Create Powerful Photo Essays & Personal Projects


Create Powerful Photo Essays & Personal Projects


Lesson Info

Linear vs Portfolio and Choke Points

In theory, somewhere in the process of this decision making you've got to decide black and white or color we talked yesterday I'm going to go into much greater detailed today about the two kinds of photo essays there's a linear photo essay which we talked about before which where there's character development that marine corps story was essentially the linear essay we're following four young men through the military thea kind of photo essay is a portfolio linear one is is unified by the evolution of the character and the development of the people or the group in that photo essay portfolio by comparison is unified by the commonality of location topic, stylistic approach to photography one of the reasons I chose to photograph for young men going to the marine corps together and it was a gamble was I figured internet be exactly true between the four of them. Each one of them is going to have some part of a typical experience of going to the marine corps which apparently is fifty percent o...

f them drop out and exactly correct had I picked one soldier one young man and watched him go through it I had a fifty fifty chance of losing him right off the top and he might not do any of the things that I want to do by following four young men together I ended up getting all the range of the different things that they do and that's a little bit of a sort of practicality question but it's something that you really have to be working on because you can your job is the professionals to manage your time and then by comparison with the portfolio it's more by picking the location of the idea of the stylistic approach. So I want to show you one of the first photo essays that I saw back when I was in college by a photographer named larry burrows and it is incredibly incredibly linear it's a little bit difficult subject matter because it's from the vietnam war in frankly doesn't have a happy ending but it's it's a great example of a linear story where he's following a subject through character development like you having a great movie great play anything else like that? So these are actually right off the life magazine website projects is called sudden death in vietnam one ride with yankee papa thirteen and it's a story about a helicopter gunner right here his name is james farley and so this is a vietnam war back in the late sixty uh late sixties I think the actual shoot takes place so we meet the character we apparently get to know him before he's on duty and then he's getting ready and this is what to call the remote the cameras actually bolted to the outside of the helicopter to get this angle and the soldiers are dropped off and one of the pilots of another helicopter actually is shot and killed and then he goes back in his comrade on the helicopter is also killed right from right next to him grieving on the way back trying to explain what happened to his commanding officer and the last minute mostly difficult story but it's a it's a it's a great story it takes you through this uh one young man's journey and it does kind of what I'm talking to you about. It puts a face on something that seemed large here's the vietnam war here's the bridge issues no but is not a bridge it's about the people that were impacted it's not about the vietnam war in a geopolitical sense it's about this guy new survives and these other guys who don't. And so, um this is how it was used in life magazine in nineteen sixty five and so again congressman larry burrows sadly, he was actually killed in cambodia while photographing for life magazine in the early seventies. I believe but it's one of those stories that for me was really pivotal understanding this idea what a linear story is um and I don't claim that my marine corps story is nearly as powerful of that, but I was trying to use that same idea off a linear story and so years has the potential to be a linear story of your situation and then maybe in the future to actually go out and find other people who were going through this and to tell that kind of story, this is a completely different one, and I show these kind of in this order because I know I've got everybody kind of a little and I want to switch the approach. This is another photographer I know named barbara groom, who lives now in new mexico, and hers is a completely a portfolio it's not linear at all, it's completely personal. And this goes to a question that was yesterday about what if you get a photo that isn't quite technically perfect? Well, barber is actually working on purpose to use that imperfection explicitly on purpose to say this is how I see the world. This is how you experience the world and I love these photos, because on the one hand, you think, well, it's a hotel room in but it's, not it's about what's it feel like to be there, what's the experience of being there, and I put thes two side by side because that was one emotional journey this's a different emotional journey. One is not better than the other, but in the best of all worlds, a good photographer takes us on an emotional journey until barbara does mostly exhibitions and stuff um she doesn't do assignment work per se but she's been very successful I think as you might imagine getting this workout there because it's it's specific enough and atmospheric enough a narrative enough that people can relate to it but open ended enough that it's not like that's my front porch because you make that one front ports it's no longer open to people's sort of putting themselves into it emotionally so if you want to look at that maura that's barbara groom dot com and encourage you look at all this stuff because every photographer you look at to go back to the I think I talked yesterday about the photographer's problem every set of work you look at it gives you the opportunity to see how did somebody