Photo Essays

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Contents

Module Summary

Photo essays are comprised of imagery and text, and in an integrated sense, they tell a story through a coherent multimodal experience. By practice, photo essays are less formal ways of presenting information. In online learning, photo essays may highlight particular learning. There may be an underlying event: a fieldtrip, a conference, a talk, a lab, a process, and so on. This short module introduces photo essays and provides some insights on how to create effective ones for online learning.

Takeaways

Learners will...

  • explore what a photo essay is and the common elements of the photo essay
  • consider methods for collecting (and creating) the contents for a photo essay through research, interviews, fieldwork, photography, and other means
  • consider ways that a photo essay may be organized and sequenced
  • list some characteristics of an effective and high-quality photo essay
  • review ways that photo essays may be made accessible


Module Pretest

1. What is a photo essay, and what are the common elements in a photo essay?

2. What are some methods for collecting (and creating) the contents for a photo essay through research, interviews, fieldwork, photography, and other means?

3. What are ways that a photo essay may be organized and sequenced?

4. What are some characteristics of an effective and high-quality photo essay?

5. Why is it important for a photo essay to be accessible? What are ways to ensure that the contents of a digital photo essay are accessible to those consuming the photo essay contents?


Main Contents

1. What is a photo essay, and what are the common elements in a photo essay?

A photo essay, as the name indicates, is comprised of photos and text. At its most simple, the photo essay has a headline or title, an opening paragraph or section, photos (often with captions or textual overlays), paragraphs, subheadings, and a conclusion. The image types may include diagrams, maps, and other types of visuals, in addition to photographs.

The photo essay may be set up to be consumed in a linear sequence. Or it may be presented with branching logic, where the readers may select certain navigational paths to move through the contents. Today, there are more sophisticated platforms that enable the presentation of photos and text in more interactive and complex ways. (Prezi, Scalar, and Adobe Spark are some free tools, for example.)

Photo essays may be comprised of additional resources: audio files, video files, URLs, digital photo albums, embedded video games, and other contents.


2. What are some methods for collecting (and creating) the contents for a photo essay through research, interviews, fieldwork, photography, and other means?

Simply put, the more complex a photo essay, the more work is required to gather the informational and image-based contents. In general, if there are foundational issues that are not yet known, some research is done to fill gaps—from the literature, from interviews, from fieldwork, from surveys, and other means.

The “heart” of a photo essay is often the photographs, the scans, and the visual contents. As noted earlier, traditional photo essays may be augmented with other file types like audio and video. However the digital contents are captured, they have to be captured to quality (proper audio without noise, proper imagery with focus and lighting and framing, etc.)…and they have to be captured legally (with the proper media releases). Then, too, whoever captured the information should sign releases, and they should be properly remunerated and credited.

In terms of content capture, having white-noise (for editing sound), b-roll (for splicing into video), filler imagery (for stitching image-based sequences), and other more neutral contents is necessary for the post-production and the bringing together of a final product.

The text in a photo essay should be written professionally and clearly. The point-of-view should be consistent (whether in the first or third-person point-of-view). The English should be direct and simple, for accurate auto-translation (which is available on Google Chrome web browser, for example).

There should be information about how the photo essay was researched and created, along with other relevant metadata and crediting.


3. What are ways that a photo essay may be organized and sequenced?

A photo essay may be set up to be experienced sequentially and step-by-step, and this is more of a traditional approach. Or, there may be branching logic based on decisions made by the particular reader / viewer of the photo essay. Beyond these two basic differences, there are other possible sequencing, such as based on randomness—with a randomizer generating images. Or there may be spatial ways of interacting with an image-based experience. The advances in web-facing technologies enable a much wider range of interactivity and sequencing options.

A photo essay, of course, may tell a single story or multiple stories. It may be from a single point-of-view or a number of points-of-view (and voices). The framing may vary based on different storytelling narratives.

The optimal way to tell a story will vary depending on the story, the storyteller, the available contents, the audience, the style, and other details. Different photo essays have differing levels of coherence, and some incoherence may be part of a purposive design (to encourage exploration, to encourage a particular type of messaging).


4. What are some characteristics of an effective and high-quality photo essay?

An effective photo essay meets the following general requirements:

  • provably factual (and cited) and informative
  • legally acquired
  • pedagogically sound (supports the relevant learning)
  • accessible photography, language, audio, video, and other elements
  • stylistically original (and non-derivative of others’ work)

Depending on the discipline, there may well be other characteristics that would need to be met as well.


5. Why is it important for a photo essay to be accessible? What are ways to ensure that the contents of a digital photo essay are accessible to those consuming the photo essay contents?

As with all digital learning objects delivered on learning management systems (LMSes), photo essays have to be accessible to meet U.S. federal requirements for accessibility.

This means that all images have to be alt-texted accurately and thoroughly. All audio and video have to be close-captioned and / or transcripted (through enriched transcription). The standards for the levels of accuracy for transcripts are higher than in the past, with a required 98 – 99% accuracy rate. The enrichment of transcripts means that non-spoken information that enriches understandings should be interspersed in the transcript (with time-sensitivity). Colors should not be the only way that information is conveyed in some visuals (like maps, like informational graphics), and colors should be offered in a high-contrast way. If data tables are included in the photo essay, these have to be set up with the proper scripting so that automated screen readers can help make heads-or-tails of the HTML data table.

Examples

There are numerous photo essays available online from mass media and higher education sources.

How To

The general “how to” to create a photo essay include the following general (recursive) steps:

1. Conceptualize the photo essay 2. Collect necessary data 3. Capture imagery 4. Capture audio / video / augmentary contents 5. Write up the text 6. Intersperse the imagery 7. Ensure accessibility with proper tagging and closed captioning / transcription 8. Deploy initially for alpha and beta testing 9. Test 10. Revise 11. Deploy

There are many other permutations of this, with focuses on some aspects more than others.

Possible Pitfalls

The main pitfall is if the learning contents are better presented in another form other than photo essays. The right presentational method showcases the informational contents effectively and makes them accessible to learners.

Module Post-Test

1. What is a photo essay, and what are the common elements in a photo essay?

2. What are some methods for collecting (and creating) the contents for a photo essay through research, interviews, fieldwork, photography, and other means?

3. What are ways that a photo essay may be organized and sequenced?

4. What are some characteristics of an effective and high-quality photo essay?

5. Why is it important for a photo essay to be accessible? What are ways to ensure that the contents of a digital photo essay are accessible to those consuming the photo essay contents?


References

Extra Resources