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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

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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

how to write an essay on a photograph

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

how to write an essay on a photograph

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

how to write an essay on a photograph

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.

how to write an essay on a photograph

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.

how to write an essay on a photograph

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.

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How to Create a Photo Essay in 9 Steps (with Examples)

Photo Editing & Creativity , Tutorials

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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.

how to write an essay on a photograph

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How to Make a Photo Essay

Last Updated: September 27, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Heather Gallagher . Heather Gallagher is a Photojournalist & Photographer based in Austin, Texas. She runs her own photography studio named "Heather Gallagher Photography" which was voted Austin's Best Family Photographer and top 3 Birth Photographers in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Heather specializes in family Photojournalism and has over 15 years of experience documenting individuals, families, and businesses all over the world. Her clients include Delta Airlines, Oracle, Texas Monthly, and her work has been featured in The Washington Post and The Austin American Statesman. She is a member of the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers (IAPBP). There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 289,285 times.

Photo essays are an increasingly popular medium for journalists, bloggers, and advertisers alike. Whether you’re trying to show the emotional impact of a current news story or share your hobby with friends and family, images can capture your topic in a personal, emotional, and interesting way. Creating a photo essay can be as easy as choosing a topic, getting your images, and organizing the essay.

Things You Should Know

  • Reflect long and hard on your topic, considering your audience, current events, and whether to go for a thematic or narrative approach.
  • Create an outline, including your focus image, establishing shot, clincher, and other image details.
  • When you finally take your photos, remember to take more photos than you think you need and don't be afraid to let the project change as you create it.

Finding Your Topic

Step 1 Review current events.

  • Offer a photo essay of your place of business as a training tool.
  • Use a photo essay about your business as a sales or social tool by publishing it on your website or social media page.
  • Create a how to photo essay to help others learn about your hobby, so they can take it up as well. [4] X Research source

Step 4 Select an interesting subject.

  • Thematic subjects are big ideas including things like local gun laws, at-risk youth, or welcoming home soldiers.
  • Narrative essays can include a day in the life, how to tutorials, or progression series that show changes over time such as tracking a building project.
  • If you have been given a commission or specific publication to work with, you may need to choose a topic that will fit a thematic or narrative approach as outlined by the publication. Make sure you are aware of any publication guidelines in advance.

Organizing Your Shoot

Step 1 Get permission.

  • Consider how difficult it will be to get permission to photograph your subjects. If you already have relationships established, it will be easier. If not, allow for extra time to get permission and/or waivers.
  • Schools, daycares, and other places with kids typically have more regulations on who can be photographed and for what purposes. You’ll usually need to get parental approval, in addition to permission from those in charge. [7] X Research source

Step 2 Research your subject.

  • Consider doing interviews with people involved prior to the shoot. Ask things like, “What’s the most interesting thing you do during this event?” or “How long have you been involved with this organization?”
  • These interviews are also a great opportunity to ask for permission and get waivers.
  • If you’re going to visit a job site, charitable event, or other large group activity, ask the person or persons in charge to explain what you’re doing to everyone before you arrive. [8] X Research source

Step 3 Create an outline.

Capturing Your Images

Step 1 Check the light.

  • Many new photographers stay away from high ISO shots because they allow more light through producing a “busy” image. However, these images are often easier to edit later as there’s more information to work with. [11] X Research source
  • If it’s very bright in your location or you’ve set up artificial lighting, a low ISO is likely adequate, For darker areas, you’ll likely need to use a higher ISO.
  • If you need one second to capture an image with a base ISO of 100, you’ll need one eighth of a second to capture with an ISO of 800. [13] X Research source

Step 2 Consider composition.

  • Even snapping candid shots, which you may need to capture quickly, take a few moments to think about how objects are placed to make the most impact.
  • Always think about how the main subject’s surroundings play into the overall image, and try to create different levels and points of interest.
  • You can change composition as part of the editing process in some cases, so if you can’t line up the shot just right, don’t let it deter you from capturing the image you want. [14] X Research source

Step 3 Take more photos than you need.

Organizing the Essay

Step 1 Exclude photos you don’t need.

  • If you’re doing a day in the life photo essay about a frustrated person working in an office, an image of that person struggling to open the front door against the wind might be an apt focus shot.
  • If your essay is about the process of building a home, your focus image may be something like a contractor and architect looking at blue prints with the framed up home in the background.
  • If your essay is about a family reunion, the focus image may be a funny shot of the whole family making faces, pretending to be fighting, or a serious photo of the family posed together. Capture whatever seems natural for the family. [18] X Research source

Step 3 Categorize your remaining photos.

  • Regardless of essay type, you’ll need a focus image to grab attention.
  • Use an overall shot to give context to your essay. Where is it, when is it happening, who’s involved, what’s going on, and why should someone be interested? The five “W’s” of journalism are a great way to determine what your overall shot should capture.
  • Find your final image. This should be something provocative that asks your viewer to think about the topic.
  • Between the focus and overall shot and ending image, include a series of images that move the viewer from the lead-in shots to its result. Use images that build in intensity or draw the viewers further into the essay.

Step 5 Ask for feedback.

  • If the images aren’t telling the story, ask your friends to look at your other photos and ask, “I wanted this image to make this point. You got a different idea. Would any of these images make this point to you more clearly?”
  • If the others like the images you’ve chosen, you may still want to ask them to look at your other photos and tell you if they think any of the images you didn’t include should be added in. They may see something you missed. [20] X Research source

Step 6 Add text.

  • If you're commissioned to add photos to an essay, you should make sure images reflect the written word, but also add emotion and context the writing could not capture. For example, an essay on poverty may include an image of a child and parent living on the street could capture more emotional context.
  • Captions should only include information the viewer could not derive from the photo itself. For instance, you can include a date, the subject’s name, or a statistic relevant to your subject in the caption.
  • If you choose not to have any text or just a title and some introductory and/or closing words, make sure you convey all necessary information succinctly. [21] X Research source

Expert Q&A

Heather Gallagher

  • Be creative with your topics. However, something as simple as "things I like" will suffice so long as you stay creative. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Make sure you're familiar with your camera. It will make the photo composition a lot easier. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Don't get discouraged. It may take several tries to get the desired results in your photos. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0

how to write an essay on a photograph

You Might Also Like

Write an Essay

  • ↑ http://digital-photography-school.com/5-photo-essay-tips/
  • ↑ Heather Gallagher. Professional Photojournalist & Photographer. Expert Interview. 8 April 2020.
  • ↑ http://improvephotography.com/30816/10-ideas-creative-photo-essays/
  • ↑ http://www.apogeephoto.com/how-to-create-a-photo-essay/
  • ↑ https://petapixel.com/how-to-create-a-photo-essay/
  • ↑ http://photo.journalism.cuny.edu/week-5/
  • ↑ http://clickitupanotch.com/2010/12/creating-a-photo-essay/
  • ↑ https://photographylife.com/what-is-iso-in-photography
  • ↑ https://wiredimpact.com/blog/how-to-make-a-photo-essay-nonprofit/
  • ↑ http://digital-photography-school.com/5-tips-for-creating-a-photo-essay-with-a-purpose/
  • ↑ https://www.format.com/magazine/resources/photography/how-to-make-photo-essay-examples

About This Article

Heather Gallagher

To make a photo essay, start by selecting a subject that is easy to capture and that inspires you, like a friend or a family pet. Then, decide if you want to present your photo essay as thematic, which shows specific examples of a big idea, or narrative, with a beginning, middle, and end. Next, create an outline of your essay to determine which photos you’ll need, like an establishing shot. Finally, take your photos, select which images you want to use in your essay, and organize them according to your theme before adding text to explain the essay. To learn how to capture the best images, keep scrolling! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Advice for an Unforgettable Photo Essay

Six steps for turning your images into a memorable photo essay, from curating your best work to crafting a title.

taylor_dorrell_cuba_photo_essay

A man sits alone on a chair on the side of the road. We see him from above, surrounded by grey cobblestones neatly placed, a broken plastic chair, and some pylons scattered along the curb. A street cat wanders out of the frame and away from the man. He appears lonely, the only person inhabiting the place in which he seems so comfortably seated. As the eye wanders throughout the frame, however, the viewer discovers more: a vast city cast beyond the street and behind the man’s chair. This image closes Sarah Pannell’s photo essay Sehir , a quiet study of urban life.

Possibilities, discovery, and stories: these are some of the most effective elements of a photo essay. Collections of images can help produce a narrative, evoke emotion, and guide the viewer through one or more perspectives. A well-executed photo essay doesn’t rely on a title or any prior knowledge of its creator; it narrates on its own, moving viewers through sensations, lessons, and reactions.

Famous photo essays like Country Doctor by W. Eugene Smith or Gordon Parks’ The Harlem Family are acclaimed for showing a glimpse into the lives of the sick and impoverished. Other well-made photo essays offer a new way to look at the everyday, such as Peter Funch’s much-reposted photo series 42nd and Vanderbilt , for which Funch photographed the same street corner for nine years. As shown by these photographers’ experiences with the medium, a collection of photos can enliven spaces and attitudes. Strong photo essays can give voice to marginalized individuals and shine a spotlight on previously overlooked experiences.

You don’t necessarily need to be a documentary photographer to create a powerful photo essay. Photo essays can showcase any topic, from nature photography to portraiture to wedding shots. We spoke to a few photographers to get their perspectives on what makes a good photo essay, and their tips for how any photographer can get started in this medium. Here are six steps to follow to create a photo essay that tells a memorable story.

Choose a specific topic or theme for your photo essay.

There are two types of photo essays: the narrative and the thematic. Narrative photo essays focus on a story you’re telling the viewer, while thematic photo essays speak to a specific subject.

The most natural method for choosing a topic or theme for your photo essay is to go with what you know. Photograph what you experience. Whether that includes people, objects, or the things you think about throughout the day, accessibility is key here. Common topics or concepts to start with are emotions (depicting sadness or happiness) or experiences (everyday life, city living).

For photographer Sharon Pannen , planning a photo essay is as simple as “picking out a subject you find interesting or you want to make a statement about.”

sharon_pannen_photo_essay

From Paper & Stories , a photo series by Sharon Pannen for Schön! Magazine.

Consider your photo subjects.

The subjects of your photographs, whether human or not, will fill the space of your photos and influence the mood or idea you’re trying to depict. The subject can determine whether or not your photos are considered interesting. “I always try to find someone that catches my eye. I especially like to see how the light falls on their face and how a certain aesthetic might add to their persona,” says photographer Victoria Wojtan .

While subjects and their interest factor are, well, subjective, when considering your subjects, you should ask yourself about your audience. Do other people want to see this? Is my subject representative of the larger idea my photo essay is trying to convey? Your projects can involve people you know or people you’ve only just met.

“Most projects I work on involve shooting portraits of strangers, so there’s always a tension in approaching someone for a portrait,” says photographer Taylor Dorrell . For Wojtan, that tension can help build trust with a subject and actually leads to more natural images “If there’s tension it’s usually because the person’s new to being photographed by someone for something that’s outside of a candid moment or selfie, and they need guidance for posing. This gives me the opportunity to make them feel more comfortable and let them be themselves. I tend to have a certain idea in mind, but try to allow for organic moments to happen.”

Aim for a variety of images.

Depending on your theme, there are a few types of photos you’ll want to use to anchor your essay. One or two lead photos should slowly introduce the viewer to your topic. These initial photos will function in a similar way to the introductory paragraph in a written essay or news article.

From there, you should consider further developing your narrative by introducing elements like portraiture, close ups, detail shots, and a carefully selected final photo to leave the viewer with the feeling you set out to produce in your photos. Consider your opening and closing images to be the most important elements of your photo essay, and choose them accordingly. You want your first images to hook the viewer, and you also want your final images to leave a lasting impression and perhaps offer a conclusion to the narrative you’ve developed.

Including different types of photos, shot at different ranges, angles, and perspectives, can help engage your viewer and add more texture to your series.

Says photographer Taylor Dorrell: “After I have a group of images, I tend to think about color, composition, the order the images were taken, the subject material, and relevance to the concept.”

Photo_Essay_Taylor_Dorrell

From Taylor Dorrell’s photo essay White Fences : “White Fences is an ongoing photo series that explores the theme of suburban youth in the United States, specifically in the midwest suburb New Albany, Ohio.”

Put your emotions aside.

Self-doubt can easily come into play when working with your own photography. The adage that we are our own worst critics is often true. It can be difficult to objectively select your strongest images when creating a photo essay. This is why putting together photo essays is such a useful practice for developing your curatorial skills.

“The most important part for me is getting outside opinions. I don’t do that enough, and have a bias in selecting images that might not be the most powerful images or the most effective sequence of images,” says Dorrell. Your own perception of a photograph can cloud your ability to judge whether or not it adds to your photo essay. This is especially true when your essay deals with personal subjects. For example, a photo essay about your family may be hard to evaluate, as your own feelings about family members will impact how you take and view the photos. This is where getting feedback from peers can be invaluable to producing a strong series.

Collecting feedback while putting your photo essay together can help you determine the strengths, weaknesses, and gaps within the collection of photos you’ve produced. Ask your friends to tell you their favorites, why they like them, and what they think you’re going for in the work you’ve created. Their opinions can be your guide, not just your own emotions.

Edit your photo selection.

Beyond post-production, the series of photos you select as your essay will determine whether you’ve executed your theme or narrative effectively. Can the photos stand alone, without written words, and tell the story you set out to? Do they make sense together, in a logical sequence? The perfect photo essay will give your audience a full picture of the narrative, theme, or essence you’re looking to capture.

A good method to use to cull your images down is to remove as many as half of your images straight away to see if your narrative is still as strong with fewer photos. Or, perhaps, deciding on a small number you’d like to aim for (maybe just five to ten images) and using this as a method to narrow down to the images that tell your story best.

Taylor_Dorrell_Photo_Essay

From Taylor Dorrell’s photo essay Over the Rhine , featured in Vice.

Give your photo essay a title, and add a concise written statement.

Finally, you’ll want to create a title and written statement for your photo essay. This will help position your work and can enable the viewer to fully understand your intention, or at least guide their perspective.

A solid written statement and title will be relevant to your topic, detail your primary objective, and introduce your point of view. It’s an opportunity to clarify your intentions to the viewer and ensure they walk away with a clear interpretation of your work. Depending on your photo essay, you may want to include several paragraphs of text, but even just one or two sentences of background can be enough to expand the viewer’s understanding of your work.

Consider if you’d like to add the written statement at the beginning of your essay to introduce it, or at the end as a conclusion. Either one can be impactful, and it depends how you’d like people to experience your work.

For his photo essay White Fences, excerpted above, Taylor Dorrell wrote only one sentence of introduction. But for his series Over the Rhine, Dorell included a longer written statement to accompany the work, which is “an ongoing photo series that seeks to explore the Cincinnati neighborhood of the same name and its surroundings. The series was started in response to the shooting of Samuel DuBose, an unarmed black man, by officer Ray Tensing of the University of Cincinnati Police, which happened July 19th, 2015.” Dorell’s text goes on to offer more background on the project, setting up the viewer with all the information they need to understand the context of the photo essay.

Depending on the motivations behind your photo essay and what sort of subject it depicts, a longer text may be necessary—or just a few words might be enough.

Looking for a place to share your photo essays with the world? Take a look at our guide to creating a photography website for tips on showcasing your photos online.

Cover image by Taylor Dorrell, from his photo essay Hurricane Over Sugar .

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how to write an essay on a photograph

What is a Photo Essay? 9 Photo Essay Examples You Can Recreate

A photo essay is a series of photographs that tell a story. Unlike a written essay, a photo essay focuses on visuals instead of words. With a photo essay, you can stretch your creative limits and explore new ways to connect with your audience. Whatever your photography skill level, you can recreate your own fun and creative photo essay.

9 Photo Essay Examples You Can Recreate

  • Photowalk Photo Essay
  • Transformation Photo Essay
  • Day in the Life Photo Essay
  • Event Photo Essay
  • Building Photo Essay
  • Historic Site or Landmark Photo Essay
  • Behind the Scenes Photo Essay
  • Family Photo Essay
  • Education Photo Essay

Stories are important to all of us. While some people gravitate to written stories, others are much more attuned to visual imagery. With a photo essay, you can tell a story without writing a word. Your use of composition, contrast, color, and perspective in photography will convey ideas and evoke emotions.

To explore narrative photography, you can use basic photographic equipment. You can buy a camera or even use your smartphone to get started. While lighting, lenses, and post-processing software can enhance your photos, they aren’t necessary to achieve good results.

Whether you need to complete a photo essay assignment or want to pursue one for fun or professional purposes, you can use these photo essay ideas for your photography inspiration . Once you know the answer to “what is a photo essay?” and find out how fun it is to create one, you’ll likely be motivated to continue your forays into photographic storytelling.

1 . Photowalk Photo Essay

One popular photo essay example is a photowalk. Simply put, a photowalk is time you set aside to walk around a city, town, or a natural site and take photos. Some cities even have photowalk tours led by professional photographers. On these tours, you can learn the basics about how to operate your camera, practice photography composition techniques, and understand how to look for unique shots that help tell your story.

Set aside at least two to three hours for your photowalk. Even if you’re photographing a familiar place—like your own home town—try to look at it through new eyes. Imagine yourself as a first-time visitor or pretend you’re trying to educate a tourist about the area.

Walk around slowly and look for different ways to capture the mood and energy of your location. If you’re in a city, capture wide shots of streets, close-ups of interesting features on buildings, street signs, and candid shots of people. Look for small details that give the city character and life. And try some new concepts—like reflection picture ideas—by looking for opportunities to photographs reflections in mirrored buildings, puddles, fountains, or bodies of water.

2 . Transformation Photo Essay

With a transformation photography essay, you can tell the story about change over time. One of the most popular photostory examples, a transformation essay can document a mom-to-be’s pregnancy or a child’s growth from infancy into the toddler years. But people don’t need to be the focus of a transformation essay. You can take photos of a house that is being built or an urban area undergoing revitalization.

You can also create a photo narrative to document a short-term change. Maybe you want to capture images of your growing garden or your move from one home to another. These examples of photo essays are powerful ways of telling the story of life’s changes—both large and small.

3 . Day in the Life Photo Essay

Want a unique way to tell a person’s story? Or, perhaps you want to introduce people to a career or activity. You may want to consider a day in the life essay.

With this photostory example, your narrative focuses on a specific subject for an entire day. For example, if you are photographing a farmer, you’ll want to arrive early in the morning and shadow the farmer as he or she performs daily tasks. Capture a mix of candid shots of the farmer at work and add landscapes and still life of equipment for added context. And if you are at a farm, don’t forget to get a few shots of the animals for added character, charm, or even a dose of humor. These types of photography essay examples are great practice if you are considering pursuing photojournalism. They also help you learn and improve your candid portrait skills.

