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Photo essay design


In this lesson, students will design a photo essay using photographs that they have taken by making use of a digital design program such as InDesign. The lesson is written to give students approximately 90 minutes of work time, but that time could be adjusted based on students’ previous experience with the design software and/or access to the software outside of class time.

For more information about planning a design space effectively, look at the design lesson called “Effective placement and spacing.”


  • Students will be able to take photos that display a knowledge of composition rules.
  • Students will be able to write captions that conform to AP Style for photographs they take.
  • Students will be able to utilize their knowledge of photo essays through practical application.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.a. Write and edit work so that it conforms to the guidelines in a style manual (e.g., MLA Handbook, Turabian’s Manual for Writers) appropriate for the discipline and writing type.


90 minutes (Two 45-minute lessons)


Computers with design software

Class set: Project guidelines

Class set: Photo essay rubric

Sample photo essay(s) for critique

Lesson step-by-step

Prior to today’s class, teachers should have assigned this Photo Essay and told students to have their pictures taken by the time they arrived in class today.  Students should have electronic copies of those photos with them today.

1.Workshop time — two 45-minute classes

 Students should have the opportunity to spend two full days in class working on designing their Photo Essay.  Based on the amount of design experience students have, you may choose to give them instruction about how to use the design software (for more information about that, please see the JEA Curriculum module on Design).

Some tips for success:

a) Give students a template to work from, rather than having them create a document from scratch.  The template can include fonts the teacher would prefer for them to use, a place to put their names, etc.  I like to do this so I know they are using a full-size broadsheet paper instead of the default 8.5X11 document.  (To create a template in InDesign, open up InDesign, create a document with all of the qualities that you want, and then change to Template in the Save As dialog box.  This way, every time the template opens, it will create a new “untitled” document.)

b) Tell students they should have their pictures chosen, captions written, and basic design sketched out prior to arriving in class.  That way, they will be able to maximize time in class.

c) Depending on the size capabilities of a classroom printer, determine how you want students to turn in this assignment.  I prefer to have them export to a PDF and save it in a shared folder on the school’s network.

NOTE: Rubrics and handouts are included with this lesson.  I have also included a PDF of an example photo essay from students I had in journalism several years ago.  This example photo essay uses good composition rules and design strategy for a beginning photojournalist but not the best “storytelling” techniques, so it is a good example to have students examine.  There are both strengths and weaknesses for students to consider.