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PHOTOJOURNALISM:

PHOTOJOURNALISM

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Photojournalism is a branch of the field of journalism characterized by the use of images to tell a story. The images in a photojournalism piece may be accompanied with explanatory text, or shown independently, with the images themselves narrating the events they depict.

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Photojournalism is a style of photography. Many wedding photographers present themselves as using the photojournalistic style, but all they are really offering are candid images. Photojournalism is not about candid photography.

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A family of six grows tobacco on their farm in Cuba which ends up in government warehouses to be shipped as cigars around the world. The family receives very little for their backbreaking work, with the rest of the profits from the sales of cigars going to government coffers for island-wide social programs.

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Timeliness — the images have meaning in the context of a recently published record of events. Objectivity — the situation implied by the images is a fair and accurate representation of the events they depict in both content and tone. Narrative — the images combine with other news elements to make facts relatable to the viewer or reader on a cultural level.

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Robert Capa once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Capa wasn’t advocating the use of longer lenses; he was telling photographers to physically get closer and more involved with their subjects.

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If you ever look at the lenses photojournalists have on their cameras, you will almost exclusively see some type of wide-angle. This is because photojournalists generally want their viewers to feel like they are there in the scene with them.

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A wide-angle lens allows the photographer, like the photojournalist, to work very near their subjects, providing an intimate feeling in their photographs.

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When you close and involved with what you are shooting, like in the image above, the photo become more personal for the viewer mainly because you became more personal with your subject. By being close and engaging with your subject you create a sense of intimacy that will show in your photo. (Nikon D700 — ISO 400, 1/1600 sec., f/4.0 @21mm)

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A lens is generally considered to be “wide-angle” when its focal length is less than around 35mm (on a full frame camera). What makes a wide-angle lens unique is its ability to get very close to a subject, sometimes within inches, while at the same time allowing you to capture the surrounding environment.

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(Nikon D700 — ISO 1250, 1/60 sec., f/2.8 @ 24mm) In the above photo you can see the surrounding environment of where the man making noodles is working. By including the background I’ve added a lot of information for the viewer which gives the photo a story telling element.

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When we get closer to our subjects we are encouraging an interaction to happen between that person and ourselves. Usually, when you first approach someone and ask to take their photograph they become a little concerned and nervous. This is to be expected as they don’t really know what you plan to do.

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However, by being close to them you can make a joke, or smile, or do some type of non-verbal communication to let them know you’re comfortable with what they are doing.

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Ask them to continue their activity and I try to reassure them that it’s ok for the situation to be comfortable and relaxed. Once this occurs, the magic can happen! You can start to take photos that capture real emotions — and by being close to your subject you can bring those emotions and intimacy to your viewer.

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(Nikon D700 — ISO 800, 1/200 sec., f/2.8 @16mm)

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Dealing with Distortion When shooting close to a subject with a wide-angle lens we need to recognize there may be lens distortion. The two most prevalent forms of distortion with a wide-angle lens are barrel and edge distortion. Barrel distortion causes otherwise straight lines to appear bulged if they don’t pass through the center of the image. Edge distortion causes objects at the extreme edges of the frame to appear stretched in a direction leading away from the center of the image.

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Make sure certain body parts do not appear larger or out of proportion from other body parts in the photo. Any part of the body that is closer to the camera will usually appear bigger. Try to avoid putting the main part of your subject in the corners of the photo. This is the place where distortion is usually the greatest and can bend a head or body out of shape.

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A wide angle lens is more susceptible to lens flare, because the sun is much more likely to enter into the composition. A lens hood can help, but doesn’t always do a great job.

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(Nikon D700 — ISO 250, 1/320 sec., f/2.8 @24mm)

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Provide context for your subject. Using the environment can help you tell the story of your subject. Whether it is about work, play, or other themes, giving bits of the surroundings can add impact to the story because the elements around the subject add to the narrative of who they are, what they do, linking their story to the viewer’s story.

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Fill the frame. A portrait is a study of someone. More than someone’s picture, it is a representation of their identity. Especially when the person is wearing something that already gives the photo context and story, filling the frame with their face makes a lot of sense, and adds a lot of drama.

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Use natural light so you don’t end up with shots like this:

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Photo Documentaries

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A photo documentary is a series of images that tells the story of people, a place, or an event.

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What shots should a photo documentary include?

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Establishing Shot. The establishing shot does pretty much what it sounds like it does. It lays the visual context for the story. It is often a wide shot that shows the setting or the environment where the story takes place or the character lives or works. The shot often is the very first shot of the essay. If it’s not the first it will be included in one of the first few shots. The literary equivalent of this is usually found on the first page of the novel. It is when the author paints a written description of where things are taking place. ” It was a dark and stormy night…”

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Medium Shot. At this point in the story there’s momentum building up. The medium shot serves to inform the viewer who are the characters and what they are doing. The shot should include both the subject and it’s surrounding. If your story has people in it, and often the shot will have two or three people and all interacting in some way. You might have an individual working with some equipment or doing some job. But the image should be wide enough to see the environment. It’s not a detail shot.