4 . Event Photo Essay

Events are happening in your local area all the time, and they can make great photo essays. With a little research, you can quickly find many events that you could photograph. There may be bake sales, fundraisers, concerts, art shows, farm markets, block parties, and other non profit event ideas . You could also focus on a personal event, such as a birthday or graduation.

At most events, your primary emphasis will be on capturing candid photos of people in action. You can also capture backgrounds or objects to set the scene. For example, at a birthday party, you’ll want to take photos of the cake and presents.

For a local or community event, you can share your photos with the event organizer. Or, you may be able to post them on social media and tag the event sponsor. This is a great way to gain recognition and build your reputation as a talented photographer.

5. Building Photo Essay

Many buildings can be a compelling subject for a photographic essay. Always make sure that you have permission to enter and photograph the building. Once you do, look for interesting shots and angles that convey the personality, purpose, and history of the building. You may also be able to photograph the comings and goings of people that visit or work in the building during the day.

Some photographers love to explore and photograph abandoned buildings. With these types of photos, you can provide a window into the past. Definitely make sure you gain permission before entering an abandoned building and take caution since some can have unsafe elements and structures.

6. Historic Site or Landmark Photo Essay

Taking a series of photos of a historic site or landmark can be a great experience. You can learn to capture the same site from different angles to help portray its character and tell its story. And you can also photograph how people visit and engage with the site or landmark. Take photos at different times of day and in varied lighting to capture all its nuances and moods.

You can also use your photographic essay to help your audience understand the history of your chosen location. For example, if you want to provide perspective on the Civil War, a visit to a battleground can be meaningful. You can also visit a site when reenactors are present to share insight on how life used to be in days gone by.

7 . Behind the Scenes Photo Essay

Another fun essay idea is taking photos “behind the scenes” at an event. Maybe you can chronicle all the work that goes into a holiday festival from the early morning set-up to the late-night teardown. Think of the lead event planner as the main character of your story and build the story about him or her.

Or, you can go backstage at a drama production. Capture photos of actors and actresses as they transform their looks with costuming and makeup. Show the lead nervously pacing in the wings before taking center stage. Focus the work of stagehands, lighting designers, and makeup artists who never see the spotlight but bring a vital role in bringing the play to life.

8. Family Photo Essay

If you enjoy photographing people, why not explore photo story ideas about families and relationships? You can focus on interactions between two family members—such as a father and a daughter—or convey a message about a family as a whole.

Sometimes these type of photo essays can be all about the fun and joy of living in a close-knit family. But sometimes they can be powerful portraits of challenging social topics. Images of a family from another country can be a meaningful photo essay on immigration. You could also create a photo essay on depression by capturing families who are coping with one member’s illness.

For these projects on difficult topics, you may want to compose a photo essay with captions. These captions can feature quotes from family members or document your own observations. Although approaching hard topics isn’t easy, these types of photos can have lasting impact and value.

9. Education Photo Essay

Opportunities for education photo essays are everywhere—from small preschools to community colleges and universities. You can seek permission to take photos at public or private schools or even focus on alternative educational paths, like homeschooling.

Your education photo essay can take many forms. For example, you can design a photo essay of an experienced teacher at a high school. Take photos of him or her in action in the classroom, show quiet moments grading papers, and capture a shared laugh between colleagues in the teacher’s lounge.

Alternatively, you can focus on a specific subject—such as science and technology. Or aim to portray a specific grade level, document activities club or sport, or portray the social environment. A photo essay on food choices in the cafeteria can be thought-provoking or even funny. There are many potential directions to pursue and many great essay examples.

While education is an excellent topic for a photo essay for students, education can be a great source of inspiration for any photographer.

Why Should You Create a Photo Essay?

Ultimately, photographers are storytellers. Think of what a photographer does during a typical photo shoot. He or she will take a series of photos that helps convey the essence of the subject—whether that is a person, location, or inanimate object. For example, a family portrait session tells the story of a family—who they are, their personalities, and the closeness of their relationship.

Learning how to make a photo essay can help you become a better storyteller—and a better photographer. You’ll cultivate key photography skills that you can carry with you no matter where your photography journey leads.

If you simply want to document life’s moments on social media, you may find that a single picture doesn’t always tell the full story. Reviewing photo essay examples and experimenting with your own essay ideas can help you choose meaningful collections of photos to share with friends and family online.

Learning how to create photo essays can also help you work towards professional photography ambitions. You’ll often find that bloggers tell photographic stories. For example, think of cooking blogs that show you each step in making a recipe. Photo essays are also a mainstay of journalism. You’ll often find photo essays examples in many media outlets—everywhere from national magazines to local community newspapers. And the best travel photographers on Instagram tell great stories with their photos, too.

With a photo essay, you can explore many moods and emotions. Some of the best photo essays tell serious stories, but some are humorous, and others aim to evoke action.

You can raise awareness with a photo essay on racism or a photo essay on poverty. A photo essay on bullying can help change the social climate for students at a school. Or, you can document a fun day at the beach or an amusement park. You have control of the themes, photographic elements, and the story you want to tell.

5 Steps to Create a Photo Essay

Every photo essay will be different, but you can use a standard process. Following these five steps will guide you through every phase of your photo essay project—from brainstorming creative essay topics to creating a photo essay to share with others.

Step 1: Choose Your Photo Essay Topics

Just about any topic you can imagine can form the foundation for a photo essay. You may choose to focus on a specific event, such as a wedding, performance, or festival. Or you may want to cover a topic over a set span of time, such as documenting a child’s first year. You could also focus on a city or natural area across the seasons to tell a story of changing activities or landscapes.

Since the best photo essays convey meaning and emotion, choose a topic of interest. Your passion for the subject matter will shine through each photograph and touch your viewer’s hearts and minds.

Step 2: Conduct Upfront Research

Much of the work in a good-quality photo essay begins before you take your first photo. It’s always a good idea to do some research on your planned topic.

Imagine you’re going to take photos of a downtown area throughout the year. You should spend some time learning the history of the area. Talk with local residents and business owners and find out about planned events. With these insights, you’ll be able to plan ahead and be prepared to take photos that reflect the area’s unique personality and lifestyles.

For any topic you choose, gather information first. This may involve internet searches, library research, interviews, or spending time observing your subject.

Step 3: Storyboard Your Ideas

After you have done some research and have a good sense of the story you want to tell, you can create a storyboard. With a storyboard, you can write or sketch out the ideal pictures you want to capture to convey your message.

You can turn your storyboard into a “shot list” that you can bring with you on site. A shot list can be especially helpful when you are at a one-time event and want to capture specific shots for your photo essay. If you’ve never created a photo essay before, start with ten shot ideas. Think of each shot as a sentence in your story. And aim to make each shot evoke specific ideas or emotions.

Step 4: Capture Images

Your storyboard and shot list will be important guides to help you make the most of each shoot. Be sure to set aside enough time to capture all the shots you need—especially if you are photographing a one-time event. And allow yourself to explore your ideas using different photography composition, perspective, and color contrast techniques.

You may need to take a hundred images or more to get ten perfect ones for your photographic essay. Or, you may find that you want to add more photos to your story and expand your picture essay concept.

Also, remember to look for special unplanned, moments that help tell your story. Sometimes, spontaneous photos that aren’t on your shot list can be full of meaning. A mix of planning and flexibility almost always yields the best results.

Step 5: Edit and Organize Photos to Tell Your Story

After capturing your images, you can work on compiling your photo story. To create your photo essay, you will need to make decisions about which images portray your themes and messages. At times, this can mean setting aside beautiful images that aren’t a perfect fit. You can use your shot list and storyboard as a guide but be open to including photos that weren’t in your original plans.

You may want to use photo editing software—such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop— to enhance and change photographs. With these tools, you can adjust lighting and white balance, perform color corrections, crop, or perform other edits. If you have a signature photo editing style, you may want to use Photoshop Actions or Lightroom Presets to give all your photos a consistent look and feel.

You order a photo book from one of the best photo printing websites to publish your photo story. You can add them to an album on a photo sharing site, such as Flickr or Google Photos. Also, you could focus on building a website dedicated to documenting your concepts through visual photo essays. If so, you may want to use SEO for photographers to improve your website’s ranking in search engine results. You could even publish your photo essay on social media. Another thing to consider is whether you want to include text captures or simply tell your story through photographs.

Choose the medium that feels like the best space to share your photo essay ideas and vision with your audiences. You should think of your photo essay as your own personal form of art and expression when deciding where and how to publish it.

Photo Essays Can Help You Become a Better Photographer

Whatever your photography ambitions may be, learning to take a photo essay can help you grow. Even simple essay topics can help you gain skills and stretch your photographic limits. With a photo essay, you start to think about how a series of photographs work together to tell a complete story. You’ll consider how different shots work together, explore options for perspective and composition, and change the way you look at the world.

Before you start taking photos, you should review photo essay examples. You can find interesting pictures to analyze and photo story examples online, in books, or in classic publications, like Life Magazine . Don’t forget to look at news websites for photojournalism examples to broaden your perspective. This review process will help you in brainstorming simple essay topics for your first photo story and give you ideas for the future as well.

Ideas and inspiration for photo essay topics are everywhere. You can visit a park or go out into your own backyard to pursue a photo essay on nature. Or, you can focus on the day in the life of someone you admire with a photo essay of a teacher, fireman, or community leader. Buildings, events, families, and landmarks are all great subjects for concept essay topics. If you are feeling stuck coming up with ideas for essays, just set aside a few hours to walk around your city or town and take photos. This type of photowalk can be a great source of material.

You’ll soon find that advanced planning is critical to your success. Brainstorming topics, conducting research, creating a storyboard, and outlining a shot list can help ensure you capture the photos you need to tell your story. After you’ve finished shooting, you’ll need to decide where to house your photo essay. You may need to come up with photo album title ideas, write captions, and choose the best medium and layout.

Without question, creating a photo essay can be a valuable experience for any photographer. That’s true whether you’re an amateur completing a high school assignment or a pro looking to hone new skills. You can start small with an essay on a subject you know well and then move into conquering difficult ideas. Maybe you’ll want to create a photo essay on mental illness or a photo essay on climate change. Or maybe there’s another cause that is close to your heart.

Whatever your passion, you can bring it to life with a photo essay.

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How to Create a Photo Essay

how to write an essay on a photograph

The photographic essay, also called a photo essay or photo story, is a powerful way for photographers to tell a story with their images. If you are interested in creating your own photo essay, this article will guide you through the whole process, from finding a story to shoot to the basics of crafting your first visual narrative.

Table of Contents

What is a photo essay.

A photo essay tells a story visually. Just like the kind you read, the photo essay offers a complete rendering of a subject or situation using a series of carefully crafted and curated images. Photo stories have a theme, and each image backs up that overarching theme which is defined in the photo essay’s title and is sometimes supported with text.

From documentary to narrative to essay, photo stories are designed to move their audience, to inspire a certain action, awareness, or emotion. Photo stories are not just a collection of cool photos. They must use their visual power to capture viewers’ attention and remain unforgettable.

History of the Photo Story

In the “old days”, that is, before 1948, magazines ran photo stories very different from what we know today. They were staged, preconceived by an editor, not a truthful observation of life. Along came a photographer named W. Eugene Smith, who worked for Life magazine.

Deciding to follow a rural doctor for six weeks, he gathered material for a photo essay that really showed what it was like to be in that doctor’s shoes, always on the go to help his scattered patients. Smith’s piece, “ Country Doctor ,” shook other photographers out of their scripted stupor and revolutionized the way photographers report what they see.

how to write an essay on a photograph

From then on, photojournalism gained life and an audience through the lenses of legends like Robert Capa, Dorothea Lange, David “Chim” Seymour, Gordon Parks, Werner Bischof, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. The Vietnam War provided many examples for photo stories as represented by Philip Jones Griffiths, Catherine Leroy, and many more.

More recently, photo stories have found a sturdy home online thanks to the ease of publishing a series of photos digitally versus in print. Lynsey Addario, Peter Essick, and Adam Ferguson represent a few of the photographers pushing visual storytelling today.

Dorothea Lange photo

Ways to Find Photo Stories and Themes

Photo stories exist all around, right in the midst of everyday life and in the fray of current events. A good place to begin developing a photo essay is by choosing a general theme.

Topics that Interest You

The best expression comes from the heart, so why not choose a topic that interests you. Maybe it’s a social issue, an environmental one, or just something you’re curious about. Find what moves you and share that with the world.

Personal Experiences

The more you’ve lived, the more you have to tell. This doesn’t necessarily mean age, it can also refer to experiences, big and small. If you know a subject better than most, like what it’s like to recover from a car crash, you’re an expert on the matter and therefore you have a story to tell. Also, consider the things you read and see or watch, like news or history, and incorporate that into your search for a story.

how to write an essay on a photograph

Problem/Solution

Problems abound in the world. But so do solutions. Photojournalists can present either, or both. Have a look at something that’s wrong in society and show why it’s a problem. Or find a problem that’s been resolved and show the struggle it took to get there. Even better, take your time shooting your story — sometimes it can take years — and document how a wrong is righted.

Day-in-the-Life

One of the most popular formats, day-in-the-life photo stories present microcosms of life that relate to the bigger picture. In a similar vein, behind-the-scenes photo stories show viewers what life is really like for others, especially in situations that are difficult or impossible to access. Events represent another simple yet powerful theme for documenting and storytelling with a camera.

A Gordon Parks photo

Types of Photo Stories

Most photo stories concern people. If it’s about something like the environment, for example, the photo story can showcase the people involved. In either case, the impactful photo story will present the challenges and dilemmas of the human condition, viscerally.

There are three general types of photo stories.

Narrative Story

Narrative deals with complications and their resolution, problems, and solutions. If there appears to be no resolution, at least the struggle to find one can provide material for a photo essay. Some sort of narrative thread must push the story from beginning to middle to end, just like what you see in a good movie.

A good story also requires action, which in this case must be visual. Good stories are page-turners, whether they’re a Kerouac tale or a series of photos demonstrating the difficulties of single parenting. Adventure stories are one good example of photographic narrative storytelling.

The term “photo story” is generally used interchangeably with “photo essay”, but some photographers hold that there are subtle differences between the two. The essay type of photo story implies opinion, they argue. Essays make a point. They are the opposite of facts-only news. A photo story essay makes a case for something, like showing the danger and consequences of illegal fireworks or advocating for the preservation of a forest.

Documentary

On the other hand, documentaries lack opinion. Their purpose is to inform without adding judgment. Documentaries present the facts and let viewers decide. They illustrate something that’s occurring but they don’t always include a narrative story or an opinionated approach. Historical places, current events, and unique lifestyles always make for good documentary photo stories.

how to write an essay on a photograph

How to Craft a Photo Essay

Several elements come into play when putting together a photo essay. Once you’ve found a theme, it’s time to give your project a name. While out shooting, jot down titles that come to mind. Consider the title a magazine headline that explains in few words what the whole story is about.

Choose your photos according to whether or not they relate to and support the photo essay’s title. Reject those photos that don’t. If your collection seems to suggest a different angle, a different title, don’t be afraid to rename it. Sometimes stories develop organically. But if your title can’t assemble and define your selection of photos, maybe it’s too vague. Don’t rush it. Identify the theme, take the photos and the photo essay will take shape.

Werner Bischof photos

Certain techniques help tell the photo essay.

A photo essay is composed of a diversity of views, angles, and focal lengths. While masters like Henri Cartier-Bresson could capture a photo essay with a single prime lens, in his case a 50mm, the rest of us are wise to rely on multiple focal lengths. Just like what we see in the movies, a story is told with wide shots that set the scene, medium shots that tell the story, and close-ups that reveal character and emotion.

Unique angles make viewers curious and interested, and they break the monotony of standard photography. Consider working black-and-white into your photo essay. The photo essay lends itself well to reportage exclusively in monochrome, as the legends have demonstrated since W. Eugene Smith.

Visual Consistency

The idea of a photo essay is to create a whole, not a bunch of random parts. Think gestalt. The images must interact with each other. Repetition helps achieve this end. Recurring themes, moods, styles, people, things, and perspectives work to unify a project even if the photos tell different parts of the story.

how to write an essay on a photograph

Text can augment the impact of a photo essay. A photo may be worth a thousand words, but it doesn’t always replace them. Captions can be as short as a complete sentence, as long as a paragraph, or longer. Make sure to take notes in case you want to add captions. Some photo stories, however, function just fine without words.

Tell a Story as a Photographer

Few genres of photography have moved people like the photo essay. Since its inception, the art of visual storytelling has captivated audiences. Photo stories show viewers things they had never seen, have moved masses to action, and have inspired video documentaries. Today, photo stories retain their power and place, in part thanks to the internet. Every photographer should experiment with a photo essay or two.

The method of crafting a photo essay is simple yet complicated, just like life. Careful attention must be paid to the selection of images, the choice of title, and the techniques used in shooting. But follow these guidelines and the photo stories will come. Seek issues and experiences that inspire you and go photograph them with the intention of telling a complete story. The viewing world will thank you.

Image credits: Header photo shows the May 13, 1957 story in LIFE magazine titled, “ The Tough Miracle Man of Vietnam .” Stock photos from Depositphotos

how to write an essay on a photograph

How to create a photo essay

By Marissa Sapega

A close up of a camera that might be used to create a photo essay.

According to LDV Capital, there will be 45 billion cameras in the world by 2022 . The proliferation of smartphones with hi-res cameras — coupled with our obsession with documenting the mundane on social media — has led to a glut of images shared on the web .

We're talking 3.2 billion images shared online every single day.

A decade ago, observers were predicting that this would spell the end of professional photography. But as we all know from our Instagram feeds, the need for professional photography — properly produced, contextualised, and published — has never been greater.

With the emergence of next generation digital publishing platforms, we're seeing a new era for photographic essays. Many of the most powerful examples are from journalism, where immersive photos are transforming long-form journalism into a more dynamic and interactive experience.

But powerful photos — coupled with immersive, interactive digital storytelling techniques — are being increasingly incorporated in marketing and communications across multiple industries, from brands to nonprofits. 

In this guide, we'll cover:

  • The main types of photo essays
  • The new era of photo essays
  • Tips for making thoughtful and powerful photo essays
  • How to make a compelling photo essay
  • We'll also provide a range of photo essay examples as we go

If you're looking for more examples, check out our roundup of photo essay examples .

Let's dive in!

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.

Types of photo essays

There are two primary types of photo essays: thematic and narrative.

Thematic photo essays

Thematic essays focus on a topical story (like a natural disaster). One example of a great thematic essay comes from NBC News Olympics photos: Emotion runs high .

This piece encapsulates the overall gloom of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics — through a series of powerful behind-the-scenes photographs of athletes in varying levels of distress — but does not focus on a particular subject. 

Screenshots from NBC's photo essay on the Olympics, spread across several devices.

Another example of a great photo story comes from the BBC. In “ From Trayvon Martin to Colin Kaepernick , they tell the story of how Black Lives Matter became entwined with sports. 

