In June 2014 I took a trip to Uganda to photograph the charity Soft Power Education and their work. The plan was to create a book that would showcase their work and the people connected to the charity. I have recently finished the book and self published it via Blurb.
Although this is not my first photobook, it is the first with a clear and purposeful narrative that forms a documentary about Soft Power Education. Before and after the shoot I spent a lot of time researching what kind of images I would need and how to structure and create a flow for the final book.
This is an outline of the process and the journey I took to completing my finished book. It is not a definitive, exclusive or even the correct way to approach creating a photo documentary. But it is mine.
Pre shoot: Research, research, research.
Before the trip my time dedicated to the project was split very clearly across two areas: planning the trip and research. The research was then split into two areas. Firstly the location and subject, secondly what is involved in creating a photo documentary.
Location and subject research was mainly reading travel books, web searches and talking with the charity and understanding their work. I spent a lot of time on Google Earth looking at the landscape and areas I would be visiting.
As this was to be my first major photo documentary I needed to very aware of the types of images I would need to capture. For this I found lots of invaluable resources. Some of the key and most helpful were:
• Looking at the work of other documentary photographers. There are thousands. Some of my personal heroes are Steve McCurry,
Sebastião Salgado, Martin Parr and the late Tim Hetherington to name but a few.
• Understanding the concept of photo documentary and how they are structured was also vital. I found these resources very helpful amongst others:
The Photographer’s Story by Michael Freeman
Photography (Key Concepts)
This is a very useful link to an overview of The Photo Essay from CUNY with some great examples – CUNY Photo Journalism
From this research I created a list of key photos I wanted to capture, these were:
• Establishing shot
• The Clincher
These key shots would form the basic structure of my book. This is not a unique or original list, but one compiled from the various resources and information I researched.
Once I returned home, the process of editing and developing the flow of the book and layout started. For me this had 3 phases:
Phase 1: Edit of the Photos
First I worked out the overall structure of the book, each chapter and what content I wanted to include. Once I had determined this I grouped all the images I had taken accordingly.
• First Select: I did this about a month after the trip. Although I had looked through my photos and even selected some for various uses, (Social Media, the Charity etc.), I purposefully gave myself time to reflect on the trip and my time in Uganda. This select was done on the computer where I simply removed the generally poor images. These may have been poorly composed, out of focus or even irrelevant shots taken along the way.
• Second Select: I printed all the images from my first select at A5 (2 up on an A4 sheet). Then went through them and sub grouped them according to my shot list. I went through them and removed anything I didn’t feel would work in the overall story and images that were very similar or depicted the same subject.
• Third Select: I started to lay the shots from the second select out on the floor into an order that they might appear in the book (I kept all the ones I had previously removed to hand and often swapped some out). During this process I was trying to work out the story.
• Final Select: I took the selected images from the third select and flowed them in to the book layout using Indesign. Again I swapped out some of the images with ones previously removed.
Part 2: Final chapters, flow of photos, pace and rhythem
At this stage I started to work out size, grouping and order of the images on the pages of the book. I started to ask for feedback from other photographers, specifically that of other documentary photographers. I also started to work through the selected images, colour balancing and applying some minor sharpening to them. As this is a documentary I wanted the images to depict the world I witnessed exactly as it was. So I avoided retouching with the exception of one image, there was a light-flare across the subject, that had to go! However, I did not alter the scene in any way.
Part 3: Layout and production
Finally I started to develop the design of the book and prepare the artwork that would be sent to the printers.
Here is the final book.
Building Education on Blurb by Jhy Turley