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Analyze That: Photo Essay 101

“Analyze that” is Boise Urban Magazine’s expert blog covering topics in marketing, photography and journalism. “Analyze that” covers topics Boise Urban Magazine interns are learning through their experience with internship and classwork at Boise State University and University of Idaho. This will be paired with research and up-to-date information to bring you expert marketing tips.

This weeks “Analyze that” blog is brought to you by photography intern, Katy Rogan.

A story without words has the potential to be compelling and honest, and can even tell more than a traditional written story. However, it also runs the risk of leaving your audience in the dark. When your photos show disconnection, or present more questions than answers, it can be difficult to translate the concept or story you had in mind. In this week’s Analyze That blog, we will be exploring what makes a successful photo essay.

Phase One: The Story

To tell our “story without words” we first need a concept or point to it all. It is also important to keep in mind that the concept you begin with often won’t be the same one you end with — and that’s okay! Remarkable things can happen as you shoot. All it takes is one unique image to start a whole new slew of ideas. Pick an idea,do your research and then see where it takes you organically.

Successful photo essays can range from documenting an event, a day in the life, or following some sort of transition.

Phase Two: Shoot. And then Shoot Some More

This may seem like an obvious instruction, but it cannot be stressed enough.

It will be helpful to have a couple options when it comes to lenses. A wide angle lens will help with capturing scenes, while a lens with more zoom will be helpful when shooting portraits and close-ups. The more you shoot on site, the more photos you have to work with when it comes to editing it down to those chosen few.

Most photo essays include:

Establishing Shot: Usually a wide angle shot that will set the scene and orient your viewer. Where are we? What will we be exploring? Can we build more off of this photo? These are questions to consider when getting the perfect establishing shot.

Transitional Shots: This is where the bulk of the essay will be. These should be creative shots from a multitude of angles, showing details of the story that will carry the viewer to the end. Variety is key here. If you stick to one type of shot, you run the risk of boring your audience.

Closing Shot: An iconic shot to wrap up your essay may be the most important. Without one, your viewer might not remember your essay in the way that you want them to.

Phase Three: Sequencing

Once you have narrowed your photographs down to the ones you will use, it is then time to sequence them. The order in which you present your photos may not seem like a very important aspect, but the right sequence can show a knack for design and stick with your audience. It is also a tool for you to use to control the path the viewer experiences when they see your essay.


In this educational video, Photographer Larry Price gives the low-down on capturing a compelling and interesting photo essay.

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