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Although ther are no rules for creating an effective photographic essay, it is possible to provide a few hints and tips which may prove useful in some circumstances.

  • Care about the issue you portray. This means choosing a subject about which you feel strongly and pursuing the story with energy, enthusiasm and commitment. Passion makes better images.
  • Research the subject properly. It helps to know something about the subject before setting out and learning more.
  • Make sure you get to the centre of the real issue. Get involved in situations and with those who are at the centre of the story. Use a wide-angle lens and get close to the action - using a telephoto lens from a distance generally does not yield the same results.
  • Find the right slant on the story and remain aware of what the essay is trying to convey to a viewer. Be clear about the message or impression the essay should deliver.
  • Use emotion to connect with viewers. Everyone loves a story, and people are usually interested in the lives or plight of others. Identify the primary emotions involved and make sure they are clearly exposed.
  • Remain honest and objective - well, as objective as possible. Show the facts of the situation and all sides of the issues involved. Don't try to manipulate the facts to achieve effect. Stick firmly to the truth as you perceive it. Remember that you, like everyone else, judge situations in the light of your own upbringing, attitudes, environment and experience. There is no absolute neutrality, so deal with facts.
  • Plan the shots and be clear about the purpose of each one. Uncertainty of purpose is perceived by viewers and devalues the images and the essay. Create a list of shots before setting out to take photographs, and have at least an initial plan for how images will fit into the essay. Each shot should have a different purpose. As in a written essay, there is no need to repeat the same message.
  • Create each image to tell its own story. While it is possible to add words, try to make each image and the essay as a whole speak for itself.
  • Capture the broad story as well as the details. The viewer may know only what is told by the images, so set the scene, provide context, focus on the issues and the people, and record detail in relevant key areas.
  • Think about how the images fit together, in some sequence or particular location, in the final essay and hence lead a viewer into the unfolding situation or events. Make sure the images connect and flow, and do not leave viewers confused. Start and finish with powerful images.
  • Be prepared to work outside guidelines (such as these) where there is good reason. However, know why you are doing it! It the literary world it is said that it is OK to split infinitives when the writer knows he or she is doing so - not otherwise!.
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