create an emotional experience of your I mean you all I think you got both of those sets right they're very different but the second set was calming a little bit it was a good thing to do after the first step so that photographer used one says tools barbara group larry larry burrows you complete different set of tools including black and white by the way no went from black and white historical color contemporary atmospheric though it's another photographer I know his name was loaf you story lives in connecticut um lt's a barn junkie he photographs barns all over the country he's become something of an expert and has exhibits and stuff of barn photograph and this is a very small selection from a huge body of work he's done he's done hdr of barnes the landscape he's done stitching panorama as he's done a lot of different work of barns and different kinds of barnes because he'll show me the work sometimes I'll say never seen around born like that this actually is apparently here I think in washington state if I understand correctly obviously the intersection between rural or urban and this is another one of those to me if you're making it contemporary you're making about today if you're making it about things like for example tobacco barns in connecticut to me the arguments to do it in color because there's this long history of barnes as objects as history items is up and lowell's whole point is that these things are still being used in being built on and functioning in their contemporary and color does to me a better job of feeling contemporary and obviously of them have been sort of up scaled and some of them been reused as ah it's a pizza shop if I remember correctly barn as pizza shop and this is a little bit from bar from lowell's project proposal the simplicity that designed the beauty in the utility all of those kind of rolled into one I'm preserving memory their presence I have also have an appreciation for our grain roots in the lifestyle the way they the life that represent he actually grew up in upstate new york. Actually, father work for kodak of all people. So he was around barns, and people have heard of kodak. You know what they used to make? Yeah. So I'll talk about creative destruction member. He talked yesterday about the idea of creative destruction and how knew things were created. Digital imaging has been a wonderful thing, but if you if you spend your life a kodak creative destruction was not such a bang up idea. So that's a little few stur it's just little future dot com I encourage you to look at that work as well, it's all about this stuff that you put in your mental hard drive you should never think you're so I'm never gonna photograph barnes because you might not photograph parts, though you might get something there from, like, the urban rural interaction. It all goes in there and it comes out in your own pictures. I used to do the barn back home, you know, exactly and it's, not like I'm encouraging you to copy those, but I'm encouraging you to take a little bit of lowell's, a little bit of barbra's little bit of something else, he put it together and make your own photograph that's why I encourage you to look at other people's stuff so more questions on this decision making process um, I talked yesterday about the whole camera, the plastic land toy camera that my wife uses so one of the decisions is would you use something like a holder, which is both square, and also has that dreamy memory like feeling where the corners were kind of dark, the centers and focus but the edges or not? You can see this, that same effect here, the corners or dark kind of flared, afraid so it feels like more like a memory. And again, it's, black and white recognises baby, we saw this kept this baby yesterday. This is my wife's version, which obviously were better than my first version. I said she solved the pole problem better. This goes back to something that people ask me about a lot, but aren't you afraid people going to steal your ideas? My wife and I are standing right next to each other photographing we had a completely different experience of this. I actually never really worry about that, because when I'm doing a project, when I'm doing something, I bring a unique set of history, skill, sad you're familiar experience, gwen's dance experience your experience in terms of living in this area, the background, even talking, I just don't have it. So it's not it's not really like I'm somebody can steal something from me and this is the class example that were standing together and she said shooting film so I don't get to see until much later when she actually gets so for example are you going to do square? Are you going to think about doing things like pairings? Panoramas dip takes trip ticks were talking about maybe the idea of mixing the bridge and the color in pairings and we saw these yesterday but the reason I'm coming back to them is that the two of them together create a kind of a narrative that you don't get with one image it's really a simple is that put your hand up block one image it's kind of interesting but you put them together they start talking to each other and that could be true in most of your project certainly you're cindy's wins I was half wondering if there might be something where you might experiment with multiple images as well. And so in this particular case she has a stroke. All photos for reference I'm not saying you necessarily should but there's something what I call a conversation the photos were literally talking to each other and you're kind of part of that conversation as you see it you know you like the portrait of me and then one of the other decisions is too controlled versus a gn post and when by definition you're sound like collaborations so there's more of a opposed thing and that's not a value judgment post but it has to kind of go through the whole project so when somebody looks at the work they say oh yeah, I understand why she's