I’ve done some research [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6] on good practice for photo essays. A few common themes emerged on ‘key shots’ that help to tell a story / support the narrative. Whilst I get that this won’t be definitive by any means, the reading really helped, as I find I quite often need a structure in order to get going (as noted in previous blog posts around assignment prep) rather than winging it as I go along when I’m out with my camera. So I always knew that my prep for this assignment would involve a shooting plan.
Before I get into the shooting list, here are a couple of nuggets that I came to understand better as I worked through some research on photo essays:
Dimensions of narrative:
Whilst the natural way I normally think of ‘narrative’ is that it is chronological, as in beginning–middle–end, I came to realise that it can be really effective looked at on another dimension: more visual… maybe best described as ‘depth’, if that makes sense. By this I mean using the angle of view, focal length etc to ‘move into’ the subject – start wide, move to medium shot, go in close for portrait, go in even closer for a close-up on (e.g.) hands… This was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me, as it gives a way of adding a ‘storyline’ even if the subject isn’t ‘event/duration’ based. Although in the case of my chosen subject, I do think there’s a chronological element to it, but maybe I can blend both narrative concepts with the right sequencing.
From a few different sources it’s become apparent that successful photo essays are effective at evoking one or more identifiable emotions. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to have a clear vision upfront what emotions you want to evoke!
As my chosen theme is a carnival, I’m intending to produce a set of images that evoke emotions such as:
The following shooting list – a consolidated version of the variants I saw on a few websites – is what I’m planning to work to. It’s a framework rather than a dogmatic structure, so I’ll still be alert to any opportunities that arise, and will select the best sequence of images at the editing stage.
Hook / lead shot:
This is the image that attracts your viewer. In the case of a magazine article, for example, it could be the cover image. A good hook image is creative, inviting the viewer to look further, but without giving away too much. It should create a certain amount of intrigue, not simply interest.
For my chosen subject of a carnival parade, I’m thinking along the lines of a close-up of one of the giant papier mâché heads.
A wide shot taking in the overall environment of the essay subject. This is usually the first shot in the sequence, or certainly early on, as this helps to establish the beginnings of the narrative from a visual journey point of view.
I’m working on being able to get a nice wide shot of the start of carnival, maybe taking in multiple floats and some element of the waiting crowd, as this should help set the start of the narrative both visually and chronologically. My plan is to include 1-2 such images.
This is the first part of ‘moving in’ to get closer to more detailed examinations of specific subjects. The objective here is to place one or more subjects in the context of the surroundings already established. It’s about starting to home in on points of interest, either characters or objects that illustrate the theme – and start to convey the desired emotions.
At the carnival I expect to be spoilt for choice on this kind of subject. Shots of floats against the crowd, people on floats against their colourful backdrop etc. I should be able to come up with 2-3 of this type of image.
This kind of image gets in close, to give a sense of place, a sense of being there ‘in the thick of it’. It should help to create a sense of intimacy, that serves to anchor the unfolding story.
A close-up of one of the carnival float heads is one idea. A crowd shot with some interesting people is another. One of these could also echo or in some way relate to the cover image – maybe a larger version of something cropped tight for the hook shot? I think 1-2 of these will be about right.
Usually a reasonably tight headshot, to give personal insight and a human angle to the unfolding events.
I envisage several opportunities for this. One specific idea that springs to mind is to get a clear shot of the face of one of the performers wearing a papier mâché head costume – the ‘head within the head’ concept. Also some of the crowd dress up in extravagant costumes so that might give me some options too. I should be able to do 2-3 of this type of image.
Where appropriate, an image capturing an activity with inherent movement can be powerful in evoking the emotions desired, especially positive emotions (joy, excitement).
One obvious idea is part of the flower parade – the people on the floats dismantle the floral displays and throw flowers to the crowd to catch. With the right shutter speed and good light you can get amazing shots of flowers soaring through the air. I’ll settle for one good action shot.
Gesture / interaction shot:
Kind of a more subtle version of the action shot, in my mind anyway. What this requires is some kind of interplay between two characters in the setting, to give a flavour of the kind of activity / interplay between characters that form part of the overall story.
I do have a particular type of shot in mind for this: I envisage capturing one of the carnival performers interacting with a member of the crowd. I hope the shot turns out something like how I see it in my head…
Self-explanatory; indicates the end of the narrative. It should provide some kind of obvious resolution, visually or chronologically, and leave the viewer/reader in no doubt that the series of images has wrapped up here.
For the carnival I am thinking something like: the back of the last float going off into the distance; or the crowds thinning out; or the street cleaners moving in to tidy up.
While I started this post before we set off from the UK, I wrote the middle bit on the plane, and finished it when we arrived in Nice. Now my biggest concern is most definitely the weather!
Today (my on-location prep day) it’s been unexpectedly stormy: torrential rain, thunder, lightning – the lot. Now, the forecast for tomorrow (the Battle of the Flowers parade) is better, but still cloudy, and for Sunday (the main Carnival parade) is more sun than cloud.
So my current plan is:
- Treat Saturday as a ‘dress rehearsal’ and aim for a full set of shots needed to deliver the assignment – as a fallback in case the forecasters get it the wrong way round and Sunday is the worse day!
- Go for the full set of shots on the Sunday, as (a) the main Carnival parade is more visually diverse, and (b) the supposed better weather.. but with the Saturday shots in the bag if it all goes horribly wrong
1. http://www.hebervega.com/2010/02/09/inside-photo-essay/ – accessed 28th February 2014
2. http://www.thedigitaltrekker.com/2010/05/the-photo-essay-give-it-your-best-shot/ – accessed 28th February 2014
3. http://photophilanthropy.org/award/photo-essay-tips/ – accessed 28th February 2014
4. http://photo.journalism.cuny.edu/week-5/ – accessed 28th February 2014
5. http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/newsgathering-storytelling/visual-voice/171050/5-types-of-photos-that-make-for-strong-photo-essays-audio-slideshows/ – accessed 28th February 2014
6. http://digital-photography-school.com/5-photo-essay-tips/ – accessed 28th February 2014