Art of Photography

Rob Townsend


Exercise: A narrative picture essay


This project requires you to set yourself an assignment and then photograph it. Based on what you have learnt so far, tell a story of any kind, in a set of pictures numbering between 5 and 15. You could photograph an event that you have researched, or you could choose something closer to home and more accessible or controllable.


I chose an indoor car boot sale at the local Memorial Hall. I saw an opportunity to bring out the human aspect of such events: the eclectic mix of strange things people sell and buy; the characters that inhabit these sales; the thrill of finding a bargain and so on.

I planned out in advance the kinds of images I wanted, and the sequence: setting up; example merchandise; stallholders; customers looking at the merchandise; a sale being made. [Note: see bottom of this post for where I realise that I didn’t plan far enough ahead…]

Pickering Indoor ‘Car Booty’ Sale, February 2014

What I’ve learned:

I really enjoyed doing this! However, with hindsight I think my planning let me down slightly. I didn’t plan a meaningful ending to the series to match its start… initially it finished with the three images depicting the sale of the cushions. Then I decided that a single image is better to finish on, so for a while it finished on a close-up of a book that I’d bought. After I published that version of the exercise, I realised that this wasn’t right – I’d inserted myself into the narrative, breaking the convention of the observational narrative thus far. So I removed that and reverted to finishing on the cushion sale. A photographer friend looked at the set and pointed out the weak ending, and suggested that it should either have finished on shoppers leaving the building laden with purchases, or the stallholders packing up at the end. Of course!

Hindsight says to me that the proper ending should have matched the start: as I started with the stallholders setting up, it takes place from their point of view, and so it should have finished with them packing up. I should have planned to go back at the end. I didn’t think it through! If for any reason I wasn’t able to make it back to the venue, I should have reconfigured the sequence to start with the customers and show it more from their point of view – not as compelling but more balanced in the narrative. I did get a couple of shots of buyers leaving the hall with their bags, but they weren’t technically good enough (too blurry).

What I might do is go to the next sale in March and take some better closing shots.