What Is a Narrative Photo Essay?
And why does it matter.
What is it?
Well, it’s a collection of photographs that tell a story, convey an emotion, and explore a theme or a location. They can range from purely visual to photographs with captions, to photographs accompanied with some text, to fully narrative essays where photographs are used only to illustrate the story. There is no right or wrong — choose the style and the balance between the visual and the narrative according to your preferences. What is essential, is that you convey a story or explore a specific theme through your photo essay. Choose whether you want to focus more on a story or on a theme or location.
Selecting a topic
The purpose of the photo essay is to reflect on your experience during your time in any place you’ve been, to explore the art, culture, public space, people, etc., compare and contrast what you observe with what you know from home or places you have lived at. You have complete liberty to choose the theme of your essay. To help you in this process, ask yourself:
- In the short time that you were here, what surprised you? Buildings, colors, public art or statues, what people say or do — does anything stand out as surprising, different?
- What ideas do you find relevant, and important? History, politics, religion, and art in everyday life…. all can be explored in a narrated photo essay.
- What kind of photography do you like and enjoy? Is it nature, portraits of people, urban space, details, or abstract photography?
The theme or a topic, when well selected and specific enough, will help your photo essay to stick together, and form one coherent whole. The logical sequence of your photographs and their arrangement with the text will further help to convey your message.
- Consider how many photos do you want to use, select them well to fit your theme
- Select your cover photo, add an interesting title to it — both should succeed in communicating your topic, attract the viewer — spike their curiosity and entice them to follow along
- Balance photos that convey information with photos that convey emotion, a feeling, capture the atmosphere
- Don’t be afraid to also combine media — include a short video, insert music, combine drawing/painting with photography,…
- Combine single shots with diptychs or triptychs, action and still shots, distant and close-up shots to create a dynamic and captivating presentation
- The final photo should further emphasize the main message of your essay, the emotion you wish to leave the viewer with (inspiration, hope, sadness, nostalgia, paradox?)
And finally the platform
There are many online and offline platforms and media that you can use for your photo essay. You may choose a blog format — i.e. the Blogger, WordPress, Google pages, or one that is more conducive to the visual presentation as Tumblr. However, if you feel more comfortable with a regular good old word processor, feel free to arrange your essay in Microsoft Word or Powerpoint.
I would also like to add the physical presentation avenue here, I am a big supporter of zines, books, magazines, and prints. In fact, that is my goal, to make my work more physical, less digital. In part, it has to do with the bombardment of images that we’re getting already, and the photograph printed in your hands has a different dimension, your attention span increases and your mental health improves considerably. All wins in my opinion. 😊