Visual storytelling is a normal part of our everyday lives, but coming up with good photo essay ideas can be challenging. So in this article, I want to share some topics you can use to create interesting, compelling photo essays.
A single, strong photograph can convey a lot of information about its subject – but sometimes we have topics that require more than one image to do the job. That’s when it’s time to make a photo essay: a collection of pictures that together tell the bigger story of a chosen theme.
Here’s a brief list of ideas to get you started!
1. A day in the life
Your first photo essay idea is simple: Track a life over the course of one day. You might make an essay about someone else’s life. Or the life of a location, such as the sidewalk outside your house.
The subject matter you choose is up to you. But start in the morning and create a series of images showing your subject over the course of a typical day.
(Alternatively, you can document your subject on a special day, like a birthday, a wedding, or some other celebration.)
2. Capture hands
Portraits focus on a subject’s face – but why not mix it up and make a photo essay that focuses on your subject’s hands?
(You can also focus on a collection of different people’s hands.)
Hands can tell you a lot about a person. And showing them in context is a great way to narrate a story.
3. A child and their parent
Photographs that catch the interaction between parents and children are special. A parent-child connection is strong and unique, so making powerful images isn’t challenging. You just need to be ready to capture the special moments as they happen.
You might concentrate on a parent teaching their child. Or the pair playing sports. Or working on a special project.
Use your imagination, and you’ll have a great time with this theme.
4. Tell a local artist’s story
I’ve always enjoyed photographing artists as they work; studios have a creative vibe, so the energy is already there. Bring your camera into this environment and try to tell the artist’s story!
An artist’s studio offers plenty of opportunities for wonderful photo essays. Think about the most fascinating aspects of the artist’s process. What do they do that makes their art special? Aim to show this in your photos.
Many people appreciate fine art, but they’re often not aware of what happens behind the scenes. So documenting an artist can produce fascinating visual stories.
5. Show a tradesperson’s process
Do you have a plumber coming over to fix your kitchen sink? Is a builder making you a new deck?
Take photos while they work! Tell them what you want to do before you start, and don’t forget to share your photos with them.
They’ll probably appreciate seeing what they do from another perspective. They may even want to use your photos on their company website.
6. Cover a local community event
A school fundraiser, a tree-planting day at a park, or a parade; these are are all community events that make for good photo essay ideas.
Think like a photojournalist. What type of images would your editor want? Make sure to capture some wide-angle compositions, some medium shots, and some close-ups.
(Getting in close to show the details can often tell as much of a story as the wider pictures.)
7. Fresh market life
Markets are great for photography because there’s always plenty of activity and lots of characters. Think of how you can best illustrate the flow of life at the market. What are the vendors doing that’s most interesting? What are the habits of the shoppers?
Look to capture the essence of the place. Try to portray the people who work and shop there.
8. Shoot the same location over time
What location do you visit regularly? Is there a way you can make an interesting photo essay about it?
Consider what you find most attractive and ugly about the place. Look for aspects that change over time.
Any outdoor location will look different throughout the day. Also think about the changes that occur from season to season. Create an essay that tells the story of the place.
9. Photograph a garden through the seasons
It might be your own garden. It could be the neighbor’s. It could even be the garden at your local park.
Think about how the plants change during the course of a year. Capture photos of the most significant visual differences, then present them as a photo essay.
10. Pick a local cause to highlight
Photo essays can go beyond passive documentation; they can become a part of your activism, too!
So find a cause that matters to you. Tell the story of some aspect of community life that needs improvement. Is there an ongoing issue with litter in your area? How about traffic; is there a problematic intersection?
Document these issues, then make sure to show the photos to people responsible for taking action.
11. Making a meal
Photo essay ideas can be about simple, everyday things – like making a meal or a coffee.
How can you creatively illustrate something that seems so mundane? My guess is that, when you put your mind to it, you can come up with many unique perspectives, all of which will make great stories.
12. Religious traditions
Religion is often rich with visual expression in one form or another. So capture it!
Of course, you may need to narrow down your ideas and choose a specific aspect of worship to photograph. Aim to show what people do when they visit a holy place, or how they pray on their own. Illustrate what makes their faith real and what’s special about it.
13. Historic sites
Historic sites are often iconic, and plenty of photographers take a snapshot or two.
But with a photo essay, you can illustrate the site’s history in greater depth.
Look for details of the location that many visitors miss. And use these to build an interesting story.
14. Cover a sports game
Most sports photographers aim for a stunning photo of the decisive moment – when the action is at its peak. But nailing shots like that can be very challenging.
So why not focus on something else? After all, sports involve so much more than a single moment. There’s training, preparation, and stretching. There’s the emotion following a victory or a tough loss.
These other subjects, when photographed carefully, can make for an interesting photo essay, too.
15. Photograph your pet
If you’re a pet owner, you already have the perfect subject for a photo essay!
All pets, with the possible exception of pet rocks, will provide you with a collection of interesting moments to photograph.
So collect these moments with your camera – then display them as a photo essay showing the nature and character of your pet.
Photo essay ideas: final words
Look at the world around you. Consider what you see every day. What aspects interest you the most? Photograph those things.
You’re bound to end up with some beautiful photo essays!
Now over to you:
Do you have any photo essays you’re proud of? Do you have any more photo essay ideas? Share your thoughts and images in the comments below!