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Essays About Photography: Top 5 Examples Plus Prompts

Discover the joy of photography by reading our guide on how to write essays about photography, including top essay examples and writing prompts. 

It is truly remarkable what pictures can tell you about the time they were taken and their subjects. For example, a well-taken photograph can expose the horrors of conflict in a war-torn country or the pain endured by victims of racial persecution. At the same time, it can also evoke a mother’s joy after seeing her newborn baby for the first time. Photography is crucial to preserving precious moments that deserve to be remembered.

Photography can be considered a form of art. So much intent is put into a picture’s composition, subject, angle, and lighting. There is a lot of talent, thought, and hard work that goes into photography to produce such thought-provoking images, 

If you are writing essays about photography, you can start by reading some examples. 


5 Essay Examples To Inspire You

1. why photography is a great hobby by lillie lane, 2. the importance of photography by emily holty, 3. why i love photography by bob locher.

  • 4.  The Shocking History Of Death Photography by Yewande Ade
  • 5. ​​Fashion photography by Sara Page

5 Helpful Prompts On Essays About Photography

1. what is your favorite thing to photograph, 2. why is photography so important, 3. should photography be considered an art form, 4. different types of photography, 5. interpretations of photographs.

“Be imaginative when writing your shots. Photography is about the impact of your chances. The odds are good that nobody will care to check over your picture When it is an item in a background. Discover how to produce a fantastic photograph, and take these skills and use them.”

Lane gives readers tips on taking better photos in this essay. These include keeping balance, choosing a subject widely, investing in certain pieces of equipment, and using the appropriate settings for taking pictures. She stresses that photos must appear as natural as possible, and following her advice may help people to get good pictures. 

“No matter where you go photography plays into your life somehow. We don’t realize how big of an impact photography truly has on us until we see the details of our life hidden in a photograph. When you flip through your photo album and start looking for those details you suddenly realize you are truly blessed. A photograph keeps a moment frozen in time so we have it forever. Something like joy becomes clearer as we look deeper into the photograph.”

Holty does an excellent job of describing what makes photography so appealing to many people. You can take a picture of anything you want if you want to remember it, and photos help us look at the intricacies and details of what we see around us every day. Photography also helps us keep memories in our heads and hearts as time passes by, and most of all, it allows us to document the greatness of our world. It is ever-present in our lives, and we will keep taking photos the more adventures we have. 

“Every day in normal circumstances people take thousands of pictures of the Grand Canyon. It takes very little thought to realize that few if any of these pictures will be in any way noteworthy above pictures already taken. But that said, they are OUR pictures, our personal affirmation of the wonderful scene stretched out below us, and that gives them a special validity for us.”

Locher reflects on the role photography played in his life and why he enjoys it so much, partly due to his spirituality. He previously worked in the photographic equipment business and rekindled his love for photography in his 60s. Photography, to him, is a way of affirming and acknowledging God’s creations around him and appreciating the natural world. He also briefly discusses the importance of equipment and post-editing; however, no photo is perfect. 

4.   The Shocking History Of Death Photography by Yewande Ade

“In fact, it was easier for the photographer if the dead person was in a sleeping position because there would be no need to put him or her in an appropriate position or prop the eyes open. The restful pose gave some families comfort because it made them believe that their loved one(s) had passed on happily and to a more peaceful realm. It gave the semblance of death as a painless act like sleep.”

An interesting phenomenon in the history of the camera is post-mortem photography, in which deceased people, usually children, were posed and made to look “alive,” to an extent, so their loved ones could remember them. This was done as a way of mourning; the subjects were made to look as if they were merely asleep to give their loved ones comfort that they had passed on peacefully and happily. Eventually, a reduction in the death rate led to the end of this practice. 

5. ​​ Fashion photography by Sara Page

“Modern fashion photography differs because photographers aim to be extraordinary with their work, they know that extra ordinary will interest the audience much more It is extremely evident that fashion photography has changed and developed throughout the years, however there is not just reason. It is clear that fashion photography has changed and developed because of advancements in technology, change in attitudes and the introduction of celebrities.”

Page’s essay focuses on the history of fashion photography and some techniques used in practice. It dated back to 1911 and astonished the public with glamorous photos of people wearing perfectly-styled outfits. As the years have gone on, photographers have taken the lighting of the photos more into account, as well as their settings. In addition, editing software such as Photoshop has allowed even better photos to be produced. Fashion photography has only become more extravagant with the current social culture. 

In your essay, write about your favorite subject when you take pictures- is it people, landscapes, objects, or something else? Explain why, give examples, and perhaps elaborate on your camera settings or the lighting you look for when taking photos.  

Photography is an important invention that has helped us immensely throughout the years- how exactly? Explain why photography rivals painting and why it is essential. Then, write about its importance to you, the entire world, and humanity. 

Some say photography pales compared to the intricacies of music, painting, sculpture, and even cinema and should not be considered a form of art. For an interesting argumentative essay, determine whether photography is genuine art or not and defend your position. Explore both sides of the topic and give a strong rebuttal against the opposing viewpoint. 

Essays about photography: Different types of photography

From street photography to food photography to portraiture, many different types of photography are classified according to the subject being captured. Write about at least three types of photography that interest you and what they entail. You may also discuss some similarities between them if any. Check out our list of the top CreativeLive photography courses .

Like other works of art, a photograph can be interpreted differently. Choose a photo you find exciting and describe how you feel about it. What is being portrayed? What emotions are being evoked? What did the photographer want to show here? Reflect on your chosen work and perhaps connect it with your personal life. 

For help with your essays, check out our round-up of the best essay checkers . If you are interested in learning more, check out our essay writing tips !

short essay on photography

Martin is an avid writer specializing in editing and proofreading. He also enjoys literary analysis and writing about food and travel.

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Essay on Photography

Students are often asked to write an essay on Photography in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Photography

What is photography.

Photography is the art of capturing pictures using a camera. A camera is like a box that keeps a moment from running away. When you take a photo, you save a memory that you can see later.

Types of Photography

There are many kinds of photography. Some people take photos of nature, like mountains and rivers. Others click pictures of cities or people. Some even capture stars at night. Each type tells a different story.

The Importance of Photography

Photos are important because they help us remember past times. They show us how things were and how they have changed. Photos can make us feel happy or sad by reminding us of different moments.

Learning Photography

Anyone can learn photography. You start by learning how to use a camera. Then you practice taking photos. Over time, you get better at making your pictures look nice. It’s fun to learn and can become a hobby or a job.

250 Words Essay on Photography

Photography is the art of capturing light with a camera to create a picture. This can be done using a digital camera or even a phone today. In the past, people used film cameras that had to be developed in a dark room.

The Magic of Cameras

A camera is a tool that takes in light through a lens and saves the image. In old cameras, light hit a film to create a photo. Now, digital cameras use electronic sensors to record the image. The sensors work like our eyes, catching light and colors.

There are many kinds of photography. Some people take pictures of nature, like forests and animals. Others like to take photos of cities and buildings. There are also photographers who take pictures of people and capture their emotions and moments.

To be good at photography, you need to learn how to use a camera well. You also need to understand light and how it affects your photos. Practice is important. The more you take pictures, the better you get at it.

Sharing Photos

After taking pictures, people often share them with others. They might put them on the internet, in a photo album, or hang them on a wall. Sharing photos lets others see the world through your eyes.

Photography is a fun and creative way to show how you see the world. It can be a hobby or a job, and it helps us remember special times and places.

500 Words Essay on Photography

Photography is the art of capturing light with a camera to create an image. This can be done using a digital camera that stores pictures electronically or an old-fashioned film camera that records them on film. When you take a photo, you freeze a moment in time, which you can look back on later.

The History of Photography

The story of photography began hundreds of years ago with simple cameras called pinhole cameras. Over time, inventors created better cameras and ways to make pictures clearer and more colorful. In the past, taking a photo was not easy; it took a long time for the picture to be ready. But now, thanks to modern technology, we can take pictures instantly with digital cameras and even our phones.

There are many kinds of photography. Some people take pictures of nature, like mountains, flowers, or animals. This is called nature photography. Others enjoy taking pictures of buildings or cities, known as architectural photography. Then there are photographers who like to take pictures of people. This can be portraits of one person or family photos with lots of people. Another exciting type is sports photography, where photographers capture fast-moving action at sports events.

How Photography Works

A camera works a bit like our eyes. When we look at something, light enters our eyes and helps us see. Similarly, when you take a picture, light comes into the camera through a hole called the lens. Inside the camera, the light hits a part that is sensitive to light, either film or a digital sensor, and creates an image.

Photography is important for many reasons. It helps us remember special moments like birthdays or holidays. It also lets us see places we’ve never been to and learn about different people and animals. Newspapers and websites use photos to show us what is happening in the world. Photography can even be a way for people to express their feelings and tell stories without using words.

Anyone can learn to take good photos. It’s not just about having an expensive camera. It’s about looking carefully at what you want to photograph and thinking about where to place things in the picture. It’s also about practicing a lot. The more photos you take, the better you get at it. There are also many books and videos that can teach you how to be a better photographer.

The Fun of Photography

Photography can be a lot of fun. It lets you be creative and can even turn into a hobby or a job. You can take pictures of your friends, pets, or trips you go on. With photography, you can explore new places and meet new people. The best part is, you can start at any age and keep learning and enjoying it your whole life.

In conclusion, photography is a powerful form of art that lets us capture memories, explore the world, and share stories. It’s a skill that anyone can learn and enjoy. Whether you’re taking a picture of a beautiful sunset or snapping a photo of your best friend laughing, photography helps us save those special moments forever.

That’s it! I hope the essay helped you.

If you’re looking for more, here are essays on other interesting topics:

  • Essay on Phone Addiction
  • Essay on Phishing
  • Essay on Pet Fish

Apart from these, you can look at all the essays by clicking here .

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Essay on Photography

Photography is the art of capturing light with a camera, usually via a digital sensor or film, to create an image. The word “photography” comes from the Greek words “photos” meaning “light” and “graphos” meaning “drawing” or “writing.” It is a form of visual communication that has become an integral part of our daily lives.

Photography is an art form that involves capturing light with a camera to create a visual representation of a moment or scene. This art form has evolved significantly since its inception in the early 19th century and continues to evolve as technology advances.

A Short Essay on Photography

One of the defining characteristics of photography is its ability to capture a moment in time. Unlike other art forms such as painting or sculpture, photography allows for a precise and exact representation of a moment. In photojournalism, photographers actively document events and news stories, creating a historical record of unfolding events.

Another unique aspect of photography is its ability to manipulate light and composition to create a desired effect. Through the use of various camera settings and techniques, such as depth of field and exposure, photographers can create dramatic and expressive images. The use of light can also be used to create a sense of mood or atmosphere in an image, drawing the viewer in and evoking a response.

In addition to capturing moments and manipulating light, photography also has the power to tell a story. Through the use of composition and framing, photographers can create images that convey a message or convey emotion. This can be seen in documentary photography, where photographers document social or political issues, raising awareness and sparking conversation.

The evolution of technology has also had a significant impact on photography. The introduction of digital cameras has made photography more accessible and allows for instant feedback and editing. This has opened up the art form to a wider audience and has led to the creation of new forms of photography such as smartphone photography.

Photography allows us to freeze a moment in time and preserve it for future generations. It allows us to capture the beauty of a sunset, the innocence of a child’s smile, or the majesty of a mountain landscape. Photography captures and documents important events like weddings, birthdays, and graduations, allowing us to reminisce and cherish those memories for years to come.

Photography not only preserves memories but also tells stories and conveys messages. A skilled photographer can use composition, lighting, and other techniques to create an image that captures the essence of a subject and evokes emotion in the viewer. In photojournalism, the utilization of photographs to document and draw attention to crucial events and global issues can be particularly powerful.

