The Basics – Working in a Series


(ˈsɪəriːz; -rɪz)

npl -ries

1. group or connected succession of similar or related things, usually arranged in order

What happens we you apply this concept to photography? What happens when you decide to create a Photo-Essay?

photo-essay is a set or series of photographs that are made to create series of emotions in the viewer. A photo essay will often show pictures in deep emotional stages. Photo essays range from purely photographic works to photographs with captions or small comments to full text essays illustrated with photographs. – Wikipedia

A photo essay can be found in the form of an article, a book, a web site or an art show. There is no doubt that a series of photos loosely arranged around a topic, theme, emotion or story line will have more impact than a single image. This concept was driven home for me yesterday when I was working on a new photo book featuring my images based on the characters of Mouse Guard. {My local BrickCon is just days away and it’s my first time attending as both a participant and as a Lego Ambassador and I want to be prepared. (I’m nervous, but thats a different blog post.)}

As I was finishing up with my book I was struck by how great the images looked together in this loose series. The photographs had more impact when shown in context with each other. In fact, by assembling the images together I had impressed myself with the quality of my work. That may sound weird, but like most artists I tend to be my own worst critic.

A small gem I turned up when editing for my book. While I took this over a year ago, I never did anything with it. Today it seems fresh and the perfect addition.

When I think about other toy photographers that have inspired me, or left a lasting impression, they’re always photographers working in a series. By working for a period of time around a particular subject you’re able to delve deep into the story and explore depths you can’t achieve with only one or two images. I’m thinking about Vesa and his work that led to the publishing of Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy, Mark Hogancamp and his book Marwencol, Brian McCarty’s War-Toys project or Kristina Alexanderson’s parent / child stormtrooper images. But beyond these outstanding examples I’m also thinking about Brett Wilson and his simple and long running series of photographs that played off of the word ‘probably’. Each of these artists has worked on a series of images over many years and the sum is greater than the whole.

In my last gallery exhibition I created a series of four images around the Peter Reid robot ‘Keko’; each image reflecting a different season. There is no doubt in my mind that those four images were stronger as a group than they ever were as individual images. I was able to tell a better story over four images than I could with only one.

Another great reason to purse a photo series is the creative inspiration it can provide. By creating my small book of Mouse Guard images, I was able to see I had created a compelling and interesting viewing experience, but I also revealed where the ‘holes’ in my story were. When I was arranging the images to create a mini narrative there were certain activities I wanted to see and others that I had too many of. Now I know where to devote my energies the next time I have a chance to photograph toys.

 Its unfortunate that the photo sharing sites that we all post our work to don’t support or encourage the creation of this type of deep work. With an online audience that devours imagery at a record pace, its hard to create a story or series that unfolds over days, weeks or even months. Online sites are not ideal for looking at work that is created in series and meant to be viewed in relationship to each other. This is unfortunate because it’s these in-depth works that hold our attention and ultimately inspire us.

Photography is more than pixel counts, ISO numbers or camera type, it’s a conceptual medium. It’s a medium that can be used to express your thoughts, your feelings and your ideas. By using a series of images, rather than just one, you have the opportunity to create a carefully constructed story, one that will have more meaning for both you and your viewer. Why then do we so often limit ourselves to only one photo to tell our stories?

~ Shelly

When you look back over your work do you recognize themes that are repeated? Have you considered grouping your images into a loose story or photo essay for greater impact? Have you created a book of your images that was thematic rather than simply a ‘best of’ grouping? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions I would love to hear about your experience. Did you find it helpful? Have you continued to work on your series? 

I named only a few toy photography series that I have enjoyed and admire, but I can think of many more examples? Can you name a toy photographer who created a series that you enjoyed? 


  1. Wonderful post! I believe this is part of the evolution as an artist. We tend to start off with a single thought – a solitary image. Usually it’s one we stumble upon. Then we start creating our own scenes, whether it be on site, or through creative editing. Then we graduate again to series where we extend that single thought to an idea, or several ideas.

    I’m not quite to the last stage yet, but I’m working on it!

    • i think you’re right. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms of evolution, but it feels like a good way to approach it. And yes, it takes time. Everyone is on their own path and making their way at their own speed. But even some of those one offs when paired with seemingly un-related images can create an interesting dialogue.

