Sunday, July 18, 2010

Photo Storytelling

How do you capture and convey the essence of a place with still photographs?
Text & Photography By Mark Edward Harris Published in Shooting
Photo Storytelling

We need a dramatic “opener,” an establishing shot that draws the viewer into our photo essay and gives some sense of what our photo essay is about. A photograph of school children in the Bahamas could illustrate our concept.

A good alternate would be one of the most visually striking events that takes place several times a week on the island of St. Maarten: the arrival of wide-body flights into Princess Juliana International Airport. By including a person on the beach, not only have we given scale to the photograph, but we’ve also created a sense of place and touched upon our subject matter. We now can depart into the body of our photo essay.


Portraits of people in their environment, whether it’s a park ranger in Yosemite or a fisherman showing off his catch with a boat and lake in the background, add an important human element to a photo essay, especially a travel-oriented one. The goal is to create an image that transmits emotional content and engagement with the subject and conveys a sense of the environment in which he or she lives, works or plays.

For our Caribbean photo essay, one of the unique aspects of St. Maarten/St. Martin is that half the island is Dutch (St. Maarten) and the other half, French (St. Martin). Within each side are people from around the globe.

To help illustrate the diversity, I did an environmental portrait of a young woman from Ethiopia, who now lives and works in St. Martin, against a mural in the town of Marigot, and an environmental portrait of a native of France who owns the restaurant Les Escargot in Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the island. When these two vertical images are next to each other in a layout, a visual drama is created.

With my photo essay firmly established on the diverse people of the Caribbean, I continue with a variety of close-up portraits and shots of people involved in daily activities, and then finish with a strong closing shot. In this case, the closing shot returns to the beach atmosphere of the opener and sums up the experience of relaxed island culture.
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