Since Joseph Nicéphore Niépce created the first permanent photograph in 1826, modern photography has traversed a remarkable journey. With the advent of digital technology, photography has become more accessible than ever before. Anyone with a smartphone can take a photo and share it with the world in an instant. This has led to the rise of social media, where millions of people share their photos every day.

However, with the ease of taking and sharing photos comes the challenge of standing out in a crowded field. To be a successful photographer, one must have a unique vision and the technical skills to bring that vision to life. This often requires learning about composition, lighting, and post-processing techniques, as well as mastering the use of a camera and other equipment.

Photography is a powerful art form that allows us to capture and preserve memories, tell stories, and convey messages. It has become an integral part of our daily lives, and with the rise of digital technology, it has become more accessible than ever before. Unlock a world of beauty and creativity through the lens of a camera, whether you’re a professional photographer or an avid photo enthusiast. Discover the wonders that await as you capture moments and unleash your artistic vision.

In conclusion, photography is a unique and powerful art form that captures moments, manipulates light, tells stories, and continues to evolve with technology. Its ability to document and communicate has made it a valuable tool for capturing and sharing the world around us.

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How to Create an Engaging Photo Essay (with Examples)

Photo essays tell a story in pictures. They're a great way to improve at photography and story-telling skills at once. Learn how to do create a great one.

Learn | Photography Guides | By Ana Mireles

Photography is a medium used to tell stories – sometimes they are told in one picture, sometimes you need a whole series. Those series can be photo essays.

If you’ve never done a photo essay before, or you’re simply struggling to find your next project, this article will be of help. I’ll be showing you what a photo essay is and how to go about doing one.

You’ll also find plenty of photo essay ideas and some famous photo essay examples from recent times that will serve you as inspiration.

If you’re ready to get started, let’s jump right in!

Table of Contents

What is a Photo Essay?

A photo essay is a series of images that share an overarching theme as well as a visual and technical coherence to tell a story. Some people refer to a photo essay as a photo series or a photo story – this often happens in photography competitions.

Photographic history is full of famous photo essays. Think about The Great Depression by Dorothea Lange, Like Brother Like Sister by Wolfgang Tillmans, Gandhi’s funeral by Henri Cartier Bresson, amongst others.

What are the types of photo essay?

Despite popular belief, the type of photo essay doesn’t depend on the type of photography that you do – in other words, journalism, documentary, fine art, or any other photographic genre is not a type of photo essay.

Instead, there are two main types of photo essays: narrative and thematic .

As you have probably already guessed, the thematic one presents images pulled together by a topic – for example, global warming. The images can be about animals and nature as well as natural disasters devastating cities. They can happen all over the world or in the same location, and they can be captured in different moments in time – there’s a lot of flexibility.

A narrative photo essa y, on the other hand, tells the story of a character (human or not), portraying a place or an event. For example, a narrative photo essay on coffee would document the process from the planting and harvesting – to the roasting and grinding until it reaches your morning cup.

What are some of the key elements of a photo essay?

  • Tell a unique story – A unique story doesn’t mean that you have to photograph something that nobody has done before – that would be almost impossible! It means that you should consider what you’re bringing to the table on a particular topic.
  • Put yourself into the work – One of the best ways to make a compelling photo essay is by adding your point of view, which can only be done with your life experiences and the way you see the world.
  • Add depth to the concept – The best photo essays are the ones that go past the obvious and dig deeper in the story, going behind the scenes, or examining a day in the life of the subject matter – that’s what pulls in the spectator.
  • Nail the technique – Even if the concept and the story are the most important part of a photo essay, it won’t have the same success if it’s poorly executed.
  • Build a structure – A photo essay is about telling a thought-provoking story – so, think about it in a narrative way. Which images are going to introduce the topic? Which ones represent a climax? How is it going to end – how do you want the viewer to feel after seeing your photo series?
  • Make strong choices – If you really want to convey an emotion and a unique point of view, you’re going to need to make some hard decisions. Which light are you using? Which lens? How many images will there be in the series? etc., and most importantly for a great photo essay is the why behind those choices.

9 Tips for Creating a Photo Essay

short essay on photography

Credit: Laura James

1. Choose something you know

To make a good photo essay, you don’t need to travel to an exotic location or document a civil war – I mean, it’s great if you can, but you can start close to home.

Depending on the type of photography you do and the topic you’re looking for in your photographic essay, you can photograph a local event or visit an abandoned building outside your town.

It will be much easier for you to find a unique perspective and tell a better story if you’re already familiar with the subject. Also, consider that you might have to return a few times to the same location to get all the photos you need.

2. Follow your passion

Most photo essays take dedication and passion. If you choose a subject that might be easy, but you’re not really into it – the results won’t be as exciting. Taking photos will always be easier and more fun if you’re covering something you’re passionate about.

3. Take your time

A great photo essay is not done in a few hours. You need to put in the time to research it, conceptualizing it, editing, etc. That’s why I previously recommended following your passion because it takes a lot of dedication, and if you’re not passionate about it – it’s difficult to push through.

4. Write a summary or statement

Photo essays are always accompanied by some text. You can do this in the form of an introduction, write captions for each photo or write it as a conclusion. That’s up to you and how you want to present the work.

5. Learn from the masters

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Making a photographic essay takes a lot of practice and knowledge. A great way to become a better photographer and improve your storytelling skills is by studying the work of others. You can go to art shows, review books and magazines and look at the winners in photo contests – most of the time, there’s a category for photo series.

6. Get a wide variety of photos

Think about a story – a literary one. It usually tells you where the story is happening, who is the main character, and it gives you a few details to make you engage with it, right?

The same thing happens with a visual story in a photo essay – you can do some wide-angle shots to establish the scenes and some close-ups to show the details. Make a shot list to ensure you cover all the different angles.

Some of your pictures should guide the viewer in, while others are more climatic and regard the experience they are taking out of your photos.

7. Follow a consistent look

Both in style and aesthetics, all the images in your series need to be coherent. You can achieve this in different ways, from the choice of lighting, the mood, the post-processing, etc.

8. Be self-critical

Once you have all the photos, make sure you edit them with a good dose of self-criticism. Not all the pictures that you took belong in the photo essay. Choose only the best ones and make sure they tell the full story.

9. Ask for constructive feedback

Often, when we’re working on a photo essay project for a long time, everything makes perfect sense in our heads. However, someone outside the project might not be getting the idea. It’s important that you get honest and constructive criticism to improve your photography.

How to Create a Photo Essay in 5 Steps

short essay on photography

Credit: Quang Nguyen Vinh

1. Choose your topic

This is the first step that you need to take to decide if your photo essay is going to be narrative or thematic. Then, choose what is it going to be about?

Ideally, it should be something that you’re interested in, that you have something to say about it, and it can connect with other people.

2. Research your topic

To tell a good story about something, you need to be familiar with that something. This is especially true when you want to go deeper and make a compelling photo essay. Day in the life photo essays are a popular choice, since often, these can be performed with friends and family, whom you already should know well.

3. Plan your photoshoot

Depending on what you’re photographing, this step can be very different from one project to the next. For a fine art project, you might need to find a location, props, models, a shot list, etc., while a documentary photo essay is about planning the best time to do the photos, what gear to bring with you, finding a local guide, etc.

Every photo essay will need different planning, so before taking pictures, put in the required time to get things right.

4. Experiment

It’s one thing to plan your photo shoot and having a shot list that you have to get, or else the photo essay won’t be complete. It’s another thing to miss out on some amazing photo opportunities that you couldn’t foresee.

So, be prepared but also stay open-minded and experiment with different settings, different perspectives, etc.

5. Make a final selection

Editing your work can be one of the hardest parts of doing a photo essay. Sometimes we can be overly critical, and others, we get attached to bad photos because we put a lot of effort into them or we had a great time doing them.

Try to be as objective as possible, don’t be afraid to ask for opinions and make various revisions before settling down on a final cut.

7 Photo Essay Topics, Ideas & Examples

short essay on photography

Credit: Michelle Leman

  • Architectural photo essay

Using architecture as your main subject, there are tons of photo essay ideas that you can do. For some inspiration, you can check out the work of Francisco Marin – who was trained as an architect and then turned to photography to “explore a different way to perceive things”.

You can also lookup Luisa Lambri. Amongst her series, you’ll find many photo essay examples in which architecture is the subject she uses to explore the relationship between photography and space.

  • Process and transformation photo essay

This is one of the best photo essay topics for beginners because the story tells itself. Pick something that has a beginning and an end, for example, pregnancy, the metamorphosis of a butterfly, the life-cycle of a plant, etc.

Keep in mind that these topics are linear and give you an easy way into the narrative flow – however, it might be difficult to find an interesting perspective and a unique point of view.

  • A day in the life of ‘X’ photo essay

There are tons of interesting photo essay ideas in this category – you can follow around a celebrity, a worker, your child, etc. You don’t even have to do it about a human subject – think about doing a photo essay about a day in the life of a racing horse, for example – find something that’s interesting for you.

  • Time passing by photo essay

It can be a natural site or a landmark photo essay – whatever is close to you will work best as you’ll need to come back multiple times to capture time passing by. For example, how this place changes throughout the seasons or maybe even over the years.

A fun option if you live with family is to document a birthday party each year, seeing how the subject changes over time. This can be combined with a transformation essay or sorts, documenting the changes in interpersonal relationships over time.

  • Travel photo essay

Do you want to make the jump from tourist snapshots into a travel photo essay? Research the place you’re going to be travelling to. Then, choose a topic.

If you’re having trouble with how to do this, check out any travel magazine – National Geographic, for example. They won’t do a generic article about Texas – they do an article about the beach life on the Texas Gulf Coast and another one about the diverse flavors of Texas.

The more specific you get, the deeper you can go with the story.

  • Socio-political issues photo essay

This is one of the most popular photo essay examples – it falls under the category of photojournalism or documental photography. They are usually thematic, although it’s also possible to do a narrative one.

Depending on your topic of interest, you can choose topics that involve nature – for example, document the effects of global warming. Another idea is to photograph protests or make an education photo essay.

It doesn’t have to be a big global issue; you can choose something specific to your community – are there too many stray dogs? Make a photo essay about a local animal shelter. The topics are endless.

  • Behind the scenes photo essay

A behind-the-scenes always make for a good photo story – people are curious to know what happens and how everything comes together before a show.

Depending on your own interests, this can be a photo essay about a fashion show, a theatre play, a concert, and so on. You’ll probably need to get some permissions, though, not only to shoot but also to showcase or publish those images.

4 Best Photo Essays in Recent times

Now that you know all the techniques about it, it might be helpful to look at some photo essay examples to see how you can put the concept into practice. Here are some famous photo essays from recent times to give you some inspiration.

Habibi by Antonio Faccilongo

This photo essay wan the World Press Photo Story of the Year in 2021. Faccilongo explores a very big conflict from a very specific and intimate point of view – how the Israeli-Palestinian war affects the families.

He chose to use a square format because it allows him to give order to things and eliminate unnecessary elements in his pictures.

With this long-term photo essay, he wanted to highlight the sense of absence and melancholy women and families feel towards their husbands away at war.

The project then became a book edited by Sarah Leen and the graphics of Ramon Pez.

short essay on photography

Picture This: New Orleans by Mary Ellen Mark

The last assignment before her passing, Mary Ellen Mark travelled to New Orleans to register the city after a decade after Hurricane Katrina.

The images of the project “bring to life the rebirth and resilience of the people at the heart of this tale”, – says CNNMoney, commissioner of the work.

