Learning log (Part 5) – planning & preparation of photo essay

Photo Essay

For this final assignment, I am to illustrate a story for a magazine. This will include the cover and several pages inside showing the main body of the story. I will also include captions to explain and link each picture. Remembering that some of these photographs will be seen together on a page (or pair of pages), I aim to show the layout and how each image offsets the others.

Planning and preparation for my Photo Essay assignment

To help me prepare the assignment I purchased  Michael Freeman’s “The Photographer’s Story”. I have found this a very informative and useful book, it elaborates on the information and guidance that Freeman offers in the course notes. I looked through many magazines to observe the different layout designs and the positioning of text.

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I had several ideas in mind and put the options to my tutor for his thoughts and views. Working with the advice given to “keep the essay tightly focused on the subject”, I discounted my first idea – the coastal town of Silverdale in west Cumbria. I also considered photographing a female Blacksmith, (I had seen a photo essay about her in Cumbria Life magazine earlier in the year), but decided I would prefer to get to know this lady first and time was against me.

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Therefore I settled on a local disused railway station that has become a heritage/restoration project run by volunteers. With my subject decided, I then went along over two weekends to take my photographs (there is no access on weekdays). I took around 70 photos.

As Michael Freeman had hinted in his book, it was only once I had started to piece together my story and work on the layout, that I discovered I needed some more/different images. I revisited the station yard over a couple of evenings to take more shots.

The (potential) front cover of the magazine:


This image is unsuitable. I had taken the shot in landscape format and had not considered the suitability for a magazine cover! No amount of tweaking has produced the effect I want. I also have to ensure that the magazine title will not interfere with my photograph. So, off I go again to take more shots.









Better, but the text would be lost and the colours are a little too flat and uninteresting.









This is good. I like the soft pastels shades disguising the hard steel carriage. Also it doesn’t give too much away, hopefully enticing the reader to look inside the magazine.

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A selection of potential images for the inside story.

I then worked on the layout in PowerPoint and Word until I was satisfied with the appearance. I worked with Freeman’s idea of there being four elements to the story or 3+1. The three are : opener, body and closer; the “+1” is a key shot – a high impact picture.

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Final selection – photographs

my cover shot without text

my cover shot without text


my “opener” using a “bleed” image to fill the page

As this was to be the first of a double page spread, the next shots had to sit well with regard to context, juxtaposition and colour. They had to link in to the opener to ensure ease of flow for the “reader”.

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I continued working on the layout until I was happy that I had sufficient images, but not too many, to tell my story. I kept the shots simple so as not to dilute the impact.

OCA assignment 5p5

Below: My key image. A close up shot of the demise of a Gresley carriage door.



Other comparable images were displayed on the page to strengthen the visual effect.

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I then included two shots in complete contrast to each other to show “before and after”.

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A final “back page” image. This was a late evening shot, that leads the eye down the track depicting the carriages vanishing into the fading light.


With regard to captions I decided to keep them brief. Wilson Hicks (1897-1970) renowned photo editor of Life Magazine, wrote that, “The basic unit of photojournalism is one picture with words”. Many photographers believe their images are strong enough to stand alone, this can be true for a single shot. However if one is telling a “story” then some words may be needed to explain the setting. Harold Evans wrote in his book on picture editing “Pictures on a Page”, To demonstrate faith in photography, it is not necessary to forsake rationality”.

What I have attempted to do is use graphic qualities and angles that give a hint of what is in the picture, yet also encourage the viewer to consider what is not in the picture. This plays on the habit of humans in that we like to make up the detail of what we can’t see. Therefore it is as much about what is excluded as what is included in the images that make my photo essay an interesting visual read.