Many budding photographers find that their work takes a distinctive leap forward once they start working on a photo series instead of just standalone images. This is because a well-conceived photo series will provide focus and naturally guide the photographer towards uncovering and defining their own distinctive style. This kind of project is excellent for those looking to create a portfolio or Instagram feed with a strong, cohesive look.
Even better, once the initial concept is defined, the photo series will be an easy go-to project, so less time is spent testing out ideas and more time is spent on shooting. This will lead to a huge boost in productivity and thus better imagery.
Of course, shooting a single theme does have the potential to become limiting, but this is exactly what makes it so valuable as a creative project. Returning to the same subject or theme time after time forces a photographer to really refine their skills, explore the limits of a subject, look for new perspectives, make surprising discoveries, and dig beneath the surface a little bit more.
To spark some ideas, we have found 7 inspiring photo series to help guide our photographers along the way. Each one provides a little lesson on how to create an awesome photo series.
01. Searching for Ideas
A photo series will generally require a greater investment of time than a standalone image, so it’s important to choose a subject that inspires some passion, love, or genuine curiosity. Some photographers choose to create a photo series of their favorite locations, while others relish the opportunity to spend time getting to know an intriguing person through a series of portraits. Many people also create beautiful photo series’ using much loved domestic subjects such as a changing window view or a collection of everyday objects.
Once the creative wheels start turning, ideas tend to pop up constantly. But in the meantime, it can be helpful to collect your favorite images and look for inspiration in your own archive of imagery. Perhaps some inspiring photos could be cropped really tightly to provide an alternative focus and mark the start of a new project.
One popular method is to focus on a single design element such as a shape or pattern. Have a look at French photographer Sebastian Erras' pictures of beautiful Parisian floors.
02. Choosing a Theme
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities of creating a photo series. So it helps to focus on the themes that are physically accessible and easy to repeat time and time again. This won’t just make life a whole lot easier, it will also help create an inherent sense of visual continuity to the project.
One beautifully simple and accessible project is UK graphic designer and photographer Kevin Day’s ‘One Dead Tree’ project. Day, who came across the tree during his morning walk, has photographed the same tree in very different conditions over ten years. We got in contact with Day who says, ‘I think that’s what has fascinated me more than anything else, there is this wonderful old tree unchanging over the years and yet I can take hundreds of photos of it during the seasons and very few of them look the same.’
03. Photo Series and Daily Life
Many photo series' focus on one aspect of a morning walk, train journey, taxi ride or mealtime. This is because the easiest way to make a series stay alive is by integrating it into your daily workflow. This is also a really lovely way to make a creative project a very natural part of daily life.
London-based lawyer Toni Shonibare rises early each morning to explore the ‘Square Mile’, a financial district in the heart of London that includes a number of architectural landmarks. Shonibare is inspired by the juxtaposition of old and new elements and says his biggest challenge is finding a way to create a common theme or style in his images.
A couple of key elements tying his images together are their strong, tight crops and the focus on geometric elements.
04. Identifying Consistent Parameters for a Cohesive Style
As a photo series is being collated, variations will turn up in the lighting, subject matter and other random elements. These variations can make a photo series easily look disjointed or messy, so it’s really important to decide what common stylistic parameters will be used to define the series.
A seemingly disparate set of images will often look like it belongs together if every subject is framed in a similar way, shot from the same perspective or focussed on a particular color. Whatever your preference, choose something that will make the theme immediately identifiable at a glance.
One of the coolest photo series that focuses on color is the Pantone Project. Italian graphic designer Andrea Antoni searches out locations with natural examples of Pantone color swatches.
05. Growing the Project through Shooting for Original Results
Seasoned creative professionals know that sometimes the most well-planned photo can be dull and uninspired on shooting day. This can be very disconcerting to someone in the early or even middle stages of exploring the art of photography. But this point often marks the stage at which a project veers into more organic and original territory.
It often helps to play around with the initial idea, branch out, explore alternative perspectives, consider adding props found onsite or search out unexpected plays of light. Even if the initial concept is going well, it always helps overshoot everything. When it comes to editing, be alert to the possibility of finding the theme through alternative crops or unusual details.
As with all good photography, the best images usually result from testing out a variety of approaches and being open to the unexpected.
US photographer Thom Gregory has generated an intriguing photo series by shooting females with their faces covered or obscured by unusual objects. Some of the images are photoshopped while others contain an element of the unexpected.
06. Thinking Long Term
The individual images from a photo series only really need to tell a small part of a larger story. Each image doesn’t have to have a big bang in visual terms. Instead, it’s best to think of each image as a little glimpse that works best when the series is seen as a whole.
Building up a series through these little glimpses can prove to be a really immersive experience for followers over time. This is why it’s so fantastic for developing an engaged audience on social media.
The Instagram stories feature has been a great boost to this kind of storytelling. Of course, Instagram images are usually seen in a small format so if you are shooting primarily for Instagram, it’s best to keep the images very tightly cropped.
For inspiration, have a look at photographer Dylan Isbell’s series on New York. Isbell has managed to create a very cohesive portrait of a huge and wildly diverse city, simply by focussing on its reflective surfaces.
07. Post Production Essentials and other Technical Notes
A photo series with a huge amount of variation can look extremely cohesive and tightly focussed, with the right approach to editing. This involves paying close attention to consistent color temperature, saturation levels, focal points, and filters. One common telltale sign of technical inconsistency is a series of similar images with wildly varying white backgrounds.
To avoid these problems, it’s crucial to keep a record of the lighting and editing process right from the beginning. If you are using artificial lighting, take a wider photograph of the setup complete with lighting positions and props in the frame so the same look can be replicated again and again. If you are using photoshop for editing, create and properly name a recorded action to repeat the edits. It can be surprisingly difficult to recreate the same look over time.
The following project by UK blogger allthatisshe is shot in a home situation with lots of different props, but it’s a good example of how technical consistency and framing can be used to hold a fairly simple setup together.
Finally, creating a project-specific hashtag for your photo series is a good way to engage an audience. Just think of the viral #followmeto hashtag popularized by Murad Osmann. Also, don’t be surprised if the project turns out to be far larger than originally conceived - once you find a passion for the subject, decide on the visual theme, start exploring and editing, you’ll find that a photo series tends to take on a life of its own. These are the kinds of creative projects that grow large as subjects reveal themselves, followers are engaged and visual connections are made over time.