Each survivor of the hurricane has a story, and Mary Ellen Mark was there to record it. Some of them have heartbreaking stories about everything they had to leave behind.

Others have a story of hope – like Sam and Ben, two eight-year-olds born from frozen embryos kept in a hospital that lost power supply during the hurricane, yet they managed to survive.

short essay on photography

Selfie by Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman is an American photographer whose work is mainly done through self-portraits. With them, she explores the concept of identity, gender stereotypes, as well as visual and cultural codes.

One of her latest photo essays was a collaboration with W Magazine entitled Selfie. In it, the author explores the concept of planned candid photos (‘plandid’).

The work was made for Instagram, as the platform is well known for the conflict between the ‘real self’ and the one people present online. Sherman started using Facetune, Perfect365 and YouCam to alter her appearance on selfies – in Photoshop, you can modify everything, but these apps were designed specifically to “make things prettier”- she says, and that’s what she wants to explore in this photo essay.

Tokyo Compression by Michael Wolf

Michael Wolf has an interest in the broad-gauge topic Life in Cities. From there, many photo essays have been derived – amongst them – Tokyo Compression .

He was horrified by the way people in Tokyo are forced to move to the suburbs because of the high prices of the city. Therefore, they are required to make long commutes facing 1,5 hours of train to start their 8+ hour workday followed by another 1,5 hours to get back home.

To portray this way of life, he photographed the people inside the train pressed against the windows looking exhausted, angry or simply absent due to this way of life.

You can visit his website to see other photo essays that revolve around the topic of life in megacities.

Final Words

It’s not easy to make photo essays, so don’t expect to be great at it right from your first project.

Start off small by choosing a specific subject that’s interesting to you –  that will come from an honest place, and it will be a great practice for some bigger projects along the line.

Whether you like to shoot still life or you’re a travel photographer, I hope these photo essay tips and photo essay examples can help you get started and grow in your photography.

Let us know which topics you are working on right now – we’ll love to hear from you!


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Ana Mireles is a Mexican researcher that specializes in photography and communications for the arts and culture sector.

Penelope G. To Ana Mireles Such a well written and helpful article for an writer who wants to inclue photo essay in her memoir. Thank you. I will get to work on this new skill. Penelope G.

Herman Krieger Photo essays in black and white

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WALTER BENJAMIN’S ESSAY “KLEINE GESCHICHTE der Photographie,” was published in the September 18 and 25 and October 2, 1931, issues of the periodical Literarische Welt. It precedes by almost five years his better-known essay translated as “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” This study—translated here for the first time in the United States—is an extraordinary document in the history of photographic criticism, a remarkably prescient description of the limits and potentials of the medium.

Benjamin’s essay sparkles with intriguing and provocative aperçus. His admiration for and understanding of Atget, Sander, and Blossfeldt is far ahead of its time and rooted in close observation of the photographs themselves. The remarks on photo captions near the end of this essay are both true and ironic: a few years after Benjamin was writing, picture magazines like Life appeared and proved the power of captions to direct meaning. Benjamin’s uneasiness with aggressively esthetic notions of photography, his understanding of the social and political meanings of the medium, and his explication of the concept of “aura,” powerfully define basic issues for photographic criticism. In the future, Benjamin may become as inescapable a presence for anyone trying to understand photography as the photographic genius to whom he was most sensitive: Atget.

Benjamin’s German is divided into paragraphs only rarely. Many additional paragraph breaks have been introduced here for ease in reading. Benjamin’s own notes are indicated with numbers, translator’s notes with letters.

— Phil Patton

With that step were established conditions for a continually accelerated pace of development which for a long time prevented any look backward. And so the historical or perhaps philosophical questions which accompany the rise and fall of photography for decades went unconsidered. If those questions are beginning to enter our consciousness today it is for a specific reason. The most recent literature seizes on the striking fact that the flowering of photography, the achievement of Hill and Cameron, of Hugo and Nadar—occurs in its first decade.^^a^^ That is the decade which preceded its industrialization. Not to say, of course, that in this early period the peddlers and charlatans had not gotten hold of the new technology and turned it to profit; they did that on a massive scale. But that was closer to the methods of the marketplace, where even today photography is at home, than to those of industry.

Photography first conquered the field with the visiting card, whose first producer, significantly, became a millionaire. It would not be astonishing if the types of photography which today direct our attention back to that preindustrial flourishing of photography were found to be fundamentally related to the convulsions of capitalist industry.

Nothing is easier than to utilize the attractions of pictures presented in recent publications of old photography 1 for insights into photography’s basic nature. Theoretical efforts to master photography have all been thoroughly rudimentary. And however many debates were conducted about it in the last century, none broke fundamentally free from the wretched schema with which a chauvinistic little publication, the Leipzig City Advertiser , thought to have confronted the infernal French art early on. “To fix fleeting reflections,” it was written there, “is not only impossible, as has been shown by thoroughgoing German research, but to wish to do it is blasphemy. Man is created in the image of God and God’s image cannot be held fast by a human machine. At the most the pious artist—enraptured by heavenly inspiration—may at the higher command of his genius dare to reproduce those divine/human features in an instant of highest dedication, without mechanical help.”

Here, with all the weight of its dullness, enters the philistine’s concept of art , to which any technical development is totally foreign, which, with the provocative challenge of the new technology, feels its own end nearing. Nevertheless it was this fetishistic, fundamentally anti-technological concept of art with which the theoreticians of photography sought for almost a hundred years to do battle, naturally without coming to the slightest result. For this view understood nothing except to accredit the photographer before the exact tribunal he had overthrown.

An entirely different air, however, breathes through the argument which the physicist Arago, as spokesman for the invention of Daguerre, put before the chamber of deputies on the third of July 1839. The beauty of this speech is how it pointed out photography’s applications to all aspects of human activity. The panorama it sketches out is broad enough to make painting’s doubts about photography’s credentials—doubts not absent from the speech itself—seem inconsequential, as well as to hint at the breadth of the invention’s usefulness. “When the inventors of a new instrument,” Arago said, “turn it to the observation of nature, what they had hoped for from it always seems tiny in comparison to the succession of subsequent discoveries which it contributes.” This speech traverses the broad spectrum of the new technology, from astrophysics to philology; beside the prospects of photography of the stars stands the idea of assembling a body of Egyptian hieroglyphics by photography.

Daguerre’s photographs were iodized silver plates exposed in the camera obscura which could be turned back and forth until, in the proper light, one could make out a delicate, light gray image. They were unique and they cost, on the average, 25 gold francs per plate. They were frequently kept in cases as decorations. In the hands of many painters they became technical aids. Just as 70 years later, Utrillo created his fascinating views of the houses on the edges of Paris not from nature but from landscape photos, so the respected English portrait painter, David Octavius Hill, based his painting of the first general synod of the Scottish church in 1843 on a large group of portrait photographs.

But he made these photographs himself. Modestly conceived as aids for his own use, they are what gave his name historical significance, while as a painter he is forgotten. To be sure, there are a few studies which reveal more about the new medium than that series of heads: not the portraits but nameless images of people. There had been such faces in painting for a long time. If they remained in the possession of the family, then people inquired after the identity of the people represented time and time again. But after two or three generations such interest subsided: the pictures, inasmuch as they survived, did so only as testimony to the art of the painter.

In photography, however, one encounters something strange and new: in that fishwife from Newhaven who looks at the ground with such relaxed and seductive shame something remains that does not testify merely to the art of the photographer Hill, something that is not to be silenced, something demanding the name of the person who had lived then, who even now is still real and will never entirely perish into art . “Und ich frage: wie hat dieser haare zier / und dieses blickes die frueheren wesen umzingelt / wie dieser mund hier geküsst zu dem die begier / sinnlos hinan als rauch ohne flamme sich ringelt.”^^b^^ Or one comes upon the picture of Dauthendey—the photographer and father of the poet—from around the time of his wedding, seen with the wife whom one day shortly after the birth of their sixth child he found in the bedroom of his Moscow house with arteries slashed. She is seen beside him here, he holds her; her glance, however, goes past him, directed into an unhealthy distance. If one concentrated long enough on this picture one would recognize how sharply the opposites touch here. This most exact technique can give the presentation a magical value that a painted picture can never again possess for us. All the artistic preparations of the photographer and all the design in the positioning of his model to the contrary, the viewer feels an irresistible compulsion to seek the tiny spark of accident, the here and now.

In such a picture, that spark has, as it were, burned through the person in the image with reality, finding the indiscernible place in the condition of that long past minute where the future is nesting, even today, so eloquently that we looking back can discover it. It is a different nature which speaks to the camera than speaks to the eye: so different that in place of a space consciously woven together by a man on the spot there enters a space held together unconsciously. While it is possible to give an account of how people walk, if only in the most inexact way, all the same we know nothing definite of the positions involved in the fraction of a second when the step is taken.

Photography, however, with its time lapses, enlargements, etc. makes such knowledge possible. Through these methods one first learns of this optical unconscious, just as one learns of the drives of the unconscious through psychoanalysis. Concern with structure, cell forms, the improvement of medicine through these techniques: the camera is ultimately more closely related to these than to the moody landscape or the soulful portrait. At the same time, however, photography opens up in this material the physiognomic aspects of the world of images, which reside in the smallest details, clear and yet hidden enough to have found shelter in daydreams. Now, however, large and formulatable as they have grown, they are able to establish the difference between technology and magic as a thoroughly historical variable. Thus Blossfeldt, 2 with his astonishing photographs of plants, brought out the forms of ancient columns in horsetails, the bishop’s staff in a bunch of flowers, totem poles in chestnut and acorn sprouts enlarged ten times, gothic tracery in teasel.

Therefore, too, Hill’s models are certainly not far from the truth when they admit that to them “the phenomenon of photography” was still “a great secret experience,” even if what that meant was only the consciousness of standing “before an apparatus which in almost no time could produce an image of the visible world that seemed as lifelike and truthful as nature itself.” It has been said that Hill’s camera maintained a discreet reserve. But his models, for their part, are no less reserved; they maintain a certain shyness in the face of the apparatus. The motto of a later photographer, from the period of photography’s bloom—”Never look at the camera”—could have been derived from their stance. But by that was not meant the same “looking at you” of animals, men, or babies all crowded together, which involves the customer in such an unsavory manner and to which nothing can better be contrasted than the sense with which old Dauthendey spoke of the daguerreotype: “At first one does not trust himself,” he reported, “to look for very long at the first pictures he has made. One shies away from the sharpness of these people, feels that the puny little faces of the people in the pictures can see him, so staggering is the effect on everyone of the unaccustomed clarity and the fidelity to nature of the first daguerreotypes.”

These first to be photographed enter the viewing space unfamed or, rather, uncaptioned. Newspapers, then, were still items of luxury, which one seldom bought but rather looked at in cafes. The photographic procedure had not yet become a tool of theirs; the fewest possible people even saw their names in print. The human face had a silence about it in which its glance rested. In short, all possibilities of this portrait art rested upon the fact that the connection between actuality and photo had not yet been entered upon. Many images by Hill were taken at the Edinburgh cemetery of Greyfriars. Nothing is more representative of this early period: it is as if the models were at home in this cemetery. And the cemetery, according to one picture that Hill made, is itself like an interior, a delineated, constricted space where gravestones lean on dividing walls and rise out of the grass floor—gravestones hollowed out like fireplaces showing in their hearts the strokes of letters instead of tongues of flame.

But this place could never have achieved its great effect had not its selection been for technical reasons. The lower sensitivity to light of the early plates made necessary a long period of exposure in the open. This, on the other hand, made it desirable to station the model as well as possible in a place where nothing stood in the way of quiet exposure. “The synthesis of expression which was achieved through the long immobility of the model,” Orlik says of the early photographs, “is the chief reason besides their simplicity why these photographs, like well drawn or painted likenesses, exercise a more penetrating, longer-lasting effect on the observer than photographs taken more recently.” The procedure itself caused the models to live, not out of the instant, but into it; during the long exposure they grew, as it were, into the image.

