisions and can more easily see the body of work as a whole. If an image is strong even at thumbnail size to stand out from similar frames while also partnering well with other images in the collection, that's a good sign it's strong enough for the essay.

4. Post-process your images for a cohesive look

Now it’s time to post-process the images. Use whatever editing software you’re comfortable with to polish your images.

Again, a photo essay has a cohesive visual look. If you use presets, filters, or other tools, use them across all the images.

5. Finalize your selection

It’s time to make the tough decisions. Select only the strongest for your photo essay from your group of images.

Each image should be strong enough to stand on its own and make sense as part of the whole group.

Many photo essays range from 8-12 images. But of course, it varies based on the essay. The number of images you have in your final photo essay is up to you.

Remember, less is more. A photo essay is most powerful when each image deserves to be included.

6. Put your images in a purposeful order

Create a visual flow with your images. Decide which image is first, and build from there. Use compositions, colors, and subject matter to decide which image goes next, then next, then next in the order.

Think of it like music: notes are arranged in a way that builds energy, or slows it down, surprise listeners with a new refrain, or drop into a familiar chorus. How the notes are ordered creates emotional arcs for listeners.

How you order your images is similar.

Think of the experience a viewer will have as they look at one image, then the next, and the next. Order your images so they create the experience you want your audience to have.

7. Get feedback

The best photographers make space for feedback, even when it’s tough to hear. Your work benefits from not just hearing feedback, but listening to it and applying what you learn from it.

Show your photo essay to people who have different sensibilities or tastes. Friends, family members, fellow photographers – anyone you trust to give you honest feedback.

Watch their reactions and hear what they say about what they’re seeing. Use their feedback to guide you in the next step.

8. Refine, revise, and finalize

Let your photo essay marinate for a little while. Take a day or two away from it. Then use your freshened eyes and the feedback you received from the previous step to refine your essay.

Swap out any selects you might want to change and reorder the images if needed.

9. Add captions

Even if you don’t plan on displaying captions with your images, captioning your images is a great practice to get into. It gives context, story, and important information to each image. And, more than likely, you will want to use these captions at some point when you share your photo essay, which we dive into later in this article.

Add captions to the image files using Lightroom, Bridge, or other software programs.

Create a document, such as a Google or Word doc, with captions for each image.

In your captions, share a bit about the story behind the image, or the creation process. Add whatever makes sense to share that provides a greater understanding of the image and its purpose.

Two rocks sit near each other on a wind-blown beach with long lines of texture in the sand

Photo essays allow you to explore deliberate style choices, such as a focus on shapes, patterns, textures, and lines. Since each photo is part of a larger essay, it encourages you to be bold with choices you might not otherwise make. 

5 Examples of amazing nature photo essays

1. “how the water shapes us” from the nature conservancy.

screenshot of the landing page of photo essay How The Water Shapes Us from Nature Conservancy

This gorgeous essay, crafted with the work of multiple photographers, explores the people and places within the Mississippi River basin. Through the images, we gain a sense of how the water influences life from the headwater all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Notice how each photographer is tasked with the same theme, yet approaches it with their own distinct style and vision. It is a wonderful example of the sheer level of visual variety you can have while maintaining a consistent style or theme.

View it here

2. “A Cyclist on the English Landscape” from New York Times’ The World Through A Lens series

screenshot of the landing page of photo essay A Cyclist on the English Landscape from New York Times

This photo essay is a series of self-portraits by travel photographer Roff Smith while “stuck” at home during the pandemic. As he peddled the roads making portraits, the project evolved into a “celebration of traveling at home”. It’s a great example of how visually consistent you can be inside a theme while making each image completely unique.

3. “Vermont, Dressed In Snow” from New York Times’ The World Through A Lens series

screenshot of the landing page of photo essay Vermont, Dressed in Snow from New York Times

This essay by aerial photographer Caleb Kenna uses a very common photo essay theme: snow. Because all images are aerial photographs, there’s a consistency to them. Yet, the compositions are utterly unique from one another. It’s a great example of keeping viewers surprised as they move from one image to the next while still maintaining a clear focus on the theme.

4. “Starling-Studded Skies” from bioGraphic Magazine

screenshot of the landing page of photo essay Starling-Studded-Skies from bioGraphic Magazine

This beautiful essay is by Kathryn Cooper, a physicist trained in bioinformatics, and a talented photographer. She used a 19th century photographic technique, chronophotography, to create images that give us a look at the art and science of starling murmurations. She states: “I’m interested in the transient moments when chaos briefly changes to order, and thousands of individual bodies appear to move as one.” This essay is a great example of deep exploration of a concept using a specific photographic technique.

