Creating a Photo Essay

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I’m not one to typically take the easy way out (translation – I make things really hard for myself). On a recent trip to photograph the La Purisima Mission, I thought I would try to create a photo essay of the place. For this landscape photographer, it was challenging…. but as I always tell myself, I’ll learn something from it.

I am currently reading the book, Within the Frame by David duChemin. He has a chapter on Storytelling and outlines the 6 shots. One of my tendencies is to redefine my own reality (much to Peter’s chagrin), so below is David’s list along with my annotations using questions from the perspective of the viewer.

  1. The Establishing Shot. Where are you?
  2. The Medium Shot. What is happening in this place?
  3. The Detail Shot. What are people doing there? How are they interacting?
  4. The Portrait. Who is there?
  5. The Moment. Wait, what just happened?
  6. The Closer. How am I going to remember this place?

So here is my essay for the La Purisima Mission. Do you feel like you have an understanding of this place? Does it make you want to visit?

The Establishing Shot. I’m not a “wide-angle person”, so it was challenging for me to get a shot that showed the broader mission. Instead I went for the bell tower, tile roof, and Spanish architecture to represent the place.

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The Medium Shot. The answer to my question about “what is happening in this place” was best represented by the small chapel on the grounds. The missions were about a lot of things, but in my view they were first and foremost about religion. I tried to create an image to let the viewer “experience” the chapel.


The Detail Shot. We were lucky in that the park service had recreations the day we were there. In terms of answering “what do people do”, I chose to focus on a day-to-day activity that happened there, preparing wool to spin into cloth.


The Portrait. The Spanish and the Chumash Indians lived and worked at this mission. I was able to capture this portrait of a Chumash Indian.


The Moment. I was not having a good shooting day, and did not come away with any image that I felt was spectacular. Ordinarily, I would have chosen my “wow” image for this component. Instead, I selected an image that spoke to the tranquility of the place with a bench in the background and a small bird resting on the fountain. Looking at this image takes a little extra work to see the “surprise”.

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The Closer. I chose a shot of a woman walking toward the mission, rather than away (which would have been an expected close to my essay). I thought I would frame my close as an invitation, “would you come to this place”?

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  1. Russell Westfall

    My answer to your parting question is yes – you captured something I would like to experience more of. I was in the area several times on my last visit to California, but just never took the time to go see La Purisima. Next time I will remember and make it a point to visit. Thank you.

  2. Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing duChemin’s storytelling steps and illustrating them with your photos at the mission. Points well taken. I’m going to see if my library carries his book you mentioned.

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