Screenshots from the BBC's photo essay on Black Lives Matter in sport , spread across several devices.

Narrative photo essays

Narrative photo essays take the story a step further and tell a specific story through images. 

One striking example is SBS's 28 Days in Afghanistan . This narrative essay documents photojournalist Andrew Quilty's time in the war-ravaged nation through stark photographs and supplementary text.

Screenshots from SBS's photo essay on Afghanistan, spread across several devices.

What is a photo essay in 2023?

A traditional photo essay aims to replace the written word with photographs. Done poorly, it is nothing more than series of images lumped together. Done well, though, the photojournalist or artist takes the reader on an engaging journey.

The main difference between photo essays of yore and photo essays in 2023 is the sophistication of digital publishing. With the rise of digital storytelling platforms, we're seeing a rise in truly interactive and immersive digital photo essays. 

Today, many digital photo essays include quotes and text to supplement the visuals and are formatted using interactive scrollytelling techniques. Scrollytelling is a form of visual storytelling that leverages user engagement (scrolling) to reveal images and text in an interesting and dynamic way. The interactivity compels the viewer to continue consuming the content, and creators have a wide latitude when designing the overall effect.    

Given the benefits of a more dynamic and interactive form of photo essays, it’s easy to see why they have become so popular in recent years. But as with any photo essay, creating an exceptional digital photo essays requires planning, structure, and know-how.

Let's take a closer look with ten tips for great photo essays.

Looking to learn more about interactive visual storytelling? Check out our guide, 8 tips for powerful visual storytelling .

10 tips for great photo essays

A close up of a camera that might be used to create a photo essay.

1. Create visual structure

An authentic photo essay requires visual markers to help transform a collection of images into a narrative. For example, photo chapter headings in Growing up young introduce each new girl in the story.

Similarly, in SBS’s photojournalism story — 28 days in Afghanistan , mentioned above — each dated header delineates a part of the story, providing an easy-to-follow chronological structure and pace.

Daniel Boud intersperses his own thoughts in between a haunting series of photographs of the iconic Sydney Opera House as it underwent a restoration during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in The Sydney Opera House at Rest .

Text can add depth to the photo essay—but take care where you add it. It should support and enhance the final product, not overshadow it.

Screenshots from the Sydney Opera House's photo essay on life during lockdown, spread across several devices.

2. Make it interactive

In 2023, the best photo essays are interactive. 

One great example of an interactive photo essay is WaterAid’s essay, Water and Climate . This photo essay highlights the people climate change has impacted most brutally, including a video, stark close-up photography, and graphics to get its point across. 

The photo essay uses minimal text, preferring to allow the images to speak for themselves. As a user scrolls, it exposes them to more content. Each visual and supplemental text further immerses the viewer into the story until the end, where they encounter a call to action to join WaterAid in helping those in need.

Nonprofits like WaterAid often use interactive photo essays to compel people to act , because they work. Half the battle of convincing someone to part with their money is creating an emotional connection with them—something a photo essay does particularly well.

Screenshots from the WaterAid's photo essay, spread across several devices.

3. Produce more content than you need

Have you ever seen how much film footage ends up on the cutting room floor for the average movie (known as the shooting ratio)? It’s a lot.   

Why is this? First, filmmakers know that many of the shots they take will be either poor-quality or simply not up to their exacting standards. Second, if a director included all the footage they took throughout the entire production in the final product, her movie would be a bloated mess.

The editor’s job is to strip away the dead weight to reveal a clean, refined, final product that keeps viewers raptly engaged. However, an editor may struggle to do his job if the director has not provided enough usable footage.

The same principles apply to creating an exceptional photo essay. Always assemble more visuals and content than you think you’ll need so you can use the cream of the crop for the final product. Shedding content may be difficult, but it’s necessary, so be prepared to edit your piece without mercy.

Publishing photos on the web, but confused about the range of file formats? Check out our guide to file formats .

4. Use only the best photos

A photo essay is not an excuse to throw together all the imagery you have. Just like any good story, it needs a focused and compelling narrative that keeps things connected. Each image needs to bring something to the table. 

Remember that photo quality plays a significant role in the overall caliber of a photo essay. If your iPhone isn’t doing your subject justice, don’t be afraid to pull in a professional to make your work come alive.

A great example of this comes from Sky Sports. In their photo essay, Pictured: Diego Maradona , they had to be ruthless when deciding upon the imagery to include.

Screenshots from the Sky New's photo essay, spread across several devices.

They no doubt had hundreds — perhaps thousands — of photos to choose from from the many photo shoots in Maradona's life. Yet they knew that each one had to be poignant and compelling in its own way. 

5. Don’t be afraid to edit your photos

Not everyone can be Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz. Happily, with the readily available photo-editing software like Photoshop and high-quality cameras on every smartphone, you don’t need to be. Do your best to acquire top-quality photos, but don’t be timid about improving them!

Thanks to heavy exposure to advertising, viewers today now expect doctored images. Whether you’re refining a photo for a flawless finish or adding a touch of grittiness, use this expectation to your advantage. Dial up the contrast, crop out unnecessary elements, and use filters if they suit your needs.

6. Visit the archives

With so many gleaming, airbrushed-to-perfection photographs online today, exposure to imagery that’s not polished within an inch of its life can be a refreshing change. 

For example, take a look at Mancity’s My Debut Trevor Francis (v Stoke 1981) , which exclusively uses archival images. Not only was this a necessity (the focus was on a decades-old football match), but it lent the entire piece a tattered legitimacy. You wouldn’t expect “Insta-worthy” images because that’s not the experience the author is trying to convey.

Screenshots from the Man City's photo essay, spread across several devices.

7. Storyboard before building

You wouldn’t build a house without drafting a blueprint, would you? (Well, not unless you weren’t too invested in the end-product.) Much like a blueprint, a storyboard helps you convert the vision inside your head into a concrete plan for construction. It can also contribute to your shot list for your photography project. 

Storyboarding forces you to take a step back and evaluate how each element fits into the larger narrative. You may find that half your content is no longer necessary, and that’s okay. It may seem like a barrier to “getting to the fun part” of adding fancy flourishes and creative details, but it’s a critical step for building a good photo essay that genuinely influences viewers.

8. Experiment!

While there are certainly best practices to follow when creating a photo essay, no “one true path” will culminate in perfection every time. Photo essays are a way to express a story; such art is not limited to a template or cookie-cutter outputs.

So, mix it up! Test out different photos, filter effects, text, quotes, and visuals. Pretend you’re playing with a Rubik’s cube when you’re storyboarding and shuffle the content around with abandon. There is no right way to draft a photo essay, and you’ll never settle on one that you believe best conveys your story without a bit of experimentation. (Of course, your first iteration may end up being your best, but at least this way you won’t have any doubts.)

9. Combine data and maps

Adding hard metrics and maps to a photo essay can help support a narrative in ways that photographs can’t. In this essay on segregation in Detroit , NBC included interactive maps of the city that underscored the severity of Detroit’s redlining policy. 

These maps drive home this multimedia photo essay’s primary takeaway: Detroit’s enforced segregation has resulted in almost a century of lower quality of life for its black residents.

10. Get inspired

No matter how compelling the vision in your head is, you can still benefit from a little inspiration. If you're looking for photo essay ideas, consider: 

  • Focusing on a single subject for a day (known as a day in the life photo essay).
  • Document local events, such as art shows, protests, or community gatherings — this is an endless source of photo essay topics.
  • Capture social issues from your local area.
  • Start a photo series, in which you document the same specific subject over a period of time.
  • Research the great photo essayists from history, such as W. Eugene Smith, and James Nachtwey.
  • Dive into the archives of the great photo essay magazines, such as National Geographic and Life Magazine.
  • Do some research on your potential subject. This will help you formulate different angles from which to approach your photo essay.
  • Sign up to Shorthand's newsletter , which rounds up the best visual stories on the web every other week. 

Now, let's dive into how to make a stunning photo essay using Shorthand.

How to make a stunning digital photo essay

Traditionally, photo essays on the web were little more than a series of images pasted into a blog post. Because most blogs are structured primarily for words, these photos essays didn't do justice to their source media. 

However, as web browsers became more powerful and bandwidth increased, a range of content platforms — including no-code digital storytelling platforms like Shorthand — have evolved to make it easier to create stunning visual stories. We've linked to many of these in this guide. 

In this section, we're going to run through how to make a photo essay using Shorthand. If you're not a Shorthand customer, you can sign up here and follow along.

1. Create a new story

In your Shorthand dashboard, click 'New Story.' If you'd like, you can choose from any of our templates to help you get started. For now, though, we're going to start with a blank canvas.

A screenshot of the template gallery in the Shorthand app.

The template chooser

2. Add your title image

Every photo essay needs a stunning title image to hook the reader. Depending on what kind of photo essay you're creating, this could be a photo of the subject or theme of the piece. You can also choose to add a title, subtitle, and author. 

A screenshot of the title image in the Shorthand app

3. Add a text section

Every photo essay needs a written introduction, to help contextualise the images that follow. Simply click 'New Section' and 'Text', before pasting in your introductory copy.

A screenshot of how to select a Text section in the Shorthand app

Adding a Text section.

4. Add your first photo

Now it's time to add the first photo in your essay. Simply click 'New Section' and 'Media.' In photo essays, hierarchy is critical, so make sure you've thought about which photo is most appropriate at the top of your essay. In Shorthand, your photo will appear in all its  full-screen glory.

A screenshot of how to add a photo to your photo essay in the Shorthand app

Image in a 'Media' section.

5. Add a Reveal section

You also have the option of adding a 'Reveal' section, which allows you to add text that floats over your images. This text can act as a commentary or de facto caption for each photo in your essay.

Simply click 'New Section' and 'Reveal.' You'll be able to also upload a version of the image for mobile, and set focus areas to make sure the most important parts of your image are shown.

how to write an essay on a photograph

A 'Reveal' section with accompanying text box.

6. Add transition effects

Depending on the nature of your photo essay, you may wish to add transition effects between some images. A ‘Reveal’ section is the best way to achieve this. You'll have the option of choosing from several types of transitions that occur as your reader scrolls from one full-screen image to the next, and each image can have its own text box, too.

Testing a Reveal section in the Shorthand editor

7. Add Scrollmation effects

If you want to use images in concert with large amounts of text, then consider using Shorthand's Scrollmation feature. This allows you to transition through a range of images as the reader scrolls down a column of text. 

To do this — you guessed it — simply click 'New Section' and 'Scrollmation' or 'Background Scrollmation.' 

The difference between the two is simple: In a Scrollmation section, the text appears in a column beside your images, while in a Background Scrollmation section,  images fill the screen and the text column appears over the images. A sequence of related images can give the effect of animation triggered by the reader’s scrolling.

A Scrollmation section within the editor

Background Scrollmation in the editor

8. Add a Media Gallery

If you have many different images, and want to create a mosaic effect in your essay, then you can use a media gallery. To do this, simply click 'New Section' and 'Media Gallery.' 

You can then upload your images, and experiment with their size and arrangement to achieve your intended effect.

A screenshot of a Media Gallery in the Shorthand app

Creating a Media Gallery section in the editor

9. Preview your story

Photo essays — more than many other genres of content on the web — can run into problems with different screen sizes. Before you publish, make sure you test your story using Shorthand's preview option. 

You'll be able to see what your story looks like on desktop, mobile, and tablet viewports, and make adjustments as needed. You can also share your preview link with collaborators, and get pre-publication feedback and quality-assurance.

Examples of previews of a Shorthand story in two different devices.

Story previews in the editor, simulating a phone and iPad.

10. Publish 🚀

The final step is to publish your essay to the world! You now have an immersive, potentially interactive photo essay — without writing a line of code. 

Contemporary photo essays are creative endeavours rife with opportunities for interactivity. Organisations and artists alike use them as modern, impactful vehicles to convey powerful stories. Try creating one for yourself using Shorthand for free today!

Publish your first story free with Shorthand

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18 Immersive Photo Essay Examples & Tips

By Tata Rossi 13 days ago, Professional photography

how to write an essay on a photograph

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.

In some cases, your pictures may require more advanced editing. If you see that your skills are insufficient or if you don’t have enough time, you can outsource the task of enhancing your photos to the FixThePhoto team. They will professionally enhance your pictures for a budget price. Their prices start from $1.50 per photo.

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In this bundle, you will find actions created by experienced professionals who used recent photo enhancement trends to create convenient editing tools. Here, you will find a collection of brushes, patterns, overlays, and other effects for editing your photos in a realistic way.

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How to create a photo essay

  • Author Picfair
  • Level Intermediate
  • Reading Time 8 minutes

Cover images by James Gourley

Create a meaningful set of images by producing a photo essay or story

A photographic essay is a deeper and more meaningful way to use your photography than a single image tends to be. Typically associated with documentary and news-gathering, a photo essay doesn’t necessarily have to follow those genres, but can be used as a way to tell a longer or more in-depth story about all manner of subjects. Creating a photo essay however is about more than just taking a set of images and presenting them as one package. They require more forethought, planning and editing than many other forms of photography, but the results are often more rewarding, too. Follow our guide below if it’s something you’d like to consider putting together. ‍ ‍

1 Find a story

The first thing you will need to do is to figure out what you want to do your photo essay on.

"Inspiration can come from anywhere, but a good starting to place is to look at news sources to see if something catches your eye."

Inspiration can come from anywhere, but a good starting to place is to look at news sources to see if something catches your eye. If you’re not sure where to begin, you could start by looking at what’s going on in your local area - if nothing else, it’ll make the practicalities easier. Start jotting down ideas that you can explore and figure out exactly why you want to do it. Try to be as active as you can in discovering what’s going on in the world and eventually something will keep your attention for long enough that it will seem like the right idea.

how to write an essay on a photograph

‍ 2 Do your research

‍ Next, try and find out as much as you can about whatever it is you want to create your photo story on.

"If you find that others have done photo essays on the same or similar subject, then that’s something you should be aware of."

Importantly, you’ll need to see what else already exists out there - if anything - on your story. If you find that others have done photo essays on the same or similar subject, then that’s something you should be aware of. That’s not to say that you can’t also do one, but it pays to be prepared so that you can perhaps approach it in a different way. You’ll also need to do some research into the practicalities that will be required to help you along the way. You’ll need to look into people you should be contacting, how you will get to the destination (if it’s not local), any requirements you need for visiting the location, any restrictions on what you can and cannot shoot and so on. Doing as much research ahead of time as possible will make the project run smoothly when it comes to actually shooting it. ‍

how to write an essay on a photograph

3 Make a structured plan  

Once your research is complete, it’s time to make a detailed and structured plan about how you’re going to go about shooting your photo essay. It doesn’t have to be completely rigid so as to disallow flexibility, but sorting out shoot times, shoot dates, shoot locations will give you something to work with, even if things eventually go off plan. Some photo essays can be shot in an afternoon, others might take several months or even years to complete. Having an idea of how long you want to spend on a particular project can help focus your mind and give you an end date for when you might want to publish the essay. It’s also useful to tell subjects and those involved with the shoot a rough timeline of events. You might find it helpful to organise everything together in one easily accessible place - such as online calendars and spreadsheets, so you can quickly refer to anything you need to.

how to write an essay on a photograph

4 Tell a story

Your photo essay needs to be more than just a set of images on a similar theme.

"...including some introductory or contextualising shots before you get into the heart of the subject matter is a good approach."

Think of it exactly like a story, which usually requires a beginning, a middle and an end. That’s a very simplistic way of putting it, but photographically, including some introductory or contextualising shots before you get into the heart of the subject matter is a good approach. There might not necessarily be a neat “resolution” to whatever story you’re trying to tell, and it might not always be a happy ending, but having that at least in your mind as you go along can help to create a neatly-packaged story that has a definite and well-constructed narrative.

how to write an essay on a photograph

5 Stick with a cohesive style

Exactly how you’re going to shoot your photo essay is entirely up to you, but in order for your story to have a cohesive look, it’s usually best if you stick to the same style throughout.

"With a photo essay, you want the images to hang extremely well together as a set, so keeping things consistent will help you do that..."

That could be as simple as not mixing black and white and colour, always using a particular lens, always shooting in a particular way, or even applying the same post-processing techniques to the finished shots. With a photo essay, you want the images to hang extremely well together as a set, so keeping things consistent will help you do that - that is, unless you’re actively trying to use disparate styles as an artistic or storytelling technique. ‍

how to write an essay on a photograph

5 Create a strong edit

The chances are that in the process of creating your photo essay, you will have shot dozens, if not hundreds of images.

"It can help to step away from your essay for at least a few days if you can to give yourself some distance and perspective - don’t be afraid to be brutal and keep your final selection down to only those that are the strongest or the best."

For the final edit of your photo story, you need to make sure that the images selected to appear are the strongest of the set, with each adding something unique to the finished story. Try to avoid “padding out” your story with too many fillers, even if you think they are strong images on their own. It’s a good idea to avoid too much repetition, and here again you should look to include images that create a strong story arc with a defined beginning, middle and end. It can help to step away from your essay for at least a few days if you can to give yourself some distance and perspective - don’t be afraid to be brutal and keep your final selection down to only those that are the strongest or the best. There’s no defined number for how many images should be included in a final story, but as a general rule, you’ll probably want it to be under 20 for the most impact.  ‍

how to write an essay on a photograph

6 Ask for input

It’s very easy to get so close to your subject and your images that you become blind to any flaws in them, or the structure of your story. Asking for advice and input from somebody you trust can help to tighten up your story even further.

"Asking for advice and input from somebody you trust can help to tighten up your story even further."

In certain situations, it can be helpful to ask the subject of the photographs themselves what they think, to make it more of a collaborative process - but you should be able to determine whether that’s appropriate on a case-by-case basis. If you have any contacts who are photographers, editors or publishers, asking them to cast an eye over your finished story is a good idea, too. ‍

7 Add some text  

It can be a good idea to add some text or individual captions for a photo essay, to give some background information and context to whatever is shown in the pictures. If you’re not a writer, try to keep it as basic as possible - including things such as names, locations and dates. A short introduction to the piece to give some background information is useful, too. Ask somebody you trust to check it over for sense, clarity and mistakes.

how to write an essay on a photograph

8 Get the story seen

Once your story is complete and you’re happy with it, the next stage is to get it seen - also known as, the hard part.

"Once your story is complete and you’re happy with it, the next stage is to get it seen - also known as, the hard part."

A sensible first step is to create an album on your Picfair store which is dedicated to your photo essay. That way, anybody who is looking for that particular piece won’t have to wade through all of your other work to find it. ‍ You can then start sending out information about the work to editors and publishers, including a link to the album on your Picfair page as an easy way for them to look at it.

how to write an essay on a photograph

Editor's tip: ‍ If you're not sure where to begin with pitching to publishers, be sure to check our how to pitch guide .

how to write an essay on a photograph

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17 Awesome Photo Essay Examples You Should Try Yourself

how to write an essay on a photograph

You can also select your interests for free access to our premium training:

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

Street photography of 2 pink front doors of brick houses.

