How To Make A Picture Worth 1000 Words

When i embarked upon the Unfamiliar Genre Project journey, i only knew what a photo-essay was as a term vaguely thrown around by people with more artistic inclination than i had. When it came time to pick a genre that i was unfamiliar with i didn’t want to choose something based in prose and sentences. I have been writing for a very long time and consider myself at the very least, a descriptively captivating writer, and at the most, capable of conveying meaning in an eloquent, thoughtful, and sometimes striking manner. As the whole point of the Unfamiliar Genre Project is to challenge yourself, I decided to tackle something bigger than words. They do say an image is worth a thousand words don’t they?


As i began to research what a photo-essay truly was i ran into a small problem. There are an awful lot of ways to make a photo essay. As described in the blog post linked back there, i had an awfully hard time finding a definite definition for a photo-essay. And that’s okay. After i got over the initial shock, i realized that this gave me more creative freedom to do whatever i wanted with my work. However in the interest of enlightening whoever is reading this, i will tell you what i learned about the genre. Here are my ten fool-proof and annoyingly vague but still helpful tips for creating a photo-essay.


  1. A photo-essay involves two basic components. A story or purpose, and images. That’s it.
  2. A good photo-essay makes the reader think, question, or view something in a new way
  3. subjects for photos can include anything from your family, to architecture, to events, to flora, fauna, and literally anything in-between
  4. Many photo-essays try to capture change through time, emotion, etc. or more technical characteristics like color, size, etc.
  5. photos in photo-essays are often accompanied by captions, but don’t have to be
  6. captions can be words, sentences, quotes, mini-essays, literally whatever you think fits your image best or conveys the right message.
  7. photo-essays can be any number of images, but generally more than three and less than 15. This seems to be the right number to be able to really dig into an emotion or thought, but not overwhelm the viewer.
  8. The content does not have to be serious. I found a hilarious photo-essay documenting the “secret lives” of miniature stormtrooper figurines
  9. Do whatever you want. Seriously. As long as it contains photos and has a purpose a photo-essay can be whatever you want it to be. If you find yourself daunted by creativity, look online for inspiration, there are thousands of amazing photo-essays just waiting to be viewed.
  10. Think about it. A picture really is worth a thousand words. Think about the angle, the color, the position of your subjects and background. Think about where you want the reader to look and the message that you’re trying to convey. Good images take thought and time, but it never hurts to take 50 extra to make sure you captured the exact right moment.
  11. (okay i lied, it’s 11 tips) don’t be afraid to change direction. You might find that your ideas don’t photograph the way you thought they would, or that you suddenly come up with a better story to tell. You might find that a photo-essay found through google inspires you to do something different with your images or captions. That’s okay. Take new pictures, replace old ones, rewrite captions. Change is the essence of creativity.


If you need inspiration of help with creating a photo-essay click on any of the links above to be provided with thoughts and examples of photo-essays. If you need even more help i have also found lesson plans here and here which you can read to help you understand what goes into teaching a photo-essay unit. I find that lesson plans will reveal what the important building blocks of a certain skill are. They will provide you with information for understanding the basic components of a certain skill and how to recreate them which will help you to understand how to create a complete final product.
As a wobbled with this project, i found that the best way to flow was to bounce my ideas off of others. Talking with my writing group and with my teacher Cindy was extremely helpful in coming up with new ideas and the internet and google was my best friend when it came to inspiration and motivation. In order to flow through The Unfamiliar Genre Project i had stretch my “writing” muscles in a way i never had before. But, by wobbling successfully, failing productively, and not being afraid to change my direction i was able to make it through the project and learn a lot about myself as a writer.


One thought on “How To Make A Picture Worth 1000 Words

  1. Having worked with you throughout your UGP, it has been truly inspiring watching you rise to the occasion. Talking over your ideas with you and witnessing you overcome each one of your wobbles has given me a serious respect for you as a future teacher and inspires me to embrace new ideas in my own teaching career.


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