IMPORTANT NOTE: If you haven’t done so already, stop now and read UPTOWN TO 86th STREET. This blog post is the story behind the story.

“Presenting a story through photography communicates a different — often deeper — understanding of person, place, event or narrative than can be expressed through written or spoken word” (Shurbaji, 2014).

How do you write a photo essay about a simple trip from one part of the city to another and make it interesting? You start by bringing your camera, which is a cellphone for me these days.

I was headed to a venue in uptown Manhattan, but my goal was to capture my journey, not the destination. Here are seven tips that will help you gather the shots you need to tell your own visual story.

TIP #1: Practice ahead of time.

Reuter’s photographer Damir Sagolj recommends that you “play and shoot” with your camera a lot BEFORE you are capturing your images. That way you’ll be ready to capture the “moments” when they arrive (Thomson Reuters Foundation (2013).

TIP #2: Take more photos than you think you need.

I took a lot of photos … almost 200. My goal was to use around ten, but I ended up with so many I liked that I used seventeen. Too many good pictures is a good problem to have.

Here’s one I loved but didn’t use. We heard him at the end of the day on the journey downtown.

TIP #3: Be flexible.

Initially I anticipated that I would begin shooting once we got out of the subway station, but when I saw the buskers I knew I had to capture them for the story. Remember that you’re trying to capture moments, and they can happen at any time. Maybe even before you’ve started.

TIP #4: Use as many interesting angles as you can.

I took a lot of shots, but the best one happened while I was laying on the ground. Be brave, and don’t wear your best clothes.

TIP #5: Aim to capture emotions whenever possible.

” … images need to capture slice-of-life moments that anyone taking a look can connect to what they’re seeing in some way” (Worth 1,000 Words: The 4 Principles of Visual Storytelling, 2017).

When I took this photo I wasn’t really sure how it would fit into my story, but I loved the look on this young woman’s face. It seemed to me that she had come to the park for a specific reason, and she was glad to be there. Like me, she was drinking in the scenery and the beautiful fall weather.

TIP #6: Be invisible.

At times, you may be entering people’s personal space. Be careful not to destroy the moment you’re trying to capture. Try to get your shot as quickly as possible (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2013).

TIP #7: Be nice.

Ask before you shoot, be respectful, and make sure you’re not compromising someone’s privacy.

“We are talking visual journalism here, which continues to involve the use of photos, videos, infographics, but not as an appendix to the story, but woven into the texture of it” (Garcia, 2017).

It’s not just about the photos

In his article WED: The Integration of Writing/Editing/Design, Ron Reason explains the concept of WED. It’s a philosophy that was developed at the Poynter Institute, a well-known journalism school. The name was coined by two of their faculty, Dr. Mario Garcia and Roy Peter Clark.

The process “refers to the harmonious marriage of Writing, Editing and Design” (Reason, 2002). All the elements are equally important and should be considered in the planning and execution of your project. According to Reason, they will help you to “produce a journalistic project that is more powerful than any one element in isolation” (2002).

Be a photo journalist

Challenge yourself. Choose a theme, grab your camera, and get ready to take a lot of photos. And don’t forget, it’s OK to get your clothes dirty. You can always wash them when you get home.

until nxt time …


Garcia, M. R. (2017, January 19). Blog: Digital storytelling, Part One: The fusion of writing/editing/design. Retrieved from: https://www.garciamedia.com/blog/digital_storytelling_part_one_the_fusion_of_writing_editing_design/ (Module 4)

Gitner, S. (2016). Multimedia Storytelling for Digital Communication in a Multiplatform World. New York: Routledge. (Module 1)

Klanten, R., Ehmann, S., & Schulze, F. (2011). Visual Storytelling: Inspiring a New Visual Language. Gestalten. (Module 1)

Reason, R. (2002, August 20). WED: The Integration of Writing/Editing/Design. Retrieved from: https://www.poynter.org/archive/2002/wed-the-integration-of-writingeditingdesign/ (Module 4)

Shurbaji, E. (2014, December 17). Photo narratives. Retrieved from: https://medium.com/learning-journalism-tech/photo-narratives-d77b812f99dd (Module 4)

Thomson Reuters Foundation. (2013, June 4). 7 Photojournalism Tips by Reuters Photographer Damir Sagolj—YouTube [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsO9IObsaRA (Module 4)

Worth 1,000 Words: The 4 Principles of Visual Storytelling. (2017, March 15). Retrieved from: https://actiongraphicsnj.com/blog/4-principles-visual-storytelling/ (Module 1)

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  1. Hi Holly,

    This was an awesome photo essay, very well done. I like how you incorporated quotes from the readings, and set up your essay with an intriguing introduction. I wouldn’t normally think of a commute as something holding a story, but you proved that with a good eye, anything is worth telling.

    I love all of the musician shots you were able to get on this journey. It is a great reminder that there is creativity all over the place, even in settings you wouldn’t expect. My favorite still is the photo for Tip #3. There is so much passion in the faces of the players, and I love how you angled up to capture their full body expressions and instruments.

    I also thought it was clever how you turned your photo essay into a how-to-capture-a-visual-story-for-your-photo-essay. This was a clever way to play with the dynamic of the assignment, along with getting your story across.

    The one suggestion I would have, though, is to spread the photos out more throughout the essay, and to get a bigger variety of shots. Most of your photos are full body, get closer! I’d love to see a close up of a musician strumming away, or a worn-out guitar with calloused hands.

    Great work, thank you for sharing!

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