The Photographer’s Story: Michael Freeman

The Photographer's Story: Michael Freeman

The Photographer’s Story: Michael Freeman

In preparation for Assignment 5, I decided to read Freeman’s The Photographer’s Story. It is a book all about the art of the visual narrative.  He begins by giving a background to the photo essay and explains the classic narrative formula in depth, the importance of establishing a rhythm of both an emotional and visual variety, to the pacing of the story, and how captions help photographs.

The classic example used for a photo essay is W. Eugene Smith’s The Country Doctor, which was featured in Life Magazine in 1948 and Freeman spends a lot of time covering the theme, agenda, preparation and planning of this shoot, then moves on to the layout and discusses the key shots. Figuring out the rhythm, pacing and opening and closer shots are key ingredients to a successful photo essay and probably the most difficult for a photographer who is his/her own editor as well.

The Country Doctor Layout

The Country Doctor Layout

Freeman then covers the different kinds of stories that occur and how best to treat each category. While some of the criteria are the same for each category, there are criteria that do obviously differ depending on the subject.  There are people stories, location stories, stories about how things are made, commodity stories, stories about activities, collection stories, institution and concept stories.

The final sections of the book are devoted to the picture script which is a visual plan of the shoot covering items such as location, setup, expected activities to shoot, arrangements with people regarding permissions, lighting, interviews and so on.

After making the images, one has to naturally edit the shoot. Freeman discusses the various methods, linking back to the classic example given earlier in the book and then covers the layouts. Progressing on from this he talks about the big photo books and how to work with those and break them down into logical chapters.

Finally he covers the new media methods of presenting a photo essay by using a slideshow. He goes into a lot of detail on how to rework the story for the internet, as the sequencing of the story on the web is linear and thus has to be treated differently to that of a printed essay.

This book is definitely going to serve as my handbook for Assignment 5. Well worth a few rereads as well for all the nuggets of valuable information in it.


Cosgrove, Ben (2012). W. Eugene Smith’s Landmark Portrait: ‘Country Doctor’ [online].  Life (Life Photo Essay). Available from: [Acessed 21 February, 2015]

Freeman, Michael (2012). The Photographer’s Story: The Art of Visual Narrative. Lewes, England: The Ilex Press.