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The Eco Photo-Essay

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 11 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Photographs Images Photo-essay Eco Theme

When it comes to getting any story across, there’s not much doubting that video is the dominant way of doing it, but never-the-less, there are still times when a collection of striking still photographs can say more than a few minutes-worth of moving ones. If you’ve ever idly flicked through a magazine and been suddenly hit by a picture that almost jumps off the page at you, you know just how arresting a powerful image can be, even in these days of You Tube and 24-hour digital TV.

The photo essay is probably best described as a series of photographs arranged in such a way that they naturally tell a story – and the good news is that not only are eco themes particularly suitable, but it’s something that every youngster can do, especially with a little help. Here are a few tips for a really successful eco photo-essay.

Pick Your Subject

It doesn’t matter whether you’re planning to write, make film or do a photo-essay, there’s one piece of advice that always applies, and that is, pick a subject that matters to you and that you know something about. If you care about something, and understand it, that comes through in what you produce, and besides, it undoubtedly makes all the work involved easier and a lot more fun.

A little careful thought, guidance – and sometimes a healthy dose of reality – may be required to decide on something suitable and appropriate. There is, after all, little point in setting your heart on producing something on Giant Pandas if you’re not planning a trip to China and you’ve only got until the weekend! Fortunately, wherever you live, there are sure to be plenty of ‘green’ issues that are more local, so whether your aspiring young photographer is passionate about recycling, saving energy, or wildlife, there shouldn’t be a problem finding a good subject.

You Can’t Chase a Sunset

The next step is to begin to think about the story that’s going to be told with the pictures. You’ll need to find out about the different stages involved along the way and decide how best to capture each as an image that will be meaningful to people looking at your finished essay. Is there a particular time when something important happens, such as when the council van arrives to collect the recycling, or a particular bird visits your garden?

There’s an old photographer’s saying that you can’t chase a sunset; in other words, you have to be in the right place and properly set-up to take your shot, in plenty of time, if you want to get the best results. It’s something that’s definitely worth bearing in mind when it comes to photo essays too – so make sure you know when and where you need to be to get the pictures you want.

Planning Your ‘Paragraphs’

They say a picture paints a thousand words – so try to think of each photograph as a paragraph in the story. In these days of digital cameras, the old temptation to scrimp a bit on the number of photos you take to save the cost of film and developing has gone, so once you know the general image you’re after, don’t be afraid to click away – you can always delete the ones you don’t want later. In fact sometimes, particularly for younger or less experienced photographers, it can be best to concentrate on this approach, rather than worrying too much about setting up the “perfect” shot. Take loads of photos and then pick the one or two really striking ones when you’re back home.

Telling the Story

Photo-essays don’t have to be complicated to be good, but do remember that every story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. You may eventually want to add a descriptive caption or two to the photographs, but the images alone should tell nine-tenths of the story in a good photo-essay. When you sit down to put it all together, try asking yourself if you think that somebody who didn’t know anything about the topic and couldn’t read English would be able to work out what you were saying, just from looking at the pictures alone. If you think they’d probably struggle, you might want to think again and see where you can improve things; on the other hand, if they’d have no problems, then well done – it looks like you’ve just produced a brilliant photo-essay!

What Next?

There’s always something new to photograph, so photo-essaying makes a great hobby for any eco-friendly kid who likes to play with cameras, not to mention having lots of potential as a class or school project. Whether presented in the traditional way and printed out, or incorporated into a website or blog, there are few better – or more fun – ways for any youngster to tell their own ‘green’ story than in a photo-essay, but be warned; they can soon become addictive!

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