They can be sharply contrasted to the snapshot, which corresponds to the changed environment in which, as Kracauer has accurately remarked, the same fraction of a second that the exposure lasts determines “whether an athlete becomes famous enough for the photographers of the illustrated magazines to take his picture.”

Everything in these early pictures was set up to last; not only the incomparable grouping of the people—whose disappearance was certainly one of the most precise symptoms of what happened to society in the second half of the century—even the folds that a garment takes in these images persists longer. One needs only look at Schelling’s coat; it enters almost unnoticed into immortality; the forms which it assumes on its wearer are not unworthy of the folds in his face. In short, everything speaks to the fact that Bernhard van Brentano suspected: “that a photographer of 1850 was on the highest level of his instrument”—for the first and for a long time for the last time.

In order to understand the powerful effect of the daguerreotype in the age immediately following its discovery one must consider that the plein air painting of that time had begun to show entirely new perspectives to the most advanced painters. Aware that even in this area photography had to take the torch from painting, Arago said in a historical review of the early experiments of Giovanni Battista Porta: “As far as concerns the effect which depends on the incomplete transparency of our atmosphere (and which has been labeled with the inaccurate expression ‘air perspective’), the practiced painter does not hope that the camera obscura”—he means of the copying of the images that appear in the camera obscura—”could be helpful to him in reproducing this effect exactly.” At the moment when Daguerre succeeded in fixing the images in the camera obscura the painter had been distinguished on this point from the technician.

The genuine victim of photography, however, was not landscape painting but the miniature portrait. Things developed so swiftly that as early as 1840 most of the innumerable painters of miniatures had become professional photographers, at first only on the side but soon, however, exclusively. At the same time the experience of their original profession came in handy. It was not their preparation in art but in craft to which the high level of their photographic accomplishments must be credited. Very gradually this transitional generation disappeared; indeed there seems to have been a sort of Biblical blessing on those first photographers: Nadar, Stelzner, Pierson, Bayard all lived to ninety or a hundred. Finally, however, businessmen from everywhere entered the ranks of professional photographers. Later, when retouching of the negative—through which bad painters took their revenge on photography—gradually became practiced, a sudden decline in taste set in. Then was the time when photograph albums began to appear. In the coldest places in the house, on consoles or gueridons in the drawing room, they were most likely to be found: leather covered with metal latches and gilt-edged pages as thick as a finger on which the foolishly draped or embellished figures were distributed—Uncle Alex and Aunt Riekehe, Trudy when she was little, Papa in his first semester. And finally to make the shame complete, we ourselves: as salon Tiroleans, yodeling, hats swinging against painted firs, or as sailors, one leg straight and the other bent, as is appropriate, leaning against an upholstered post.

The accessories in such portraits, with the columns, balustrades and little oval tables, recall the time when one had to give the models points of support so they could remain steady during the long exposure. If in the beginning people were satisfied simply with head holders or knee braces, soon additional accessories followed, such as were present in famous paintings and therefore had to be artistic. Next came the columns or the curtain. Even in the ’60s accomplished men protested against this junk. It was said at the time in an English professional journal: “In painted pictures the columns appear plausible, but the manner in which they are applied to photography is absurd, for they usually stand on a rug. But as everyone knows, marble or stone columns are not commonly built with carpet as their base.” At that time arose the ateliers with their draperies and palms, gobelins and easels, which stand so ambivalently between execution and representation, torture chamber and throne room, as an early portrait of Kafka testifies.

There in a narrow, almost humiliating child’s suit, overburdened with braid, stands the boy, about six years old, in a sort of winter garden landscape. Palm fronds stand frozen in the background. And as if it were important to make these upholstered tropics even more sticky and sultry, the model holds a huge hat with broad brim like those Spaniards wear in his left hand. He would surely vanish into this arrangement were not the boundlessly sad eyes trying so hard to master this predetermined landscape.

This picture in its immeasurable sadness forms a pendant to the early photographs in which people did not yet look out into a world as isolated and godforsaken as the boy here. There was an aura around them, a medium that gives their glance the depth and certainty which permeates it. And again the technical equivalent lay close at hand; it was the absolute continuum from brightest light to darkest shadow. Here, too, the law holds good concerning the advance announcement of new achievements in the older technology, in that portrait painting—before its decline—had produced a unique flourishing of the mezzotint.

The mezzotint method involves a technique of reproduction such as was united only later with the new photographic one. As in mezzotints the light in Hill’s work torturously wrestles its way out of the dark: Orlik speaks of the “light’s holding together” because of the long duration of the exposure which gives “these early photographs their greatness.” And among the contemporaries of the invention, Delaroche remarked on the “delicate, innovative” impression which “in no way disturbed the repose of the masses.” So much for the technical conditions of this auralike impression.

Many group pictures in particular retain a fleeting togetherness which appeared for a short while in the plate, before it disappeared in the original subject. It is this breathy halo, circumscribed beautifully and thoughtfully by the now outmoded oval shape of the frame. Therefore these incunabula of photography are often misrepresented by emphasis on the artistic perfection or tastefulness in them. These images were taken in rooms where every customer came to the photographer as a technician of the newest school. The photographer, however, came to every customer as a member of a rising class and enclosed him in an aura which extended even to the folds of his coat or the turn of his bow tie. For that aura is not simply the product of a primitive camera. At that early stage, object and technique corresponded to each other as decisively as they diverged from one another in the immediately subsequent period of decline. Soon, improved optics commanded instruments which completely conquered darkness and distinguished appearances as sharply as a mirror.

The photographers in the period after 1880 saw their task in simulating that aura through all the arts of retouching, in particular through what was called offsetting. The conquest of darkness by increased illumination had eliminated the aura from the picture as thoroughly as the increasing alienation of the imperialist bourgeoisie had eliminated it from reality. So a duskier tone, interrupted by artistic reflections, became fashionable, as in Jugendstil . Despite the weak light, the pose was always more clearly defined; its stiffness betrayed the impotence of that generation in the face of technical progress.

Thus, what is decisive in these photographs is always the relation of the photographer to his technique. Camille Recht indicated as much in a nice image. “The violinist,” he wrote, “must form the tone himself, must seek it, find it quick as lightning; the pianist strikes the key: the tone resounds. An instrument is at the disposal of the painter as well as the photographer. The drawing and coloring of the painter correspond to the tone formation of the violin; the photographer shares with the pianist a mechanism which is subject to laws of limitation that the violinist is not. No Paderewski will ever earn the fame or work the almost legendary magic of a Paganini.”

Continuing the comparison, however, there is a Busoni of photography, and that is Atget.^^c^^ Both were virtuosos but at the same time forerunners. They hold in common an unmatched devotion connected with the highest precision. Even their features were similar. Atget was an actor who became disgusted with that pursuit, took off his mask and then went on to strip the makeup from reality as well. He lived in Paris poor and unknown. He gave his photographs away to admirers who could hardly have been less eccentric than he, and he died having left behind an oeuvre of more than 4,000 photographs. Berenice Abbot from New York collected these, and a selection of them has appeared in a marvelously beautiful volume published by Camille Recht. 3

Contemporary journalism “knew nothing of the man who mostly went around the ateliers with his pictures, throwing them away for a few pennies, often only for the price of one of those picture postcards, such as showed the sights of the city around 1900, beautifully dipped in blue night, with retouched moon. He reached the pole of the highest mastery; but in the obstinate capacity of one of great ability who always lived in the shadows, he neglected to plant his flag there. So many may believe to have discovered the pole which Atget reached before them.”

In fact, Atget’s Paris photographs are the forerunners of Surrealist photography, advance troops of the broader columns Surrealism was able to field. As the pioneer, he disinfected the sticky atmosphere spread by conventional portrait photography in that period of decline. He cleansed this atmosphere, he cleared it; he began the liberation of the object from the aura, which has been the achievement of the most recent school of photography. When Bifur or Variété periodicals of the avant-garde, were showing mere details under the captions “Westminster,” “Lille,” “Antwerp,” or “Breslau,” a piece of a balustrade, a bare treetop whose twigs cut across a gas lantern, a stone wall, or a candelabra with a life ring on which the name of the city is written, they are showing nothing but refinements of motifs which Atget discovered. He sought the forgotten and the neglected, so such pictures turn reality against the exotic, romantic, show-offish resonance of the city name; they suck the aura from reality like water from a sinking ship.

What is aura? A strange web of time and space: the unique appearance of a distance, however close at hand. On a summer noon, resting, to follow the line of a mountain range on the horizon or a twig which throws its shadow on the observer, until the moment or hour begins to be a part of its appearance—that is to breathe the aura of those mountains, that twig. Now to bring things themselves closer—and closer to the masses—is as passionate a contemporary trend as is the conquest of unique things in every situation by their reproduction. Day by day the need becomes greater to take possession of the object—from the closest proximity—in an image and the reproductions of an image. And the reproduction, as it appears in illustrated newspapers and weeklies, is perceptibly different from the original. Uniqueness and duration are as closely entwined in the latter as transience and reproducibility in the former. The removal of the object from its shell, the fragmentation of the aura, is the signature of a perception whose sensitivity for similarity has so grown that by means of reproduction it defeats even the unique.

Atget almost always passed by the “great sights and the so-called landmarks.” He did not, however, pass by a long row of boot lasts, or by the Parisian courtyards where from evening until morning hand-wagons stand in rows and groups; or by the uncleared tables and the uncollected dishes, which were there at the same time by the hundred thousands all over; or by the bordello at rue . . . no. 5, whose gigantic five appears in four different places on the facade. More noticeably, however, almost all of these pictures are empty. The Porte d’Arcueil fortifications are empty, as are the regal steps, the courts, the terrace cafes, and as is appropriate, the Place du Tertre, all empty.

They are not lonely but voiceless; the city in these pictures is swept clean like a house which has not yet found its new tenant. These are the sort of effects with which Surrealist photography established a healthy alienation between environment and man, opening the field for politically educated sight, in the face of which all intimacies fall in favor of the illumination of details. It is plain that this new vision had least absorbed what one would otherwise most understandably indulge in—the devalued representative portrait. On the other hand, the renunciation of the human image is the most difficult of all things for photography. The best Russian films taught those who did not know this that milieu and landscape only make themselves accessible to photographers who know how to grasp them in the nameless manifestations which they take in the face. Even the possibility of that is conditioned by the subject of the photograph. It was a generation which had no ambition to go down for posterity in pictures, but rather withdrew in the face of such possibilities into its living space, somewhat shyly—like Schopenhauer, in the Frankfurt picture of around 1850, receding into the depths of his armchair. Just for that reason this generation let its living space enter with it into the picture, but it did not bequeath its graces. Then for the first time in decades the Russian film provided an opportunity to show people in front of the camera who were not being photographed for their own purposes. And suddenly the human face entered the image with a new, immeasurable significance. But it was no longer a portrait. What was it?

It is the supreme accomplishment of a German photographer to have answered this question. August Sander 4 put together a series of faces that in no way stand beneath the powerful physiognomic galleries that an Eisenstein or a Pudovkin revealed, and he did so from a scientific standpoint. “His total work forms seven groups, which correspond to the existing order of society, and are to be published in about 45 portfolios of 12 photos each.”^^d^^ Sander goes from farmers, the earthbound men, and takes the viewer through all levels and professions up on one hand to the highest representatives of civilization and down on the other to idiots. The creator came to this task not as a scholar nor instructed by racial theoreticians or social researchers, but, as the publisher says, “from direct experience.” The observation is certainly an unprejudiced one, but clever, also, and tender and sensitive in the sense of Goethe’s statement: “There is a sensitive empiricism which makes itself most inwardly identical with the object and thereby becomes genuine theory.” Therefore it is completely in order that an observer like Döblin struck straightaway onto the scientific aspects in this work and remarked: “As there is a comparative anatomy by virtue of which we come to a conception of nature and a history of organs, so this photographer pursues comparative photography and thereby achieves a scientific standpoint above and beyond that of photographic details.”