controlling that situation you're too so far have struck me more is uncontrolled in that sort of documentary narrative is what makes them so interesting so there's another decision you have to make it's really about just decisions, decisions, decisions all the things that you have to think about there was a question that came in on line the color black and white can you mix them up as I said earlier you have to early on you probably want to be open to doing both as time goes on you're gonna be open teo honing in on and I've had plenty of students who start projects and then as time goes on that they figure out oh no it really is one of the other but the other thing that I really really obsessed about is what I call working situations as in taking many, many, many pictures of the same thing and it's not that I don't know what I'm doing, but I'll take a picture I'll look at the back of the camera nor realize it's about this or it's about that and I continue to take pictures so I tend to have as I mentioned yesterday very very loose shoots with many pictures so I'm gonna actually take you through a little exercise or lesson in working situations this is actually a bunch of peppers at a farmers market in los altos, california and so this is going to be done in theory with a normal lens and so in theory I'm going to take pictures with their normal ends from with the camera from the right and the camera horizontally then attorney camera vertically and I'll switch to the other side of the camera horizontal and the camera vertical and then I'll go above photographing like a giraffe talk a lot about this the idea that we don't know where they want to photograph from our own height everybody knows your photo have kids from their height makes you feel like you're down there but changing height like a dog or giraffe completely changes the viewers experience of whatever that thing is so right off the top here now I'm good doing above like a giraffe with camera horizontal and the vertical normally I would do a dog but photographing the underside of a box of peppers so in theory I'm going to do a dog from below horizontal from below vertical so right off the top without even breaking a sweat in theory I have eight different ways of photographing the same thing from the left from the right below above and now I'm gonna take you to the same thing. I'll go relatively quickly, but with the white angle went ok, same exact thing, all those papers and all that, but I'll skip taking you through all the little ones, but the idea again, right off the top, I could be going with a wide angle from above from the right from the left with camera, horizontal camera, vertical and you don't necessarily have to go through all these and the underneath me in the classic example it's the underneath we went to cardboard boxes, not an interesting picture. And you, khun excuse me, you can immediate sale. No dog pictures there. And the other one typically that you have a problem with is no giraffe pictures because what you going to stand up on? Right? But you can at least two left, right? The cameras that I use have the folding screens, the attenuated screens which are really good for holding high and good for holding low. So I did with wide angle, and I'm going to exactly the same thing with the telephoto. In theory, I've got eight different positions to shoot from and then the telephoto. And if using a zoom is little little nothing more than changing the focal length and again it's just asking yourself, is there a wide angle shot in years there? Telephoto shot here you may not take them off. You certainly want to go through the exercise of thinking of them, get a different positions without breaking a sweat, and then we can start experimenting with things like focus, which in this case becomes an important part of the project. My focus in close focusing middle four focussing far and we'll have the first part was a camera horizontal zach, same thing with the camera vertically and then do the same thing for the other side and they're plenty times you can't get around the other side but least you want to be thinking doesn't look like good from over there doesn't look like good from over here again, same thing now I'm changing my point of focus doing that was camera horizontally. I'm going to turn the camera vertically now middle point of focus far point of focus and then we get in the whole thing of depth of field and you don't necessarily have to do all these things, but you do want to be thinking, you know, I had henri cartier bresson, great photographer, right? Nobody know why he was so great. Bristles walk he's dead now, sadly he's walking along, and he sees something coming together and he's going through all of this in his head, and he doesn't have to do all those there's only three places he's even thinking you might stand and he knows he's going to be at this position, this is what is going to focus on all my exposure, so by the time he actually gets there, the pictures largely done in his head, okay? And eventually you get kind of passes you'll be able to look and say, well, there is no dog position, I haven't got a giraffe, I can't see that we're the during the focus matters, but when you're starting out and when you're really perfecting your skills, you actually want to go through as much of this exercises you can. So in theory, here I'm experimenting with more depth of field with a little depth of field meeting death to feel close up, a lot of depth of field, little depth of field with the camera horizontal, and in theory, I could do the same thing at a distance. You kind of get the idea, but you really do actually want to walk up to it and say, okay, now, what are all the different things I could do? What are the things that are just never gonna work the drafting, the obvious one the dog being the other problematic one so what I'm going to do now is I'm actually going to take you through that shoot and