Welcome back to this series on editorial photography. Last week, we discussed the basics of preparing yourself for your first editorial assignment and shooting individual frames in a variety of different ways. There were a couple of questions in the comments, which I will be addressing in next week's post. This week, we will focus on multiple frames and making them work together. Specifically, we'll be looking to tell a story using multiple photographs.
Shoot a Story
As well as shooting a variety of different images, you can also shoot different aspects of the same subject. Always think about the story behind your subject and think about whether it might be more effective as a collection of images rather than a single frame. Perhaps there's a process you can document or another type of visual story that would benefit from multiple images to give a more in-depth insight. For example, the story may be on coffee culture in a given town. You might shoot the coffee in a cup, the beans, a barista, steam gushing from the steam wand, hands compressing the grounds in a portafilter, a storefront, people enjoying coffee, and then something specific to that neighborhood to give it context and relevancy. All this gives your photos the ability to tell a story greater than a single image could.
For my story on Penang's durian industry, I flew into Penang for an extremely short stay. I had three full days to get everything I needed. I started by heading to the local farms, where I knew I would meet knowledgeable people who could point me in the right direction. They would also form the first point in my photo story about durians. After getting a few frames of the farmers at work collecting the durians and some wide shots of the farms themselves, I was told about a durian wholesaler who would be busy the following morning. This was the ideal second step for the story.
I headed over the following morning and introduced myself. The farmers and market sellers thought it was hilarious that I wanted to hop in-between their counting and sales to shoot photographs and thus, I had my foot in the door. I managed to get invited to visit stalls (the next step in the durian industry) and a few more farms. I also found out that a few stores in Georgetown were using durian to make cakes and cream puffs, despite the pungent smell. This would be my final day and the end of the industry story.
By shooting each step of the production process, I guaranteed my viewers a look into the industry and ensured that I would have enough variety to satisfy my editor (I had been requested to provide 100-150 different raw files for their retouchers and designers to work with, only eight would be used). At each stage, I was shooting a wide "establishing" shot, a human element, the fruit itself, a close-up, some action, etc. Switching lenses, moving around to a different point of view, having fun, eating durian with the locals: all of this helped me to get different frames that would tell the story I was trying to give to the readers. Your audience may not have any idea what the place feels like; it is your job to convey that. A successful photo-story shouldn't need the words to give a sense of the tale being told.
For further reading on photo-stories, pick up a copy of Michael Freeman's excellent book, "The Photographer's Story."
Shoot a Series
I will split hairs here and separate a story from a series. What I am describing as a series is a collection of similar images: perhaps a set of portraits of chefs in a particular restaurant district or a collection of old cars or aeroplanes. Although this is a similar concept, we approach this more like a catalog shoot. We are looking for the subjects themselves to differentiate the images, not photographic diversity.
For this story on Korea's local markets, I wanted the focus to be very human. The changes in the way people shop have affected the lives of so many market sellers. I wanted to humanize the change and show them in a positive light. The suffering markets and the hardship of the people who work there would only go as far as stirring pity. I wanted empathy and to instill a desire to shop at one's local market. I kept things very simple by photographing each person at their stall exactly as I found them, but I asked each person to look directly into the camera to further make contact with the readers. To get back to basics, I also shot all black and white film (always ask your editor before doing something like this). By keeping it simple and asking each person a few basic questions about their stall and life, I was able to give the readers a window into a much overlooked aspect of life in Seoul.
Always Shoot for the Cover
Some magazines specifically organize cover shoots, but many nowadays do not. They will often wait until all submissions are in and then choose from the pool. Many travel and lifestyle magazines work this way. I always try to include a few solid options for covers with any submissions I make. You may or may not get paid for that extra space, but you can pretty much guarantee you're in the editor's good graces if you get chosen for the cover. That makes your next pitch or assignment a lot easier.
The direction for this assignment was simple: two graduates of the University of California Hastings College of the Law that were now living and working in Seoul needed to be photographed. The editor wanted a variety of portraits that showed them in an interesting way. They were not to be photographed in their offices and if I could get them out of their suits, that would be great. Both agreed to be photographed during work hours, so getting out of suits would not be an option. Nonetheless, I still had to keep the portraits interesting.
Nathan is a lawyer for Samsung Electronics, so we pushed until we got permission to shoot in their D'Light Showroom in Gangnam, Seoul. There was plenty to shoot, but this display just begged to be shot vertically for a cover. I lit Nathan with a gridded strip-box inside this two-by-two meter space to keep the flash off the background. The editor ended up choosing this for the cover and putting me on their list of their goto for Seoul assignments.
In conclusion, always be on the lookout for ways to expand each aspect of your assignment into a mini photo-story to give your editor more variety. Also, always try to shoot cover-worthy images. Even if they don't go on the cover, they are a good way to showcase your talent and impress your editors. We'll be back next week to discuss the less sexy part of the industry, money. If you have any other questions you'd like answered in next week's post, feel free to leave them in the comments below.