Photo Journalism Basics
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Photo Journalism Basics



Intended for new media and journalism students at Mercer County Community College in Prof. Holly Johnson's classes. This presentation offers basic principles to guide student in creating successful ...

Intended for new media and journalism students at Mercer County Community College in Prof. Holly Johnson's classes. This presentation offers basic principles to guide student in creating successful photos for new media projects.



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  • Or is this potentially exploitative of the man in the wheel chair?
  • Or is this potentially exploitative of the man in the wheel chair?

Photo Journalism Basics Photo Journalism Basics Presentation Transcript

  • + Photo Journalism Basics Journalism 1 + 2 + New Media Mercer County Community College ©2012 Prof. Holly K. Johnson
  • + THE BIG PICTURE: Good photos are ones that help tell the story better than text alone would, so the photo must ADD something significant.
  • + Key point #1 : Pictures of people shaking hands or receiving awards (better known as “grip and grin” photos) do not add very much to a story.
  • + Exhibit A Only your mom could love this.
  • + Exhibit B This is so blah. Get a picture of them actually shoveling in those suits. That would be interesting.
  • + Exhibit C  Even if you add people we recognize and someone wearing a silly hat, it doesn’t help.
  • + Exhibit D  Even if you put a dog in it, it’s still a lame photo.
  • + THE ONLY EXCEPTION  If the person receiving the award or the handshake is either a former Beatle or a porn star (better, yet, get both in the picture) it could work…
  • +  But even in this photo, wouldn’t you rather have a photo of Paul playing the guitar on stage or Pamela doing…whatever she does??
  • + So what helps tell a story? • Humans (we respond more to people than to objects) • Motion • Emotion (faces!) • Danger/Heroism • Action • Unusual perspectives Look at each of the next four slides and consider which of the elements from the list above are present. How does the still image convey emotion? Action? Danger? Heroism?
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  • + Key Point #2: Faces are always better than backs of heads.  Faces should be at least the size of a dime when printed, or we won’t be able to see them.
  • + Backs of heads are dreadful to look at.
  • + Key Point #3: The subject of the picture needs to be in focus.
  • + Bubbles are cute, but they are not news, and if they are, they MUST BE IN FOCUS. This photo should never appear on a news page.
  • + Key Point #4: Naked people always get our attention, but don’t always add to the article.  Note: Nudity is especially tricky in several key situations:  When the person who is nude is under age 18  When the person who is nude was photographed when they had a reasonable expectation of privacy  When there is the possibility that you are exploiting someone who is already being exploited or who is vulnerable to exploitation  When writing about tribes of people who traditionally wear clothes that cover less of their bodies than we’re used. Are we trying to make them into a freak show for our amusement or are we trying to report on some element of their lives that is significant?
  • + Gratuitous nudity  For an article about last week’s frat house party getting shut down by the cops, this is gratuitous.
  • + Questionable Although not actually naked, this is a provocative picture of then15 year old musician, Miley Cyrus. The photographer argued this was an artistic photo that featured Cyrus’s innocence. Others said it was exploitative, regardless of whether or not Cyrus and legal guardians gave informed consent.
  • + Problematic nudity The woman here is wearing traditional ceremonial garments but the image may appear to exoticize and exploit. The key with such a photo is whether or not it really adds to the story the article is telling or if it is gratuitous.
  • + Key point #5: Good photos capture action.  This is especially true with sports photos. Take photos of people doing things.
  • + Standing still? Not so interesting.
  • + Better
  • + Best
  • + Key Point #5: There are significant ethical and taste considerations in running photos.  Most publications do not allow nipple shots (that is, until someone else runs the photo, and then others follow).  College publications, which are not owned by major conglomerates and do not face the same pressures to self- censor in order to avoid losing advertisers, often push the limits regarding what amount of skin that will show in print and online.
  • +Considering the adornment placed on her nipple, it’s hard to believe Jacksondid not want it to be looked at. A few news outlets ran with the photo, thenothers followed suit, arguing that it was already all over the media and internet.
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  • + The nipples would keep this photo out of the mainstream press, but would you run it to illustrate a college newspaper story about a local adult entertainment expo that drew a highly diverse crowd? What would be your argument for running this or not running it?
  • + The editors of The VOICE decided not to run this photo even though it contained action, human emotion, and information about the diverse crowd at the event. They were concerned that the photo would be construed as being exploitative of the man in the wheelchair, placing him in a position to be pitied by the viewer.
  • + Key Point #6: The angle is important.  When taking pictures of people at events, try to capture both the event itself and people’s reactions to it by positioning yourself between the two.
  • +  A student took these two photos for an article she wrote about an event at Princeton Art Musem that feature both art work and musical performances. Which photo is more successful? Why?
  • +  The photo on the right gives us the perspective of the viewers’ reactions AND a glimpse of the art they saw. The photo on the right gives us just the performer without as much context.
  • + Review  No grip and grin. Ever. Period. Photograph people DOING what they do instead.  Yes to humans, faces, motion, emotions, danger, heroism, unusual perspectives and action.  Keep faces big enough and don’t photograph the backs of heads.  Only run photos that are in focus.  Nudity is problematic. Be judicious and consider ethics as well as taste and relevance when deciding on photos that feature nudity.  Find an angle that helps provide context for the story.
  • + FINAL POINT  The purpose of a photograph that accompanies an article (also any video, slideshow or audio used to accompany an article) is to help tell the story better than text alone would. The photo must ADD something that is not already in the article.
  • + Example: This young woman cries at the grave of her dead husband who was killed in Iraq. The photo adds a visceral human element to an article on the Iraq War death toll that may otherwise be too abstract to move the reader.
  • + END