A photo essay is a series of photographs selected to tell a story. Photo essays may contain text but generally allow the photographs, or rather the subjects depicted in the photographs, to tell the story. Photo essay assignments are usually focused on the curatorial process of selecting the best images to create an impactful sequence of images.
- Photo essays use minimal text to tell a story. The curation of photographs, the sequence, and juxtaposition are all important aspects of the project. Expect students to collect many more images than they will actually use.
- Photo essays might more traditionally be an exercise in photography courses, but as an exercise in telling a story as briefly as possible can be used in a wide range of courses or during overseas study experiences.
- It is important that the topic of the essay be absolutely clear for the ‘reader’. The subjects depicted in the photographs may be diverse, but the sequence of images should have a clear message. Each image has a purpose in conveying that message.
- Make sure to set aside time in the project to have students submit proposals and for review.
- A photo essay usually does not need any more than approximately 10 images.
- Images can include captions if those captions enhance the visual narrative or add important information. The absence of a caption however can also have an impact on the reader.
The only part of this type of assignment that might require some training would be in the presenting of the final projects. A course blogging platform, such as the McGraw Commons platform, or a website generation tool such as Microsoft Sway could be used to showcase and archive student work. The McGraw Center has documentation for these tools and very minimal training would be necessary.
Rubrics and resources
- Photojournalism course blog, Week Five – The Photo Essay. CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
- Photo Essays, Excelsior Online Writing Lab, Excelsior College
- Prompt and rubric for a specific photo essay assignment: events of 3/11 in Japan — University of Colorado, Boulder
- Photo Essay Grading Rubric. CGS Rhetoric: Teaching Digital Multimedia Expression. Boston University