Photographing everything you like and want to share with your public is a great way to acquire technical and compositional skills. Diversity is good especially when you target commercial photography. However, when you find your inner voice as a photographer and focus on a limited range of subject matters, you need to learn how to present your portfolio cohesively and intuitively. The first step in your career as a photographer is to produce powerful and meaningful photo series.
What is a photo series?
A photo series is a series of photographs referring to the same subject matter. It usually requires between 10 and 25 images. However, they aren’t any 10 – 25 images with the same subject matter. A photo series needs to have a narrative line, a purpose, and a message.
The purpose of a photo series
You choose the purpose of a photo series when you choose the subject matter. The most common purpose is to document a subject, whether it’s a journey, a place, a category of people, or an aspect of nature. You can also choose to raise awareness on a subject, document an event, or focus on an aesthetic concept such as color, shape, or texture. Some photographers choose to dedicate a photo series to a technical skill (e.g. film photography) or digital effect (e.g. collages, distortions, painting over photographs). Nevertheless, the purpose of a series should be very clear to the public.
The message of a photo series
A series is a statement. You should be able to put your message in words and it is good practice to write it down. As any photograph needs a strong focal point, a photo series needs a strong message. You should be able to answer questions such as “Why did you photograph this subject matter?”; “What does it mean to you?”; “How do you want the public to react?”; “What emotions do you want to convey?”; and so on.
The narrative of a photo series
As with any narrative, once you have the characters (alias the subject matter) and the plot (alias the message), you need to build the action. A photo series gives you the opportunity to arrange individual photos in a meaningful way. Going from photo to photo, the public perceives time and space, which can be very useful for building a narrative. For example, you can arrange your photos using a timeline, a sequence of moods, or a sequence of places. You can guide the viewer through your visual story step by step. Try to avoid visual repetition and provide different perspectives of your subject. You can add a temporal dimension by photographing the same subject in different seasons or you can use conceptual contrast to emphasize aspects of your statement.
A powerful photo series is built with powerful photos. A weaker photo can ruin the entire series. Therefore, try to use only the photos you’re happy with, even if that means showing 9 photos instead of 10. It’s also important to choose well the first and the last photos because they have the biggest impact on the public. Creating photo series is a good exercise for beginners too because they didn’t find their photographic purpose and style yet. It helps them understand what they want to convey and why they chose photography as their artistic expression.