It would be a shame if economic conditions prevented the further publication of this extraordinary corpus. To the publisher, however, we can offer a more specific encouragement in addition to general ones: overnight, works like those of Sander can grow into unsuspected actuality. Power shifts, such as we face, generally allow the education and sharpening of the physiognomic conception into a vital necessity. One may come from the right or from the left—he will have to get used to being viewed according to where he comes from. One will have to see others the same way. Sander’s work is more than a book of pictures: it is a book of exercises.

“There is no work of art in our age so attentively viewed as the portrait photography of oneself, one’s closest friends and relatives, one’s beloved,” Lichtwark wrote as early as 1907, and thereby moved the investigation out of the realm of esthetic distinctions into that of social functions. Only from that angle can it strike out further. It is significant that the debate becomes stubborn chiefly where the esthetics of photography as art are involved, while for example the much more certain social significance of art as photography is hardly accorded a glance.

And the effect of photographic reproduction of works of art is of much greater importance for the function of art than the more or less artistic figuration of an event which falls prey to the camera. Indeed the amateur returning home with his mess of artistic photographs is more gratified than the hunter who comes back from his encounters with masses of animals which are useful only to the trader. And the day seems to stand before the door when there will be more illustrated periodicals for photographers than game and poultry shops. So much for snapshots.

But the accents change completely if we turn from looking at photography as art to art as photography. Anyone will be able to observe how much more easily a painting and above all, a sculpture, or architecture, can be grasped in photographs than in reality. The temptation is to attribute this to the decay of contemporary artistic perception. But preventing it is the recognition that at about the same time as the formation of the technology for reproduction the conception of great works was changing. One can no longer view them as the productions of individuals; they have become collective images, so powerful that capacity to assimilate them is related to the condition of reducing them in size. In the final effect, the mechanical methods of reproduction are a technology of miniaturization and help man to a degree of mastery over the works without which they no longer are useful.

If any one of the current relations between art and photography is clear, it is the unsettled tension which comes between the two through the photography of works of art. Many of those photographers who determine the current aspects of this technique came from painting. They turned their backs on that medium of expression after efforts to put it in a clear, living connection with contemporary life. The more aware their sense of the nature of the times, the more problematic has grown their point of departure. For again, as 80 years ago, photography picked up the torch from painting. “The creative possibilities of the new,” Moholy Nagy said, “are mostly discovered slowly, through old forms, old instruments, old structures which are fundamentally injured by the appearance of new things but which, under the pressure of the new, emerging things, are driven up into a last, euphoric flourishing.

“So, for example, futurist painting delineated the self-destructive, tightly constricted problematic of simultaneity of motion, the figuration of the moment in time; and this at a moment when film was known but for a long time would still not be understood. Just so, one can—with caution—view a few of the painters working today in representative, objective modes (Neoclassicists and veristes) as forerunners of a new, representative, optical figuration which uses only mechanical, technical means.” And Tristan Tzara, 1922: “When everything that called itself art grew palsied, the photographer ignited his thousand-candle-power lamp and step by step the light sensitive paper absorbed the blackness of a few useful objects. He discovered the carrying power of a tender delicate untouched flash, which was more important than all the constellations given us to soothe our sight.” The photographers who came to photography out of the comfort of the plastic arts, not out of opportunistic daring, not accidentally, today form the avant-garde among their colleagues, because they are to some degree assured by their course of development against the greatest danger of current photography, the tendency toward the applied arts. “Photography as art,” says Sasha Stone, “is very dangerous territory.”

When photography has extracted itself from the connections that a Sander, a Germaine Krull, a Blossfeldt gave it, when it has emancipated itself from physiognomic, political, scientific interests—that is when it becomes “creative.”

Concern for the objective becomes merely juxtaposition ; the photographic artist’s smock makes its entrance. “Spirit, conquering mechanics, gives a new interpretation to the likenesses of life.” The more the crisis of current social order expands, the more firmly moments enter into oppositions against each other, the more the creative principle—by nature a deep yearning for variants, contradiction its father, imitation its mother—is made a fetish, whose features owe their life only to fashionable changes of lighting. The “creative” principle in photography is its surrender to fashion. Its motto: the world is beautiful. In it is unmasked photography, which raises every tin can into the realm of the All but cannot grasp any of the human connections that it enters into, and which, even in its most dreamy subject, is more a function of its merchandisability than of its discovery. Because, however, the true face of this photographic creativity is advertising or association; therefore its correct opposite is unmasking or construction. For the situation, Brecht says, is complicated by the fact that less than ever does a simple reproduction of reality express something about reality.

A photograph of the Krupp works or of the A.E.G. reveals almost nothing about these institutions. The real reality has shifted over into the functional. The reification of human relations, for instance in industry, makes the latter no longer revealing. Thus in fact it is to build something up , something artistic, created.” The accomplishment of Surrealism was to have pioneered such photographic construction. A further stage in the opposition between creative and constructive photography is shown by Russian film. It is not too much to say that the great accomplishments of its directors were only possible in a country where photography did not proceed on impulse and suggestion but on experiment and instruction. In this sense—and only in it—can we still make sense today of the greeting which the rough idealist painter Antoine Wiertz offered photography in 1855: “The fame of our age was born a few years ago: a machine which, day in and day out, has been the astonishment of our thought and the terror of our eyes. Before a century has passed, this machine will be the brush, palette, colors, grace, experience, patience, dexterity, sureness, hue, varnish, sketch, completion, extract of painting. If you do not believe that the daguerreotype kills art, well, when the daguerreotype, this giant child, has grown up, when all its art and strength have been revealed, then genius will suddenly slap a hand on the back of its neck and call out loud: Here, you belong to me now! We will work together.”

How sober, even pessimistic, on the other hand, are the words in which Baudelaire, in the Salon of 1857 , two years later, acquainted his readers with the new techniques. No more than the preceding words can they be read without a gentle shift of accent. But while they imply the opposite of Wiertz’s words, they have kept their good sense as the sharpest rebuke to all the usurpations of artistic photography: “In these lamentable days a new industry has emerged, which has helped not a little in strengthening plain stupidity in its belief . . . that art is nothing other than—and can be nothing other than—the exact reproduction of nature. . . . A vengeful God has heeded the voices of the crowd. Daguerre is becoming its messiah.” And: “If photography is allowed to help complete art in a few of its functions, then art will be as quickly ruined and cast out by it, thanks to the natural alliance which will grow up between photography and the crowd. It must therefore return to its own duty, which consists in being a servant girl to the sciences and the arts.”

One thing, however, was not grasped either by Wiertz or by Baudelaire, and that is the direction implicit in the authenticity of the photograph. It will not always be possible to link this authenticity with reportage, whose clichés associate themselves only verbally in the viewer. The camera will become smaller and smaller, more and more prepared to grasp fleeting, secret images whose shock will bring the mechanism of association in the viewer to a complete halt. At this point captions must begin to function, captions which understand the photography which turns all the relations of life into literature, and without which all photographic construction must remain bound in coincidences.

Not for nothing were pictures of Atget compared with those of the scene of a crime. But is not every spot of our cities the scene of a crime? every passerby a perpetrator? Does not the photographer—descendant of augurers and haruspices—uncover guilt in his pictures? It has been said that “not he who is ignorant of writing but ignorant of photography will be the illiterate of the future.” But isn’t a photographer who can’t read his own pictures worth less than an illiterate? Will not captions become the essential component of pictures? Those are the questions in which the gap of 90 years that separates today from the age of the daguerreotype discharges its historical tension. It is in the light of these sparks that the first photographs emerge so beautifully, so unapproachably from the darkness of our grandfathers’ days.


1. Helmuth Th. Bossert and Heinrich Guttmann, Aus der Frühzeit der Photographie , 1840–1870. A Volume of Pictures From 200 Originals. Frankfurt, 1930. Heinrich Schwarz, David Octavius Hill, der Meister der Photographie . With 80 plates. Leipzig, 1931.

2. Karl Blossfeldt, Urformen der Kunst . Photographs of Plants. Published with an introduction by Karl Nierendorf. 120 plates. Berlin, 1930.

3. Atget, Photographs . Published by Camille Recht, Paris and Leipzig, 1931.

4. August Sander, Das Antlitz der Zeit , Berlin, 1930.


Translator’s Notes

a. “Its first decade” is an exaggeration. Of the photographers Benjamin refers to Hill was the earliest (1839–49); Cameron and Nadar were not even active until the late fifties and sixties.

b. “And I ask: how did that former being surround this delicate hair, this glance; how did it kiss this mouth, around which desire curls insensibly, like smoke without a flame “

c. Busoni (1866–1924) was known for bringing an almost mystic form of romanticism to piano playing and composition. He experimented with exotic scales, worked out a new system of notation expressly for piano, and as a performer was praised for his sense of color and tone. He was also a teacher of Kurt Weill, who of course collaborated with Benjamin’s friend Bertolt Brecht.

d. Since Benjamin’s death, Sander’s photographs have been published in Europe and in the United States in the volume Men Without Masks , Greenwich, Connecticut: New York Graphic Society, 1973.

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Photography Essay Examples That Will Boost Your Knowledge

Emily Walker

After composing various essays for learners across the globe, we have come to realize that students taking a photography course can have excellent practical skills but have a hard time communicating their ideas through the text. And that is where our writing service comes in. As our customer, you access photography essay examples based on different topics. As a result, you can read various samples that will inspire or give you an idea on how to draft your next piece.

It becomes easier to write an effective piece after reading through the samples available on our site. Thanks to our collection containing various academic tasks, students interested in knowing more about their subject can practice, gain more knowledge, and improve their skills. Besides, each assignment is worked on by a professional with extensive experience in that specific photography field of study. Therefore, you will learn more about the proper structure, format, and the correct way to add references to your content.

Whether you want to know how to write a level photography essay or have an assignment that covers digital video and advertising, you can get assistance from us. Our experts will be happy to give you content that meets all your requirements. No topic is too complex for our writer to tackle. So give us your specifications, pick a deadline, and your ideal expert will complete the order as per the agreement.

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What an Essay About Photography Should Include

Assignments about photography are great for gauging your writing skills and for the professor to see whether or not you have understood the material taught in class. Unlike other academic projects such as a thesis or dissertation that requires extensive research, an essay about photography involves analyzing a specific image or a collection of photos and coming up with meaningful content. However, just like any other homework, your task must follow the standard structure containing an introduction, body, and conclusion. Remember, a single image can evoke emotion and create a meaningful narrative.

A well-written photo essay will contain the following crucial details:

  • A topic or a theme

Many types of photography can motivate scholars to enroll in such a course. You can be passionate about fashion, street, portrait, or fine art photography. Regardless of where your interest is when it comes to composing top-notch content that will improve your academic performance, you need to base your composition on a specific topic. You can opt to go with a narrative perspective as it helps the writer to focus on storytelling. On the other hand, you can choose a thematic essay that centers on a specific theme or subject.

  • Discern what the artist is conveying

What is great about the power of photography essay is that just like any other form of art, photos are subjective which means, there are so many different angles you can choose to use to defend your argument. By observing the photograph, you can be able to get a lot of information. The trick is to look at compositions, emotions, use of light, angles, and colors used to gather data points that will defend your claims.