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!

Popular Content

how to write an essay on a photograph

How To Create a Meaningful Photography Essay In 5 Steps

By /

The storytelling nature of photography is no secret. It has been used for a century to narrate stories in a very peculiar and effective way. Narrative photographic projects have great power, and regardless of the level of experience and maturity of the photographer, they are very appealing. Find out how to create a meaningful photography essay in 5 steps.

adrian gxam id y unsplash

Photography is an amazing art form that portrays interesting stories, events, adventures, life stories, experiences, history and has been around for a very long time having great influence in human life and emotions. Photography freezes the moment and records real life happenings that can be cherished for a lifetime and beyond. To make a good photograph, the photographer needs to look for perfect locations, light, subjects and add a little creativity to it.

how to write an essay on a photograph

Rather than a single image, a set or collections of images are always more powerful in telling a story, bringing in emotions within the viewer and taking/guiding the viewer through the path of the story. It is self consistent, self explanatory and doesn't another person to help with any form of narration. Besides these, photography essays can be a powerful source to bring out suppressed problems in the societies and other issues that are often overlooked.

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Photographic essays invite us to research a topic or a theme in depth. Documentary photography is perhaps one of the closest things to “narrative” as we traditionally know it. Even though times have changed, and photography has been open to more independent photographers who don't have the same resource bonanza as the editorial or journalistic photographers of previous decades, this new democracy opens the door to the freedom of speech – a freedom that doesn't have to obey any media interests whatsoever.

Alright, But What Is A Photography Essay In The First Place?

how to write an essay on a photograph

A photo essay is a narrative that uses a group or series of photographs to tell a story, evoke emotions or emphasize a specific concept. The camera plays a utilitarian role, and is pretty far from what the final result can convey to those who read it (either completely or just partially). Photography essays can be either just photographs or photographs with comments, captions or text that accompany them to complete the story.

Some examples of photography essays include collage (simplest form of telling a story), an article, a book, an art show or exhibition, part of a website or a dedicated website and so on. Earlier photography essays were printed in the printing press, but in recent times they have moved to the web which is better in terms of easy access, but will not have a similar effect to looking and reading one physically.

What Elements Should A Photography Essay Include?

Being a narrative in a very holistic form, a photography essay should include the following elements in the most extreme cases:

  • Introduction
  • Contextualization
  • Development
  • Continuation

Not all essays will allow such a complex storyline, but we can take some of these elements to formulate an idea of what an essay should include. Therefore, a photo essay is a way to tell a story from beginning to end, with substance and a meaningful content.

Most photographic essays require preparation, organization and direction. Photographic essays began to be published in the 1930s after magazines saw that a story could best be told if text was accompanied by photographs. It is no coincidence that, by this time, cameras had evolved such that they could capture images quickly enough to freeze motion.

Also around this time, portability came into the picture, thanks to the practical nature of 35mm film . It was LIFE magazine that coined the term “Photographic Essay”. One of the most classic photography essays they published is “ Country Doctor ” by W. Eugene Smith . This essay documented Dr. Ceriani’s working life as a traveling doctor in rural areas of the United States.

screenshot at . .

An essay can be short, mid- or long-term according to various factors that can affect the image recording process. After achieving a certain number of images, the editing process can take place and the story can begin its narrative course. Some things that can affect the recording process are the limited resources we endure while working abroad, and limited access to the subject or the circumstances-recurrence ratio.

Here Are The 5 Steps Involved In Creating A Photography Essay:

1. pick a topic.

Obvious indeed, but choosing a good topic can be difficult without prior research. This is perhaps the hardest part of creating a photographic essay.

The wisest way to approach this is to select a topic that won't be so hard to access – not just because it might be easy. Since it will be accessible, the risk of frustration will be lower than it is when handling a difficult topic. Experience will eventually lead us into working with trickier subjects.

how to write an essay on a photograph

A photo essay doesn't need to always be dramatic and dense. They can be done just for the fun of it, or to discover new possibilities for the photographic narrative. Some topics that are generous when they are addressed are:

  • Everyday Work  

2. Choosing The Subjects Correctly

When working on a photographic essay, it is important to choose subjects correctly to keep ourselves within a certain scope. Check to see if your subjects are suitable or the story you are planning to tell and if the stories made with them will be interesting for your target audience.

Even if you don't have a human subject to portray, making use of personification can always be a good guide to avoid losing course. For example, you can focus on silence by stating that the images attempted to capture the presence of silence.

Also, solitude can be addressed without any human elements, but still maintain the purpose of capturing “the human footprint”, for example.

how to write an essay on a photograph

3. Quantity Of Images

It is important to define the number of pictures we are willing to present on our final essay. Defining that number is important for a couple of reasons.

  • The first one is because it will set the bar of our project's scope (critical when we start to consider our resources).
  • The second one is our readers. The story should be told from start to finish with high impact, just like a short novel or a story. If we stuff our essay with “filler” images, it will ultimately lose its power.  

how to write an essay on a photograph

4. Execution

Let the fun part begin! After defining the previous three elements, we can start shooting to create a great storytelling essay.   Shooting story telling photographs for a photography essay need to be powerful just like how you would shoot individual images to tell a story. Look for perfect light, relevant locations relating to the story to be told, perfect subjects for the story and also compositional guidelines.

Always have introductory and closing images just like how you would have an introduction and conclusion to any essay. Shoot at different light, angles, perspectives, etc. and finalise during the editing part the images that will work together to complete the photography essay.

how to write an essay on a photograph

Editing must not be confused with post-processing, which is an important element of the production of the final photographs. Editing refers to the precise selection of the images that will be included in the essay. There is no perfect quantity or order. You (or your editor) will have to be very objective to select the perfect mix to tell the story the way you want it to be told.

Ak yourself questions like, do the photographs speak the story or will they require accompanying text, is the sequence or series logical, do they stand together and complete the story from start to finish, etc. Try and tell the story with minimal images by avoiding repetition as that can bore the viewers.

how to write an essay on a photograph

Who Can Create A Photography Essay?

Some photographers believe that only photojournalists or documentary photographers can create photography essays. That is not the case – photo essays can be created on any topics like nature, wedding, events, portraits, travel, etc.

Constant planning, execution and checking can and should be applied to all the stages discussed above. You will need to have a powerful title and written text that is strong and concise. Sometimes longer text may be required.

Photo essays are a great way to improve not just as photographers, but as storytellers, too. Viewing photo essays with a reader's mindset will give you a better feeling of photography’s storytelling power.

  ,

About Author

how to write an essay on a photograph

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography , and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology . He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here .

Dear Federico, this is a very informative, to the point article for everyone who wants to enter the world of creating photo essays. Currently, I am teaching photography at one of the well known institutes in India and I am playing a role of a honeybee. I am creating a blend of my experience along with such articles and letting the student know what are the pros and cons of various genres of photography and how to go about it. I am obviously giving you credit for this article. Thanks and you are welcome to India. You will love my country!

Frederico, thank you for this article about photo essays! I am both a digital photographer and a freelance writer, and this idea combines both of my passions. What are the most successful photo essays that you have done that you can share?

Hi, Thank you for the article, very interesting, something I would really love to try. I do have one question though, how do I know whether a photo essay would be a success, who would judge it?

I have emailed Frederico asking permission to reprint this article in my photo club’s digital newsletter (www.spsphoto.org). I would like your permission as well. We are having a photo essay competition this month. I will include links to the original article, as well as yours and Federico’s website. Thank you.

Fine by us, Linda. Thanks for asking first.

Thank you, and Federico, for permission to reprint. I am sure my photo club members will appreciate this timely article for our annual photo essay competition !

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Table of Contents

how to write an essay on a photograph

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How To Create a Memorable Photo Essay

In this Photo Project, we are going to explore how you can develop “Photo Stories”, or “Photo Essays”. Being able to tell a visual story without too many words is an important part of your capacity as a visual storyteller, and one skill that I had to take time and effort to develop. There are a number of different skills that you can develop and fine tune as you conceptualize, write, and photograph these stories, and learning how to create an engaging Photo Essay is one skill that you will take a lifetime to develop. That’s a guarantee.

As you develop your style, and your voice you will find your own ways to document, interpret and display the topic that you want to speak about, but let’s start with some simple steps that almost anyone will find useful!

What Are Photo Stories?

Photo Stories or photo essays are a sequence of photographs that tell a story by themselves when placed together. They aim to inform, educate and to invoke emotion and empathy in the viewer. They’re a form of documentary photojournalism, and you’ll see them frequently in magazines along with some text. One of my favourite sources of photo stories is National Geographic magazine. You can usually understand most of what the text is about simply by looking at the accompanying photographs. Of course, the content is gripping too, but for many people it is the photographs that make the magazine what it is.

How Can I Photograph a Photo Story?

Pick a topic to document in your photo essay.

You would start by choosing a topic, preferably something which is close to your heart and easy to access. Try doing something like “A day in the life of…” series for your family or just a series of photographs of something in your neighbourhood. This will get you in the mood for more challenging series…

You could then move on to more interesting time-based stories, like capturing certain buildings and their interiors over the passage of a day, or a year! The working of a local charity, featuring the key people behind it and the work that they do, the people their work benefits would make an impressive photo story. Here’s a decent attempt at capturing a Russian, Ilya, and the 44 disabled dogs that he cares for. The photo story is in Russian , but it could be in any language and not make much of a difference. The story is still there.

Don’t Feel Intimidated By The Task

Photo stories are most often seen in journalism and reportage of events as in this photo story about Riots in Dublin but there’s no reason why they can’t be used to tell interesting everyday stories too, like this “ Story of a parrot ” by Subhasish or Surreal stories like Xylonets ‘ “ If You Go Out to the Barn Tonight . . . You Better Not Go Alone ” and this one about the “ Modern Family ” by bihua .

Try To Capture Moments and Emotions

Among those shots, also try capturing a variety of emotions , good moments, sad moments, interactions between people, interactions between things – objects and places – and also capture some of the surroundings in these shots to convey some of the contextual information that can’t be put into words.

Essential skills that you’ll need will be good composition, a discerning eye for detail that could add meaning to the photograph and good communication skills (if your story is about people). But, worry not if this list sounds daunting, for we are all learning… That’s why I asked you to start with an easy topic, remember?

Get Familiar With Your Equipment

If you are intimately familiar with your equipment, you are free to focus your attention on the world around you, and the scenes that are unfolding around you all the time. That’s not to say that you should not pay attention to the technical aspects of photography… By all means, be aware of your exposure settings, and the aesthetics of the photograph that you’re trying to capture, but also be aware of your surroundings, and observant of what is about to happen next .

Edit Before You Show

Once you have your photographs ready, look at them objectively and try to remove all the fluff . This is difficult as it requires you to put aside your own attachment to the images that you have just now captured so lovingly. However, removing extra images from the ones that you will eventually display makes the overall story more understandable, easier to take in, and quicker to get your message across.

If you feel that you have missed out an important part of the overall message, you may want to go back and take a few more photographs to complete your story.

Presenting Your Photo Story

Each time you create a photo essay, you will learn more, and it will be come an easier process as you become more adept at knowing what you’re trying to achieve with each photograph. But each step forward will most likely also show you a few more steps down your journey. There is so much to learn on the way to your destination.

Share Your Work With Us

We’d love to see your work! Feel free to tag us on Instagram , and use the hashtag #BPTprojects . I encourage other members of the BPT community to offer their thoughts in a constructive manner so that we can all grow together. Remember to be kind, and generous with your critique.

Challenge Yourself with More Photo Projects

If you’re interested in more photo projects, check out the other Photo Projects that we already have, ready for you at the Photo Project page . Get into the game and continue to develop your eye, with more projects like this.

Help Us To Continue Creating

The easiest way to support Beyond Photo Tips is by using our affiliate links when you buy anything at all. It will never cost you anything extra, and we get a small commission from it, which helps us a LOT! We share our recommended equipment list here .

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Related posts, memorable photographs – how they got that way, photo project: going retro with your camera, 14 street photography tips – for the beginner, the best lenses for photojournalism, leave a reply cancel reply.

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Essays About Photography: Top 5 Examples Plus Prompts

Discover the joy of photography by reading our guide on how to write essays about photography, including top essay examples and writing prompts. 

It is truly remarkable what pictures can tell you about the time they were taken and their subjects. For example, a well-taken photograph can expose the horrors of conflict in a war-torn country or the pain endured by victims of racial persecution. At the same time, it can also evoke a mother’s joy after seeing her newborn baby for the first time. Photography is crucial to preserving precious moments that deserve to be remembered.

Photography can be considered a form of art. So much intent is put into a picture’s composition, subject, angle, and lighting. There is a lot of talent, thought, and hard work that goes into photography to produce such thought-provoking images, 

If you are writing essays about photography, you can start by reading some examples. 

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5 Essay Examples To Inspire You

1. why photography is a great hobby by lillie lane, 2. the importance of photography by emily holty, 3. why i love photography by bob locher.

  • 4.  The Shocking History Of Death Photography by Yewande Ade
  • 5. ​​Fashion photography by Sara Page

5 Helpful Prompts On Essays About Photography

1. what is your favorite thing to photograph, 2. why is photography so important, 3. should photography be considered an art form, 4. different types of photography, 5. interpretations of photographs.

“Be imaginative when writing your shots. Photography is about the impact of your chances. The odds are good that nobody will care to check over your picture When it is an item in a background. Discover how to produce a fantastic photograph, and take these skills and use them.”

Lane gives readers tips on taking better photos in this essay. These include keeping balance, choosing a subject widely, investing in certain pieces of equipment, and using the appropriate settings for taking pictures. She stresses that photos must appear as natural as possible, and following her advice may help people to get good pictures. 

“No matter where you go photography plays into your life somehow. We don’t realize how big of an impact photography truly has on us until we see the details of our life hidden in a photograph. When you flip through your photo album and start looking for those details you suddenly realize you are truly blessed. A photograph keeps a moment frozen in time so we have it forever. Something like joy becomes clearer as we look deeper into the photograph.”

Holty does an excellent job of describing what makes photography so appealing to many people. You can take a picture of anything you want if you want to remember it, and photos help us look at the intricacies and details of what we see around us every day. Photography also helps us keep memories in our heads and hearts as time passes by, and most of all, it allows us to document the greatness of our world. It is ever-present in our lives, and we will keep taking photos the more adventures we have. 

“Every day in normal circumstances people take thousands of pictures of the Grand Canyon. It takes very little thought to realize that few if any of these pictures will be in any way noteworthy above pictures already taken. But that said, they are OUR pictures, our personal affirmation of the wonderful scene stretched out below us, and that gives them a special validity for us.”

Locher reflects on the role photography played in his life and why he enjoys it so much, partly due to his spirituality. He previously worked in the photographic equipment business and rekindled his love for photography in his 60s. Photography, to him, is a way of affirming and acknowledging God’s creations around him and appreciating the natural world. He also briefly discusses the importance of equipment and post-editing; however, no photo is perfect. 

4.   The Shocking History Of Death Photography by Yewande Ade

“In fact, it was easier for the photographer if the dead person was in a sleeping position because there would be no need to put him or her in an appropriate position or prop the eyes open. The restful pose gave some families comfort because it made them believe that their loved one(s) had passed on happily and to a more peaceful realm. It gave the semblance of death as a painless act like sleep.”

An interesting phenomenon in the history of the camera is post-mortem photography, in which deceased people, usually children, were posed and made to look “alive,” to an extent, so their loved ones could remember them. This was done as a way of mourning; the subjects were made to look as if they were merely asleep to give their loved ones comfort that they had passed on peacefully and happily. Eventually, a reduction in the death rate led to the end of this practice. 

5. ​​ Fashion photography by Sara Page

“Modern fashion photography differs because photographers aim to be extraordinary with their work, they know that extra ordinary will interest the audience much more It is extremely evident that fashion photography has changed and developed throughout the years, however there is not just reason. It is clear that fashion photography has changed and developed because of advancements in technology, change in attitudes and the introduction of celebrities.”

Page’s essay focuses on the history of fashion photography and some techniques used in practice. It dated back to 1911 and astonished the public with glamorous photos of people wearing perfectly-styled outfits. As the years have gone on, photographers have taken the lighting of the photos more into account, as well as their settings. In addition, editing software such as Photoshop has allowed even better photos to be produced. Fashion photography has only become more extravagant with the current social culture. 

In your essay, write about your favorite subject when you take pictures- is it people, landscapes, objects, or something else? Explain why, give examples, and perhaps elaborate on your camera settings or the lighting you look for when taking photos.  

Photography is an important invention that has helped us immensely throughout the years- how exactly? Explain why photography rivals painting and why it is essential. Then, write about its importance to you, the entire world, and humanity. 

Some say photography pales compared to the intricacies of music, painting, sculpture, and even cinema and should not be considered a form of art. For an interesting argumentative essay, determine whether photography is genuine art or not and defend your position. Explore both sides of the topic and give a strong rebuttal against the opposing viewpoint. 

Essays about photography: Different types of photography

From street photography to food photography to portraiture, many different types of photography are classified according to the subject being captured. Write about at least three types of photography that interest you and what they entail. You may also discuss some similarities between them if any. Check out our list of the top CreativeLive photography courses .

Like other works of art, a photograph can be interpreted differently. Choose a photo you find exciting and describe how you feel about it. What is being portrayed? What emotions are being evoked? What did the photographer want to show here? Reflect on your chosen work and perhaps connect it with your personal life. 

For help with your essays, check out our round-up of the best essay checkers . If you are interested in learning more, check out our essay writing tips !

5 Tips for Creating a Photo Essay with a Purpose

A Post By: Lynsey Mattingly

As a photographer, you are a storyteller. The nouns are your subject matter; the verbs are the color and contrast that keep the story moving. A cast of characters all working together to get your point across. Instead of proper grammar, you ensure proper exposure. Instead of spelling errors, you watch for tack-sharp focus. For those times when the story is especially important and meaningful, or for when one image doesn’t say it all, there is the photographic essay. With blogging and social media, photo essays are more popular than ever: humorous or emotionally relevant, sparking debate or encouraging compassion, each with a story to tell.

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I’ve mentioned before  that taking on a photo project is one of my favorite ways to reignite my love for photography, but beyond that, it’s a great way to get your message across and have your work seen by a larger group. A photo essay is intriguing; it’s something to talk about after people hear that you’re a photographer and want to know about the glitz and glamour of it all. It’s the perfect thing to tell them after you’re done going on and on about all of the red carpets, the celebrities, the fame, and the fortune. It also can be extremely satisfying and kick-start your creative wonderment.

