The Multimedia Photo Essay: Photos and More

The Multimedia Photo Essay: Photos and More

In preparation for teaching some NGOs in Iraq how to tell their stories through multimedia photo essays, I’ve been visiting many incredible sites that are the home to some amazing photo essays. I want to link them for you in this post. If you are a photographer and interested in creating something similar to these; analyze them, look at how they start, what makes up the main body of work, how do they end? I think you’ll find some amazing conclusions. I think you’ll see that the old concept that every photo essay has an establishing shot, a medium shot, a detail shot and a conclusion has to be taken with a grain of salt. All these elements are in the story, no doubt. But the first shot may not always be a traditional tell all, establishing shot. These days when I look at a New York Times essay often the first shot is what I would call “The hook shot”.  It is a shot that grabs the viewer, entices them, draws them into the story. It could very well be the best shot of the essay. It might be the establishing shot that sets the stage, but it will be so compelling of a shot that the viewer is drawn in and can’t leave. The other main factor in a photo essay is a given, but not always adhered to by novices, that is every shot must be good enough to stand alone. Every shot! There should never be a shot put into the essay that is simply a placeholder or a fill. Each and every image needs to be strong. In fact, the stronger the better.

Ideally the essay needs a plot arc like a good book; background, details, the tension and paradoxes and the conclusion. You will find this in every story listed below.

A photo essay can run from anywhere from five photos to 35 photos or more. There are no hard and fast rules how many photos you need. What you need is enough photographs to tell your story and make your point. Make sure you know your story. Don’t run down rabbit trails with photos like a bad story teller does with words. Too many images get complicated and you risk loosing your viewer to boredom.

One of the things that excites me about where the photo essays is going, is the advent of audio beds. It can be something as simple as random ambient sounds; chickens clucking, car horns honking, footsteps and voices in the background. But often it is audio of the subject of this photo essay adding depth to their story. Another trend, but I’m not prepared to venture into quite yet, is the inclusion of video into the essay. The best examples of this are found at  Brian Storm has made a home for the best multimedia in the world. It is quite common for one of the videos hosted by to win an award. One of the most current is the photo essay entitled “The Rape of a Nation“, by Marcus Bleasdale, documenting the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which is said to be the deadliest war in the world today. An estimated 5.4 million people have died since 1998, the largest death toll since the Second World War, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Bleasdale just won the The Anthropographia Award for Photography and Human Rights.

One of the best over all examples of audio blended together with photographs is the series being done by Todd Heisler and produced by Sarah Kramer for the New York Times entitled “One in 8 Million“.  It is filled with brilliant images of Pulitzer Prize winner Todd Heisler, all supported by engaging audio and ambient sounds through out the shows. The shows are short, each averaging  no longer than 3 mins. The series simply tells the stories of people picked out of the crowd of New York’s 8 million people. Each image is an amazing photo that can stand on its own. In 2006 Heisler won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for “Final Salute,” a series of photographs, taken over the course of a year, profiling the funerals of Marines who died in the war. Heisler’s Powerful photographs combined with engaging audio makes One in 8 million unforgettable and a must-see.

Gojra, Korian, Pakistan attacks on Christian villages from gary s chapman on Vimeo.

There are a lot of other site that highlight this new and developing trend in multimedia. Here is a short list:, Magnum In Motion, The Back Snapper, and Vewd.)  The last site I want to cover is a friend of mine, Gary S. Chapman. Gary works freelance and many of his clients are Christian aide workers. You must visit his website and check out his multimedia work on Vimeo. Gary takes the tacked of not using a simple player like some of us. He mixes his images and video in Final Cut Studio to give an engaging mix of video effects, video frames and still images for something closer to a Mediastorm production. Gary’s shows are short and to the point yet very moving.

If you are like me and find that this is a genre that you really enjoy and are finding yourself drawn to with every click of your shutter, then spend some time lurking about the sites listed above. Then join me in creating compelling stories.

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About The Author

Matt Brandon

Matt is a Malaysia based humanitarian and travel photographer. Well known as a photographer and international workshop instructor, Matt’s images have been used by business and organizations around the globe. Matt also on the design board for Think Tank Photo, a camera bag manufacturer. In 2013 Matt founded the On Field Media Project to train the staff of non-profits to use appropriate technology to produce timely as well as quality images.


  1. Ray K

    Thanks Matt the first paragraph broke down what I have been seeing to the basics. Sometimes it is really good to hear the basics from someone in words I can understand.
    I to am finding that I am drawn more and more to the photo essay and check in on each of the sites you listed once a week. Compelling and exciting works.

  2. mariomattei

    Matt, wow there's a lot of resources in this post. Thanks. I love it when you focus on multimedia. I surely want to do more. I anticipate you being a key contributor to the visual peacemaking collection that will be growing on when the official site launches later this year. (I really wasn't planning to plug IGVP here… but oh well, I sure did 🙂

    Hey do a search on Phillip Bloom (vimeo and personal site). He's been in film for 20 years and is now doing a TON with DSLRs–artistic, experiment, testing, and stuff for clients.

  3. Matt Brandon

    Thanks Mario. Plug IGVP anytime you need. I am very aware of Phil Bloom. The guy is amazing. In fact I have been in contact about doing a Depth of Field with him.

  4. Marc-André Pauzé

    Hi Matt

    I just want to point out to you that that Vewd have not updated their site for almost a year. They have an essay of mine. I can't get in my profile to erase the pictures and they don't answer any of my emails. I wouldn't suggest anyone to send materials to them for now unless they make a shift in action and attitudes.

    Best regards



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