talk about each picture and take it through sort of a mental process that I had as I was photographing, so I walked up to it and I saw the papers I took this picture and looked back at the camera and said, oh, I don't like that a car on the upper right hand corner that's a little better but there's um empty space at the top is there a way of doing a better horizontal a little better horizontal not crazy about the guy that's a little better? I'm not crazy about that blue color, though I wonder if I could get somebody reaching with a different color. I'm still largely sticking to the giraffe though, because as we said before there's not much point to do the dog I haven't started experimenting with focus yet because I'm still literally photographing in thinking there are people out there who will say, oh, you should get one shot that's not me digital has been great because it gives me the opportunity to exactly that okay, so that's good but let's try horizontal no that's a little bit better better still I'm picking up the car on the right side that's better in terms of the sweep still not crazy by that truck better still but one of the things now is I'm picking up type so I want to have that type in there in terms of the signs or not look at this stuff in the foreground who I actually want little caricatures of peppers in those boxes in the foreground and this is what I'm doing I'm shooting shooting a bunch moving around and I'm gonna look and then I'm going to shoot some more a little bit better but I still have the stuff in the foreground pipes not bad with a little sign saying new mexico chilies and things like that um got rid of some of the they'll notice this is the point where I am starting to experiment here I've got a fair amount of depth of field now I have less steps of field so the background type is made less folk less and focus get better oh that's better still and I've gotten rid of this stupid iconography in the foreground that I don't want but I've picked up the type getting better still I always am saying to myself horizontal vertical, horizontal vertical back in the day we used to make our money on verticals because cameras or horizontal sze publications used to be vertical quickest way to make money was to make sure you actually turned the camera that way because it'll be a two prints or two slides on editor's desk once vertical ones horizontal but picked the vertical cause they're too lazy now of course everything is going to the web and the web is a it's a horizontal medium so you have to now do the opposite after keep reminding myself it's good do verticals like the old days but I really have to do horizontal is more like that, okay, I'm getting closer getting closer still oops! I slipped around and I got that type in the foreground. I do not like that clamp let's move around further still picked up the truck getting better, but I'm not crazy about the iconography and I know I'm showing you a lot of photographs but that's exactly the point I do all of these and except for the time spent editing there's no downside there's no opportunity cost I'm not paying a per film cost like we used to do is slide is just take a picture see if I can get better we're getting better here. Do you ever touch anything? I don't I just wanted to ask you, but again there's it's a great question my personal background is journalistic ethic the people who hire me presume what I'm giving them is credible I think there's there's two things one is all the controversy that happens out there around these things but I think the better question is if you're presenting yourself toe end user reclined to someone who tells a narrative that's documentary real life human experience based they expect and I think you're kind of obligated to give them when you know it's like you lazy made this perfect yours by comparison everybody understands that this is a controlled environment so people aren't uncomfortable if I chance something's moved because that's part of the way you're constructing your narrative so it's it's a cz much about the narrative is about my own particular act I don't personally move anything I moved myself around here's a perfect example I'm really getting close here, but I do not like those tennis shoes, so I'm not going to shout to the guy to move I'm going to go a little bit higher and I'm on the backside, so you'll notice I've lost some of the type and the eye cannot sophie the explanations of prices getting better, getting better oh that's it that's what I was happiest with doesn't mean that that's the best one that's the best one for me one of the things you're probably doing this thing I don't agree with him more than entitled do not agree with me, but you see how I got to that best one and so this is the stuff that I like the best it's mostly about the peppers and the textures playing the cardboard off you know the organic off the man made that kind of stuff and so that's what I do through a very typical shoot and that mental processes literally what I'm saying to myself usually with my mouth closed so I don't sound like a crazy man but that's what I'm going to when I'm photographing let me just show you some photos to go back actually tow loaf you stir the barn photographer I showed you these are some barns that he actually internalize that lesson he worked the situation's so this is the barn another view of it another view of it still another view of it and also because this is nearby where he lives where actually have an advantage because he's going to do multiple seasons and you don't always have that option but the is all the different pictures you could take the more material you have to work with and then the better the breath of your project and you're probably thinking yourself you're absolutely correct you do this at the beginning as time goes on you're going to end up at the end closer to our soul where you going to say I don't want to do the environment there's not