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Detail Shot. As the name implies the shot has to do with the details. These shots add flavor to the story, almost as the spices does to soup. It is the detail shot that that creates intimacy with the viewer. Can you imagine a story where characters walk through nondescript hallways and streets? It would leave readers without any sense of time or place. And so it is with a detail shot in a photo essay, it gives our viewers a sense of place. A detail shot anchors the story.

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Portrait shot. Often a tight portrait or head shot, but can also be tight environmental portrait. This shot gives a face to your characters. It make the story personal to someone. Even if your character is not a human, a portrait can be important. Let’s say you’re doing a story on a racehorse. He would still want a portrait of the horse.

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The Gesture. Others have called this the Exchange Shot. I like that title as well. But I use the word gesture because I feel like it’s more than just an exchange. It can be someone shooting basketballs or running. But, as the term exchange shot implies, often times it is interaction between two subjects in the story. There’s usually movement involved in some sort of interchange between the subjects. By having this shot in the essay we keep the essay from becoming a series of portraits. The gesture shot allows us to experience life within the essay.

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Closure. Except for the establishing shot which should always come at the first of the photo essay, the only other shot that has a definite place within the essay is this one. The closure, as the name implies, it is the parting shot. It draws things to an end. It’s the “ride off into the sunset” photo. This shot provides resolution for the story and puts it to bed.

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1. Shoot What You Like. The best photos will always come from a subject that you have a deep interest in. There is something to be said for following your passion and doing work that has personal meaning or interest to you. Your compassion toward your subjects and genuine interest in your story will show in your final images.

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2. Don’t Rush It. Many great documentaries have been done over a period of time, sometimes months or even years. While your project may not need to take that long to complete, it’s important to spend quality time working on it. Even if that means taking it one step further by going back for a second or third time to visit your subject/s. The more time you spend on a project the more possibilities you create to witness something special or unique that could give your story more depth.

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3. Do Your Research. Gather as much information on your topic as possible. This will help you start to visualize and develop a framework for your project. By researching you will likely discover other work done on the same topic, find important background information, locate people to meet, or find ideal places to visit. When you start putting all of your information together you will be able to visualize a more realistic picture of what you may be able to create. Ideas should start flowing.

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4. Get Inspired. Get yourself excited about your project. Some suggestions to get your creative juices flowing are; explore other photographers work on a similar topic, listen to your favorite music, watch a video documentary on something similar or even think about the impact your documentary will have on others. There are a multitude of ways to start getting inspired, just figure what works best for you.

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5. Make Multiple Contacts. Locating contacts while working on a story is a super important component to a successful documentary. A local contact will likely know best where to find the things your looking for and give you good all around information. Sometimes a contact trying to help you out doesn’t always fully understand what you are after (even if you explain it to them). They may point you in a different direction, simply because they can’t understand what you are doing. By making multiple contacts we increase the chances that we find an individual who is on the same page as us. Contacts can be made before you start shooting your story or while on site

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6. Ask Permission. Talk with your subject/s and make sure they are okay and understand what you are doing. By being open with the people you plan to photograph or work with you will create a more comfortable environment. This will make your work easier and help you produce more authentic images.

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7. Try Something New. Experiment with your lighting, POV, approach in communicating with your subject, asking different questions, exploring a new location, or anything that you may not have done before. By trying new things we can help spark our creativity and keep things fresh. It may be something small, but we should try to do at least one new thing for each project we are working on. The worse case scenario is we find out it doesn’t work. The best case scenario is we find a new creative and useful way to create stronger images.

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8. Be Prepared. This is straight forward enough. Although this goes beyond packing the appropriate gear, chargers, extra batteries and strobes (albeit getting this right is also very important). We must also prepare for the type of environment we will be going into. Will there be language differences we need to learn, certain clothes we will need, a support network, travel arrangements and even food considerations. We shouldn’t get bogged down with preparing for every single detail, but rather cover the basics which will let everything else fall into place.

Photojournalism as a career:

Photojournalism as a career

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Staff The “staffer” is a person who works full time for a publication. A staff photographer gets the benefits associated with most full time jobs: Regular pay, medical benefits, retirement, vacation, workman’s comp, withheld taxes, access to equipment, and minimal personal expenses. However, the photos taken by a staffer become the property of the publication they work for. Their schedule and assignments are set for them, and in many cases, the staff photographer has to do considerable post production work.

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Freelance The freelance photographer is a photographer who works for himself. He sets the rules by which he shoots, decides which assignments to shoot, maintains complete creative control of his works and is not limited to shooting for one publication. He also decides when he wants to work and for how long. But the freelance photographer has no paid medical insurance, no retirement plans. The biggest drawback is that the freelancer doesn’t have steady work. They have to go make their own work.

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Stringer The stringer is a cross between a staffer and a freelancer. A stringer is a freelancer who primarily provides photos to one source, more as a contract photographer. The advantages is you have a good outlet to sell your work where the pay is pretty steady. Most of the other aspects are as a freelancer, but you know that if you go shoot an event, there will be a buyer for the photos for you.

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