Photo Essay Inspiration

So, I have made a shot list, edited it, altered it, thought about it, shot a few, altered it again… somehow I am finding it difficult to conceive shots that will convey the story I am trying to tell.

Time to find some inspiration.. older active people, having a great time, laughing together, enjoying life, each other, the outdoors and being part of a group.

I suppose that it doesn’t help when I consider that the first event I photographed was a memorial ride for members who have passed away – not exactly the mood I am after.

How about shots like these instead?  How will I get them?? I don’t really want to stage shots, but then, this is an essay, not a record of an event.. at what percentage of staged shots does it become a photo shoot and not a story??  Questions to ponder..but in the meantime, onto the inspiration shots!


Imaged sourced at



Image sourced at

THIS image gives me a new idea.. should I sprinkle quotes and other text through my essay for context??  Ask some of the people I photograph what Ulysses and the activities/friendships mean to them??  That is something to follow up, I will make sure I get some quotes from the subjects of further images, I should create a list of questions to ask them to lead them to the sort of quote I am after…

“what does being a ulysses member mean?” “what would you do if you couldn’t ride””why do you prefer to ride with older people?” those could be a starting point.  But for now, back to some images


Image sourced from

Perhaps something like this with bike gloves on?? not sure it tells the story that I want.. but some test shots should help




Image sourced from

I LOVE this image, and I could put context in by having the subjects keep their helmets on, with the visors up.. open face helmets and riding jackets would be ideal.




Week 3 notes

This weeks class had some interesting powerpoint presentations, along with discussions etc.. I have decided to blog the notes I took so that I can go over them later for inspiration.

The powerpoints in particular, were wonderful inspiration for WHY documentary photographers do what they do.. by documentary, I mean not the correspondent photographers, but personal projects.  I hope that by referring to these notes, I can be inspired with my photo essays, which at this stage, while being assessed, are personal as well, as I have been able to choose the subject.

NO SECONDS – Death Row Meals by Henry Hargreaves

This photo essay can be seen at

Hargreaves has researched the last meals of many of the American’s who have been executed for their crimes and recreated those, with appropriate settings, ie; cutlery, tableware etc.  He has also listed the criminal and some details, the crimes for which they were executed and the contents of the meal.

These photographs are quite stark, all photographed from the same angle, straight above, with quite harsh and flat lighting, with the emphasis being on the contents of the plate, which are not unattractively styled, but not beautifully presented either.  Care has been taken to recreate the meals within the constraints of the era, using correct cutlery stules etc.

Hargreaves makes no judgement on the people who ate these meals, the chosen meals were selected because they were unusual and appealed to him, he has noted details that fascinated him, like the former KFC manager who chose that food for his last meal, is it irony, or was it included for it’s ‘creepy’ factor?

Reasons stated for this image series were firstly curiosity, how is a last meal served?? And when researched, Hargreaves could find no previous work on this subject.  He hasn’t tried to create any messages that need decoding with this series, merely to start a dialogue, and making people aware of the use of the death penalty .  He considers the negative reactions that this series has gained (comments like “cashing in”) as a measure of success, because it’s a reaction.

This series is ongoing, as it has been exhibited, and updated for that.  As he believes that food tells us about ourselves, he hopes that maybe we will discuss our last meals and what they would say about us.. perhaps to find some common ground with someone who has been put to death by their own people??

Stephen Dupont

Dupont is an Australian photographer who has captured many haunting images of conflict around the world.  He has received numerous awards for his work, and published several books of personal projects that are not conflict related as well.

Dupont works in the instant, he rarely has preparation for a shot, and will even use a blurry image as he believes it can still tell a powerful story, capturing the emotion of the moment.

Closeness is his trademark, he becomes part of the scene he is photographing and has taken harrowing images from less than a foot from the subject, although he feels very responsible for infringing someone’s personal space, and remains aware of the very fine line between documenting and invading in that sense. He frequently finds himself having to cut off emotionally in order to continue his career, but is always affected after the fact.

Dupont’s images rarely tell the whole story, they always leave the viewer asking questions and wanting to find out more.