all this stuff to do is only two or three things I need to get to finish this out and so then your expert your focus and your intention and all that really narrows him the other thing that people normally chime in about this point in time as they say to themselves, what how do you get that many pictures of something? If it's if it's moving around and the key to repeating predictable situations where you can actually photographed the same thing multiple times and you could do all the things I'm talking about, taking hundreds of pictures in one place is finding what I call choke points and this isn't a formal exercise, but when you leave today and I'm hoping basically, from now on, when you're walking around, you're going to save yourself there's a choke point, so a chokepoint is a place where people have to go and actions have to repeat, and basically I'm hoping from now on, whenever you walk around even you not photograph, you just walking, you're going to a market somewhere and you say, oh, that's choke point, everybody has to go through that one corner. If I was photographing, I'd plant myself there because they all have to go through there. Let me see what I mean by choke point. This is a new york city it's penn station thirty third and eighth avenue, it's, a big open plaza this's on the south east corner of the intersection and big open plaza you're never going to get everybody going to the exact same place you go across the street to the north side of that same intersection the sidewalk is just about his wide and people come through and they go every which way you go about twenty feet straight in front of you and you hit there you've got a restaurant on one side a subway entrance on the other side everybody comes suit that's a choke point okay you don't necessarily have to be photographing them from now on before the rest of your time is a photography should be spotting choke points this spot into poisoning that I'm think yet no, I'm thinking I was thinking of different places that I've walked to seattle and I'm like now I know I just I took a walk yesterday after class just because we're so close to downtown I want to see it and that is just merry added choke points right there cause everybody goes around the corner they don't walk out on the street they're smart so there's choke points right around here so if you're doing street photography in a certain place is not very far from here where you could go and plant yourself and the same thing will happen over and over and so all that stuff I talked before about horizontal sze verticals giraffes, dogs you could actually do with different people that won't be the same people but it will be the same venue to sort of re emphasizes this's down on spring street e and six avenue down in the soho area of new york city. And if you look in sort of the middle upper left hand corner, the photo a subway pay attention that subway entrance because this intersection here actually has five streets coming together, everybody goes every which way, so you're doomed. But if you go to the other side of that subway entrance was a food cart, a subway entrance in a construction site. Everybody has to go through there what you were doing, that mental processing is exactly what you want to be doing. Okay? It could be a fair, it could be a market. It could be anything where people have to go over and over through the same thing. And so this is also in new york and I just literally turned around made these pictures for this slideshow we're also on spring street in soho, that piece of sidewalk people can walk five, seven people across it's not doing you any good. You go fifty feet forward, the metal great opens up and suddenly you have a choke point. Everybody has to go through that. You just plant yourself right there, some photographing with son over your shoulders, some of the other side photographing into the sun and you stayed because everybody has to go through that choke point right there so that's what I would make a note about chokepoint start looking they just become part you're thinking from that one so now I want to talk a little bit about something that people talk a lot about the idea of thinking outside the box in terms of your projects, terms of going forward from here with your photo essays first thing you have to do it if you want to talk about thinking outside the box you have to define what is the box so I'm going to define what I think of as the box that's the box great filmmakers pardon me, great writers, great musicians and of course great photographers like to think that they think of themselves as people who think outside the box, but what is the box? I actually think the box is there for a reason I think the box is the thing that holds all of this together so you we can make these projects which in theory you'll be thinking outside the box but frankly what I'm talking about you have to understand with the box asses so the box his marketing skills boxes, networking interpersonal skills, the box is artistic and technical skills and the box and I've been saying this before is awareness of existing work and how to fit in or push the definitions of that work with your own work okay? Because if you look it great musicians they're not out there making sounds that are so incomprehensible that no one understands that they're building on the people who preceded them filmmakers are writers are I actually think photographers as a rule are not aware enough of the media's history to understand where filmmakers are very comfortable saying well when I was a young filmmaker I looked at the work of stanley kubrick or I looked at this this person's work I look at the work of spike lee people in the film business in the music business especially in literature too are very comfortable saying I read a lot of hemingway when I was young I read a lot of those passes when I was young and so writers were comfortable with doing that I'm not quite sure