      Thank you Elizabeth for joining in the conversation!

  2. Great topic, Shelly! You’re right in that my social media platform of choice – Instagram – does not make it easy to create and encourage interest in an ongoing series. The idea of doing a small series had been floating around my personal ether for some time, but I never had anything solid to attach it to. That changed, though, when I purchased Koba, an action figure from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I had an idea for a small satirical series but wasn’t sure how to approach it. Ultimately I ended up doing a one-time 4-panel post with a beginning, middle and an end, almost like a multi-panel comic strip in the newspaper. It worked fine, was easy to understand, and I didn’t have to worry about doing multiple posts and risk each post being a huge disconnect with viewers. Each panel is small, but big enough to get the gist of what’s going on. Not ideal by a long shot… but it accomplished what I wanted. Ultimately I believe the series is stronger than any one image alone so it was a worthwhile exercise, one I’ll probably try again sometime.

    • Hey Mitch! Thanks for chiming in! I checked out the our image panel you were talking about and your right, it works great! But what you wanted to group all your Koba images together? This is where the limitations of ALL the social media platforms really hurt. I think Flickr is the only platform left that you can group images into albums, but I could be wrong there. Of course your four panel post is a great work around! It will be interesting to see what you can come up with that particular limitation, I suspect it won’t limit you too much. 🙂

  3. Long comment ahead… So TL;DR:
    * Photo series are what I now strive for
    * But for the first time in 15 years, Internet doesn’t seem to be enough to share something
    * Excited about this year’s book exchange

    Since it’s been online, that blog post has stayed both in my mind and my todo list. The reason is it resonates so much with many concerns I have had for quite some time.

    Since the beginning I’ve always been attracted by toy photographers working with series, and especially long lasting series. I started taking photos with the goal of doing the same, but quickly realized that not only it was more difficult than taking individual pictures, but it was even more difficult (at least for me) to keep going with a series. The post resonated so much with me because I decided my goal for the year was to try to come up with photo series that I would be satisfied with. Moreover I wanted to find a theme that could last in time, not just small series that would quickly run out of idea and have a beginning and an end.

    However I never really thought about how I should share the result of those series I wanted to create. It seemed obvious the way to do it was Internet, but a few things made me question it.

    First there’s been Hamburg where something unexpected happened. After my series with Woody for the “make it seem” challenge, I decided I had to take him to Hamburg so others could play with him, because after all he’s a rather uncommon toy in Europe. After that the plan was to avoid bringing Woody outside. He had to stay safe at home because he’s a precious souvenir I bought while traveling far away. Also I didn’t really see the point in taking photos of him. First I’m more inspired by minifigures, but more importantly there are already thousands of photos of him from people way more talented than I am.

    I’m not sure how and why it happened but I’ve become obsessed with Woody since Hamburg. Maybe it started when I decided to stick a bottle cap with a piece of tack on his head. I’m almost done posting online photos from Hamburg, except for the Woody photos. I have a dozen from Hamburg, plus two dozens more that are (almost) ready to be sent online, but they will most likely stay on my computer for a while. Because this is so different from the usual minifigs photos, I’d like to avoid mixing this series with the regular LEGO photography. I’m kind of stuck because I don’t see how I could do that sticking around with G+ or Flickr (or Instagram, but that one seems so obvious to me).

    After Hamburg there’s been another thing that has been floating in my mind: the book exchange. (Probably because Boris promoted it so well in Hamburg?) I wanted to see if I had already fulfilled my goal of being able to make a book based on a series rather than a simple best of 2016. It happened I have almost enough material for the book (except one photo that I might need to do again?), almost enough for a second book (which I’ll try to improve in 2017?), and a third one considering Woody (but it’s so difficult to choose 12 from the ~30 photos that it won’t be the star of this year book ;-)).

    Spending time looking back at all photos from the year and playing around with book layout has been a far more enjoyable activity than I thought. Moreover, it seems the closest answer to my problem could be making books. But then I don’t see myself selling books and my wallet isn’t large enough to give them away. (and I doubt there is someone out there with such a wallet who’d be willing to pay to distribute books with my photos xD)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.