Lighting & Composition Showing Your Work

Creating a Series of Images

At the start of my career, I assumed that all images were created individually, and so I trained myself to think up completely new ideas daily. While my portfolio was still cohesive because of a similar style running through it, the pictures didn’t belong together. I only started to understand the importance of a series when I began showing in galleries. They all asked me to show them a series of images, and I was left with little to say except that I could create a new series if they wanted.

Creating a series is relevant because it allows the photographer to tell a meaningful story through images in an organic way. Instead of a portfolio or show feeling disjointed because of seemingly random images being put together, a series takes the viewer into a new world. Suddenly each picture expands on the last and when images relate, the story grows. In the gallery world, images are more likely to sell in multiples if they go together, so they make sense monetarily too.

Creating a series calls for a different way of creating altogether. In some ways, it requires deeper thought. What a series does not require, however, is a specific type of shooting. It is still fine if you are the kind of photographer who is inspired by the moment and shoots on the fly; the images must only make sense together in some capacity, no matter how they were gathered.

Creating a series almost always requires the photographer to put intent into his or her images. Some kind of plan is needed so that the series makes sense. Certainly each image does not have to be planned to the extent that I might usually plan, but it is worth having a goal in mind.


One way to create a series is to think of a story first. It doesn’t have to be literal, but should connect each image in a way that is accessible. For example, the story might not be as literal as photographing a day in the life of a schoolgirl—from the time she goes to school to when she accidentally spills her milk to when she gets home. Instead, it might be that a photographer takes pictures of traffic lights all changed to yellow or sand dunes all over the world. There is a story there, despite it not being an obvious one, or rather, a traditional one. The story is more abstract, forcing the viewer to ask questions rather than read answers. The yellow stoplights might indicate a transitory period of time, and the viewer might relate that back to the towns in which they were photographed. Sand dunes might document, rather than tell, an obvious story, but some of the greatest stories are simply means of documentation.

Often a series requires the photographer to be in tune with all parts of an image, from color to props, from wardrobe to location. These elements serve as the perfect starting points for a series idea, because they will become important elements of a photograph when the image is finished. Thinking of a series is more complicated than thinking of a single image, but the inspiration can be found in the same way. You could start with a location as inspiration, and then figure out what images would make sense in that space. Alternatively, you could start with a character, and then figure out if you want to use that character repeatedly or create others to go with it.

My favorite way of creating a series is to use character to inspire my imagery. The first series I created was called “Ballet Vacate” (below) and dealt with the idea of perfection. I wanted to use the ballerina as subject—to show ballerinas in the “in between” states that they are almost never photographed in. I used the character of a “broken ballerina” as my inspiration and created many different characters in various settings to complete my series.

BALLET VACATE (2009) This was the image that I showed my very first gallery contact and it sparked an entire series based on ballerinas caught in various poses, most of which are the “in between” moments.

The next series I created was called “The Re-Imaging of Ophelia” (example below). I used the classic character of Ophelia to retell her story as a heroine. In doing so, I created ten images that told a linear story, from the time she jumps into the water to the time she dies and, in my version, ascends to the sky.

THE AFTERMATH (2010) This picture is one of a larger series based around Ophelia, called “The Re-Imaging of Ophelia.” It shows Ophelia dead in the water with another girl who has found her body and is pulling it out.

Other series of mine have been inspired by techniques. A recent example is a series in which I layered a single small object into an image hundreds, if not thousands, of times to create dresses for my characters. Each character wears a different “garment” made in Photoshop. The first character I created was called “The Keeper of Keys,” and her dress was made entirely out of thousands of small skeleton keys. Another image features a dress made of books, while another has a dress made of paper airplanes. Each one tells a different story, but the technique links them all together.

WAITING TO FLY (2012) Another in the series of small objects creating dresses, this one was done using paper airplanes photographed in several different positions and layered in Photoshop to form the costume.


A series can be very intimidating because an audience expects to be entertained by each photograph, yet each photograph must be similar in some way to the one before it. How, then, does one create an interesting series? The key lies in understanding why we are creating the series. Again it is about intent—the word I live by in any art form. I believe that most viewers of art are astute and observant enough to see through an image, but if the artist does not know why he or she created it, how can the viewer be expected to understand and appreciate it?

In written work, the term “through line” is often used as a means for the character to understand why he or she is moving through the entire narrative from start to finish. In much the same way, a series needs a through line. There has to be a thread connecting each image in order for the viewer to understand why he or she is moving through the series. To incorporate story into the series, each image must continue the story, or provide the next piece of the through line. What comes next? That is a question that should always be asked as the series continues. It sounds simple, but it can unlock the mystery of how to create multiple images on a single subject.

Put yourself in the world of the series you are creating. Imagine that you are right there with the characters in the locations. By putting yourself there, you can feel what it is like. If you want to do a series in the snow, imagine what it is like to feel bitterly cold. If you are going to shoot in the desert, imagine the heat and the pressure of the sun. Where does your character go? What does your character do? Does he or she try to find shelter for warmth, or maybe a tree for some shade? By putting yourself in the world of your series, you can start to make logical decisions about how the story should progress. As your story moves organically and logically, each image will build on the story started by the one before it. Each image will carry the through line that brings the viewer to the end.

Excerpted from Inspiration in Photography by Booke Shaden © 2014 Taylor and Francis All Rights Reserved

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For more expert advice from Brooke Shaden, check out Self-Promotion for Professional Photographers, a free ebook brought to you by Focal Press.

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