Watching these two interviews and presentations made me aware of some important considerations in documentary photography, and the class discussed the following points.


  • – Intervention – do you always JUST take the photo, or do you step in.. how do you decide which?
  • – Social responsibility – which is more important, getting the story out there to the rest of the world, or doing something immediate, this relates to the above point very well.
  • Controversy VS Intention – are some images published merely because they will create a storm of controversy, is that a good enough reason to take an image?
  • Truthfulness – will an image be taken out of context and not tell the story it was intended for
  • Exploitation – should consent be gained from subjects at all times?? if you are profiting from someone’s misery, how do you reconcile that?


These relate to ethics.

Impartiality – a documentary photographer must document, not enter a conflict

Permission – ideally, get it beforehand, or at least ask afterwards


Along with responsibilities, photographers have certain rights when on public ground, but it is ultimately up to the individual to check that those rights apply on location.

Assessment notes — shoot list and other ideas

I have been trying to decide on an approach for this photo essay, as my focus is the social aspect of motorcycle clubs for older Australians, I find myself needing images that highlight age and friendship, but these are applicable to so many organisations that provide exactly the same thing.. how to set the Ulysses club apart??

My first outing after deciding on this approach was a 4 branch ride to Mount Macedon Cross, where a memorial service is held every year for members who have ridden on – the term given to those who have died, no matter what the cause.  This ride is organised by the Geelong branch and is very well attended, this year over 100 bikes despite freezing weather.  I hoped it would be a good chance to get some great shots.

I came away with about 100 images, some of which were just memories for me and for the clubs who attended.  I decided against using them because they aren’t applicable, and many were staged – members standing a little stiff in front of plaques etc, details of bikes that I really liked and wanted to show friends etc.  However, there were a few images that I hope will be suitable.

To be perfectly honest with myself, I NEED to update my shoot list.. create one that I can keep on me every time I see a group of bikes together and attempt to cross a few off.. so, thinking caps on…

Images highlighting age of members – old men in helmets?? walking sticks balanced on motorcycles??

Images of safety gear – it is obvious to me from just looking around, that older riders are FAR more likely to own all available safety gear and to use it consistently, it is almost impossible to see a rider over 50 in sneakers or shorts.

Images of close friends, perhaps embracing or shaking hands, with blurred bikes in the background??

Ride leaders giving pointers before the start to a group of riders, group shots will highlight the social aspect

Panned shots – these are great action shots which give a marvellous feeling of freedom.  I must check with my instructor to see if it’s acceptable to stage these, as otherwise they will be difficult to get.

I would love to get some images  of small stores in tiny country villages, many of whom can see a week’s profit in a few hours if a group of Ulyssians decide to stop for coffee or lunch.  I am trying to stay away from cliched images like a line of bikes outside a cafe, but in reality, that does tell this part of the story.. perhaps if I could get an angle overlooking a table with coffee and cake down to the line of bikes???

At least I have decided on my closing shot… I want to get a group of bikes (at least three) heading down a long straight road, hopefully hilly, shot from behind in golden hour light.. I KNOW I will have to stage this shot, but I could arrange to do it at the start or the end of a ride, there are some lovely roads like this on many of our regular ride routes.

Reading through this list, I am a little worried at the number of shots that may need to be styled to be effective. I have to talk to my instructor about this and see if I can get some pointers.  I will also look through images on the internet and in some publications to see if other inspiration strikes, it’s a lot more difficult than I thought to come up with a shot list.

I have also started rethinking permissions.  I explained at Mt Macedon what I was doing and hoping to achieve to several of the riders that I photographed, and one told me not to bother, it wouldn’t change the laws, and that older riders didn’t want that sort of attention.. hmm.. didn’t think I would come up against resistance, and I don’t know how to answer it.  Do I need to rethink my pitch to the riders?? if so, how can I word it to overcome that objection??

Text over images?? along with my essay, explaining why I chose this subject and what these photos mean to me and those in them, should I perhaps sprinkle in some quotes from places like who are quite active politically?? This isn’t a political essay, but I feel that pointing out that there are laws in the offing that will jeopardise this way of life could be a valid point.

