These days everyone has a camera in their pocket – a built-in camera in a smartphone. It is packed with features and assistants, such as night, portrait, and landscape modes, various filters, and tweaking possibilities to enhance certain visual effects while suppressing others. Everyone is a photographer today; at least that is what he/she thinks. However, does everyone have a true talent for photography? Can we use our cameras to tell stories in images as good as we do in words?
Photo essay assignments target evaluating and developing those skills. Photos are an alternative way of telling a story, perhaps even more powerful than words as we rely on our eyes as a primary source of information about the world around us. Visual information is fast and easy to remember. However, because of that and the fact that we all have cameras in our pockets, you should not treat the photo essay as an easy assignment. And, as always, the most difficult part is not in the technical aspect of taking a sequence of photos (or typing a text as in a written essay), but in making a compelling story that uses our visual senses as a medium to access our feelings and emotions.
If you are new to photo essays and have been given freedom in picking a topic yourself, it is quite common to be struggling with where to begin and what to shoot with your camera. Here we want to help you by giving examples of some great topics for beginners:
1. Wildlife. Animals and especially cute animals or their babies are always a popular topic on TV, in social media, magazines, etc. It does not take much effort taking some funny photos of your cute pet (tell a story about how he lives his day or reacts to different situations and words you say) or looking out of your window and picking some good scene with birds or cats. Being outside, in open nature is even a better approach, as long as it is safe for you and animals.
2. The bad consequences of geotagging in social media. Places of tourist attraction, historical sites, and wildlife are suffering from crowds of visitors, who often leave piles of litter, ruin places and scare away animals. Tell a story by showing how the place looked before becoming a center of attention and after. Show people taking photos and later posting them on their Instagram, Facebook, etc.
3. Native cultures. As our world becomes more globalized with a centralized flow of wealth and energy, the life of indigenous people in the outskirts of civilization become endangered. You have the opportunity to show both the beauty and miserable conditions of those cultures.
4. Climate change. While some only argue if climate change is real or not, others see and feel the negative changes in nature and the environment. You can show those changes and picture some of the agents that contribute to those: cars, big factories, aircraft, etc.
5. A day in the life of… Let your imagination go free here and pick the object you are most passionate about. That could be a day of a student, a street artist, a bus driver, a scientist, a pet care center specialist, etc. Focus on faces and emotions they show during different times of the day. Do not forget to picture hands as they too are powerful mediums for human emotions.