By definition, a photographic essay is a set or series of photographs intended to tell a story or evoke emotions. It can be only images, images with captions, or images with full text. In short, it can be almost anything you want it to be. Which is where I struggle most–when the options are limitless. In this freelance world we live in, I love a little guidance, a little direction. Ideally, someone to tell me exactly what they want and promise to be thrilled with whatever I produce, for my fragile artist ego can’t take any less. While I continue my quest for that, I offer you these 5 tips for creating your own, completely without bounds, photographic essay:

1) Let it evolve on its own

Each time I’ve had a very specific concept in mind before I started shooting, it’s never been the end result. An example: for a hot minute, I offered a “day in the life” session to my clients. I was photographing so many of the same clients year after year that I wanted to be able to offer them a different spin on the portrait sessions I was doing for them. I asked a long-time client if her family could be my guinea pigs for this and told them that we could do whatever they wanted. We went out for ice cream, had a mini dance party in their living room, and I photographed a tooth that had been lost that very morning. Then, very last, I photographed the two young daughters with notes they had written, which to be honest, I’m not even sure how they had come about. I rushed home after the session and edited those last note pictures first just because they were so different from what I usually shoot, and posted them on my personal Facebook page the heading Notes Girls Write .

sarah

Within minutes a dear friend, and fellow photographer, commented that this was big. Bigger than just the two pictures. She and I would spend the next year working on a photo essay that became a blog, that in turn became a book entitled Notes Girls Write . We photographed hundreds of women of all ages with their notes, each one later expressing having their portrait taken with their own words was an extremely powerful moment for them. Beyond my beautiful children, the fact that I can make a bed with hospital corners like no one’s business, and the award I won in the 4th grade for “Most Patient”, Notes Girls Write is one of my proudest accomplishments. It evolved on its own, starting from a few similar photographs that struck a cord in viewers and becoming a large and powerful project, one of the biggest markers in my career so far.

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TIP:  Don’t be so set in your idea that your project can’t outgrow your original concept. Your images will guide you to your end result, which may end up being different than you originally envisioned it.

2) If you think there’s something there, there’s likely something there

For the last year I have been a “foster mom” with a dog rescue group. Volunteers transport dogs that would otherwise be put down from overpopulated shelters, or seized from terrible situations, to my area, where dog adoption rates are much higher. These dogs live in foster homes while they receive medical care and basic training so that they can be adopted out to loving homes. It’s incredibly rewarding. Especially when I had hardwood floors.

I knew from the first time I met the transport van I wanted to document what it looked like: a van full of dogs that just narrowly escaped death arriving to temporary homes where they will experience a level of love and care which they’ve likely never known. I tear-up every time I see it. I am also put to work every time I am there, so taking photos while holding onto a 100 pound German Shepard is tough. It’s going to take me several trips to have enough images to do anything with, but that’s fine. I have no idea what I will be doing with these photos. I know they will find a home somewhere: maybe with the rescue group to raise awareness, or to help bring in volunteers, or maybe they will do nothing more than document my own story with volunteering, or perhaps something more. I’m not sure yet, but the point is that I have the images, ready for their time, whenever that is.

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TIP: If you think there is something to it, there likely is. Even if it’s just a personal passion project. Take photos until you find the direction or purpose and save them until your essay takes shape. You may not end up using all, or any of the images, but in continuing to take photographs, your project will be defined.

3) Shoot every single thing

I’m the “World’s Worst Over-Shooter”. Need one image? Let me take a hundred so we know we have it. Luckily for my bad habit, the photographic essay needs over shooting. Whether you know what your plan is, or have no idea want your end result will look like, the more coverage you have, the better. This is one of the few times I push my luck and ask my subjects to work for me until they never want to see me again (I only photograph people though, so if you are photographing mountains or something, you have the added advantage of not pushing people until they cry or yell). Don’t be shy. Shoot everything you know you don’t need, just in case you need it. Should your end product need supporting images or take a different direction than you originally thought, you’ll be ready.

Take advantage of digital (if that’s how you shoot) and fill a memory card. You may end up trashing everything, or you may not. I had no idea that my Notes Girls Write project would span for as long as it did, but because I didn’t turn down anyone who was interested in the very beginning I ended up with some shots that told complete stories and expanded on the original concept.

sarah2

TIP:  Think big. If you are shooting an essay where mountains are your subject matter, see the mountain in pieces and photograph the surrounding trees, rocks, and whatever else. This will save you having to return to the beginning of the project for supporting shots, or having to reshoot if your essay takes a different turn than you planned.

4) Ask for help with image selection

I struggle with this one–I let my personal feelings get involved. Throughout our Notes Girls Write project I was constantly picking images based on my personal feelings–the subjects that I had connected with more, and the girls that I knew were most interested in the project. This is where it is so helpful to have someone else help. Someone who has no personal feelings towards the images and will help you pick based only on the strength of the image and not your own feelings. Even if people were not involved as subjects, you tend to have personal feelings toward images that the general public may not see the power behind.

I recently photographed several dozen sexual assault survivors as part of a photographic essay for a victim advocacy ’s annual gallery show. This event is meant to put faces on the survivors and raise awareness, and has been a large local event for years. I was thrilled to be selected to be the exclusive photographer, though this was one of the hardest projects I’ve ever taken on. The photo sessions themselves, whether five minutes or 30, were extremely emotional for the survivors and in the time I spent with them, I often learned a lot about their journey and experience. This made it difficult for me to pick which final images would be used for the show, based only on the power of the image and not my personal feelings. In the end several select friends helped me narrow each survivor’s images down, and the subjects themselves selected which would be the final image used, as ultimately this is their story.

SAVA1

TIP: All creative work is personal, and looking at photographs we take ourselves is incredibly hard to do with clear eyes. We see the mistakes, the personal feelings, the shot that could have been better. It’s impossible to always set these aside so when working on a project that is incredibly important to you, or large in scale. Have others help you decide what images to use for your final pieces. Bring in people who are interested in photography and people that aren’t. People that know about your subject matter and people that don’t understand it at all. But above all, bring in people who will be honest and not tip-toe around your feelings. Lastly, also bring a thick skin.

5) Tell your story, in fact shout it from the rooftops if you can

Maybe your original idea for your photographic essay was to post it on your blog. Awesome, nothing wrong with that, but are you sure it can’t be more? Shop it around, who can it help? Does this benefit a group, an organization, or a person? Could it inspire people? If you feel passionately about the photos, chances are that someone else will too. Your photographic eye doesn’t stop when your shooting is done. If you felt compelled to take the time to create a photographic essay, there are likely “readers” for your story.

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TIP: This isn’t the time to be humble. Taking on a photo essay is a large endeavour. While there’s nothing wrong with having it be something you only did for your own personal growth, showing it around can be helpful both in experience and longterm benefit. Post it on social media, find appropriate places your essay could be displayed, and think about how it helped you. Every single photo essay I have done has led to an outstanding connection, or more work, and there is nothing wrong with getting those things along with the personal gain of accomplishing something you’re proud of.

The ideas are truly for a photographic essay are limitless. Truly.

Want a few more ideas for projects, try these?

  • Using a Photography Project to Spark your Creativity
  • Photography projects that make you feel alive
  • Jumpstart Your Photography – Start a 365 Project
  • 8 Photo Projects in Your Own Backyard

Have you ever done a photographic essay? What is your experience? Share with in the comments if you have, or have considered it. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?

5 Tips for Creating a Photo Essay with a Purpose

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Lynsey Mattingly

photographs families, kids, couples, and other groups of people who, for whatever reason, kind of like each other. Her portrait work has been featured in People Magazine, Us Weekly, BBC Magazine, and on national TV including CNN, Oprah, and Ellen, but most importantly, in the personal galleries of clients across the country. Her photography can be viewed at www.lynseymattingly.com or on Facebook .

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Examples

Photo Essay

Photo essay generator.

how to write an essay on a photograph

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.

Photo Essay Format

A photo essay is a series of photographs that are intended to tell a story or evoke a series of emotions in the viewer. It is a powerful way to convey messages without the need for many words. Here is a format to guide you in creating an effective photo essay:

1. Choose a Compelling Topic

Select a subject that you are passionate about or that you find intriguing. Ensure the topic has a clear narrative that can be expressed visually.

2. Plan Your Shots

Outline the story you wish to tell. This could involve a beginning, middle, and end or a thematic approach. Decide on the types of shots you need (e.g., wide shots, close-ups, portraits, action shots) to best tell the story.

3. Take Your Photographs

Capture a variety of images to have a wide selection when editing your essay. Focus on images that convey emotion, tell a story, or highlight your theme.

4. Edit Your Photos

Select the strongest images that best convey your message or story. Edit for consistency in style, color, and lighting to ensure the essay flows smoothly.

5. Arrange Your Photos

Order your images in a way that makes sense narratively or thematically. Consider transitions between photos to ensure they lead the viewer naturally through the story.

6. Include Captions or Text (Optional)

Write captions to provide context, add depth, or explain the significance of each photo. Keep text concise and impactful, letting the images remain the focus.

7. Present Your Photo Essay

Choose a platform for presentation, whether online, in a gallery, or as a printed booklet. Consider the layout and design, ensuring that it complements and enhances the visual narrative.

8. Conclude with Impact

End with a strong image or a conclusion that encapsulates the essence of your essay. Leave the viewer with something to ponder , reflecting on the message or emotions you aimed to convey.

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.

Photo Essay Examples and Ideas to Edit & Download

  • A Day in the Life Photo Essay
  • Behind the scenes Photo Essay
  • Event Photo Essay
  • Photo Essay on Meal
  • Photo Essay on Photo walking
  • Photo Essay on Protest
  • Photo Essay on Abandoned building
  • Education photo essay
  • Photo Essay on Events
  • Follow the change Photo Essay
  • Photo Essay on Personal experiences

Photo Essay Examples & Templates

1. narrative photo essay format example.

Narrative Photo Essay

nytimes.com

2. Student Photo Essay Example

Student Photo Example

3. Great Depression Essay Example

Great Depression Essay

thshistory.files.wordpress.com

4. Example of Photo Essay

Example of Photo Essay

weresearchit.co.uk

5. Photo Essay Examples About Nature

Photo Essay Examples About Nature

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6. Travel Photo Example

Travel Photo Example2

theguardian.com

7. Free Photo Essay Example

Free Photo Essay

vasantvalley.org

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

Toys and Us

journals.openedition.org

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

godandnature.asa3.org

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

The Country Doctor

us1.campaign-archive.com

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

lens.blogs.nytimes.com

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 What The World Eats

13. Photo Essay Example

Photo Essay Example

cah.utexas.edu

14. Photo Essay in PDF

Photo Essay in PDF

condor.depaul.edu

15. Sample Photo Essay Example

Sample Photo Essay

colorado.edu

16. Basic Photo Essay Example

Basic Photo Essay

adaptation-undp.org

17. Printable Photo Essay Example

Printable Photo Essay

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?

  • Urban Exploration: Document the unique architecture, street life, and cultural diversity of urban environments.
  • Environmental Conservation: Capture the beauty of natural landscapes or document environmental issues, showcasing the impact of climate change or conservation efforts.
  • Everyday Life in Your Community: Showcase the daily lives, traditions, and activities of people in your local community.
  • Family Traditions: Document the customs, rituals, and special moments within your own family or another family.
  • Youth Culture: Explore the lifestyle, challenges, and aspirations of young people in your community or around the world.
  • 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.
  • A Day in the Life of a Profession: Follow a professional in their daily activities, offering insights into their work, challenges, and routines.
  • Social Issues: Address important social issues like homelessness, poverty, immigration, or healthcare, raising awareness through visual storytelling.
  • Cultural Celebrations: Document cultural festivals, ceremonies, or celebrations that showcase the diversity of traditions in your region or beyond.
  • Education Around the World: Explore the various facets of education globally, from classrooms to the challenges students face in different cultures.
  • Workplace Dynamics: Capture the atmosphere, interactions, and diversity within different workplaces or industries.
  • Street Art and Graffiti: Document the vibrant and dynamic world of street art, capturing the expressions of local artists.
  • Animal Rescues or Shelters: Focus on the efforts of organizations or individuals dedicated to rescuing and caring for animals.
  • Migration Stories: Explore the experiences and challenges of individuals or communities affected by migration.
  • Global Food Culture: Document the diversity of food cultures, from local markets to family meals, showcasing the role of food in different societies.

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 .

1. Choose Your Topic

  • Select a compelling subject that interests you and can be explored visually.
  • Consider the story or message you want to convey. It should be something that can be expressed through images.

2. Plan Your Essay

  • Outline your narrative. Decide if your photo essay will tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end, or if it will explore a theme or concept.
  • Research your subject if necessary, especially if you’re covering a complex or unfamiliar topic.

3. Capture Your Images

  • Take a variety of photos. Include wide shots to establish the setting, close-ups to show details, and medium shots to focus on subjects.
  • Consider different angles and perspectives to add depth and interest to your essay.
  • Shoot more than you need. Having a large selection of images to choose from will make the editing process easier.

4. Select Your Images

  • Choose photos that best tell your story or convey your theme.
  • Look for images that evoke emotion or provoke thought.
  • Ensure there’s a mix of compositions to keep the viewer engaged.
  • Sequence your images in a way that makes narrative or thematic sense.
  • Consider the flow and how each image transitions to the next.
  • Use juxtaposition to highlight contrasts or similarities.

6. Add Captions or Text (Optional)

  • Write captions to provide context or additional information about each photo. Keep them brief and impactful.
  • Consider including an introduction or conclusion to frame your essay. This can be helpful in setting the stage or offering a final reflection.

7. Edit and Refine

  • Review the sequence of your photos. Make sure they flow smoothly and clearly convey your intended story or theme.
  • Adjust the layout as needed, ensuring that the visual arrangement is aesthetically pleasing and supports the narrative.

8. Share Your Essay

  • Choose the right platform for your photo essay, whether it’s a blog, online publication, exhibition, or print.
  • Consider your audience and tailor the presentation of your essay to suit their preferences and expectations.

Types of Photo Essay

Photo essays are a compelling medium to tell a story, convey emotions, or present a perspective through a series of photographs. Understanding the different types of photo essays can help photographers and storytellers choose the best approach for their project. Here are the main types of photo essays:

1. Narrative Photo Essays

  • Purpose: To tell a story or narrate an event in a chronological sequence.
  • Characteristics: Follows a clear storyline with a beginning, middle, and end. It often includes characters, a setting, and a plot.
  • Examples: A day in the life of a firefighter, the process of crafting traditional pottery.

2. Thematic Photo Essays

  • Purpose: To explore a specific theme, concept, or issue without being bound to a chronological sequence.
  • Characteristics: Centers around a unified theme, with each photo contributing to the overall concept.
  • Examples: The impact of urbanization on the environment, the beauty of natural landscapes.

3. Conceptual Photo Essays

  • Purpose: To convey an idea or evoke a series of emotions through abstract or metaphorical images.
  • Characteristics: Focuses on delivering a conceptual message or emotional response, often using symbolism.
  • Examples: Loneliness in the digital age, the concept of freedom.

4. Expository or Informative Photo Essays

  • Purpose: To inform or educate the viewer about a subject with a neutral viewpoint.
  • Characteristics: Presents factual information on a topic, often accompanied by captions or brief texts to provide context.
  • Examples: The process of coffee production, a day at an animal rescue center.

5. Persuasive Photo Essays

  • Purpose: To convince the viewer of a particular viewpoint or to highlight social issues.
  • Characteristics: Designed to persuade or elicit action, these essays may focus on social, environmental, or political issues.
  • Examples: The effects of plastic pollution, the importance of historical preservation.

6. Personal Photo Essays

  • Purpose: To express the photographer’s personal experiences, emotions, or journeys.
  • Characteristics: Highly subjective and personal, often reflecting the photographer’s intimate feelings or experiences.
  • Examples: A personal journey through grief, documenting one’s own home during quarantine.

7. Environmental Photo Essays

  • Purpose: To showcase landscapes, wildlife, and environmental issues.
  • Characteristics: Focuses on the natural world or environmental challenges, aiming to raise awareness or appreciation.
  • Examples: The melting ice caps, wildlife in urban settings.

8. Travel Photo Essays

  • Purpose: To explore and present the culture, landscapes, people, and experiences of different places.
  • Characteristics: Captures the essence of a location, showcasing its uniqueness and the experiences of traveling.
  • Examples: A road trip across the American Southwest, the vibrant streets of a bustling city.

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.

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.

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.

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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Text prompt

  • Instructive
  • Professional

Create a Photo Essay on the theme of urban exploration.

Discuss the story of a local community event through a Photo Essay.

How to Write an Essay for a Single Photograph

Kori morgan, 26 sep 2017.

Analyzing a photograph lets you examine its visual elements to determine its message.

Photography as an art form captures powerful truths that emanate from the portrayal of their subjects. Just as an author carefully selects words when composing an essay, a photographer uses elements like focus, lighting, contrast and background to depict an intended subject. Determining the photographer's intended message and analyzing how it is supported by visual elements can help you write an effective essay about a photograph.

Explore this article

  • Observation
  • Introduction and Context
  • Visual Evidence

1 Observation

Duke University's Thompson Writing Program suggests starting the writing process by observing the photograph. You can take notes about prominent objects in the foreground, the details of the setting, the shades of color represented and the emotions evoked by the photo. For example, if you were writing your essay about Thomas Franklin's photograph of firefighters raising the American flag at the World Trade Center site of the attacks of September 11, 2001, you might note the expressions on the men's faces, the prominence of the flag and how its colors contrast with the dirt and rubble. You might also try free writing about the image, writing down whatever details come to mind without censoring yourself.

Just like any other essay, you can use the details you've generated during brainstorming activities to develop a clear, specific sentence about what the photographer might have been trying to convey. For example, the details of the 9/11 picture might indicate the resilience of the American people in the face of tragedy. Therefore, your thesis might read, "Thomas Franklin frames the American flag and firefighters within the contrasting backdrop of the World Trade Center rubble to demonstrate America's ability to overcome even the most heartbreaking of tragedies."

3 Introduction and Context

A good way to introduce the photograph is by describing its context. Giving background information adds meaning to the image by allowing readers to know the story behind it. You might consider what events surrounded the picture's creation, such as any personal connections the photographer had with his subject and how people originally reacted to it. For the 9/11 image, you might discuss how the photograph, which originally appeared in the New Jersey paper The Record , became a symbol of hope and endurance in the weeks following the events.

4 Visual Evidence

An essay about a photograph uses specific references to specific aspects of the image to support the thesis. This includes whether the photograph confronts the subject directly or uses unusual camera angles, what subjects are the focus of the image and how the photographer uses light and shadow. You also might consider composition, the way the photographer arranges and frames the subjects. In the 9/11 photo, the central focus on the flag, the use of shadow and light, and the direct camera angle that frames the flag with the firefighters all emphasize the survival of America.

5 Conclusion

In any essay, a strong conclusion will both review its main points and leave readers with a poignant final thought to consider. In an essay about a photograph, you might write about how the image remains relevant today or reveals something about our world. This will further emphasis that the image's power lies in the continuation of the ideas behind it. For example, even though years have passed since 9/11, Franklin's photograph still carries special significance. Although America suffered greatly from the attacks, it has demonstrated its resilience through the process of recovery.

