My comments on this subject are based on 45 years of hanging around with prize-winning "shooters", plus my experience selecting, cropping and laying out photographs. Then there were my own ventures into the field with a camera. Like the time in Israel when I took 36 shots at historic and religious sites only to realize too late that the film had melted in the camera in the 105-degree heat. Or the time in Japan at a national holiday event where I took breathtaking closeup photos of horsemen dressed in ancient warrior clothes galloping their horses across a field and shooting at a target with bow and arrow. You guessed it: my batteries were dead.
One difference between a reporter and a photographer is that there is this thing called equipment. It's a bit more complicated than paper and pencil. Whether you are working with one of those old box cameras or a digital camera, it's important to understand the equipment before you take it on a news assignment. Read the directions. Test it out. And stay out of thedirect sun!
The two types of journalistic photographs are news and features. With news photos, you pretty much go with the flow: you cannot tell an angry government official to say "cheese". You are trying to capture something that often is a fast-moving event with unexpected twists and turns. Your photograph is an attempt to convey the essence or part of the essence of a news event. You may not get a picture of the winning goal, but you should get shots that reflect some aspect that contributed to the victory. An early lesson I learned from a sports editor was that you seldom would want to publish a photograph of a great shot by the losing team in a basketball game. So the news photographer tends to try to anticipate, to be in the right place at the right time, whether the photographer is covering a war, a surprise birthday party, a politician campaigning or an awards ceremony. The best photograph or set of photographs tell the story.
A feature photograph often can be influenced by the photographer, coaxing a person to move a little to the left or "smile, you're on candid camera" or whatever coaching might make it a better photograph. However, even feature photographs are better when the action or scene depicted is as natural and spontaneous as possible. The worst photographs are ones that simply look posed--because they are. Many publications have banned what I call the "up-against-the-wall" photograph; you know, the ones that have four people standing together looking important.
News and feature photographs can accompany a story or stand alone. In either case they are part of the storytelling process. Photographers who work for news publications or websites are journalists, because they are looking at the world through a prism just as a reporter is. The difference is that a photojournalists' prism is a lens.
Photographs first started being used in newspapers about 120 years ago. The equipment has changed drastically since then, but one thing is the same: the person with one eye squinted behind the camera is still essential to the process. A good photo has a center of interest. It may not be located in the very middle of the photograph, but it is the dominant image. This is called composing. You are a composer, and the lens shutter is your baton. You don't click indiscriminately; you frame the subject matter, then click.
We think of a frame being put on a photo after it's developed and ready to be hanged. But good photographers frame their photos in their mind's eye before shooting. It is hand, eye and mind coordination. It takes long experience to know at what moment to shoot, and good shooters can snap off a half dozen photos while a novice is trying to decide what to do.
Composing a frame is where the artistry comes in. The photographer visualizes what the photo will look like and simultaneously determines whether it captures the essence of a reality. Good photos capture what's real and natural; poor photos look stiff and posed.
Why do you want to take photographs in the first place? Because you wish to share what your eye sees with others.
How do you know if it's significant to others? Because generally what's significant to you is also significant to others.
How do you train your eye to see what's significant to others? When you arrive at the place where you are going to do your shooting, whether you are indoors or outdoors, take a general, sweeping view of the scene. You are acclimating yourself. You might even want to try to capture that broad scene on camera, preferably using a wide-angle lense.
Next you want to look for the middle-level photo. That's the one that will tell the story. If there is a crowd, it generally would be where the crowd's attention is focused. Look for clues such as this to determine where to shoot. Make sure that scene fills your camera frame. If there is action or emotion, it will be captured by your shot.
Finally you want to move in as far as you can for a closeup. Facial expressions frequently make the best closeups. Sometimes you have to shoot several photos to get just the right expression. Sometimes the closeup will be an object. What is the best angle to show that object? To make best use of light or shadows or a combination of both?
Remember you are looking for natural reactions if you are photographing people. Back away if you think a person is playing to the camera. Move in again when the time is right. When you are close, you not only capture compelling images, but you also prevent others from getting between your snapping shutter and your prize-winning photo.
Just as with writing, good thinking is the key to success. Photographers who get the right shot at just the right moment are sometimes lucky, but more often than not it is their mind that has done the job for them.
THINK: Do you have the right lenses with you when you go to an assignment? Do you have enough film? Is it best for indoors or outdoors? Do you have a flash? Some of these elements are built into cameras but not always.
