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Creating a thematic photo essay requires a combination of photographic and journalistic skills. The author must convey a powerful message to the viewers and hence structure an essay in an appropriately interesting manner. Every photograph must make an identifiable contribution to the overall theme. To do this successfully is not easy and requires some experience. Nevertheless, well-composed and aesthetically-pleasing individual images, each with a strong and readily understood informative message, make an excellent start. It is then up to the author to select and present images in a manner that conveys the required message.

The following tips may be useful:

  • The final presentation should stand on its own feet. Viewers may know little about the chosen theme but should still be able to understand the overall message without making further enquiries.
  • Use a powerful leading image to attract the interest of viewers. This may or may not be the best image obtained during the project, but it must convey a powerful and preferably simple message to provoke curiosity and an emotional response.
  • Include a wide variety of images - environmental shots, clos-ups, portraits, details etc.
  • Present images in a way that allows the message to develop as the viewer scans the essay. Thematic essays do not normally follow a chronological sequence. Images are presented in whatever order is necessary to convey the message effectively. Above all, keep the story interesting and make the viewer want to see more.
  • Images that convey information while provoking an emotional response are very valuable.
  • Captions can be used where necessary, but try to use images that are self-explanatory.
  • Conclude the essay with another powerful signature image that draws together all the stands of the message, summarizing the key threads and emotions.
  • Never be afraid to experiment and try new ideas. Equally, be ruthless in weeding out weak images.
  • Always take on board the views of a few other people. Ask whether they understand the message and what they take from the essay. If they are left unmoved then something is wrong.

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