  • 1 Purdue Online Writing Lab: Visual Rhetoric: Analyzing Visual Documents
  • 2 Skidmore College: Visual Analysis Tips

About the Author

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.

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Teaching the Photo Essay

A picture is worth 1,000 words.

how to write an essay on a photograph

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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Pictures That Tell Stories: Photo Essay Examples

laptop with someone holding film reel

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.

Want to never run out of natural & authentic poses? You need this ⬇️ 

Click here & get it today for a huge discount., ⬥ take more photos than you need .

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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Essay on Photography

Students are often asked to write an essay on Photography in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Photography

What is photography.

Photography is the art of capturing pictures using a camera. A camera is like a box that keeps a moment from running away. When you take a photo, you save a memory that you can see later.

Types of Photography

There are many kinds of photography. Some people take photos of nature, like mountains and rivers. Others click pictures of cities or people. Some even capture stars at night. Each type tells a different story.

The Importance of Photography

Photos are important because they help us remember past times. They show us how things were and how they have changed. Photos can make us feel happy or sad by reminding us of different moments.

Learning Photography

Anyone can learn photography. You start by learning how to use a camera. Then you practice taking photos. Over time, you get better at making your pictures look nice. It’s fun to learn and can become a hobby or a job.

250 Words Essay on Photography

Photography is the art of capturing light with a camera to create a picture. This can be done using a digital camera or even a phone today. In the past, people used film cameras that had to be developed in a dark room.

The Magic of Cameras

A camera is a tool that takes in light through a lens and saves the image. In old cameras, light hit a film to create a photo. Now, digital cameras use electronic sensors to record the image. The sensors work like our eyes, catching light and colors.

There are many kinds of photography. Some people take pictures of nature, like forests and animals. Others like to take photos of cities and buildings. There are also photographers who take pictures of people and capture their emotions and moments.

To be good at photography, you need to learn how to use a camera well. You also need to understand light and how it affects your photos. Practice is important. The more you take pictures, the better you get at it.

Sharing Photos

After taking pictures, people often share them with others. They might put them on the internet, in a photo album, or hang them on a wall. Sharing photos lets others see the world through your eyes.

500 Words Essay on Photography

Photography is the art of capturing light with a camera to create an image. This can be done using a digital camera that stores pictures electronically or an old-fashioned film camera that records them on film. When you take a photo, you freeze a moment in time, which you can look back on later.

The History of Photography

The story of photography began hundreds of years ago with simple cameras called pinhole cameras. Over time, inventors created better cameras and ways to make pictures clearer and more colorful. In the past, taking a photo was not easy; it took a long time for the picture to be ready. But now, thanks to modern technology, we can take pictures instantly with digital cameras and even our phones.

How Photography Works

A camera works a bit like our eyes. When we look at something, light enters our eyes and helps us see. Similarly, when you take a picture, light comes into the camera through a hole called the lens. Inside the camera, the light hits a part that is sensitive to light, either film or a digital sensor, and creates an image.

Photography is important for many reasons. It helps us remember special moments like birthdays or holidays. It also lets us see places we’ve never been to and learn about different people and animals. Newspapers and websites use photos to show us what is happening in the world. Photography can even be a way for people to express their feelings and tell stories without using words.

The Fun of Photography

Photography can be a lot of fun. It lets you be creative and can even turn into a hobby or a job. You can take pictures of your friends, pets, or trips you go on. With photography, you can explore new places and meet new people. The best part is, you can start at any age and keep learning and enjoying it your whole life.

In conclusion, photography is a powerful form of art that lets us capture memories, explore the world, and share stories. It’s a skill that anyone can learn and enjoy. Whether you’re taking a picture of a beautiful sunset or snapping a photo of your best friend laughing, photography helps us save those special moments forever.

That’s it! I hope the essay helped you.

If you’re looking for more, here are essays on other interesting topics:

Happy studying!

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Concerns raised over annual juneteeth essay contest that asks fifth-graders to write from a slave’s perspective .

By Ana Borruto

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In response to concerns from Pulaski Street Intermediate School parents about the appropriateness of an annual Juneteenth essay contest, Riverhead Central School District officials are considering changes to the prompt for next year’s assignment. 

Celebrated every June 19, Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in Texas in 1865. It became a federal holiday in 2021, but Pulaski Street fifth-graders have marked Juneteenth through the essay contest for nearly two decades. 

Robert ‘Bubbie’ Brown of the East End Voters Coalition helped start the tradition, developing the idea during his time at Brookhaven National Laboratory in the late 1990s, when he first learned about Juneteenth commemorations.

Each year, the students are asked to write a journal entry from the point of view of an enslaved child in 1865 who has just learned that they have been liberated.

Interim district superintendent Cheryl Pedisich confirmed in an email to the News-Review that there was “a most productive discussion” about the assignment and that the plan is to collaborate with the East End Voters Coalition on developing a new, yet-to-be-determined essay topic for the 2024-25 academic year.

Nakeea Toussaint, parent of a Pulaski Street fifth-grader, first heard about the essay from her daughter after school one day this spring. 

“I said, ‘That’s not really a profound way of thinking — that you were a slave and now you’re free — how does someone think that you would feel something about that?’ ” Ms. Toussaint said, recalling their conversation. “And she said, ‘Well, mommy, one of my teachers said that maybe my slave master was good to me, and I don’t want to be free.’ Then I lost my mind.”

Ms. Toussaint said she immediately emailed her daughter’s teacher for more information about the writing contest and the teacher sent home the instructions for her to review. 

Before Memorial Day, she reached out to Pulaski Street principal, Patrick Burke, with her concerns. In his response, according to Ms. Toussaint, Mr. Burke — who as of July 1 became principal of Mattituck High School — pointed to the contest’s long history and included a link to an earlier RiverheadLocal article reporting on the contest winner.  

“Just because it’s been given for [many] years does not make it any less offensive or any less insensitive,” Ms. Toussaint said in her reply to Mr. Burke’s email. “It’s inappropriate to ask a 10-year-old without any context.” 

She then took her concerns directly to Ms. Pedisich, who met with Ms. Toussaint, Mr. Burke and Mr. Brown after Memorial Day. She hoped the meeting would be less of a debate on the appropriateness of the assignment and more on how it could be improved. 

Ms. Toussaint expressed her frustration that the assignment hadn’t been vetted by the school’s administration or Board of Education. 

“I said, ‘there’s no historical context to the winning essays — if you want my child to pretend she’s a young slave, are you sharing with her that she was possibly raped? That her father was possibly hanging from a tree, lynched?’” she asked during the meeting. “Everybody was silent,” she said.

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Burke and Mr. Brown said they wanted to get input from the Pulaski fifth- grade teachers and Ms. Pedisich. Ms. Toussaint said she felt “disheartened” by this response and that the issue was being “downplayed.” 

Mr. Burke referred the News-Review to the superintendent’s office in response to an initial request for comment on June 21. 

Between the essay contest and some other challenges Ms. Toussaint said her children faced during their first year at Pulaski, she began looking into other education options. In her research, she came across the Riverhead Charter School and decided to email its superintendent, Raymond Ankrum, about the Juneteenth assignment. 

He shared a similar perspective, she said. In an emailed statement, Mr. Ankrum said educational assignments that force “students to relive their trauma” must be put to an end, regardless of the good intentions behind them. 

“While we rightly refrain from asking other groups to revisit their painful pasts, Black students are consistently asked to remember themselves as slaves,” Mr. Ankrum said in his email. “This is unacceptable — we must make amends and ensure that our education system prioritizes healing and empowerment for all.”

When Ms. Toussaint spoke to other community members about the essay, she said she noticed a pattern of parents being kept in the dark and only learning about the contest if their child happened to have mentioned it. In previous years, however, local media has reported on award ceremonies held by the school for the essay contest winners. Past News-Review reports indicate the winners also read their essays aloud at the annual Juneteenth Day celebration in Riverside.

Ms. Toussaint added the assignment is typically completed in the classroom and some teachers make it mandatory, while others make it optional.

Anne Ondricek, whose son just moved up from sixth grade at Pulaski, said she didn’t know about the assignment until Ms. Toussaint told her about it. When she asked her son if he had completed the essay last year in fifth-grade, he confirmed he worked on it in the classroom.

“He said he just wrote about fireworks and celebration. I never saw what he wrote,” Ms. Ondricek said. “It seems very strange to have people imagine to be slaves and for my son — who is white — it’s just like a game. It t didn’t seem like it could really have any meaning for him, while for Black people who imagine their ancestors being in those positions, I feel like it’s much more traumatizing and emotional.” 

Kevin Johnson, parent of a recent Riverhead High School graduate, remembered when his son completed the assignment in fifth grade. Similar to many other parents’ experiences, his son brought the essay prompt home and Mr. Johnson said he was immediately alarmed. 

He called the principal and the superintendent at the time, and spoke with Mr. Brown, but no changes came out of these conversations, he said. When his daughter moved up to Pulaski Street, he said he made sure she didn’t participate in the essay contest. 

“To go as far as to have that grade level of children put their minds in a place where they see themselves as a slave — with really no knowledge of slavery whatsoever — just going off of what they may have heard, could be wrong,” Mr. Johnson said. “It’s pretty insulting.” 

Mr. Brown said the East End Voters Coalition is almost “nonexistent” today, as the number of members has dwindled from nearly 20 to only three. Feeling he could no longer handle the contest himself, Mr. Brown expressed to Mr. Burke his desire to “ease out” of it. 

The East End Voters Coalition was not involved in this year’s contest, Mr. Brown said, but Mr. Burke decided to continue it by having the teachers collect all the essays, act as the judges and select three winners. 

“In the almost 20 years since we’ve been having this [contest], I haven’t had anything but positive responses from the parents, the kids and the teachers,” Mr. Brown said. “The school board even has positive comments about the contest, so we’ll see what happens.”

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He never saw himself as disadvantaged. Then the government had him write an essay.

It had never occurred to Curtis Joachim to blame racism for his professional setbacks until an SBA application forced him to think differently about his life.

how to write an essay on a photograph

Curtis Joachim sat at his computer, searching for the words to prove his disadvantage.

It was summer 2023, and a federal judge had just ruled that a government program for minority contractors could no longer automatically accept participants like Joachim. For the first time in the program’s 45-year history, simply being Black was not enough to qualify as “socially disadvantaged” — a key requirement to receive set-asides for lucrative government contracts. Now Joachim, an accountant, had to document his struggles.

He had to write an essay.

So Joachim began examining his life through the prism of disadvantage. It was new terrain for the 56-year-old Marine Corps veteran and longtime entrepreneur, a man who had instinctively equated success with merit.

As he sat down to write, he thought about his many setbacks: the missed promotions, the bankruptcies, the second jobs he took to make ends meet. No matter how hard he had worked, he now realized, there had always been some resistance, almost like an “invisible force” holding him back.

And then it struck him: “It could have been different if I was not a Black man.”

Joachim was writing the essay because of a decision several weeks earlier by a federal judge in Tennessee. A White woman had challenged the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development program , one of the government’s defining affirmative action programs, which certifies businesses as “disadvantaged” so they can pursue federal contracts set aside for minority-owned businesses. Last year, more than a dozen agencies disbursed $24.4 billion through the 8(a) pipeline.

Joachim said the program changed the course of his life, allowing him to win more than $32 million in accounting and auditing contracts over the past decade from the departments of Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation, among others. The experience gave him the foundation to pursue other government work and increase his staff to 15.

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But now, the judge said, the program could no longer admit applicants based solely on their racial identity. Instead, every applicant would have to offer a narrative of disadvantage, one that demonstrated how their identity set them back.

Since last June, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down race-based college admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, the nation’s most selective universities have been forced to undergo a similar transformation. Applicants can no longer expect special consideration on the basis of their race, though they can use their personal essays to discuss how race has shaped their experiences .

The Harvard-UNC decision touched off a broader shift in the way institutions approach diversity . In the corporate world and government contracting, as well as higher education, explicit preferences for people of certain races or ethnicities are giving way to processes that focus on the totality of an applicant’s character, said David Glasgow, executive director of the Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at New York University.

Glasgow said he expects to “see more of that kind of individualized essay-based assessment, in part because the Supreme Court has foreclosed the more direct demographic approaches.”

For the 4,800 businesses that participate in the 8(a) program, the court ruling last July touched off a frenzy. The SBA trained additional staff to review the essays that were now pouring in from participants. Lawyers hired by applicants to help complete their narratives said the process sowed confusion — and dredged up past trauma.

Nicole Pottroff, a partner at the law firm Koprince McCall Pottroff, said many applicants drew upon such severe experiences as “sexual harassment, blatant racism — things that were very hurtful to the individual telling the story.”

“Most of this is painful,” Pottroff said. “They’re hoping to repress a lot of these memories.”

In his essay, Joachim needed to describe two episodes when he experienced discrimination to establish what the SBA called “chronic and substantial social disadvantage.” Pottroff worked with Joachim to identify the incidents, which could have taken place during his education, his employment or in his business history.

He chose to write about his time in the military.

Joachim wrote that he had been a “Poster Marine” who spit shined his boots every night, kept his hair “high and tight,” and earned his sergeant’s stripes in just under three years — it typically takes four to five — while attending college at night and competing as a power weightlifter. He had been named Marine of the Month, then Service Member of the Year, the essay said.

None of it was enough to qualify him for the officers training program, which would have provided him with a college education and propelled him into the commissioned officer ranks. Instead, he wrote, a White Marine had been selected.

“It was my lifelong dream to be a Marine Officer,” he wrote, “but that dream was crushed because of the color of my skin.”

For his second incident, Joachim wrote about how, about a decade later after discharge, he repeatedly had been passed over for promotions while working as a civilian with the U.S. Army Audit Agency in Germany. White peers moved to bigger roles, he wrote, even though he was sure he performed better.

“Given my success and incredibly (nearly excessive) hard work — race again was the only ‘advantage’ they all had over me at that time,” he wrote. “And apparently that was a significant enough ‘advantage’ to promote them three years before me.”

Joachim had not always seen things this way. It had not occurred to him to blame racism when he was rejected for the officers training program or missed out on promotions.

“I never saw myself as disadvantaged,” he said. “To me, it was America. You roll your sleeves up and you work hard, and you get there.”

But writing the essay forced him to examine his life through a different lens. He found the idea that his skin color may have contributed to his many setbacks upsetting. It upended his belief that success was just a matter of hard work and perseverance.

The anecdotes in his essay, he wrote, “are just the tip of the iceberg as to the racism and social disadvantage I have faced in this country from the early days of my youth, through my education and career, and through my business history.”

A hard charger

Joachim was 15 when he first landed in the United States in 1984, traveling from Dominica with five siblings to reunite with their father in Brooklyn. Any fears he had about his new country were quickly overtaken by excitement and the sense of limitless possibility it could bring. Because he wasn’t yet a U.S. citizen and college was out of reach, Joachim enlisted in the Marine Corps.

Friends who served with Joachim at Camp Lejeune, N.C., described him as a “hard charger” and a “Marine’s Marine.”

“He was always number one,” said Wayne Jackson, one of Joachim’s roommates. “He was the rabbit that everybody chased.”

Jackson, who is Black, said racism was a “reality” in the Marines when he served, though he believes the branch has since made progress. Another roommate, Jimmy Tran, agreed, noting that his peers often ribbed him about his Vietnamese heritage.

Still, both said making the leap from enlisted man to officer would have been difficult for anyone, no matter how talented. And Joachim faced an especially big hurdle, they said, because he did not have a college degree at the time.

By 1995, having received his U.S. citizenship in the military, Joachim decided to return to civilian life. He sold perfume, first in Virginia Beach and then in Mobile, Ala., for a multilevel marketing company but went bankrupt after his operation collapsed. He worked at a fast-food chain while also loading trucks at a Coca-Cola warehouse.

In all of his endeavors, Joachim was intent on becoming “financially free” and going into business for himself, said his ex-wife, April Joachim.

He got a step closer to that goal in 1998, when he earned a business administration degree from the University of Dubuque in Iowa and went straight to work for the Army Audit Agency in Germany. Though he eventually was made a supervisor and led teams that audited the efficiency of military supply routes during conflicts in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, his career plateaued.

In 2004, his work with the audit agency took him to Fort Monroe, Va., where he began selling homes on the side. Taking his cues from Robert Kiyosaki, the real estate guru known for his get-rich-quick seminars , Joachim decided it was time to work for himself. He resigned from the Army Audit Agency and started his own accounting firm, as well as a mortgage company.

Then in 2008, the housing market crashed, ushering in the Great Recession. With his business underwater, Joachim filed for bankruptcy. He managed to find some accounting work for struggling small businesses, while also stocking shelves overnight at Walmart.

As the economy began to recover, Joachim found work for a contractor serving the U.S. Coast Guard, which eventually awarded him a subcontract. It was the break he needed, the launchpad to qualify for the 8(a) program, which “put me in a position to compete” by giving him access to the initial contracts he would need to build credibility with government agencies and fellow contractors, he said.

Suddenly contracts were easier to come by. His accounting firm, the Joachim Group, flourished. He settled on 10 acres in Southern Virginia and sent his son and daughter to college.

In his essay, Joachim reflected on that turnaround.

“The 8(a) Program is one of the only things in my life that has even remotely worked to begin to level the playing field for me as a man in a historically white man’s business world,” he wrote.

Affirmative action programs like 8(a) were designed to recognize past discrimination and “try to make up for that in some ways — without sticking it in your face,” he said. But the process of writing the essay — of having to relive those painful experiences — “forces you to focus on that and think of yourself as a second-class citizen.”

Five days after submitting his essay last August, the SBA accepted it, allowing Joachim to remain in the program for a 10th and final year.

Last month, he “graduated” from 8(a). From now on, the government will no longer classify him as “disadvantaged.”

Now, it’s “sink or swim,” he said. “And, by golly, we’re going to swim.”

how to write an essay on a photograph

More From Forbes

How not to write your college essay.

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If you are looking for the “secret formula” for writing a “winning” college essay, you have come to the wrong place. The reality is there is no silver bullet or strategy to write your way to an acceptance. There is not one topic or approach that will guarantee a favorable outcome.

At the end of the day, every admission office just wants to know more about you, what you value, and what excites you. They want to hear about your experiences through your own words and in your own voice. As you set out to write your essay, you will no doubt get input (both sought-after and unsolicited) on what to write. But how about what NOT Notcoin to write? There are avoidable blunders that applicants frequently make in drafting their essays. I asked college admission leaders, who have read thousands of submissions, to share their thoughts.

Don’t Go In There

There is wide consensus on this first one, so before you call on your Jedi mind tricks or predictive analytics, listen to the voices of a diverse range of admission deans. Peter Hagan, executive director of admissions at Syracuse University, sums it up best, saying, “I would recommend that students try not to get inside of our heads. He adds, “Too often the focus is on what they think we want.”

