nar ● ra ● tive

A narative photo tells a story or shows a process.


the ● mat ● ic

A thematic photo documentary addresses a central theme or idea.


Photo Production

These tips are informed by a great article at Collective Lens.

The interesting and challenging goal of a photo documentary is to tell a story using only images. Now that you’ve found your story, the first thing you need to decide on the best way to tell it. There are two kinds of photo documentaries; narrative and thematic.

A narrative photo documentary shows a story or a process from start to finish.

• So, if you’re making a narrative photo documentary about your mom’s baking, you would start with pictures of her collecting ingredients for cookies, have pictures of mixing the cookies in the middle, and end with the finished cookies.

A thematic documentary focuses on a specific theme A thematic photo documentary chooses a theme, and then takes pictures that apply to that theme.

• So, let’s pretend that instead of showing your mom’s baking, you just choose to document cookies in general. You might photograph lots of different kinds of cookies, or show many different people enjoying cookies.

Once you have decided whether to do a narrative or a thematic photo essay, you might want to consider answering the following questions to help you discover what kinds of images will best convey your message.

• What tools or items are important in this community? If you’re photographing a skateboarding community, you might want to photograph a skateboard, skate shoes, etc.

• What specific locations are important to this community?

• Does this story require taking portraits of people? If so, what kinds of things should they be doing?

• Write 7-15 words that describe the community. What kinds of pictures could you take that convey these emotions or aspects of the community?

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