Elements of a photo documentary

Essential question: How do you create a photo documentary?

There are as many different subjects of photo documentaries as the imagination allows, but they all share specific elements:

– They are made up of a range of photos.

– The order of photos are significant and tell a story.

– The photos provide information and evoke emotion.

– Captions are used to describe what is happening in words to help the viewer understand what is going on.

Types of photos

Photography and photo documentaries are forms of art, so the following are just suggestions but can help up make a successful photo documentary. The following points are taken from www.collectivelens.com.

  • The lead photo

Similar to the first two sentences of a newspaper article, your lead photo should effectively draw in your audience. This is usually the most difficult photo to choose and should follow the theme of your essay. It could be an emotional portrait or an action shot, but ultimately it should provoke the curiosity of the viewer.

  • The scene

Your second photo should set the stage and describe the scene of your story. An overarching photo taken with a wide angle lens is often effective.

  • The portraits

Your photo essay should include at least one portrait. Capturing an emotional expression or telling action shot can effectively humanize your story. These photos often evoke strong emotions and empathy in the viewer (whether it is a positive and enthusiastic emotion or a sympathetic and concerned emotion.)

  • The detail photos

Detail photos focus in on one element, be it a building, a face, or a relevant object. These photos are your best opportunity to capture specific objects. The captions of these photos should be informative and educational.

  • The close-up photos

Similarly, close-up photos provide an opportunity to focus in on specific objects. These photos are tightly cropped, simple shots that present a specific element of your story. Again, this is an excellent opportunity to present information in the caption.

  • The signature photo

The signature photo summarizes the situation and captures the key elements of your story in a telling moment.

  • The clincher photo

The final photo, the clincher, should evoke the emotion you want the viewer to walk away with, be it a feeling of hope, inspiration, or sadness. Decide on this mood before you select this photo.

Here are two resources online that explain the types of photos you can use:

Photo Essay Assignment

5 Types of Photos

Remember: Each photo needs a caption – remember to credit the photo if you have borrowed it. See below for an example credit:

Featured image courtesy of Bread and Shutter.


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