THINK: If there is a lull in the event you are covering or the scene you are at and you have only one or two shots left on your film, forget about those couple of shots and change film. When things heat up, you don't want to start fumbling with a film change. You want a full roll (assuming you're not using a digital camera). And you want to be able to snap off four or five quick shots when the right opportunity presents itself.
THINK: You also don't want to be fumbling to change a lens. Photographers tell me that a 24mm or 28mm wide-angle lens can work well for medium-range shots...or a regular 50mm lens. But when you're doing closeups, the wide-angle and telephoto lenses tend to distort your image. Often a 200mm lens is used--even if you are only a few strides away from your subject. If you really want to get fancy, you can use what is known as a macro lens. Or you can use an extension device. But those things are too fancy for me. Ask an expert, if interested. The point is--just as with film--you need to anticipate. You should affix the lens that you think is appropriate to the place where you are shooting from so that you can concentrate on taking the shot rather than fiddling or fumbling with your equipment.
THINK: You might need something other than your camera to get the photos you need. I have known photographers who have carried step ladders to sports events, particularly high school football and soccer games that often have people standing on the sidelines. If they're in your way, why not shoot over them? Photographers have various tricks to keep their equipment from freezing or from getting scratched in a desert. But I don't recommend what one photographer pulled. He was covering a basketball game, and in the middle of the action let his dog loose out on the floor. Great pic, but...
ONE-MINUTE TUTORIAL…on Photography (#6)
Ed Fitzgerald was a well-known photographer who in his
later years became a wire service and newspaper photo editor.
He was considered an expert on which lens to use when.
But there was another major factor that enhanced his prize-winning
Most photographers realize that shooting an image from the
correct angle is crucial to the creation of distinctive photographs.
Fitzgerald took it one step further, making sure that the light on his
subject was just right.
One day he was assigned to cover baseball slugger Ted
Williams who was working out at the ballpark after recovering from an injury.
Williams tended to be antagonistic toward journalists, but Fitzgerald
engaged him in conversation about camera shutter speeds while maneuvering
Williams to a spot on the first-base line where, in mid-conversation, Williams
took picturesque practice swings with his back to the field.
More importantly the lighting was perfect at that spot.
On the way back to the office, Fitzgerald stopped his car
in the middle of the street in front of city hall, having spotted an old man
with a white beard sitting on a low wall reading the paper.
The noon sun was glancing off the newspaper, illuminating the facial
image. Fitzgerald crouched, snapped
the photo and jumped back into the car. That
profile photo appeared in newspapers around the US and won another major
Fitzgerald was an artist who saw images in the right light.
ONE-MINUTE TUTORIAL…on Photography (#7)
"In the olden days"--that's an expression my children use when they are chiding me--there were reporters and there were photographers. Now the two frequently are one in the same person.
Economics and technology are the forces that are putting the two together. Print and electronic publications can seldom afford to send two persons to
the same story. Meanwhile, the size and weight of cameras today make them easier to use.
However, reporting and photo-shooting require different mindsets. It is hard to turn off one mode and turn on the other.
My recommendation is that journalists "think photo" when they first go to an assignment. Taking pictures helps acclimate them to the people and the
surroundings. If, in the middle of an interview, you wish to take a couple of photos of the subject, ask for permission. It's a polite way of saying,
"I'm not going to be taking notes for a few minutes," and it prepares the interviewee for the sometimes awkward experience of having pictures taken.
Additional photos often should be made at the end of an assignment, after the journalist has a feel for the elements of the story to be published.
The photo-journalist is not a new phenomenon. Small newspapers have had to "double up" before. But it is getting more and more prevalent. And often the photo-journalist is carrying a video camera.
Of course, a photographer-even those whose training is mainly as a reporter, should always be ready to shoot a quick picture when the
possibility arises on an assignment. A reporter can reconstruct an unexpected occurrence; a photographer doesn't have that luxury.
Would it be fair to say that the photo-journalist has a split personality that must be ready to act in a split second?
ONE-MINUTE TUTORIAL…on Photography (#8)
Photographers and reporters are alike when it comes to the necessity to carry two important tools: paper and pencil or pen. Electronic writing
devices serve the same purpose.
Too often the note the photographer fails to take at the scene prevents a photograph from being published. If you have three people in a photo and
can only identify two, it's a little ridiculous to say: from left, Mary Smith, Joe Jones and unidentified person. Getting names spelled correctly
and titles/affiliations accurate are as important for the photographer as the reporter.
