How To Start an Award Winning Photo Series in 2023
Shooting a photo series is a great way to challenge yourself to narrate a story with a curated selection of photographs. Get inspired with this guide.
Starting a photo series might just be the best thing you can do with your camera this year.
Whether you want to win an award or just need something to keep you motivated, a photo series that tells a story is a great way to challenge yourself.
This guide will inspire you with some photo series ideas at home and outdoors that I’ve tried in the past.
I’ll also show you some examples of famous photography series with inspirational narratives.
How Do I Start a Photo Series?
Each photographer has a different photo series-creating process. On the downside, this means there isn’t a step-by-step manual you can follow. The good news is that there isn’t a wrong way either.
One thing is for sure; you need to decide on a topic or an idea. Maybe you get an idea while reading a book or seeing an exhibition.
Perhaps, you make brainstorming sessions with the specific purpose of finding a subject for your next project. You can get inspired by anything – this is a personal process.
Another way to start a project is by looking at photos you already have. Maybe you notice a pattern – whether it’s a style or a subject. This means you’re already interested in something and can develop a project from there.
If you’ve never done this type of project before, you can start with a simple series. Something that doesn’t require too many images and that’s easy to create.
This way, you won’t get bored or frustrated if you’re used to working with single images where you can immediately see the final result. Of course, this is a personal choice.
Regardless of the subject, you should research it well whichever way you start. This lets you plan your shots and optimize the time and resources.
This way, you’ll know what sort of photos you need to tell the stories you want to photograph. This will determine the light so, the time of day, or whether you need flashes. You’ll know the camera and gear you’ll need, etc. Once you know this, you can make a shot list.
This doesn’t mean that the plans can change. As you take the photos, the plan will likely change. That’s OK. The original plan is just to keep you in focus.
In the end, remember to organize your photos and remove the ones that don’t work as part of the series. They may be great images on their own, but when you’re doing a project, you need to consider it as a whole.
How long is a photography series?
Technically speaking, more than one picture takes you out of single-shot photography and into the photo series category.
However, two photos hardly feel like a photo series, right? There isn’t a preset number of pictures. Each project will require a different quantity. It will also depend on how deep you want to go into the story you’re telling.
So, how many photos should be in a photo series? As many as you want.
Award-winning photographer Joris Hermans says that the longer, the better. This is because more images will let you dive deeper into the layers of the stories. Of course, each shot should make sense and add something to the series.
To decide how many photos you want to include in your series, you must look at them all. Lay out all the images you captured and start selecting.
Then, consider the narrative, the pace, and how the photos work together. If you feel it’s too long or some images seem redundant, remove them.
In the same way, if you feel like something is missing – add a picture that would complete what you want to show.
It’s helpful to ask your friends or colleagues for an opinion. Sometimes is difficult to judge objectively because you know the whole story.
How do you organize a photo series?
There are two possibilities when it comes to organizing the photos of a photography series.
The first one is when your photo series has a clear timeline. If you’re shooting the life cycle of a butterfly, you organize the pictures from the egg stage to the adult stage.
When the photo series doesn’t have a timeline, you should consider how the images work together. You need the images to tell a story, but they also need to look for the images that balance each other. To do this, you should consider the composition, the colours, the point of view, etc.
To organize a photo series, you must balance the narrative and the visual impact.
What Are Some Original Photography Series Ideas & Examples?
1. Everyday objects
One way to create a series is by connecting the images via the subject. You can choose any object that you find interesting, but that’s easy to find.
If you’re the type of photographer that never leaves the house without the camera, you can choose an object to document. Some examples may be doors, reflective surfaces, padlocks on bridges, etc.
Studio photographers can also do everyday objects photo series and use them to create still life images, for example. You can do a series about antique spoons, vases, or a tulip.
This is one of the most common photography series ideas. To find inspiration, you can look at any photography coffee table book section in your local bookstore or online.
Here are some examples.
- Doorways of Paris by Raquel Puig.
- Snowflakes in Photographs by W.A. Bentley.
- The Hidden Beauty of Seeds and Fruits by Levon Biss.
- Waiting: People in Transit by Dieter Leistener.
The passing of time is another popular theme for a photo series. This is because it is very versatile; you can adapt it to the genre of photography that you prefer.
Let’s say you’re a portrait photographer; then, you can use the same model and photograph them as time passes to see how they change. In still life, you can choose a subject that decays like a fruit or a flower and capture the process.
If you’re a landscape photographer, you can go to your favourite locations and take pictures at different times of the day or throughout the year. If you want to create a long-time photography series, you can capture a place changing through the years.
You can find some inspiration in the works of Karin van Mierlo.
3. Your community
Many photographers decide to do a photo series about their community. This is such a great idea because it’s something you already know.
So, whatever you decide to capture will be very personal. You’ll already have a connection with the series theme, which will communicate through your photos.
