This article is the brainchild of Bob Hills, who organized the content, wrote the original draft (and edited several more), solicited the images, and continues to inspire other photographers with his work. Also worth noting is that all the images in this post are thumbnails. Clicking one opens a slideshow to see larger versions of the entire series
As photographers, many of us have websites with “galleries.” The gallery is a useful tool to organize stand-alone images into a logical group or collection thereby enhancing the viewing experience. Each can include a few images or several dozen. Photo galleries typically originate when the photographer assembles similar images from their existing portfolio and, later, may expand the collection with new, fresh material.
While we aim for each image to tell its own story, we know that one image isn’t always enough. More breadth is sometimes required, and thus more images, to provide the full story regarding our connection to the subject. This interest in creating a more comprehensive photographic narrative led me on an investigation of the “photo series” and to eventually discover its potential to make a stronger visual statement while also exploring new creative possibilities.
In working on different photo series over the years, I’ve discovered several characteristics that distinguish them from images grouped into a gallery.
- The photo series is more premeditated in that it is planned before the creative work begins or early in the creative cycle.
- There is a tight, overarching theme to a series with each image contributing to enhancing and conveying that theme with less emphasis on making each image unique and distinct.
- There is likely a deeper connection between the photographer and the subject matter that drives the initial capture of images and the subsequent development and organization.
- It follows that photographs in a series are often edited with the same method and in a similar style to bolster coherence.
Examples of photo series (or portions of them) are shown throughout this article.
A good photo series provides an enhanced viewing experience.
- The series has a cumulative effect beyond individual images being considered on their own merits.
- It capitalizes on the phenomenon that the human brain is stimulated by identifying trends, patterns, and other unifying elements in imagery.
- There is the effect of expanding on the theme, or storyline, with each additional image.
This last point lends itself to the metaphor between photography and writing. A good individual image can tell a story, like writing an article or short story. If the image is part of a compelling series, that image becomes a chapter, and the entire series forms the novel around the theme.
A photo series can also presents viewers with an alternative and perhaps unexpected viewing experience.
- The viewer will get a broader perspective on the subject or theme than can be derived from a single image.
- A well done series communicates the photographer’s personal connection to the images and their intention to explore this relationship artistically.
- The viewer will likely regard the photographer as having studied the subject and developed some expertise on how to capture and present it.
In the end, a well done series engages the viewer to consider both the images and the photographer in a positive manner.
Producing a photo series should provide a satisfying experience for the photographer.
- It gives them a chance to tell a bigger story than can be told with a single image.
- Developing a series allows the photographer more time to take a deeper dive into their subject, theme, or concept.
- There is the opportunity for a more meaningful learning experience compared to jumping between unrelated images since the time and effort to create a series often requires new approaches and solving a broader set of problems.
As the photo series unfolds, the satisfaction is not just in the pictures. The creative process of making the series can itself be as rewarding as the final images.
As a photographer, how do you go about producing a photo series? The first step is to decide what you want your series to be about. Ideally, you would come up with an idea before you get started. However, it would be more common to stumble on the idea for a series as you capture or process individual images, or experiment with different techniques. The plan or thought for a series will be spurred by excitement, a personal connection to the subject, the desire to serve a cause, or simply to take on a bigger challenge. Always be thinking about “series” possibilities in order to catch potential ideas early on. And when inspiration strikes, be sure to follow through by making additional, similar images to see where it might lead you.
Once you have decided on the cohesive theme and style for your series, a certain level of commitment and perseverance is required to complete a set of supporting images. You do not necessarily need to work on a series in one continuous block of time or exclusively. However, it is easier to stick to the theme and style if you can work on it with some regularity in order to keep the momentum intact.
The final challenge is the same as with any work of art: deciding when it is done. The shooting, editing, and curating of images can, of course, be endless, so the real question becomes when to share your series with a larger audience. In general, the answer to that question is to do it sooner rather than later. Once you have a minimal number of images (like three) that you feel communicate something bigger than the content of the individual pictures, you likely have a series. However premature this may feel, sharing the product may help you find direction and incentive to continue. The reality is that a series never needs to end unless you want it to. If the subject, theme, techniques, and exploration continue to be of interest; and you can consistently create new images around that theme, then both you and your audience will continue to benefit. A series doesn’t have to be a one-off event. If you’re lucky, it can also be a life-long passion.