why photographers don't but that's why I'm pushing you to look so we can get you to kind of stand this box and then you'll happily go outside the box but the way that I define it roughly it's the box is an awareness of the existing work and how to fit in or push the definitions of that work that's how I define the box and then you sort of want to go out there but this idea of the milieu this idea that people will connect to it is putting you literally at the edges but not so far off that we lose you so I know I've been doing nothing but jabbering and making things right down. So I'm gonna show you some pictures now as well. No one ideally come back to your proposals as well. Remember I showed you the light studies, the train station, the western wall. One of the things that's fun off on was a very nice story did for this magazine called saudi aramco world where they wanted a light study. Uh, the dome of the rock al aqsa mosque in jerusalem, which is one of the three holiest shrines in islam. And so I basically had my love, which is open in an assignment, a stretch of time, a lot of money. This is the battle days of film. I also had film and just to go around, take pictures using my expertise in time of day, using my expertise and having been there and live there just going around, taking different pictures outside inside did you want to question helping with the question? Do you mind? No police? I just weigh get into this into this the beautiful work. Wait a great question from rebecca, who wants to know? Can you talk a little bit more about unifying images? It's actually, a lot of work to go through images and choose I understand you're giving us examples like black and white in color or in frame size but if could you go a little more into that unifying give me doing defying images so sort of that that process of I guess a little bit more of that process of why you choose what you choose? Sure, one of the things I do and I'll talk a little bit later when I talk about what I call instant editing where I get feedback from others but also the exercise we're gonna do a little bit later there comes a point in your project and this is a function of the digital versus, um film world where you simply have to sit down to make prince you khun do a certain amount of editing online in light room or whatever you used to pick out those top fifty or sixty one hundred prints, but at one point time you have to actually make the prince put them out in the table top and move them around to get down to the top fifteen or twenty and that to me is a function of how this image and this image kind of talked to each other. They create the narrative from beginning to middle to end the residents. The potential pairing that were discussing is a possibility all those things start happening and the only way I've ever found them happening is what I call prints on the table they do not work digitally because your screen is your laptops this big you're I'm max that big, but you run into a limited space issue, and so I find the only way to resolve that is to simply do it prints on the table. I don't know if that's a on answer no, no, no, I think it's fantastic answer, thank you very much and and the connection to this and there is a direct connection and, you know, we keep practicing these things in advance because you feed me such good stuff. This was a perfect example, but this was the bad old days of slides, and so I would pick out sort of the top fifty slides than they used to make color photocopies, which the predecessor to war using out and I'd literally put those color photocopy is on the table and do this exact edit to get down in the top fifteen, because even back then, like slides were worse. You put slides on a light box, you can't really see what's going on, but when you have prints, you really can see what's going on between the images and the idea was going from things like, okay, these people who are praying in the mosque these are some of the other that the koran's and books around the mosques, the colonnades around the edge back inside, and then the vendor sending selling postcards outside, and this was one I'm using the trees and the darkness overhead to drive your attention in using framing, which was always talking about framing that's, how it was used in this case. And then this is how it is used, the magazine. And they actually initially did this as a story for their bi monthly magazine, but was so popular. They ended up reprinting it and then sending it out to a lot of different places. Because it's obviously very important shrine in islam. And I like to think I did a pretty good job of telling the story inside and out. And they gave me a lot of pages, obviously.

Class Description

The most powerful way to establish your voice and distinguish yourself as a photographer is to conceptualize and shoot a photo essay. Photo essays are compelling, dynamic, vivid mission statements of your work — every photographer should have a working knowledge of this narrative art form. Join David Wells to learn how to create a captivating photo essay from start to finish.

This course shatters the myth that photo essays are only for photojournalists; you’ll learn how all photographers can use photo essays to tell the story of any subject, in any style. You’ll learn how to present your unique point of view and communicate a coherent aesthetic through a compelling photographic essay. You’ll build strategies for tackling the complex task of assembling, editing and presenting a large photo project that speaks to its viewers. You’ll also learn about the techniques that are essential for keeping yourself inspired and organized while maintaining an effective workflow.

By the end of this course, you’ll have the skills it takes to stand out in a crowded marketplace and create a compelling project that showcases your skills, communicates your style, and helps others understand your personality, passion, and talents.