View it here   (Note: must be viewed on desktop)

5. “These Scrappy Photos Capture the Action-Packed World Beneath a Bird Feeder” from Audubon Magazine

screenshot of the landing page of photo essay by Carla Rhodes from Audubon Online

This photo essay from conservation photographer Carla Rhodes explores the wildlife that takes advantage of the bounty of food waiting under bird feeders . Using remote camera photography , Rhodes gives viewers a unique ground-level perspective and captures moments that make us feel like we’re in conversation with friends in the Hundred Acre Woods. This essay is a great example of how perspective, personality, and chance can all come into play as you explore both an idea and a technique.

25 Ideas for creative photo essays you can make

The possibilities for photo essays are truly endless – from the concepts you explore to the techniques you use and styles you apply.

Choose an idea, hone your unique perspective on it, then start applying the 9 simple steps from above. 

  • The life of a plant or animal (your favorite species, a species living in your yard, etc)
  • The many shapes of a single species (a tree species, a bird species, etc)
  • How a place changes over time
  • The various moods of a place
  • A conservation issue you care about
  • Math in nature
  • Urban nature
  • Seasonal changes
  • Your yard as a space for nature
  • Shifting climate and its impacts
  • Human impacts on environments
  • Elements: Water, wind, fire, earth
  • Day in the life (of a person, a place, a stream, a tree…)
  • Outdoor recreation (birding, kayaking, hiking, naturalist journaling…)
  • Wildlife rehabilitation
  • Lunar cycles
  • Sunlight and shadows
  • Your local watershed
  • Coexistence

A Pacific wren sings from a branch in a sun dappled forest

As you zero in on a photo essay theme, consider two things: what most excites you about an idea, and what about it pushes you out of your comfort zone. The heady mix of joy and challenge will ensure you stick with it. 

Your photo essay is ready for the world! Decide how you’d like to make an impact with your work. You might use one or several of the options below.

1. Share it on your website

Create a gallery or a scrollytelling page on your website. This is a great way to drive traffic to your website where people can peruse your photo essay and the rest of the photography you have.

Putting it on your website and optimizing your images for SEO helps you build organic traffic and potentially be discovered by a broader audience, including photo editors.

2. Create a scrollytelling web page

If you enjoy the experience of immersive visual experiences, consider making one using your essay. And no, you don’t have to be a whiz at code to make it happen.

Shorthand helps you build web pages with scrollytelling techniques that make a big impression on viewers. Their free plan allows you to publish 3 essays or stories.

3. Create a Medium post

If you don’t have a website and want to keep things simple, a post on Medium is a great option.

Though it’s known for being a platform for bloggers, it’s also possible to add images to a post for a simple scroll.

And, because readers can discover and share posts, it’s a good place for your photos to get the attention of people who might not otherwise come across it.

4. Share it on Instagram

Instagram has changed a lot over the last couple of years, but it’s still a place for photographers to share their work thoughtfully.

There are at least 3 great ways to share your photo essay on the platform.

– Create a single post for each image. Add a caption. Publish one post per day until the full essay is on your feed. Share each post via Instagram Stories to bring more attention and interaction to your photo essay.

– Create a carousel post. You can add up 10 photos to a carousel post, so you may need to create two of them for your full photo essay. Or you might create a series of carousel posts using 3-4 images in each.

– Create a Reel featuring your images as a video.  The algorithm heavily favors reels, so turning your photo essay into a video experience can get it out to a larger audience.

I ran a “create a reel” challenge in my membership community. One member created a reel with her still images around a serious conservation issue. It gathered a ton of attention and landed her opportunities to share her message through YouTube and podcast interviews and publishing opportunities. Watch it here.

5. Exhibit it locally

Reach out to local galleries, cafes, pubs, or even the public library to see if they’re interested in hanging your photo essay for display. Many local businesses and organizations happily support the work of local artists.

6. Pitch your photo essay to publications

One of the best ways to reach an audience with your work is to get it published. Find publications that are a great fit for the theme and style of your photo essay, then pitch your essay for consideration. You gain a fantastic opportunity to share your work widely and can earn a paycheck at the same time.

Remember that if you want to get your photo essay published, you may want to hold back from sharing it publicly before you pitch it to publications.

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