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How to Make a Photo Series

night portrait one

A photo series can often be a lot more powerful than a single image. You can show something change over time or from a different perspective. Here’s how to make one.

A photo series is anywhere from around three images to a few hundred (or even thousand) that are related by some overarching theme. One of my favorite examples is Christopher Herwig’s Soviet Bus Stops, an in-depth photo exploration of the architecture of bus stops in the former USSR, but photo series can be built around almost any theme. The images in this article are a series of portraits I shot by streetlight in Dublin, Ireland.

The significant advantage of a photo series is that you’re not confined to a single image. Think of your (or your parent’s) wedding album. While there are important individual photos, the album is a whole is way more than the sum of its parts. It tells the story of the whole day, rather than just giving a brief glimpse into one moment. It’s almost impossible to distill a lot of things down to one photo, but with six, ten, or however many more you need, you can say a lot more.

Photo series require a little bit more planning than individual images, but not a huge amount more. Once you decide on your subject, processing, and presentation, capturing the individual images can be relatively simple. Often one image will suggest the next. A photo of the wedding rings is followed by a photo of the exchange of rings, for example.

Let’s dig in a little more.

Take a Photo of the Same Subject

What separates a photo series from a collection of random images is that all the pictures in a photo series share a common subject. This subject can be obvious and concrete, like Herwig’s Soviet bus stops or my nighttime portraits, but it can also be more ambiguous. It’s possible to shoot a photo series where the subject is “happiness,” “a sense of home,” or something equally abstract.

Of course, starting with a simpler subject will make it easier for people to see the relation between the images. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend going this route as going after a more abstract theme requires a bit more thought to do right. The last thing you want is for your series to just look like someone’s first album of snapshots.

When it comes to picking your theme, it’s best to go with something you feel strongly about and can think creatively about. Taking a series of photos of your friends, your pets, or your home town are all easy options to begin with. If you don’t feel strongly about something or don’t have many ideas about it, you’ll struggle to come up with decent image concepts.

Shoot the Photos Deliberately

Night portraits

Once you have a subject in mind, it’s time to shoot your images (although this step can overlap with the next one, processing). It’s important to keep your overall subject in mind while you do.

There are two main options you have when you’re shooting a series: you can deliberately shoot all the photos in a similar style so that they match or explore contrasts by shooting at different times, with various lenses and settings.

If you decide to keep things broadly consistent across images, it’s a good idea before you start to settle on the range of focal lengths, apertures, and shutter speeds you’re going to use, as well as what time of day and in what lighting conditions you’ll shoot. For example, I shot a series around my home town only during the golden hour in the morning and evening with my Canon 5DIII and 17-40mm lens. By limiting myself to a set time and lens, the photos all had a similar look.

The other option is to use a mixture of different lenses and shooting techniques to explore the same subject from different perspectives. For example, you can combine wide landscape shots with macro detail shots of flowers, or explore one location at different times of the day or year.

Whichever way you decide to capture the images, it’s important to do so deliberately. Don’t just randomly shoot pictures of the same sort of thing and hope that they’ll count as a photo series. Put some thought into it.

Process the Images in the Same Way

Night portraits
Harry Guinness

Once you’ve captured a few images, it’s time to start processing them. While it’s always important to edit your digital images, it’s an especially critical step in shooting a photo series. This is where you can tie everything together, just as I did by using a similar black and white process with all the portraits.

While you can choose to capture your images in different ways to emphasize contrasts, it’s generally best to use processing to highlight similarities. Your images should be processed with a consistent approach, like the method I outline in this article on improving any digital image. By using the same color palette, contrast, crop ratio, and the like, your photo series will look like a coherent body of work, rather than just a scattering of photos.

Present the Images Together

Night portraits
Harry Guinness

For a photo series to work as a whole, all the images, or at least a large selection, must be presented together as one piece of work. Presenting them singly just reduces them to individual photos.

There are plenty of ways to make sure your images are seen as a series, from the traditional method of putting them in a photo album or framing them all on a wall, to uploading them to Facebook all in one go. Personally, for small photo series, I like to combine all the images into a single image in Photoshop. That way, when I share it on social media, they can’t help but be seen together.

Once you get past taking snapshots, deliberate photo series are a great way to push yourself creatively—and develop a decent body of work.

Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like the New York Times and on a variety of other websites, including Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »
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