You can photograph a local festival, traditions and rituals, landscapes, people’s faces – whatever you find interesting.
When you want to use portraits as a theme of a photo series, you need to decide on something that connects them. If not, it would only be a portrait photography portfolio.
To connect a series of pictures, you can use the format and technique, the same style, and something every subject has in common with the others.
It’s a good idea to see what other photographers have done around this theme. One of the most famous photo series involving people is Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton.
Another project you can take as inspiration is Photo Notes by Hans Eijikelboom. He stood in busy streets observing people until he found a pattern. This could be their behaviour or their clothing style.
Once he did, he would start shooting and capture a picture of everyone who fitted into the pattern. He did this for over twenty years in multiple cities. He would then organize the photos in grids called Photo Notes.
5. Contrasting themes
The idea of using contrast to create visual interest is well-established in art history. You can apply the same principle to the idea of your photography project.
You can use opposites such as fire and ice, light and dark, and life and dead in your series. It can be as concrete or as conceptual as you want.
6. Visual coincidences
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Have you ever seen an image that amazes you of how the person happened to be at the right time and place?
In photography, capturing those fleeting moments is hardly a coincidence. It’s almost always the result of research, planning and a lot of patience.
You’ve probably heard about Cartier Bresson’s “decisive moment”. I encourage you to read the book as it goes much deeper than the widely spread idea of it being about capturing a transient event.
Instead, it’s more about using the vantage point, composition, and timing to capture the essence of a scene or a subject.
He talks about the elements in motion in the world finding balance at a certain moment where the photographer can capture them.
Aside from reading the book, you can also get inspired by looking at his work.
Another interpretation of the visual coincidences is the photography of Jonathan Higbee. His series Coincidences is a collection of photos taken in New York.
He photographed his subjects blending in with the city landscape at serendipitous moments. You can see the series on his website or Instagram feed.
7. Mixed media
Another project idea is to mix photography with other artistic expressions.
You can create a collage by developing photos or printing digital ones and pasting elements of each one to form artworks. Sara Cwynar uses photography for her collages and installations; you can see her work for inspiration.
You may also write or draw on the prints, Polaroids and negatives. You can see what Flora Borsi, Aliza Rasell and Valeria Trasatti create with this type of photography.
What Are Some Famous Photography Series?
If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some photo series examples from famous and award-winning photographers.
Notice how it’s more than just the photograph that’s intentional, whether it’s the titles, the format, etc. When you’re doing a photo series, you have to think about all of it.
1. Untitled Film Stills – Cindy Sherman
Untitled Film Stills is Cindy Sherman’s most famous photography series. During three years (1977-1980), she staged 70 black and white photographs mimicking various films.
She is the model in all the photos interpreting different roles. She chose a format that resembles the typical still made during film production. The photographs are all untitled with sequential numbering.
2. Before and After – Brad Freeman
The great thing about this photo series is that we can all relate to it. This is a Covid-19 isolation series, where Brad Freeman took 40 black and white 35mm photos of an empty Toronto.
The title Before and After comes from the idea that the pandemic was a watershed moment. He wanted to capture the in-between moment and what it felt like.
His brother made a short documentary about Brad at work during this project.
3. Unseen – Nicola Muirhead
This is another photography series about Covid-19. I chose another one to show you how the same idea can have a completely different interpretation from one artist to another.
Nicola Muirhead decided to document the Covid-19 period with Polaroid shots. Then, she manipulated them by using household chemicals.
“I started experimenting with cleaning products, interfering with the image like the virus had interfered with us, putting each Polaroid through a ritualistic ‘disinfecting’ process”, – she said in an interview to Shoot It With Film.
According to her website, the photo series started in London in March 2020 and is still ongoing. The series has been featured in multiple publications and was released as a limited edition book.
4. Flint is Family – LaToya Ruby Frazer
She was commissioned to do a photo series in Flint, Michigan. She decided to do it by documenting three generations of women dealing with the water crisis.
On location, she met Shea Cobb, who became the central figure of the photo series. She followed her on her bus routes and accompanied her to bring her daughter to school.
The author already used her photography skills to document a family facing an environmental crisis. She had done in the series The Notion of Family collaborating with her mother.
As you can see, the same theme can occur in different photography series ideas.
What Are Some Ideas for Photo Series Titles?
Sometimes you can choose a subject for your series by selecting a title that intrigues you. You can use a title generator online or even Chat GPT.
You may also use the title of a book you haven’t read and create a series of what you think it’s about.
Here are some titles to get your imagination going so you can grab your camera and start working.
- Dream of Fire.
- Made of Iron.
- The Girl in the Painting.
- Shores of Snow.
- The Purple Planet.
- Stranger to the Ocean.
- Without Direction.
- Harmony of the Forest.
- Blinded in the Mist.
- The Secret Life of the City.
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