Shoot to an Outline for a Photo Story or Essay


by Stanley Leary

 Figure 1
Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.
--Thomas A. Edison 
A few blogs earlier I talked about the importance of picking a good subject. Here is a link to that blog,
Once you have your subject, take the time construct an outline of how you would tell the story.
Here are some photos from my last coverage on a coffee farmer’s cooperative in Mexico. I am going back to do more stories on them.
Figure 2
Take these categories if you need to as a starting place and fill in for each one of these things you would shoot.
1.Opener: Sets the scene for the story
2.Decisive moment: The one moment that can by itself tell the story
3.Details: Besides being like visual candy to the story, help often with transitions--especially in multimedia packages
4.Sequences: give a little variety to a situation
5.High overall shot: Gives a good perspective to how the elements all fit together
6.Closer: Besides the classic shot of the cowboy riding off into the sunset there are other visual ways to help bring the story to a close
7. Portraits: These photos are great for introducing the characters of the story
Figure 3
These are from a story I did on coffee farmers in Mexico that formed a cooperative. Before the cooperative they made so little money many of them were crossing the border as illegal immigrants so they could work to earn enough to feed their families, which usually stayed behind.
Figure 4
I needed to tell two stories. First about how the coffee the cooperative grows is the finest Arabica. I also needed to tell the story that after joining the cooperative the lives of the farmers and their families got a lot better.
Figure 5
As you are there one day this incredible moment happens that you had not planned for or even knew this happened. You make a portfolio shot even. You add this to the package. In the end when you put your total package together it might make the cut and it might not. The point is you can go off script, but the script helps you tell the story.
You may even change up the outline as you are shooting. Having the outline helps you start and navigate the story better than getting up in the morning grabbing your camera and just waiting for something to happen so you can capture it.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
― Benjamin Franklin
Here is a brief outline of what I had before shooting the story on the coffee cooperative.
1.    Showing the coffee on the plant and being harvested
2.    Removal of what is left of the fruit from the bean
3.    Drying coffee on slabs of concrete
4.    Roasting the coffee
5.    Bagging the coffee and grinding the coffee
6.    Coffee farmers working in each of those settings
7.    Coffee farmers in their homes
8.    The families and what they do (mainly to show before and after)
9.    Show how dangerous crossing the border is for a person 
a.     Showing them remembering all those who died crossing
b.     Showing putting water in desert for crossers
c.     Maybe show some in the desert waiting to cross in darkness
10. Show what happens when they are caught
Without a list you may spend 80% of your time just on growing the coffee.  But, by having a list, you then can divide your time up and have a storyline that will come together.