  • Support your main points

Use the information you have gathered from the photo as well as visual evidence to prove to your professor why the specific interpretation you have chosen is the correct one. The introduction should capture attention by providing a brief background story of the photographs from which your essay is based on. The body of your paper should defend your main points by pointing out to the specifics of the pictures such as movement, amount of light or lack of it, the use of color, and how the photographer frames the image. The conclusion should reiterate the key issues and summarize the way they prove your claims.

Photography Essay Ideas That Evoke Emotion or Tell a Story

When it comes to composing a photography paper worthy of praise, your images must tell a story and evoke emotion. Pictures that raise awareness on an important cause or documenting someone you believe has an interesting career are some of the great ideas that can make your essay unique.

Shots from a local event, a protest, weather, climate change, wildlife, native culture, mouthwatering cuisine, subcultures, life-changing moments, and sports can be great sources of photography essay ideas.

When you have a series of images or a specific picture that interests you and is also related, then it becomes easier to craft a composition that appeals to your professor. While such projects can be a lot of fun, there are times when doing assignments is burdensome.

Maybe you have various commitments like two jobs, a lack of exceptional writing skills, or no motivation to compose a lengthy project. Whatever the reasons that are causing you not to work on your project, none of them should result in a poor score. Our vetted experts are ready to give you academic assistance at an affordable rate. So when you do not feel inspired to write an essay on photography in 300 words or any other task, hire our specialists, and you will receive plagiarism free content.

Good Photography Essay Topics That You Can Use

Everyone has a specific topic that they are interested in. The best way to get good ideas is to focus on what you are passionate about. Amazing things about your favorite pet, how cameras have evolved over the years, interesting things about a unique landscape, unsung heroes, and underwater life are some of the photography essay topics that you can write about.

The trick to composing excellent work is to ensure that the snapshots you are incorporating augments with the issue you are discussing. Sometimes the topics available online do not stimulate your creativity. In such cases, you can ask a professional to give you unique issues. However, not every online writer is an expert in photography.

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By opting for our company, you will never incur such issues as our channel of communication is open 24/7. Use the live chat to ask our customer representatives any questions, and you will get prompt answers. Furthermore, as our client, you have the opportunity to ask for the progress of your photography essay and even give additional instructions that will ensure the essayist crafts a custom piece.

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How To Create a Meaningful Photography Essay In 5 Steps

The storytelling nature of photography is no secret. It has been used for a century to narrate stories in a very peculiar and effective way. Narrative photographic projects have great power, and regardless of the level of experience and maturity of the photographer, they are very appealing. Find out how to create a meaningful photography essay in 5 steps.

short essay on photography

Photography is an amazing art form that portrays interesting stories, events, adventures, life stories, experiences, history and has been around for a very long time having great influence in human life and emotions. Photography freezes the moment and records real life happenings that can be cherished for a lifetime and beyond. To make a good photograph, the photographer needs to look for perfect locations, light, subjects and add a little creativity to it.

Rather than a single image, a set or collections of images are always more powerful in telling a story, bringing in emotions within the viewer and taking/guiding the viewer through the path of the story. It is self consistent, self explanatory and doesn't another person to help with any form of narration. Besides these, photography essays can be a powerful source to bring out suppressed problems in the societies and other issues that are often overlooked.

roman kraft spg olfexc unsplash

Photographic essays invite us to research a topic or a theme in depth. Documentary photography is perhaps one of the closest things to “narrative” as we traditionally know it. Even though times have changed, and photography has been open to more independent photographers who don't have the same resource bonanza as the editorial or journalistic photographers of previous decades, this new democracy opens the door to the freedom of speech – a freedom that doesn't have to obey any media interests whatsoever.

Alright, But What Is A Photography Essay In The First Place?

short essay on photography

A photo essay is a narrative that uses a group or series of photographs to tell a story, evoke emotions or emphasize a specific concept. The camera plays a utilitarian role, and is pretty far from what the final result can convey to those who read it (either completely or just partially). Photography essays can be either just photographs or photographs with comments, captions or text that accompany them to complete the story.

Some examples of photography essays include collage (simplest form of telling a story), an article, a book, an art show or exhibition, part of a website or a dedicated website and so on. Earlier photography essays were printed in the printing press, but in recent times they have moved to the web which is better in terms of easy access, but will not have a similar effect to looking and reading one physically.

What Elements Should A Photography Essay Include?

Being a narrative in a very holistic form, a photography essay should include the following elements in the most extreme cases:

  • Introduction
  • Contextualization
  • Development
  • Continuation

Not all essays will allow such a complex storyline, but we can take some of these elements to formulate an idea of what an essay should include. Therefore, a photo essay is a way to tell a story from beginning to end, with substance and a meaningful content.

Most photographic essays require preparation, organization and direction. Photographic essays began to be published in the 1930s after magazines saw that a story could best be told if text was accompanied by photographs. It is no coincidence that, by this time, cameras had evolved such that they could capture images quickly enough to freeze motion.

Also around this time, portability came into the picture, thanks to the practical nature of 35mm film . It was LIFE magazine that coined the term “Photographic Essay”. One of the most classic photography essays they published is “ Country Doctor ” by W. Eugene Smith . This essay documented Dr. Ceriani’s working life as a traveling doctor in rural areas of the United States.

screenshot at . .

An essay can be short, mid- or long-term according to various factors that can affect the image recording process. After achieving a certain number of images, the editing process can take place and the story can begin its narrative course. Some things that can affect the recording process are the limited resources we endure while working abroad, and limited access to the subject or the circumstances-recurrence ratio.

Here Are The 5 Steps Involved In Creating A Photography Essay:

1. pick a topic.

Obvious indeed, but choosing a good topic can be difficult without prior research. This is perhaps the hardest part of creating a photographic essay.

The wisest way to approach this is to select a topic that won't be so hard to access – not just because it might be easy. Since it will be accessible, the risk of frustration will be lower than it is when handling a difficult topic. Experience will eventually lead us into working with trickier subjects.

short essay on photography

A photo essay doesn't need to always be dramatic and dense. They can be done just for the fun of it, or to discover new possibilities for the photographic narrative. Some topics that are generous when they are addressed are:

  • Everyday Work  

2. Choosing The Subjects Correctly

When working on a photographic essay, it is important to choose subjects correctly to keep ourselves within a certain scope. Check to see if your subjects are suitable or the story you are planning to tell and if the stories made with them will be interesting for your target audience.

Even if you don't have a human subject to portray, making use of personification can always be a good guide to avoid losing course. For example, you can focus on silence by stating that the images attempted to capture the presence of silence.

Also, solitude can be addressed without any human elements, but still maintain the purpose of capturing “the human footprint”, for example.

short essay on photography

3. Quantity Of Images

It is important to define the number of pictures we are willing to present on our final essay. Defining that number is important for a couple of reasons.

  • The first one is because it will set the bar of our project's scope (critical when we start to consider our resources).
  • The second one is our readers. The story should be told from start to finish with high impact, just like a short novel or a story. If we stuff our essay with “filler” images, it will ultimately lose its power.  

short essay on photography

4. Execution

Let the fun part begin! After defining the previous three elements, we can start shooting to create a great storytelling essay.   Shooting story telling photographs for a photography essay need to be powerful just like how you would shoot individual images to tell a story. Look for perfect light, relevant locations relating to the story to be told, perfect subjects for the story and also compositional guidelines.

Always have introductory and closing images just like how you would have an introduction and conclusion to any essay. Shoot at different light, angles, perspectives, etc. and finalise during the editing part the images that will work together to complete the photography essay.

short essay on photography

Editing must not be confused with post-processing, which is an important element of the production of the final photographs. Editing refers to the precise selection of the images that will be included in the essay. There is no perfect quantity or order. You (or your editor) will have to be very objective to select the perfect mix to tell the story the way you want it to be told.

Ak yourself questions like, do the photographs speak the story or will they require accompanying text, is the sequence or series logical, do they stand together and complete the story from start to finish, etc. Try and tell the story with minimal images by avoiding repetition as that can bore the viewers.

short essay on photography

Who Can Create A Photography Essay?

Some photographers believe that only photojournalists or documentary photographers can create photography essays. That is not the case – photo essays can be created on any topics like nature, wedding, events, portraits, travel, etc.

Constant planning, execution and checking can and should be applied to all the stages discussed above. You will need to have a powerful title and written text that is strong and concise. Sometimes longer text may be required.

Photo essays are a great way to improve not just as photographers, but as storytellers, too. Viewing photo essays with a reader's mindset will give you a better feeling of photography’s storytelling power.

About Author

short essay on photography

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography , and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology . He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here .

Dear Federico, this is a very informative, to the point article for everyone who wants to enter the world of creating photo essays. Currently, I am teaching photography at one of the well known institutes in India and I am playing a role of a honeybee. I am creating a blend of my experience along with such articles and letting the student know what are the pros and cons of various genres of photography and how to go about it. I am obviously giving you credit for this article. Thanks and you are welcome to India. You will love my country!

Frederico, thank you for this article about photo essays! I am both a digital photographer and a freelance writer, and this idea combines both of my passions. What are the most successful photo essays that you have done that you can share?

Hi, Thank you for the article, very interesting, something I would really love to try. I do have one question though, how do I know whether a photo essay would be a success, who would judge it?

I have emailed Frederico asking permission to reprint this article in my photo club’s digital newsletter ( I would like your permission as well. We are having a photo essay competition this month. I will include links to the original article, as well as yours and Federico’s website. Thank you.

Fine by us, Linda. Thanks for asking first.

Thank you, and Federico, for permission to reprint. I am sure my photo club members will appreciate this timely article for our annual photo essay competition !

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Photograph Description: Nature Essay

The photograph reflects a marvelous landscape combining the elements of human interference in the form of buildings; it is necessary to underline the fact that the picture is to be referred to as representational style, or descriptive style of photography. The picture was selected because of its natural sincerity having no elements of artificial or manipulation presentation. The photograph under analysis depicts nature in all its beauty and magic.

The landscape illustrated is considered to combine three important elements to be characterized: timing, light and weather. The composition of the photo is not complicated with additional stressed objects of nature. It discloses a clear focus on forests and fields slowly moving to a gloomy and pale illustration of the river. The reflection of green tones, bright and pale, says about the summer period somewhere far from industrialized noisy cities.

It is necessary to state that the foreground of the photo adds a three-dimensionality look. The placement of the horizon provides a framing for natural composition; besides, it makes the picture involving and thought-provoking. Lighting plays the most influential role in photo perception. It is necessary to underline the fact that the landscape is shown in diffused lighting making the photo deep and living. The attractiveness of the landscape is underlined by the combination of warm colors which shows wonderful weather and corner of nature.

The photograph is more rather horizontal than vertical disclosing the panorama shooting. Landscape imagery covers a number of objects of nature, such as trees, fields, and a river. It seems that the author strived to demonstrate the rate of human interference with nature showing the contrast between the plowed land and untouched green space of nature. Some buildings demonstrated in the photo are considered to be the identifications of harmony between human beings and the environment.

The photo was chosen for its living character and deep thought; it is so involving, that makes me feel the environment illustrated. The photographer tried to demonstrate the reality in all its beauty; it is necessary to underline the fact that the author reflected the most significant colors of nature. The dimension of the objects stresses the distance of making the photo; the image illustrates the view on the horizon through living fields and forests. Besides, the details of the composition are not symmetrically presented speaking about undisturbed forests. The trees are not artificially grown the people did not participate in the natural process, though the fields reflect their activities.

The photograph is marvelous and emotionally colored. It makes the viewer think about the role of nature and its beauty; the author managed to demonstrate the most important tones making the picture realistic and living. The representational style of the photo was strictly followed through its objects, tones, and themes reflected by the author.

