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Paul Taggart, whose work has appeared in publications such the New York Times and National Geographic, has photographed dozens of photo essays—from stories of civil unrest in faraway lands to a kid's first camping trip. Here, he discusses the key concepts behind great photojournalism: the types of photos that make up a photo essay, the research and planning that goes into shooting one, and the art of sequencing the final shots in a way that tells the story. He also talks about the prospects for storytellers in the Internet age, and shows examples of photo essays that he has shot for major magazines and for his own personal projects.
So every great photo essay or photo story, or at least in my process, starts with research. Once you've got the idea of what you want to shoot, or the concept, then it's time to like, get down and dirty and spend the time doing your research. And nowadays it's all online but the more informed you are about the topic that you're shooting the better your pictures are going to be because you're going to come up with ideas that you never had before. A couple years ago, I was in Congo and working on a photo essay about some of the illegal mining that goes on there. And once I started doing research and looking at maps on where some of these mines were, and some of the organizations that were controlling them, I got all sorts of new ideas of what kind of images I needed. The next step for me then, once I'm in the field and I've flown into the country is, I sit down, I have a little notepad that I carry around, and I actually start storyboarding these things.
And a lot of these images that I draw never end up in the final photo essay, but for me it's just a way to get my brain thinking visually, and also they act as placeholders in the story. So it's like, okay, I'm going to need these 20 images, and I already start thinking out, you know, these different elements I'm going to need to put in those places. and like I said, those elements will change. You know, I might want this one picture and it's going to rain that day and I can't take that picture because it was raining. I didn't have the light that I wanted. But then, you know, it informs another image so, but always, sort of, I actually, you know, between the storyboards and in the shot list, I literally just go down and start crossing these things off. And then, you know, as I'm shooting, I'm adding new things to the top of the list and new things to the bottom of the list, and I'm crossing off. But for me I need that structure to work in, and it just gets my brain thinking in the right, in the right direction.
So, because once you get on that plane and you fly home, there's usually, for me, I don't have enough money to fly back and re-shoot the thing. So if you don't get it in the can then, you're not going to get it.
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