Assessment 1 part 2 – Researching

Research your proposed publication and its agenda and aesthetic. Who is its audience and how is photography used to communicate ideas?

With a range of topics discussed in each issue, the Big Issue reaches a wide audience, but appeals directly to those who consider they have a ‘social conscience’.   The magazine is very pro active in maintaining transparency, with several areas of the website, and each issue explaining exactly how the consumer price is divided up, and re stating their independent stance.

The photographs in the magazine are used to highlight stories, and especially to put a human face on the articles.  While many articles have only one image, there are several articles in each issue with multiple images, varying from quite candid shots, to technically complex, well set up studio images, and everything that can possibly range between.

Describe the magazine’s typical reader

A typical purchaser of the Big Issue is me.  Well, probably a little younger than me (I am 49), judging by the people who I watch stop and buy outside Southern Cross station (where I first became aware of this magazine).  To hazard a semi educated guess after watching one vendor, I would estimate the average age at 30.  They seem to be quite well educated, judging by the breadth of articles, have a keen interest in the world around them, and are willing to step up and be counted about current issues that affect their world, and the world of those around them.

What kind of stories does the magazine run?

There are many subjects in each issue, with the publication priding itself on covering a variety of topics and in their approach.  Serious when needed, but always with a number of humorous or quirky articles to maintain reader interest, I have seen articles on creating the perfect retreat for a teenage girl’s room (thus confirming my belief that middle age Australians, who I am interested in reaching, are among the target audience) to an article on touring abandoned buildings in Europe, through to interviews with celebrity chefs.  Each issue contains an article which highlights one of the vendors of the magazine, keeping an important human face on the enterprise.  The website and several advertisements in each issue also offers information on other programs that the organisation runs, with an emphasis on empowering disadvantaged or marginalised women, and education of children about social issues.

How many photographs are used in a feature story?

Each story has varying requirements for images and word count, with guidelines being listed on the FAQ page, however, there appears to be a lot of flexibility around those guidelines, with my count for one article being six images, which appears to exceed the stated guidelines.

How are the photographs used within a feature story?

Photographs are used to create interest within a story, portraits of interviewees being quite common,  pictures of topical interest quite often being on the cover (the current issue shows a horse and a pretty girl in a spring races outfit), several stories will show pictures that illustrate various points within that story, and others will depict and emphasise the humorous or serious side of the story.

Are the pictures mainly informative or illustrative?

The vast majority of the pictures do appear to be illustrative, but again, there is a wide range that changes per issue, I can discern no set ratio.

Does the magazine use one style of photography or a variety of approaches?

With many photographs being taken by the contributing author, they vary widely according to the taste and style, and indeed, the equipment available.  The magazine does frequently commission photographers and other artists for various articles.

If the magazine commissioned you, what other factors would you need to consider when planning your shoot?

As I have changed the focus of my story after discussions with several people, including my lecturer and some potential subjects,  I would need to consider the national focus of the magazine, and attempt to find sources from different areas, so as not to seem too ‘local’ for publication.  I would also need to keep the tone quite upbeat to appeal to the widest possible number of readers.

Process Diary – Assessment 1, Work in Progress

I am looking to compare the negative media portrayal of motorcycle clubs, with the reality of the vast majority of motorcycle riders.

Who to target this at?? Ideally 30-50 year olds, who are seen as looking forward to the social aspect of retirement, and maybe even planning for it.  With the Ulyssians as my counter subject to the media hype and fear, many of that age group who ride will have heard of them.

To this end, I will need to start with a slide that is a collage of media images, overlayed with headlines, this will mean a LONG bibliography list!

I plan to counter that by taking images of my own.. images of charity rides, images of small towns benefiting economically from groups of motorcyclists visiting, not sure how to do that one, possibly a line of bikes outside a small cafe? – a smiling store owner handing a coffee over to a leather clad motorcyclist??

I want to include the absurdity of the new laws in various states, but how to do that in an image??

There needs to be some images of conservative motorcyclists, wearing correct safety gear, on fuel efficient scooters etc

Also needed will be a shot that epitomises the social aspect of motorcycle riding.