  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

IvyPanda. (2021, November 10). Photograph Description: Nature.

"Photograph Description: Nature." IvyPanda , 10 Nov. 2021,

IvyPanda . (2021) 'Photograph Description: Nature'. 10 November.

IvyPanda . 2021. "Photograph Description: Nature." November 10, 2021.

1. IvyPanda . "Photograph Description: Nature." November 10, 2021.


IvyPanda . "Photograph Description: Nature." November 10, 2021.

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Ten examples of immersive photo essays

Camera sitting on a tripod, overlooking a mountain scene

By Marissa Sapega — Contributing Writer

Photo essays are one of the most powerful forms of storytelling in the last century. From the great depression photographer W. Eugene Smith to the photojournalism of National Geographic or Life Magazine , the best photo essays entertain, educate, and move readers more than words alone ever could. 

But photo essays have changed. Over the last decade, web publishing technologies — including web browsers and file formats — have improved by leaps and bounds. A good photo essays today is more than a collection of images. It’s a truly interactive, immersive, and multimedia experiences.

In this guide, we introduce 10 stunning examples of visually arresting interactive photo essays to fuel your creative juices.

Now, let's set the scene with a short introduction to immersive, interactive photo essays on the web.

What do the BBC, Tripadvisor, and Penguin have in common? They craft stunning, interactive web content with Shorthand. And so can you! Publish your first story for free — no code or web design skills required. Sign up now.

The rise of immersive, interactive photo essays

What is an immersive, interactive photo essay? Let's take these terms one at a time. 

An immersive photo essay uses rich media and story design to capture and keep the reader's attention. Immersive content is typically free of the most distracting elements of the web, such as pop-ups, skyscrapers, and other intrusions on the reading experience.

As a basic rule of thumb, immersive content respects the reader's attention. 

An interactive photo essay is one that allows the reader to control how the content appears. It may include interactive elements, like maps and embedded applications.

More commonly, modern interactive photo stories use a technique known as scrollytelling . Scrollytelling stories allow the reader to trigger animations and other visual effects as they scroll. Many of the examples in this guide use scrollytelling techniques. Read more scrollytelling examples .

Until relatively recently, immersive, interactive photo essays could only be created with the help of a designer or web developer. But with the rise of digital storytelling platforms , anyone can create compelling, dynamic stories without writing a single line of code.

If you're looking to learn more about how to create a photo essay — or are looking for more photo essay ideas  — check out our introduction to photo essays . 

Photo essay topics

If you’re looking for photo essay examples, chances are you’re looking to create a photo essay for yourself. If you’re just getting started, you might want some guidance on exactly what kinds of topics make for great photo essays.

More experienced photographers — feel free to skip this section. But for those who are just starting out, here’s a quick list of classic photo essay subject matter, for all types of photo essays.

  • Local events. A great way to start out is photograph local events in your community, such as a high school fundraiser. A bonus is that you’ll have a ready
  • Historic sites. Another classic photo essay topic is an exploration of a historic site. This could be a building, a monument, or even just a specific location that has significance.
  • Profile of a person. A great way to get to know someone is to profile them in a photo essay. This could be a family member, friend, or even just someone you’ve met.
  • Animals in captivity. Another popular subject matter for photo essays is animals in captivity, whether that’s at a zoo or elsewhere.
  • A day in the life. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live someone else’s life for a day? Why not find out and document it in a photo essay?
  • Street photography. Another great way to practice your photography skills is to head out into the streets and photograph the everyday lives of people around you. The world has plenty of photo essays of cities like New York and London. But what about street photography in your own backyard?
  • Still life photography. Still life photography is all about capturing inanimate objects on film. This could be anything from flowers to furniture to food. It’s a great way to practice your photography skills and learn about composition
  • Landscapes . Landscape photography is one of the most popular genres, and for good reason. There are endless possibilities when it comes to finding interesting subjects to shoot. So get out there and start exploring!
  • Abandoned buildings. There’s something fascinating about abandoned buildings. They offer a glimpse into the past, and can be eerily beautiful. If you have any in your area, they make for great photo essay subjects.
  • Lifestyles. Document someone who lives a lifestyle that’s different from your own. This could be a portrayal of an everyday person, or it could be someone with an unusual job or hobby.
  • Social issues. Take photos depicting significant social issues in your community, remembering to respect your subjects.

Ten inspiring photo essay examples

short essay on photography

Pink lagoon and peculiar galaxies — July’s best science images

short essay on photography

In Pink lagoon and peculiar galaxies , Nature present a mesmerising series of images from the natural world. Highlights include:

  • a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it photo of rare albino orcas performing feats of synchronized swimming;
  • an arresting aerial view of the aftermath of the flash floods in Germany; and,
  • a scarlet gawping Venus flytrap sea anemone. 

The best part? Nature publishes similarly powerful photo essays every month, showcasing some of the best and most creative photography of the natural world anywhere on the web.

Pink lagoon and peculiar galaxies — July’s best science images

Vanishing Lands

A plain, with a lake and mountains in the distance, from Vanishing lands — an ominously interesting photo essay from media company Stuff

Vanishing lands — an ominously interesting photo essay from media company Stuff — opens with a bucolic visual featuring meandering sheep flanked by breathtaking mountains that blur into obscurity.

Soon, more awe-inspiring photos of breathtaking New Zealand farmland appear, accompanied by expressive prose whose tone matches the visuals’ stark beauty.

In this unflinchingly honest photographic essay, Stuff takes the viewer behind the scenes with a day in the life of a high country sheep farmer facing an uncertain future. One stunning photo fades into the next as you scroll through, broken only by the occasional noteworthy quote and accompanying narrative.

Screenshots from Vanishing lands — an ominously interesting photo essay from media company Stuff

Olympic photos: Emotion runs high

An athlete is a karate uniform lying flat on the ground

This emotionally wrought sports story from NBC begins with a close-up of an anxious Simone Biles, her expression exemplifying the tension and frustration echoed on so many of her fellow athletes’ faces.

The subtitle puts it perfectly: “The agony—and thrill—of competition at the Olympics is written all over their faces.”

Devastation, disappointment, and defeat take centre stage in this piece — but not all the subjects of the photos in this compelling photography essay depict misery. Some of the images, like that taken of the gold medal-winning Russian artistic gymnasts, manage to project the athletes’ joy almost beyond the edges of the screen.

The NBC editors who created this visual story chose to display the series of photos using the entire screen width and limit the copy to simple captions, letting the visuals speak for themselves. The result is a riveting montage of photographs that manage to capture the overarching sentiment of the 2020 Olympic Games.

Screenshots from an NBC story on the agony—and thrill—of competition at the Olympics

James Epp: A Twist of the Hand

Photo of a various sculptures in a museum

In A Twist of the Hand , the Museum of Classical Archaeology at the University of Cambridge have produced a gorgeous photo essay. This online art show showcases artist James Epp’s installation, combining photographs of the exhibit with images of museum prints and authentic artefacts.

As you scroll down, close-up shots of the installation make you feel like you’re physically wandering among the ancient sculptures, able to examine hairline spider cracks and tiny divots marking the surface of every antiquated figure. In between the photos—and often flanked by museum prints—are James Epp's musings about what inspired him to create the pieces. It’s an absorbing virtual gallery that will no doubt inspire real life visits to the exhibition.

Screenshots from the University of Cambridge photo essay that showcases artist James Epson’s installation in the Museum of Classical Archaeology

The Café Racer Revolution

A helmeted man standing beside a motorbike

Though it’s a cleverly built piece of interactive content marketing , Honda’s “ Café Racer Revolution ” is also a great photo essay. Alongside information about the latest and greatest motorcycles Honda has to offer, it details the history of the bikers who sought to employ motorcycles (specifically “café racers”) as a way to forge an identity for themselves and project a “statement of individuality.”

Scroll down, and nostalgic black-and-white photos give way to contemporary action shots featuring fully decked-out motorcyclists on various Honda models.

Dynamic photos of bikes rotate them 360 degrees when you mouse over them, and text superimposed over flashy shots rolls smoothly down the screen as you scroll. This photo essay will stir a longing to hit the open road for anyone who has ever dreamed of owning one of Honda’s zippy bikes.

Screenshots from Honda's photo essay, a Café Racer Revolution

Built to keep Black from white

Four children standing against a white wall

In Built to keep Black from white , NBC News and BridgeDetroit have built a stunning narrative photo essay that encapsulates the history of Detroit’s Birwood Wall — a literal dividing line intended to separate neighborhoods inhabited by people of different races. 

The piece begins with a brief history of the concrete barrier. Between paragraphs of text, it weaves in quotes from residents who grew up as the wall was erected and a short video. Animated maps highlighting the affected neighborhoods unspool across the screen as you scroll down, accompanied by brief explanations of what the maps represent.

In the series of photographs that follow, contemporary images transition into decades-old shots of the wall when it was newly constructed. This is followed by images of original real estate documents, resident portraits, and additional animated maps — each considering the issue from different angles.

The piece ends with an interactive display of how Detroit’s racial makeup has changed over the past several decades, from majority white to black, and how the wall has impacted the lives of its residents who lived (and died) within its borders.

Screenshots from NBC's 'Built to keep Black from white,' a stunning narrative photo essay that encapsulates the history of Detroit’s Birwood Wall

The story of Black Lives Matter in sport

A footballer with 'Black Lives Matter' on his shirt.

The BBC pairs illustrations and bold imagery in this photo essay on how athletes participated in the Black Lives Matter movement . At the start, a narrow column of text leads into an iconic image of American football players kneeling during the pre-game national anthem in a solemn protest against police brutality. 

The first excerpt, a summary of Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012, draws you in with piercing prose capped off with photographs that bleed into one another. Every account in the photo essay follows this layout.

Screenshots from a BBC story on the Black Lives Matter movement in sport.

WaterAid Climate Stories

Dozens of boats sitting in a shallow harbour

Climate change affects everyone on the planet, but some people are feeling the effects more than others. WaterAid’s scrollytelling photo essay illuminates the plight of individuals living in areas where extreme weather conditions — caused by climate change — have drastically impacted the water supply and environment, endangering their livelihoods and ability to survive.

This climate change story starts with an engrossing video that provides an up-close and personal look at the devastation that climate change-induced droughts have wreaked on people and the environment. As you scroll down, images of massively depleted bodies of water with superimposed text and quotes unfold before your eyes. It’s an efficient way to drive home the critical message WaterAid wants to convey: climate change is real, and it’s harming real people.

Each extreme weather story focuses on an individual to help viewers empathise and understand that climate change has real, drastic consequences for millions of people worldwide. The piece ends with a call to action to learn more about and financially support WaterAid’s fight to assist people living in the desperate situations depicted in the essay.

Screenshots from WaterAid’s scrollytelling photo essay

28 Days in Afghanistan

A bike, a bus, and car in the thick smoke of Kabul

In this piece, Australian photo-journalist Andrew Quilty tells the story of the four weeks he spent in Afghanistan . He captures daily events ranging from the mundane—like a casual visit to his barber—to jarring. More than one photo documents blood-spattered victims of violence.

Viewers must scroll through the piece to follow Andrew’s daily musings and the striking photos that accompany them. His photo essay is a powerful example of how scrollytelling is transforming the art of long-form journalism .

Australian photo-journalist Andrew Quilty tells the story of the four weeks he spent in Afghanistan

La carrera lunática de Musk y Bezos (Musk and Bezos' lunatic careers)

An illustration of a SpaceX rocket careening away from Earth

Billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are angling to conquer the final frontier: space.

