Photo Essay “A Day in the Life”

Photo Essay “A Day in the Life”

Professor McNeil
College Writing

“Share” your draft with your peer review group, using Eastern OneDrive by 9 am March 9

What is a Photo Essay?

“A photo essay is very simply a collection of images that are placed in a specific order to tell the progression of events, emotions, and concepts. Used by world class photojournalists, the photo essay takes the same story telling techniques as a normal essay, translated into visual images.” (Christina N. Dickson, photojournalist and instructor)

Your job in this assignment is to communicate a story of a day in your life as a college student at Eastern in both words and pictures.

What is a typical day like for you?  What sort of things do you do?  How does one single day connect to the bigger picture of how you see your life at this stage?

Your complete photo essay will include:

  1. Several photos taken mostly by yourself (okay for just one or two taken by someone else)
  2. Brief captions for each photo
  3. A short (1-3 paragraphs) written “Artist’s Statement” to be included at the beginning (or end) of your essay

Guidelines for Doing the Photo Essay Assignment

Provide a clear and interesting story. Give your reader a central conflict, obstacle, or problem. What is it you want to convey about your daily life as a college student?  No need to share deep dark secrets, but your audience should get a feel for your life when reading your essay.

Plan your shots: Think about the type of shots that will work best to tell your story.  Create a “shot list” for your story. This is sort of a photographic “outline” in which each shot will work like a sentence.

Types of Photos

The photos you choose must not only be compositionally and artistically strong, but also informative and educational. Finding photos that have both qualities can be very challenging, but the result can be very powerful. By including a variety of types of photos in your essay, you will ensure that it is both interesting and informative. The following types of photos, presented together, can create a successful photo essay. Not only is it important to choose powerful photos, but also to present them in an effective order. While the order of some photos (e.g. the lead photo, and the clincher) is set, the order of most types of photos in your essay is your preference.

The Lead Photo: Similar to the first two sentences of a newspaper article, your lead photo should effectively draw in your audience. It should give an idea of what the theme of your photo essay is, or what it is mostly about.

Image result for eastern connecticut state university

The Scene Setter: These photos set the stage of each section of your story and describe the scenes. An overarching wide-angle shot is often effective.


Point of View Photos.  Very effective in a “day in the life” essay, these depict the world as exactly what the photographer sees.

Students holding baby goats
Image result for move in day ecsu ct

Portraits: Your photo essay should include at least one portrait. Capturing an emotional expression or telling action shot can effectively humanize your story. These photos often evoke strong emotions and empathy in the viewer (whether it is a positive and enthusiastic emotion, or a sympathetic and concerned emotion.)


Detail Photos: Detail photos focus in on one element, be it a building, a face, or a relevant object. These photos are your best opportunity to capture specific objects. The captions of these photos should be informative and educational.


The Close-up Photos: Similarly, close-up photos provide an opportunity to focus in on specific objects. These photos are tightly cropped, simple shots that present a specific element of your story. Again, this is an excellent opportunity to present information in the caption.


Action PhotosImage result for close up photo ECSU baseball
: Action photos can be particularly interesting as they convey motion, energy, movement.

Image result for ECSU dance performance

Helpful Hints

Get familiar with you’re the camera features of your phone.  You don’t need a special fancy camera to do this assignment and you don’t need to be an expert photographer.  Most phone cameras nowadays have the capability to take almost professional-looking pictures.  But you need to be aware of your camera features and learn how to use them.  (If you do not have access to a camera, let me know.  We should be able to arrange something.)

Question: “How many photos?”

Answer: Enough photos to tell your story.

Take LOTS of photos, the more you take the more choices you will have, and you do not need to use them all.

The photos you choose do NOT need to all come from the same day.  You are trying to show what your typical day is like, and photos from different days would make it easier to do this.

Keep in mind that although this is a personal depiction of your everyday life, it will be shared and viewed by me, and possibly the tutor, your classmates in the class, and even others.  It’s a semi-public project, so remember your audience when choosing what aspects of your life you want to communicate.

Also, you need to make sure that anyone else who is recognizable in your photographs knows you are taking their picture.  It is unethical, uncool, (and sometimes illegal) to use pictures of people without their permission.

The Written “Artist’s Statement” for the Photographic Essay

As part of the photographic essay assignment, you will be writing an artist’s statement about your essay.

In this statement you should articulate your intentions for the essay and write about why you wanted to pursue this subject. This is your chance to frame the essay for your viewers.

The minimum length of this is 1 paragraph, but the best ones will be a little longer (2-3). It is up to you how much context you think your audience needs in order to understand what you are going for. The statement can appear before or after the work, and again, this is a rhetorical choice on your part and the choice depends on how you want your viewers to experience your essay. Some photographers also choose to have the statement appear after the first photo, and there is certainly nothing in the rule book that says the statement cannot appear elsewhere in the essay. Wherever you place it, be clear for yourself about why you have placed it there.

You should also provide a descriptive title – one that cues the reader into the essay’s subject matter.

Your draft should be about 300-600 words with photos, typed format.

(Sources: “How to Create a Photo Essay”, Professor Stephen Ferruci’s, “Photo essay assignment”)

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