Andy Strickler, dean of admission and financial aid at Connecticut College agrees, warning, “Do NOT get caught in the trap of trying to figure out what is going to impress the admission committee. You have NO idea who is going to read your essay and what is going to connect with them. So, don't try to guess that.” Victoria Romero, vice president for enrollment, at Scripps College adds, “Do not write about something you don’t care about.” She says, “I think students try to figure out what an admission officer wants to read, and the reality is the reader begins every next essay with no expectations about the content THEY want to read.” Chrystal Russell, dean of admission at Hampden-Sydney College, agrees, saying, “If you're not interested in writing it, we will not be interested when reading it.” Jay Jacobs, vice provost for enrollment management at the University of Vermont elaborates, advising. “Don’t try to make yourself sound any different than you are.” He says, “The number one goal for admission officers is to better understand the applicant, what they like to do, what they want to do, where they spend the majority of their time, and what makes them tick. If a student stays genuine to that, it will shine through and make an engaging and successful essay.”

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Don’t Be Artificial

The headlines about college admission are dominated by stories about artificial intelligence and the college essay. Let’s set some ground rules–to allow ChatGPT or some other tool to do your work is not only unethical, it is also unintelligent. The only worse mistake you could make is to let another human write your essay for you. Instead of preoccupying yourself with whether or not colleges are using AI detection software (most are not), spend your time focused on how best to express yourself authentically. Rick Clark is the executive director of strategic student success at Georgia Institute of Technology, one of the first institutions to clearly outline their AI policy for applicants. He says, “Much of a college application is devoted to lines, boxes, and numbers. Essays and supplements are the one place to establish connection, personality, and distinction. AI, in its current state, is terrible at all three.” He adds, “My hope is that students will use ChatGPT or other tools for brainstorming and to get started, but then move quickly into crafting an essay that will provide insight and value.”

Don’t Overdo It

Michael Stefanowicz, vice president for enrollment management at Landmark College says, “You can only cover so much detail about yourself in an admission essay, and a lot of students feel pressure to tell their life story or choose their most defining experience to date as an essay topic. Admission professionals know that you’re sharing just one part of your lived experience in the essay.” He adds, “Some of the favorite essays I’ve read have been episodic, reflecting on the way you’ve found meaning in a seemingly ordinary experience, advice you’ve lived out, a mistake you’ve learned from, or a special tradition in your life.” Gary Ross, vice president for admission and financial aid at Colgate University adds, “More than a few applicants each year craft essays that talk about the frustration and struggles they have experienced in identifying a topic for their college application essay. Presenting your college application essay as a smorgasbord of topics that ultimately landed on the cutting room floor does not give us much insight into an applicant.”

Don’t Believe In Magic

Jason Nevinger, senior director of admission at the University of Rochester warns, “Be skeptical of anyone or any company telling you, ‘This is the essay that got me into _____.’ There is no magic topic, approach, sentence structure, or prose that got any student into any institution ever.” Social media is littered with advertisements promising strategic essay help. Don’t waste your time, energy, or money trying to emulate a certain style, topic, or tone. Liz Cheron is chief executive officer for the Coalition for College and former assistant vice president of enrollment & dean of admissions at Northeastern University. She agrees with Nevinger, saying “Don't put pressure on yourself to find the perfect, slam dunk topic. The vast majority of college essays do exactly what they're supposed to do–they are well-written and tell the admission officer more about the student in that student's voice–and that can take many different forms.”

Don’t Over Recycle

Beatrice Atkinson-Myers, associate director of global recruitment at the University of California at Santa Cruz tells students, “Do not use the same response for each university; research and craft your essay to match the program at the university you are interested in studying. Don't waste time telling me things I can read elsewhere in your application. Use your essay to give the admissions officer insights into your motivations, interests, and thinking. Don't make your essay the kitchen sink, focus on one or two examples which demonstrate your depth and creativity.” Her UC colleague, Jim Rawlins, associate vice chancellor of enrollment management at the University of California at San Diego agrees, saying “Answer the question. Not doing so is the surest way we can tell you are simply giving us a snippet of something you actually wrote for a different purpose.”

Don’t Overedit

Emily Roper-Doten, vice president for undergraduate admissions and financial assistance at Clark University warns against “Too many editors!” She says, “Pick a couple of trusted folks to be your sounding board when considering topics and as readers once you have drafts. You don’t want too many voices in your essay to drown you out!” Scripps’ Romero agrees, suggesting, “Ask a good friend, someone you trust and knows you well, to read your essays.” She adds, “The goal is for the admission committee to get to know a little about you and who better to help you create that framework, than a good friend. This may not work for all students because of content but helps them understand it’s important to be themselves.” Whitney Soule, vice provost and dean of admissions at The University of Pennsylvania adds, “Avoid well-meaning editorial interference that might seem to polish your writing but actually takes your own personal ‘shine’ right out of the message.” She says, “As readers, we connect to applicants through their genuine tone and style. Considering editorial advice for flow and message is OK but hold on to the 'you' for what you want to say and how you want to say it.”

Don’t Get Showy

Palmer Muntz, senior regional admissions counselor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks cautions applicants, “Don’t be fancier than you are. You don’t need to put on airs.” He adds, “Yes, proofread your work for grammar and spelling, but be natural. Craft something you’d want to read yourself, which probably means keeping your paragraphs short, using familiar words, and writing in an active voice.” Connecticut College’s Strickler agrees, warning, “Don't try to be someone you are not. If you are not funny, don't try to write a funny essay. If you are not an intellectual, trying to write an intellectual essay is a bad idea.”

Anthony Jones, the vice president of enrollment management at Loyola University New Orleans offers a unique metaphor for thinking about the essay. He says, “In the new world of the hyper-fast college admission process, it's become easy to overlook the essential meaning of the college application. It's meant to reveal Y...O...U, the real you, not some phony digital avatar. Think of the essay as the essence of that voice but in analog. Like the completeness and authenticity captured in a vinyl record, the few lines you're given to explain your view should be a slow walk through unrestrained expression chock full of unapologetic nuances, crevices of emotion, and exactness about how you feel in the moment. Then, and only then, can you give the admissions officer an experience that makes them want to tune in and listen for more.”

Don’t Be A Downer

James Nondorf, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at The University of Chicago says, “Don’t be negative about other people, be appreciative of those who have supported you, and be excited about who you are and what you will bring to our campus!” He adds, “While admissions offices want smart students for our classrooms, we also want kind-hearted, caring, and joyous students who will add to our campus communities too.”

Don’t Pattern Match

Alan Ramirez is the dean of admission and financial aid at Sewanee, The University of the South. He explains, “A big concern I have is when students find themselves comparing their writing to other students or past applicants and transform their writing to be more like those individuals as a way to better their chances of offering a more-compelling essay.” He emphasizes that the result is that the “essay is no longer authentic nor the best representation of themselves and the whole point of the essay is lost. Their distinctive voice and viewpoint contribute to the range of voices in the incoming class, enhancing the diversity of perspectives we aim to achieve.” Ramirez simple tells students, “Be yourself, that’s what we want to see, plus there's no one else who can do it better than you!”

Don’t Feel Tied To A Topic

Jessica Ricker is the vice president for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid at Skidmore College. She says, “Sometimes students feel they must tell a story of grief or hardship, and then end up reliving that during the essay-writing process in ways that are emotionally detrimental. I encourage students to choose a topic they can reflect upon positively but recommend that if they choose a more challenging experience to write about, they avoid belaboring the details and instead focus on the outcome of that journey.” She adds, "They simply need to name it, frame its impact, and then help us as the reader understand how it has shaped their lens on life and their approach moving forward.”

Landmark College’s Stefanowicz adds, “A lot of students worry about how personal to get in sharing a part of their identity like your race or heritage (recalling last year’s Supreme Court case about race-conscious admissions), a learning difference or other disability, your religious values, LGBTQ identity…the list goes on.” He emphasizes, “This is always your choice, and your essay doesn’t have to be about a defining identity. But I encourage you to be fully yourself as you present yourself to colleges—because the college admission process is about finding a school where your whole self is welcome and you find a setting to flourish!”

Don’t Be Redundant

Hillen Grason Jr., dean of admission at Franklin & Marshall College, advises, “Don't repeat academic or co-curricular information that is easily identifiable within other parts of your application unless the topic is a core tenant of you as an individual.” He adds, “Use your essay, and other parts of your application, wisely. Your essay is the best way to convey who your authentic self is to the schools you apply. If you navigated a situation that led to a dip in your grades or co-curricular involvement, leverage the ‘additional information’ section of the application.

Thomas Marr is a regional manager of admissions for the Americas at The University of St Andrews in Scotland and points out that “Not all international schools use the main college essay as part of their assessment when reviewing student applications.” He says, “At the University of St Andrews, we focus on the supplemental essay and students should avoid the mistake of making the supplemental a repeat of their other essay. The supplemental (called the Personal Statement if using the UCAS application process) is to show the extent of their passion and enthusiasm for the subject/s to which they are applying and we expect about 75% of the content to cover this. They can use the remaining space to mention their interests outside of the classroom. Some students confuse passion for the school with passion for their subject; do not fall into that trap.”

A Few Final Don’ts

Don’t delay. Every college applicant I have ever worked with has wished they had started earlier. You can best avoid the pitfalls above if you give yourself the time and space to write a thoughtful essay and welcome feedback openly but cautiously. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect . Do your best, share your voice, and stay true to who you are.

Brennan Barnard

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How to Write a Paper in APA Format | For Students

When I was a student, I was told to submit my essays in APA format. At the time, I had no idea what that even meant or how to do it. If this sounds familiar to you, don’t worry—I’ve been there, too. In this guide, I’ll show you the easiest way to understand APA format and a simple hack to help you comfortably write your essays and then format them in APA style.

When is APA format used?

APA format is commonly used in the social and behavioral sciences, such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, education, and economics, as well as in fields like business and nursing. This standardized format is adopted by professionals, researchers, and students to structure and present research papers, essays, and other academic documents.

It ensures consistency and clarity in communication within these disciplines by providing specific guidelines for nearly all aspects of manuscript formatting, from font choice to margins and punctuation. By adhering to paper APA format 7th edition style, writers in these fields can effectively share their findings and ideas in a clear and organized manner.

General Guidelines/ Rules of APA Formatting

Understanding the guidelines is key when learning how to write a paper in APA format for students. However, there's one important point that is often missed by many: the APA 7th edition now has different guidelines for students and professionals. So, if you notice a few extra details that might be missing in the guidelines below, it is because we have skipped the APA 7th edition guidelines for professionals to avoid any confusion. Let's review the guidelines:

General Formatting:

Margins: Set 1-inch margins on all sides.

Font: Use a readable font such as Times New Roman (12 pt.).

Line Spacing: Double-space throughout the document, including the title page, abstract, references, and any other sections.

Indentation: Indent the first line of each paragraph by 0.5 inches (use the tab key or the paragraph formatting function).

Alignment: Left-align all text except for headings, which follow specific formats.

Page Numbers: Include page numbers in the top right corner of every page, starting on the title page (which is considered page 1).

Title Page: Follow guidelines for the placement of the title, author information, affiliation (your school), course information, and instructor's name.

Abstract: Include a brief summary of your paper on a separate page after the title page.

Body Text: Write in clear and concise language, avoiding jargon. Use headings to organize your content.

In-text Citations: Cite your sources within the text using the author’s name and publication year in parentheses. There are specific formats for different types of sources.

Reference List: Start a new page for your references, listed alphabetically by the first author's last name. Follow specific formatting guidelines for different types of sources (books, articles, websites, etc.).

Here's what a title page of a reference paper template looks like in APA format:

How to Set up APA Format Paper [Step-by-Step]

After understanding the guidelines, the next step is to apply them effectively to format your paper in APA 7th edition style. To achieve this, we need an efficient writing tool that provides all the necessary formatting tools. Since we're just starting our journey to format essays in APA style, the tool should be easy to use. For these reasons, I'll be using a professional writing tool— WPS Office .

WPS Office not only provides all the necessary tools but also has a major benefit—it's completely free to use. I recommend downloading WPS Office on your system to ensure you can follow the steps smoothly. So, let's begin. I have an example paper that I will format in APA style using WPS Office.

1.Page Margins

Before you begin formatting your essay, let's set the page margins according to APA 7th edition guidelines, which require 1-inch margins on all sides.

Step 1: To set the page margins in WPS Writer, simply go to the Page Layout tab.

Step 2: In the Page Layout ribbon, locate the Margin fields on the left end of the ribbon.

Step 3: Here, set all margins—top, bottom, left, and right—to 1 inch.

Once you've adjusted the margins, we can proceed with formatting the rest of the document.

2.Font Settings and Line Spacing

Next, let's adjust the font and line spacing according to APA style requirements.

Step 1: Go to the Home tab in WPS Writer and change the font to “Times New Roman” in the “Fonts” field.

Step 2: To change the font size, enter "12" in the "Font size" field.

Step 3: For adjusting line spacing, simply click on the "Line spacing" icon in the Home ribbon and select "2.0" to apply double spacing in your essay.

Once we've completed setting the general formatting of our entire essay according to APA style, we now need to prepare the header.

Step 1: To set the header, double-click on the header area to enter the header in WPS Writer.

The header in APA style for students includes only the page number on the top right.

Step 2: To insert the page number, click on the "Page Number" button in the Header/Footer ribbon.

Step 3: From the Page Number drop-down menu, select the "Header right" option to insert the page number on the top right.

Step 4: Next, we need to set the header height to "0.5 in" in the "Header height" field.

 4.Title Page

Sure! Let's start formatting each page of your essay, beginning with the title page. The title page should include the title of your paper, your name (as the author), the professor's name, course details, university name, and the due date. Each of these headings should start on a new line with 3-4 blank lines at the top of the page. This formatting ensures that your essay's title page follows APA style guidelines accurately.

Step 1: Press the "Enter" key on the keyboard to leave 3-4 blank lines at the top of the page.

Step 2: Type the title of your essay and center align it by clicking on the "Center" icon in the Home ribbon.

Step 3: Make the title bold by selecting the title text and clicking on the "Bold" icon in the Home ribbon.

Step 4: Press the "Enter" key twice to create a blank line between the title and the essay details. Then, enter the essay details in the following order, each on a separate line:

Your name (Author)

Department, University

Course Name, Course code

Professor's name

Step 5: After entering the essay details as described, ensure that each detail is centered on the page by selecting all the text with your mouse. Then, click on the "Center" icon in the Home ribbon to center-align the selected text.

Step 1: To insert a new blank page after the title page, place the cursor at the end of the due date on the title page and go to the Insert tab.

Step 2: In the Insert ribbon, click on "Breaks" and then select "Page Break" from the drop-down menu. This will create a new blank page where we will enter our abstract.

Step 3: Enter the heading "Abstract" in bold font style and center align it.

Step 4: Type the body of the abstract with no indentation. Simply start typing the abstract text.

After completing the abstract, insert another page break to start the next section of your essay.

6.Headings and Subheadings

To ensure your paper adheres to APA style guidelines for headings and paragraph indentation, here's how you can format them:

Step 1: On a new blank page, enter the Level 1 heading and ensure it is centered and in bold.

Step 2: For the body of the headings, indent the first line of each new paragraph by “0.5 in” by pressing the “Tab” key on your keyboard

Level 1 Heading: Centered and bold. It is used for main sections, like "Methods" or "Results".

Level 2 Heading: Left-aligned and bold. It is used to divide the main sections into subsections.

Level 3 Heading: Left-aligned, bold, and italicized. It further divides subsections into smaller parts.

Level 4 Heading: Indented, bold, and ends with a period. Text immediately follows this period, and it continues with lowercase text.

Level 5 Heading: Indented, bold, and in italics. Similar to Level 4, it also continues with lowercase text..

7.Table of contents

Essays can be lengthy, so including a table of contents can help make navigation easier. Let's take a look at how we can add a table of contents in WPS Writer.

Step 1: The Table of Contents is placed right after the title page, so the first step is to create a blank space after the title page using a Page Break.

Step 2: Now, on the blank page, go to the References tab and click on the Table of Contents button.

Step 3: From the Table of Contents drop-down menu, select any of the default templates available. I prefer using the 3rd template as it allows coverage of 3 levels of headings.

Step 4: Once the Table of Contents has been added, ensure that its heading is set to "Table of Contents", and it is formatted in bold and centered alignment.

Step 5: Additionally, ensure that the font settings of the Table of Contents are set to Times New Roman and 12-point font size.

8.Reference page

Before completing our essay, it's important to insert references that were helpful during the research process. For this, the end of your essay will include a separate References page.

Step 1: On a blank page at the end of your essay, enter the heading "References". Center align the heading and make it bold.

Step 2: List all the works cited in your essay. You can use the free Scribbr citation generator to generate APA 7th edition citations, which makes the process easier and ensures accuracy.

Step 3: Ensure the references are formatted with hanging indents using the Ruler in WPS Writer. To access the ruler, go to the View tab and check the "Ruler" checkbox in the ribbon.

Step 4: Drag the arrow on the ruler to half an inch to set the hanging indent .

Step 5: Then, drag the rectangle (below the ruler) back to 0 to reset the left indent for the subsequent lines of each reference.

And here is our APA 7th edition formatted essay from scratch. As you may have noticed, the whole process can be lengthy without an outline, but formatting your essay step by step makes the process clearer and easier to complete. I've used a few other writing tools for formatting, but I recommend WPS Writer because of its ease of navigation—all formatting tools are readily available in the tab, with no need to navigate through extra menus or open additional guides to learn additional steps. Try using WPS Writer for your essay assignments and experience the difference.

Bonus Tips: How to Convert Word to PDF without losing Format

WPS Office not only provides the necessary tools for students to efficiently format their essays according to APA 7th edition, but it also offers tools to easily convert these papers to PDF format within the WPS Writer application. Therefore, because submitting your work promptly is the next step after writing, ensure that your submission doesn't cost you any marks due to formatting issues after putting in so much effort.

To convert your essay documents to PDF using WPS PDF without quality loss, simply follow these steps:

Step 1: Open your document in WPS Writer.

Step 2: Click on the Menu button at the top left corner of the screen.

Step 3: Select "Export to PDF" from the menu that appears.

Step 4: Adjust any settings, such as the output path, in the Export to PDF window.

Step 5: After configuring the settings, click on "Export to PDF" to save your essay document as a PDF.

FAQs about writing a paper in APA format

1. how should i format tables and figures in apa style.

To correctly format a table in APA style, follow these guidelines:

Boldly label the table number above the table.

Provide a brief, italicized title in the title case just below the table number.

Avoid using vertical lines in the table design.

Use horizontal lines sparingly, only where necessary for clarity.

Ensure column and row headings are clearly labeled and concise.

Maintain consistent number formatting, such as decimal places.

Include any necessary notes below the table to explain details or sources.

