How to Write a Photo Essay

Man reading book.jpg

Unlike traditional essays that attempt to portray thoughts, ideas and emotions through writing, photo essays shift the focus away from print onto a series of highly-detailed images. The roles are reversed: The writing in the essay supports the pictures, while the pictures tell the story. The written portion of the essay should portray details that cannot be easily depicted through through the pictures, alone, but the pictures are the primary method of story telling in a photo essay.

1 Choose a subject

Choose a subject that meets the criteria set forth by your instructor. Maybe there is an upcoming family or community event that might provide good photos. See if there is a park in the area that would make a great setting for your photo shoot. Remember, the pictures are the focus of your essay, so plan accordingly.

2 Consider your audience

Consider your audience. Decide who will be reading and viewing your photo essay. Maybe the whole class will be viewing it, or your teacher will review it, alone. Present your material in a manner that is accessible to your target audience. If your photo essay is geared toward school-age children, you will want your photos to reflect their likes and interests, possibly utilizing play time activities and vibrant colors.

3 Determine your goal

Determine your goal in writing the photo essay, and use your pictures as a means of reaching that goal. If the essay is intended to support a cause, or persuade the reader to action, you will want to reflect this in your photos. Select them accordingly.

4 Take as many pictures

Take as many pictures as you can. Since you can review digital images prior to printing them, there is no reason not to snap hundreds of photos in preparation for your photo essay. The more pictures you take, the greater likelihood you will end up with suitable, usable shots.

5 Select a word-processing program

Select a word-processing program or slide-show program to arrange your photos in the order that best tells the story.

6 Add written portions written

Add written portions beneath the photos or on the page immediately following each photograph. Use the written portion of your essay to expand on the photographs. Since it would be difficult to reveal back-story or other relevant history in your photographs, use the written portion of the essay to enlighten the viewer.

  • Make sure that the pictures you select tell the story you are trying to convey, and meet your writing goal.
  • Respond to your pictures in the written portion of the essay. If their is a picture that is funny, talk about why it is funny in a way that expands on the humor of the photo. Ultimately, the written portion of the essay should support the photographed portion.

Michael Elkins is the administrator for an adult group home in Stockton, Calif. He was been writing stories, journals, essays and articles since 1998. He is the recipient of the Sylvia Lopez-Medina award for short fiction and has also published his work in the literary magazine "Penumbra."