Assignment: Shoot and Write a Photo Essay

“The Country Doctor” Photo Essay by W. Eugene Smith for LIFE Magazine, 1949

Description: Having reviewed photo essays / stories (from National Geographic, Time Magazine, the New York Times and Mother Jones Magazine), it’s time to shoot your own! Your job is to tell a story with images, and write an article to go with your piece.

Essential Questions:

  • How can a story be told effectively in images? How can images add to a written story (text), and vice versa?
  • How does skillful editing affect a photo story (shot selection, variety and order?)
  • How can the photographer both plan and improvise (remain “open”) on location to capture the whole story? How does interacting with the subject and learning more about the story improve the photographs?
  • How does the skillful digital photographer work with the constraints and opportunities presented by the location (i.e., available light, fast moving action, quiet moments, and so on?)


  • Create a 10-20 image slideshow
  • Write a 500-1000 word article describing the story. Include history, quotes, observations–things you can learn from talking to people while shooting and doing some research on your own.
  • Post the story on your blog as a “Gallery” or slideshow, with your text.


  1. Brainstorm and choose a story to photograph. Take us (your audience) into another world, a world we may not know about. The story can be:
    1. Of personal interest, or of importance to your family (i.e. a cultural tradition)
    2. An event (ie a parade, festival, competition)
    3. A place with an interesting history or perspective
    4. An organization
  2. Make a “Shot List” … like a wish list of angles and subjects you hope to capture
  3. Prepare your gear. Charge your battery! Do you need an special lenses? A tripod?
  4. Shoot 100-200 images on location.
    1. Get to know the people there. Get the story!
    2. Take notes on the story for what you’ll write later
    3. Make sure you get a variety of shots (wide, close up, people, things, location shots, action, great light, textures, color…and so on!) Refer back to your “shot list.”
  5. Select your best images and put them in story order. Your story should have a beginning, middle and end.
  6. Develop your images in Adobe Lightroom
  7. Post your story on your blog
  8. Read, watch and comment on all the other stories in class.

Writing the Essay:

  • Overall: Your job is to tell us the story behind the images. The words you write are a companion to the photographs; your photographs should illustrate your writing, and your writing should strengthen your photographs.
  • Length: The essay that accompanies your images should be three paragraphs, 5-7 sentences each.
  • Paragraph 1: Introduce your subject. Answer these questions: Who, what, why, where and when? Who is featured in your story? What are they doing? Why does this person or group of people do what they do? Where does your story take place? When does your story take place? Talk about it’s history, present, and if applicable, future.
  • Paragraph 2 is about your photographing this subject. What drew you to it? How did you chose to approach your subject visually? What was your experience while shooting? Feel free to talk about overall approach, specific images, and to tell anecdotes.
  • Paragraph 3 should conclude your photo essay. Why was this subject important? What do the images tell us about this subject? And, what did you learn from this assignment? What might you do the same or differently next time?