To correctly format a figure in APA style, follow these guidelines:

Place the figure number in bold above the figure.

Provide a brief, italicized title in the title case beneath the figure number.

Include clear labels and legends within the image if needed.

Add any pertinent notes below the figure.

2. How to cite a Journal article in APA Style?

An APA Style citation for a journal article includes the author's name(s), the year of publication (in round brackets), the title of the article, the name of the journal in italics, the volume (in italics) and issue number, the page range of the article, and a DOI (if available).

APA format:

Author's last name, First name initial. (Year of publication). Title of article. Journal Title, Volume(Issue), Page range. DOI or URL

Johnson, M. (2023). Explore with us. Journal of random discoveries, 5(2), 123-135. https://doi.org/10.1234/jes.2023.5.2.123

3. How to cite a website in APA style?

APA website citations include the author's name, publication date, the title of the page or article in italics, the website name, and the URL. If no author is known, begin with the title of the article. If updates to the content are possible, include a retrieval date.

Author's Last Name, First initial. (Year, Month Date of publication). Title of the page. Name of the Website. URL

Johnson, M. (2024, March 12). Explore with us. Random Discoveries. https://www.randomdiscoveries.com/explore-with-us

Master APA Format Easily with WPS Office

I personally find APA format to be the most complex of all formats, but doing it on WPS Office sure makes it easy. The fact that it’s so user-friendly, with every feature readily available, is a huge advantage. The best part is that WPS Office is completely free. As a student, finding a good office suite that is cost-effective can be a challenge, and I’ve been there. Download WPS Office and spare yourself the hassle of hunting for an office suite— WPS Office is the answer to all your problems.

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Anatomy of an AI Essay

How might you distinguish one from a human-composed counterpart? After analyzing dozens, Elizabeth Steere lists some key predictable features.

By  Elizabeth Steere

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Since OpenAI launched ChatGPT in 2022, educators have been grappling with the problem of how to recognize and address AI-generated writing. The host of AI-detection tools that have emerged over the past year vary greatly in their capabilities and reliability. For example, mere months after OpenAI launched its own AI detector, the company shut it down due to its low accuracy rate.

Understandably, students have expressed concerns over the possibility of their work receiving false positives as AI-generated content. Some institutions have disabled Turnitin’s AI-detection feature due to concerns over potential false allegations of AI plagiarism that may disproportionately affect English-language learners . At the same time, tools that rephrase AI writing—such as text spinners, text inflators or text “humanizers”—can effectively disguise AI-generated text from detection. There are even tools that mimic human typing to conceal AI use in a document’s metadata.

While the capabilities of large language models such as ChatGPT are impressive, they are also limited, as they strongly adhere to specific formulas and phrasing . Turnitin’s website explains that its AI-detection tool relies on the fact that “GPT-3 and ChatGPT tend to generate the next word in a sequence of words in a consistent and highly probable fashion.” I am not a computer programmer or statistician, but I have noticed certain attributes in text that point to the probable involvement of AI, and in February, I collected and quantified some of those characteristics in hopes to better recognize AI essays and to share those characteristics with students and other faculty members.

I asked ChatGPT 3.5 and the generative AI tool included in the free version of Grammarly each to generate more than 50 analytical essays on early American literature, using texts and prompts from classes I have taught over the past decade. I took note of the characteristics of AI essays that differentiated them from what I have come to expect from their human-composed counterparts. Here are some of the key features I noticed.

AI essays tend to get straight to the point. Human-written work often gradually leads up to its topic, offering personal anecdotes, definitions or rhetorical questions before getting to the topic at hand.

AI-generated essays are often list-like. They may feature numbered body paragraphs or multiple headings and subheadings.

The paragraphs of AI-generated essays also often begin with formulaic transitional phrases. As an example, here are the first words of each paragraph in one essay that ChatGPT produced:

  • “In contrast”
  • “Furthermore”
  • “On the other hand”
  • “In conclusion.”

Notably, AI-generated essays were far more likely than human-written essays to begin paragraphs with “Furthermore,” “Moreover” and “Overall.”

AI-generated work is often banal. It does not break new ground or demonstrate originality; its assertions sound familiar.

AI-generated text tends to remain in the third person. That’s the case even when asked a reader response–style question. For example, when I asked ChatGPT what it personally found intriguing, meaningful or resonant about one of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems, it produced six paragraphs, but the pronoun “I” was included only once. The rest of the text described the poem’s atmosphere, themes and use of language in dispassionate prose. Grammarly prefaced its answer with “I’m sorry, but I cannot have preferences as I am an AI-powered assistant and do not have emotions or personal opinions,” followed by similarly clinical observations about the text.

AI-produced text tends to discuss “readers” being “challenged” to “confront” ideologies or being “invited” to “reflect” on key topics. In contrast, I have found that human-written text tends to focus on hypothetically what “the reader” might “see,” “feel” or “learn.”

AI-generated essays are often confidently wrong. Human writing is more prone to hedging, using phrases like “I think,” “I feel,” “this might mean …” or “this could be a symbol of …” and so on.

AI-generated essays are often repetitive. An essay that ChatGPT produced on the setting of Rebecca Harding Davis’s short story “Life in the Iron Mills” contained the following assertions among its five brief paragraphs: “The setting serves as a powerful symbol,” “the industrial town itself serves as a central aspect of the setting,” “the roar of furnaces serve as a constant reminder of the relentless pace of industrial production,” “the setting serves as a catalyst for the characters’ struggles and aspirations,” “the setting serves as a microcosm of the larger societal issues of the time,” and “the setting … serves as a powerful symbol of the dehumanizing effects of industrialization.”

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AI writing is often hyperbolic or overreaching. The quotes above describe a “powerful symbol,” for example. AI essays frequently describe even the most mundane topics as “groundbreaking,” “vital,” “esteemed,” “invaluable,” “indelible,” “essential,” “poignant” or “profound.”

AI-produced texts frequently use metaphors, sometimes awkwardly. ChatGPT produced several essays that compared writing to “weaving” a “rich” or “intricate tapestry” or “painting” a “vivid picture.”

AI-generated essays tend to overexplain. They often use appositives to define people or terms, as in “Margaret Fuller, a pioneering feminist and transcendentalist thinker, explored themes such as individualism, self-reliance and the search for meaning in her writings …”

AI-generated academic writing often employs certain verbs. They include “delve,” “shed light,” “highlight,” “illuminate,” “underscore,” “showcase,” “embody,” “transcend,” “navigate,” “foster,” “grapple,” “strive,” “intertwine,” “espouse” and “endeavor.”

AI-generated essays tend to end with a sweeping broad-scale statement. They talk about “the human condition,” “American society,” “the search for meaning” or “the resilience of the human spirit.” Texts are often described as a “testament to” variations on these concepts.

AI-generated writing often invents sources. ChatGPT can compose a “research paper” using MLA-style in-text parenthetical citations and Works Cited entries that look correct and convincing, but the supposed sources are often nonexistent. In my experiment, ChatGPT referenced a purported article titled “Poe, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ and the Gothic’s Creation of the Unconscious,” which it claimed was published in PMLA , vol. 96, no. 5, 1981, pp. 900–908. The author cited was an actual Poe scholar, but this particular article does not appear on his CV, and while volume 96, number 5 of PMLA did appear in 1981, the pages cited in that issue of PMLA actually span two articles: one on Frankenstein and one on lyric poetry.

AI-generated essays include hallucinations. Ted Chiang’s article on this phenomenon offers a useful explanation for why large language models such as ChatGPT generate fabricated facts and incorrect assertions. My AI-generated essays included references to nonexistent events, characters and quotes. For example, ChatGPT attributed the dubious quote “Half invoked, half spontaneous, full of ill-concealed enthusiasms, her wild heart lay out there” to a lesser-known short story by Herman Melville, yet nothing resembling that quote appears in the actual text. More hallucinations were evident when AI was generating text about less canonical or more recently published literary texts.

This is not an exhaustive list, and I know that AI-generated text in other formats or relating to other fields probably features different patterns and tendencies . I also used only very basic prompts and did not delineate many specific parameters for the output beyond the topic and the format of an essay.

It is also important to remember that the attributes I’ve described are not exclusive to AI-generated texts. In fact, I noticed that the phrase “It is important to … [note/understand/consider]” was a frequent sentence starter in AI-generated work, but, as evidenced in the previous sentence, humans use these constructions, too. After all, large language models train on human-generated text.

And none of these characteristics alone definitively point to a text having been created by AI. Unless a text begins with the phrase “As an AI language model,” it can be difficult to say whether it was entirely or partially generated by AI. Thus, if the nature of a student submission suggests AI involvement, my first course of action is always to reach out to the student themselves for more information. I try to bear in mind that this is a new technology for both students and instructors, and we are all still working to adapt accordingly.

Students may have received mixed messages on what degree or type of AI use is considered acceptable. Since AI is also now integrated into tools their institutions or instructors have encouraged them to use—such as Grammarly , Microsoft Word or Google Docs —the boundaries of how they should use technology to augment human writing may be especially unclear. Students may turn to AI because they lack confidence in their own writing abilities. Ultimately, however, I hope that by discussing the limits and the predictability of AI-generated prose, we can encourage them to embrace and celebrate their unique writerly voices.

Elizabeth Steere is a lecturer in English at the University of North Georgia.

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Summer Reading Contest, Week 5: What Got Your Attention in The Times This Week?

To participate, submit your response here by July 12 at 9 a.m. Eastern. This week’s winners will be announced by July 24.

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By The Learning Network

Welcome to the fifth week of our 15th Annual Summer Reading Contest .

Every week for 10 weeks this summer we’re asking students “What got your attention in The New York Times this week? Why?” To participate in Week 5, choose something to read, watch or listen to in The Times and submit a response that answers those questions by 9 a.m. Eastern on July 12.

You can choose anything that was published in the print paper or on nytimes.com in 2024, including articles, photos, essays , videos , podcasts or graphics . We hope you’ll click around to find your own great pieces, but we also know that not everyone who participates has a Times subscription so, each week, you’ll find dozens of free links to interesting articles, features and multimedia below.

Students are invited to submit responses in the form of a 250-word comment OR a 90-second video. Please see the requirements for each type of response below and read the full rules and guidelines in our contest announcement before making your submissions.

Your responses will be read by New York Times journalists and staff, as well as educators from around the world. We’ll choose at least one favorite answer to feature on our site each week. Winners from Week 5 will be announced by July 24.

1. Choose a New York Times piece.

What did you read, watch or listen to in The Times this week? You can respond to anything that was published online at nytimes.com, including all the sports coverage in The Athletic , or in the print paper in 2024, but, if you don’t have a subscription, here are some stories you can access through this page for free:

This week you may have read front-page news articles like …

Starmer Becomes U.K. Prime Minister After Labour Party Landslide

Supreme Court Says Trump Has Some Immunity in Election Case

Summer Reading Contest Written Submission Form, Week 5

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IMAGES

  1. Photo Essay

    how to write an essay on a photograph

  2. Photo Essay

    how to write an essay on a photograph

  3. Photo Essay Examples, and Tips for Writing a Good Photo Essay : Current

    how to write an essay on a photograph

  4. Photo Essay

    how to write an essay on a photograph

  5. Photo Essay

    how to write an essay on a photograph

  6. Photo Essay

    how to write an essay on a photograph

VIDEO

  1. How to write an essay

  2. When Does A Photo Stop Being a Photograph?

  3. Pre monsoon Rain Start For Meerut||#trending #viral #funny #shortvideo #minivlog

  4. Essay on My Favourite Photograph

  5. Photo Essay Ideas

  6. How to write an Essay

COMMENTS

  1. How to Create a Photo Essay: Step-by-Step Guide With Examples

    Written by MasterClass. Last updated: Jun 7, 2021 • 5 min read. Photo essays tell a story in pictures, and there are many different ways to style your own photo essay. With a wide range of topics to explore, a photo essay can be thought-provoking, emotional, funny, unsettling, or all of the above, but mostly, they should be unforgettable.

  2. How to Create an Engaging Photo Essay (+ Examples)

    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.

  3. How To Create A Photo Essay In 9 Steps (with Examples)

    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.

  4. How to Make a Photo Essay (with Pictures)

    7. Include a clincher. This image may not be apparent to you in the beginning, but most photographers say they know it when they see it. It's an image that wraps up the essay for the viewer. This image should say "the end," give a call to action, or show the end result of a day in the life or how to sequence.

  5. Advice for an Unforgettable Photo Essay

    Here are six steps to follow to create a photo essay that tells a memorable story. Choose a specific topic or theme for your photo essay. There are two types of photo essays: the narrative and the thematic. Narrative photo essays focus on a story you're telling the viewer, while thematic photo essays speak to a specific subject.

  6. How to Make a Photo Essay: 5 Tips for Impactful Results

    Really, the best way to communicate emotions through your photos is to feel the emotions yourself; they'll bleed over into your work for a unique result. 5. Plan your shots. Once you've done the research and determined the angle and emotions you'd like to convey, I recommend you sit down, take out a pen and paper, and plan your photo essay.

  7. What is a Photo Essay? 9 Photo Essay Examples You Can Recreate

    Step 1: Choose Your Photo Essay Topics. Just about any topic you can imagine can form the foundation for a photo essay. You may choose to focus on a specific event, such as a wedding, performance, or festival. Or you may want to cover a topic over a set span of time, such as documenting a child's first year.

  8. How to Create a Photo Essay

    The idea of a photo essay is to create a whole, not a bunch of random parts. Think gestalt. The images must interact with each other. Repetition helps achieve this end. Recurring themes, moods ...

  9. 23 Photo Essay Ideas and Examples (to Get Your Creative Juices Flowing!)

    Here are some handy essay ideas and examples for inspiration! 1. A day in the life. Your first photo essay idea is simple: Track a life over the course of one day. You might make an essay about someone else's life. Or the life of a location, such as the sidewalk outside your house.

  10. How to create a photo essay

    The template chooser. 2. Add your title image. Every photo essay needs a stunning title image to hook the reader. Depending on what kind of photo essay you're creating, this could be a photo of the subject or theme of the piece. You can also choose to add a title, subtitle, and author. 3.

  11. 18 Immersive Photo Essay Examples & Tips

    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. 6.

  12. PDF Storytelling with Photographs: How to Create a Photo Essay

    Decide how much time you are going to give to making the photographs and choose a deadline. After that date you will be making a final selection and post processing the images. Write out a list of the photos that you want to make in that time frame. Think and plan the lighting.

  13. Focus: How to create a photo essay

    Taking a look at how other photographers have approached the same - or similar - subjects can help you figure out the angle you wish to take. This photo essay by Maximilian M. Meduna takes an alternative approach to a popular photo topic - the United States 3 Make a structured plan . Once your research is complete, it's time to make a detailed and structured plan about how you're going to ...

  14. 17 Awesome Photo Essay Examples You Should Try Yourself

    Top 17 Photo Essay Examples. Here are some fantastic ideas to get you inspired to create your own photo essays! 17. Photograph a Protest. Protests tend to be lively events. You will find people standing, moving, and holding banners and signs. This is a great way to practice on a moving crowd.

  15. How To Create a Meaningful Photography Essay In 5 Steps

    Always have introductory and closing images just like how you would have an introduction and conclusion to any essay. Shoot at different light, angles, perspectives, etc. and finalise during the editing part the images that will work together to complete the photography essay. Image by Joe Gardner. 5.

  16. How To Create a Memorable Photo Essay

    Pick a Topic to Document in Your Photo Essay. You would start by choosing a topic, preferably something which is close to your heart and easy to access. Try doing something like "A day in the life of…" series for your family or just a series of photographs of something in your neighbourhood. This will get you in the mood for more ...

  17. Essays About Photography: Top 5 Examples Plus Prompts

    This was done as a way of mourning; the subjects were made to look as if they were merely asleep to give their loved ones comfort that they had passed on peacefully and happily. Eventually, a reduction in the death rate led to the end of this practice. 5. Fashion photography by Sara Page.

  18. 5 Tips for Creating a Photo Essay with a Purpose

    4) Ask for help with image selection. I struggle with this one-I let my personal feelings get involved. Throughout our Notes Girls Write project I was constantly picking images based on my personal feelings-the subjects that I had connected with more, and the girls that I knew were most interested in the project.

  19. Photo Essay

    6. Include Captions or Text (Optional) Write captions to provide context, add depth, or explain the significance of each photo. Keep text concise and impactful, letting the images remain the focus. 7. Present Your Photo Essay. Choose a platform for presentation, whether online, in a gallery, or as a printed booklet.

  20. How to Write an Essay for a Single Photograph

    A photograph can evoke powerful emotions and prompt humble reflection. To capture the moment through text, time must be taken to observe and analyze the image.

  21. Teaching the Photo Essay Free Lesson Guide

    Teaching the Photo Essay. A picture is worth 1,000 words. 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 ...

  22. Pictures That Tell Stories: Photo Essay Examples

    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.

  23. 100 Words Essay on Photography

    Photography can be a lot of fun. It lets you be creative and can even turn into a hobby or a job. You can take pictures of your friends, pets, or trips you go on. With photography, you can explore new places and meet new people. The best part is, you can start at any age and keep learning and enjoying it your whole life.

  24. Concerns raised over annual Juneteeth essay contest that asks fifth

    When Ms. Toussaint spoke to other community members about the essay, she said she noticed a pattern of parents being kept in the dark and only learning about the contest if their child happened to have mentioned it. In previous years, however, local media has reported on award ceremonies held by the school for the essay contest winners.

  25. He never saw himself as disadvantaged until he was asked to write an

    Joachim was writing the essay because of a decision several weeks earlier by a federal judge in Tennessee. A White woman had challenged the Small Business Administration's 8(a) Business ...

  26. How Not To Write Your College Essay

    At the end of the day, every admission office just wants to know more about you, what you value, and what excites you. They want to hear about your experiences through your own words and in your ...

  27. How to Write a Paper in APA Format

    Then, enter the essay details in the following order, each on a separate line: Your name (Author) Department, University. Course Name, Course code. Professor's name. Due date. Step 5: After entering the essay details as described, ensure that each detail is centered on the page by selecting all the text with your mouse. Then, click on the ...

  28. Ways to distinguish AI-composed essays from human-composed ones (opinion)

    AI-generated essays tend to end with a sweeping broad-scale statement. They talk about "the human condition," "American society," "the search for meaning" or "the resilience of the human spirit." Texts are often described as a "testament to" variations on these concepts. AI-generated writing often invents sources.

  29. Summer Reading Contest, Week 5: What Got Your Attention in The Times

    Whatever caught your eye, tell us about it in writing or video. Once you've chosen a Times piece, tell us what it is and why it got your attention in the form of a written comment OR a video.

  30. Dr. Sanjay Gupta: It's time for President Biden to undergo detailed

    'It's not a political essay, it's a medical one': Dr. Sanjay Gupta calls for Biden to undergo cognitive testing