Personal Work: Photo Essays vs. Photo Stories

personal-work

I recently watched a fabulous Skillshare class about photojournalism, and it really changed the way I see and present my work, specifically my personal work. A few months ago, I decided to do a last minute personal project, The Hotel Room. My family and I were out of town for a weekend, and I realized that I hadn’t a) taken photos of my kids is a really long time and b) done a personal project that really spoke to me. I gave myself one rule: get out of my comfort zone. The only other guideline I gave myself was that I didn’t want to tell the story of my hotel trip-it really wasn’t that fascinating in the first place. B

ut I wanted to show what the hotel room was like. What is the difference? I am glad you asked.

Photo essays and photo stories may seem like the same thing, but when you look up close, they are very different. Take, for example, a day at the amusement park. I am sure a lot of us have photographed a day at an amusement park with our kids. First, we went on this ride, then we ate this food, then we got our swimsuits on, then we rode this ride, then the kids fell asleep on the ride home. Imagine this in photos. You are using the photos to tell a story, ie. a photo story. Here is an example of a recent shoot I did that will be retold in story format.

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First, they made the cake batter.

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Then, they decorated the cake.

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And finally, they ate the cake. From start to finish. I could have gone about this session differently. Instead of telling the story of baking a cake, I could have portrayed baking. If I wanted this session to be a photo essay instead of a photo story, I would have gotten more photos of the details of the baking ingredients, maybe a few photos of the oven, more “aerial” photos of the ingredients in the bowl, etc. A photo essay about baking should instantly take you back to a time where you were baking yourself. Can you feel the flour in your hands? Can you taste the sweetness of icing as you sneak a lick when no one is looking? Instead, I told the story of this family baking their own cake. While the photos are lovely, I am not taken to a time of myself baking.

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Photo essays are like visual descriptions of what it means to be/do/see ____. What it means to be at an amusement park. What it looks like in a hotel room. What it feels/smells/tastes like to bake. For my Hotel Room Photo Essay, I wanted you to feel like you were at a hotel. Remember how crisp the clean bedding is? How empty the halls are? How fluorescent and bright and clean the bathroom is? What about the similar patterns of all the textiles? What elements are staples when you go to a hotel? I wanted to use those images to describe the hotel room. Here is how I did so.

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A challenge: Can you photograph something and take enough varying photos to have both a photo essay and a photo story? Which set do you like better? What is the difference between the two? Which photos will you include in one set but not the other, and why?

*All images have been edited using my presets that are available for sale here.