Group photos present particular problems when it comes to identifications. If there are two clearly defined rows of people, the identification is easy.
If someone is standing halfway between one row and another, the ID explanation can be awkward.
We call the written explanation of a photograph a "caption". Sometimes it is referred to as a "cutline", because at one time photos were referred to
Notations made shortly after a photo is taken often come in handy, especially when covering a sports event. At what point of the game did you
shoot the picture? What was the score then? Who is the focus of the shot? Frequently the number on a player's shirt does not show up in the photo, so knowing the player's name becomes important.
I once worked with a photographer who bragged about the fact that he covered seven games one Saturday. He recounted where each game was and how he organized his time to cover a part of each. Someone asked how many photos were published from that monumental effort, and he had to admit "none". He was so busy scurrying from game to game he missed the deadline.
ONE-MINUTE TUTORIAL…on Photography (#9)
Caption-writing can be an art. The trick is to leave out as much detail as possible.
The best technique is to let the photo speak for itself. The caption should sort of fill in the blanks.
A serene photo of four horses munching on grass in a field should never carry a caption saying, "Horses munch grass in a field." That description
is redundant. Clearly the less said in the caption the better, but it wouldn’t hurt to say where this scene occurred and maybe what time of day; i.e.,
"Thoroughbreds enjoy day off from racing on farm outside Dublin." Note that the caption doesn't say "four". The reader can count.
When a photo goes with a story, it is even less important to provide details. Even though research shows that a photo and caption are usually
read before the story, the caption does not have to tell the substance of the story. It should only reflect the substance of the photo.
More important than what's in the photo might be what's behind the photo. How does it relate to the accompanying story?
A couple of fine points: (1) the language of a caption is present tense whereas stories tend to be written in past tense (thoroughbreds enjoy, not
enjoyed); 2. The typeface for cutlines should be different from the story typeface. Some use italic or boldface type; some use sans serif for
captions and serif for story text. A serif is a stroke or curl at the tip of letters. "Sans" in French means "without", so that typeface has no
serifs. It's more blocky.
Stories should show and tell; captions should let the photo show and tell as little as possible.
ONE-MINUTE TUTORIAL...on Photography (#10)
Standalone photographs—those that have no stories with them—tell their own story. Photographs used with a story help tell that story.
Does this mean stories are more important than photos? No, they should be seen as part of a storytelling package. Indeed, research has shown that readership of a story is enhanced measurably by the accompaniment of one or more photographs. Photos serve as a magnet. They draw readers into stories. They should not be thought of as window dressing.
If you are taking photographs for a story written by someone else, you should be thinking about how you can complement the writer’s central points or themes. The problem is that photographers and reporters seldom work side by side.
Reporters spend more on-site time when covering a story. They usually have to stay from the beginning to the end of an event. Sometimes a photographer can swoop in, spend 10 or 15 minutes at the scene and satisfy the graphical needs. At an athletic event a reporter might be seated high up in a stadium while the photographer is at ground level.
They may be working on the same story but have no opportunity to talk to one another, to match notes.
Discussion before the assignment with the reporter often is a way of sharing story goals and concepts. The focus of the story might change as events unfold, but it’s a start. Additionally, the ideal situation is for the photographer and writer to match notes after the event so that the photos selected complement the story.
Communication that takes place between photographer and writer enhances the ultimate communication—with the reader.
ONE-MINUTE TUTORIAL...on Photography (#11)
No offense, but the best photographs are frequently taken with your feet.
We often hear about the photographer who was in the right place at the right time. How come? Sometimes it’s luck; mostly it’s anticipation.
Photographers try to find just the right vantage point, just the right angle. When several photographers cover the same news story, they frequently are grouped together. Experience tells them what the best position is. Some, of course, are copycats.
However, it still boils down to making the shot at just the right time. I once judged a Pulitzer Prize photo competition in which the winning photo was taken about a second before another entry (which didn’t even finish in the top ten).
Nevertheless, you’ll never take a prize-winning shot without being in position.
When time, photographers often are seen moving around a lot during their coverage. The right place often changes as the events of the story unfold.
It’s even true when taking tight profile photos of a person. The straight-on shot of a person is less compelling than one taken at an angle.
Angle. Vantage point. Position. Perspective. Here’s what the French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cezanne, had to say on the subject: “I could keep myself busy for months without moving from one spot, just by leaning now to the right, now to the left.” (As quoted by Alexander Liberman, in The Artist in His Studio, p.25)