OPENING SHOT – to set the scene, but not tell the whole story

REVEAL – introduce characters

ENVIRONMENTAL – show characters and their relevance to the story – 2-3 images

DETAIL – use to add body to story , similes acceptable

MOMENT/ACTION – summarise the essay with a single shot

EFFECTS – consider using blur, flash or pan shots

CLOSING SHOT – end of story.

Written Essay

Can be quite personal, must explain reasoning behind the theme and should provide context



collage of media images (not mine, but credited), perhaps a Ulysses image on the right of the slide?


Social shot showing friendship, perhaps in riding gear with bikes in background?


old guy at Calcallo service station, too old to ride, but still goes to say hi.  Ride leader in cafe shoot, Image from charity ride with toys or disabled people that we help?


panned shot of bikes on road (rural background), two old clasped hands???


group shot of more than 3 bikes (that is number law affects) heading down a long road


I will need permission from the riders and charities and retailers that I photograph, and I will need to properly credit all media sources – I also need to reference the dates and times of all rides, and all quotes from those who give them.

I also need to research submission guidelines for the Big Issue, my intended publication

Insurance?? probably not an issue in this case, as I will be covered by CTP while on rides.

OHS – I have all appropriate safety gear and riding gear from being involved with motorcycles for so long


Some sources so far:

Hunter S Thompson quote “Hells Angels is a 100 carat headline”

Assessment 1 – Pitching Your Idea

Decide on a subject, your story angle and consider what magazine, newspaper or other media outlet might be interested to publish it.  Your story should be something you are interested in and which you have a passion for and wish to explore further. Whilst it is important you have the agreement and cooperation of your subject, you must present your story from your own subjective viewpoint and in the context of your proposed media audience.

My story is going to be how, despite the recent media sensationalist hype about bikie gangs, and the many new laws targeting them, many Australians are still enjoying motorcycle riding as a social and group activity, with a particular emphasis on the older Australians who are members of the  Ulysses club, the largest motorcycle riders club in Australia, whose membership is restricted to those aged over 40, and a vast majority of members are over the age of 60.

After much consideration and considerable research, I have decided to submit to the Big Issue as a lifestyle piece, focusing on the quality of social activities offered to older Australians through the Ulysses club, it’s activities, wide network of members, and their charity work for various organisations.

Research your proposed publication and its agenda and aesthetic. Who is its audience and how is photography used to communicate ideas?

The Big Issue are a not for profit based publication and independent publishin company, their ethic is to help the disadvantaged while providing a slightly irreverent view on culture, current affairs, lifestyle news and opinion.  It is edited by a Walkley award winning journalist and author.

The Big Issue is an Australia wide paper publication with a well established web presence, whose articles are mostly targeted at those interested current affairs and other social issues. Photographs are used in nearly all articles, with many having several supporting images to convey the relevant message of the author.

Write a persuasive pitch explaining why your proposed publication might be interested in publishing your story. Explain why it would be of interest to their readers and what knowledge, skills and access to your subject you have that makes you qualified to shoot it.

I believe that the Big Issue will appreciate the point of view of my essay, as quite often motorcycling is seen as a young person’s activity, and frequently, the valuable social activity aspect for older Austrlaians is not widely known.  I hope to present it in a way that shows the fun times and some of the Ulysses motto of ‘grow old disgracefully”. With an aging population, the social interaction needs of older Australians is quite topical and can create interesting discussions among a wide cross section of society.

Write down the feedback you have received from your photo editor/lecturer and how it has helped you refine your story idea.

During discussions in class, it came to my attention that not many people were aware of motorcycle clubs as a social entity, and only a small number aware of the laws that are currently being rushed through several states.  After reflection on the discussions held, I decided to change the focus of my story to the social aspect of the Ulysses club for older Australians, as opposed to the absurdity of the various laws that were discussed.  I also realized that I was unaware of my of the independent media producers in Australia, so further research was required in that regard.

By changing the focus of my story, and making it a much more positive piece about a popular leisure activity, I hope to broaden the appeal and to be able to create more compelling images.