El Periódico captures their story via a whimsically illustrated photo essay, filled with neon line drawings and bold photos of the massive spaceships, the hangars that house them, and footprints on the moon. La carrera lunática de Musk y Bezos describes the battle between the two titans’ space companies (Blue Origin and SpaceX) for the honor of partially funding NASA’s next mission to the moon.

As you scroll down, white and fluorescent yellow words on a black background roll smoothly over images. The team at El Periódico slips in stylistic animations to break up the text—such as rocket ships with shimmering “vapour trails”—then ups the ante with a series of moon images that transition into portraits of the 12 U.S. astronauts who visited the celestial body.

The photo essay ends with the question: “Who will be the next to leave their footprints on the dusty lunar soil?” At the time of publishing, NASA had not yet decided between the two companies. (Spoiler alert: SpaceX won .)

Screenshots from El Periódico's story on the lunatic attempts by tech billionaires to go to space.

Marissa Sapega is a seasoned writer, editor, and digital marketer with a background in web and graphic design.

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‘Where We Are’: A Photo Essay Contest for Exploring Community

Using an immersive Times series as inspiration, we invite teenagers to document the local communities that interest them. Contest dates: Feb. 14 to March 20.

A group of friends sitting on an orange picnic blanket in a sun-dappled park, surrounded by green grass and trees.

By The Learning Network

The Covid-19 pandemic closed schools and canceled dances. It emptied basketball courts, theaters, recreation centers and restaurants. It sent clubs, scout troops and other groups online.

Now, many people have ventured back out into physical spaces to gather with one another once again. What does in-person “community” look like today? And what are the different ways people are creating it?

In this new contest, inspired by “ Where We Are ” — an immersive visual project from The New York Times that explores the various places around the world where young people come together — we’re inviting teenagers to create their own photo essays to document the local, offline communities that interest them.

Take a look at the full guidelines and related resources below to see if this is right for your students. We have also posted a student forum and a step-by-step lesson plan . Please ask any questions you have in the comments and we’ll answer you there, or write to us at [email protected]. And, consider hanging this PDF one-page announcement on your class bulletin board.

Here’s what you need to know:

The challenge, a few rules, resources for teachers and students, frequently asked questions, submission form.

Using The Times’s Where We Are series as a guide, create a photo essay that documents an interesting local, offline community. Whether your grandmother’s Mah Jong club, the preteens who hang out at a nearby basketball court, or the intergenerational volunteers who walk the dogs for your neighborhood animal shelter, this community can feature people of any age, as long as it gathers in person.

We encourage you to choose a community you are not a part of for reasons we explain below, in the F.A.Q.

Whichever community you choose, however, it’ll be your job to interview and photograph them. Then, you’ll pull everything together in a visual essay, which will tell the group’s story via a short introduction and a series of captioned photographs.

Your photo essay MUST include:

Between six and eight images, uploaded in the order in which you’d like us to view them.

A short caption of no more than 50 words for each image that helps explain what it shows and why it is important to the story.

A short introduction of up to 300 words that offers important background or context that complements and adds to the information in the photos and captions. You might consider the introduction the beginning of your essay, which the photos and captions will then continue. Together they will answer questions like who this community is, how it came to be, and why it matters. (Our How-To guide offers more detail about this.)

At least one quote — embedded in either the introduction or one of the captions — from a member of the community about what makes it meaningful.

In addition to the guidelines above, here are a few more details:

You must be a student ages 13 to 19 in middle school or high school to participate , and all students must have parent or guardian permission to enter. Please see the F.A.Q. section for additional eligibility details.

The photographs and writing you submit should be fundamentally your own — they should not be plagiarized, created by someone else or generated by artificial intelligence.

Your photo essay should be original for this contest. That means it should not already have been published at the time of submission, whether in a school newspaper, for another contest or anywhere else.

Keep in mind that the work you send in should be appropriate for a Times audience — that is, something that could be published in a family newspaper (so, please, no curse words).

You may work alone, in pairs, or in groups of up to four for this challenge , but students should submit only one entry each.

Remember to get permission from those you photograph, and to collect their contact information. Learn more about this in the F.A.Q. below.

You must also submit a short, informal “artist’s statement” as part of your submission, that describes your process. These statements, which will not be used to choose finalists, help us to design and refine our contests. See the F.A.Q. to learn more.

All entries must be submitted by March 20, at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time using the electronic form below.

Use these resources to help you create your photo essay:

A related Student Opinion question to help you brainstorm ideas before you begin taking photos.

A step-by-step guide that uses examples from the Where We Are series to walk students through creating their own.

Free links to the “Where We Are” Collection :

1. The Magic of Your First Car 2. At This Mexican Restaurant, Everyone is Family 3. Where the Band Kids Are 4. In This Nigerian Market, Young Women Find a Place of Their Own 5. At Camp Naru, Nobody Is ‘an Outlier’ 6. For Black Debutantes in Detroit, Cotillion Is More Than a Ball 7. At This Wrestling Academy, Indian Girls Are ‘Set Free’ 8. In Seville, Spain, These Young Rappers Come Together to Turn ‘Tears Into Rhymes’ 9. For a Queer Community in Los Angeles, This Public Park Is a Lifeline 10. In Guatemala, A Collective of Young Artists Finds Family Through Film 11. On a Caribbean Island, Young People Find Freedom in ‘Bike Life’ 12. At This Texas Campus Ministry, ‘Inclusive Love’ Is the Mission 13. For Young Arab Americans in Michigan, the Hookah Lounge Feels like Home

An activity sheet for understanding and analyzing the Where We Are series.

Lessons on interviewing and taking photographs . While these two resources were originally created for our 2022 Profile Contest , each contains scores of tips from educators and Times journalists that can help students learn to interview, and to take and select compelling photographs that tell a story.

Our contest rubric . These are the criteria we will use to judge this contest. Keep them handy to make sure your photo essay meets all of the qualifications before entering.

Below are answers to your questions about writing, judging, the rules and teaching with this contest. Please read these thoroughly and, if you still can’t find what you’re looking for, post your query in the comments or write to us at [email protected].


What is a photo essay? How does it differ from just a series of photos?

A photo essay tells a story through a series of images. These images work together and build on each other to explore a theme of some kind. The photo essays in the Where We Are series, for instance, focus on the themes of community and coming-of-age, but each through a different lens, as the three images published here illustrate. Together they are beautiful examples of how visual collections can investigate ideas by illuminating both the “big picture” and the tiny, telling details.

How do I choose a good subject for this?

Our Student Opinion forum can help via its many questions that encourage you to brainstorm local, offline communities of all kinds.

Can I be a member of the community I photograph?

You can, but we encourage you not to. Part of the point of this contest is to help you investigate the interesting subcultures in your area, and expand your understanding of “community” by finding out about groups you otherwise may never have known existed.

But we also think it will be easier to do the assignment as an outsider. You will be coming to the community with “fresh eyes” and relative objectivity, and will be able to notice things that insiders may be too close to see.

If you do choose to depict a community you are a part of, we ask that you do not include yourself in the photos.

I’d like to work with others to create this. How do I do that?

You can work alone, with a partner, or with up to three other people. So, for example, in a group of four, two people might act as photographers, while the other two interview community members. When you are ready to edit your material and write up what you have discovered, the interviewers could use their notes to handle the short introduction, while the photographers could edit their shots into a meaningful visual sequence, and help collaborate on the captions.

Please remember, however, that you can only have your name on one submission.

Do I need permission to photograph the people in this community?

You do. It is good journalistic practice to tell the people you are photographing why you are taking pictures of them, and to ask their permission. They should also know that, if you are a winner, their image and name may appear online.

Though you do not have to have a signed permission sheet from every participant, if you are a winner and we publish your work, we will need to be able to reach those depicted, so please get their contact information before you take their pictures. (If you are photographing young children, this is especially important. Secure a parent or guardian’s permission first.)

An important exception to this: If you are taking photos of crowds in public places, such as at a sporting event, a community meeting or a local fair, you don’t need to worry about permissions, as it would be impossible to get them from all attendees.

I don’t know where to begin! What advice do you have?

Once you’ve chosen a community to photograph, begin by introducing yourself to ensure the participants are open to your project. Then, devote a bit of time to just observing, noticing how and where the members of this group spend time, what they do together, and how they relate to each other.

When you’re ready to start documenting what you find, our step-by-step guide will help you take it from there.


How will my photo essay be judged?

Your work will be read by New York Times journalists as well as by Learning Network staff members and educators from around the United States. We will use this rubric to judge entries.

What’s the prize?

Having your work published on The Learning Network and being eligible to be chosen to have your work published in the print editions of The New York Times.

When will the winners be announced?

About two months after the contest has closed.


Who is eligible to participate in this contest?

This contest is open to students ages 13 to 19 who are in middle school or high school around the world. College students cannot submit an entry. However, high school students (including high school postgraduate students) who are taking one or more college classes can participate. Students attending their first year of a two-year CEGEP in Quebec Province can also participate. In addition, students age 19 or under who have completed high school but are taking a gap year or are otherwise not enrolled in college can participate.

The children and stepchildren of New York Times employees are not eligible to enter this contest. Nor are students who live in the same household as those employees.

Why are you asking for an Artist’s Statement about our process? What will you do with it?

All of us who work on The Learning Network are former teachers. One of the many things we miss, now that we work in a newsroom rather than a classroom, is being able to see how students are reacting to our “assignments” in real time — and to offer help, or tweaks, to make those assignments better. We’re asking you to reflect on what you did and why, and what was hard or easy about it, in large part so that we can improve our contests and the curriculum we create to support them. This is especially important for new contests, like this one.

Another reason? We have heard from many teachers that writing these statements is immensely helpful to students. Stepping back from a piece and trying to put into words what you wanted to express, and why and how you made artistic choices to do that, can help you see your piece anew and figure out how to make it stronger. For our staff, they offer important context that help us understand individual students and submissions, and learn more about the conditions under which students around the world create.

Whom can I contact if I have questions about this contest or am having issues submitting my entry?

Leave a comment on this post or write to us at [email protected].


Do my students need a New York Times subscription to access these resources?

No. Students can get free access to the entire Where We Are series through The Learning Network . (All 13 photo essays are listed above, in our Resources section.) In addition, our related student forum , activity sheet and “how to” guide are also free, as are everything they link to.

However, if you are interested in learning more about school subscriptions, visit this page .

I’m not an art teacher. Can this work for my students too?

Yes! Though this is a new contest for us, we chose it in part because the theme of “community” is such an important one in subjects across the curriculum. In fact, we hope it might inspire teachers in different curriculum areas to collaborate.

For example, students in social studies could investigate the role of community locally, learning about the history of different influential groups. An English teacher might support students as they interview and craft their introductions and photo captions, while an art teacher could offer tips for photo composition. And, of course, a journalism teacher could guide the full project, or work with other teachers to publish the most successful results in the school paper.

How do my students prove to me that they entered this contest?

After they press “Submit” on the form below, they will see a “Thank you for your submission.” line appear. They can take a screenshot of this message. Please note: Our system does not currently send confirmation emails.

Please read the following carefully before you submit:

Students who are 13 and older in the United States or the United Kingdom, or 16 and older elsewhere in the world, can submit their own entries. Those who are 13 to 15 and live outside the United States or the United Kingdom must have an adult submit on their behalf.

All students who are under 18 must provide a parent or guardian’s permission to enter.

You will not receive email confirmation of your submission. After you submit, you will see the message “Thank you for your submission.” That means we received your entry. If you need proof of entry for your teacher, please screenshot that message.

Here is an example of how you might submit a photo with a caption and a photographer credit (Ashley Markle is the photographer):

If you have questions about your submission, please write to us at [email protected] and provide the email address you used for submission.



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