It is a well-used truism that a picture is worth a thousand words. This is certainly the case with regards to the field of photojournalism: indeed, one picture is meant to contain the entire narrative covered by the accompanying newspaper text. Think of it in the following terms: in typical photography gigs, brides in their wedding dresses, for example, the images produced are not only meant to make the subject matter look good, but are also meant to capture the spirit of the day, and tell the story words can’t. Photojournalism is a kind of “catch all” term used to describe photography of any subject that is considered as newsworthy and of high enough quality to be published. Generally speaking, however, there are two types of photojournalism…
This first type of photojournalism image to be mentioned is the image used to illustrate a story. Most feature writers work very closely with photographers, and commission them to produce photos that will be used in, and in a complementary relationship with, the textual article. There is no specified limit of images that can be used for an article, and the decision of which images to use will fall to the photo editor.
The second type of photojournalism is the photo essay: in the photo essay, no words are used to communicate a narrative. Instead, the function of narrative communication is left entirely up to the images that the photojournalist has managed to produce. This type of imagistic narrative construction is much harder, in terms of the photos to be taken, than the mere illustration of a story that is typical of the type of images that appear in conjunction with texts.
Qualities of a Photo journalism
A photojournalist is constantly on the lookout for newsworthy scenes. More than this, however, the photojournalist is looking to capture an essential moment that contains enough information, in the right combinations, to convey the story and emotion of an event. This moment is difficult to recognize, and because it is only an instant in time, the photographer must react quickly if end when an opportunity arises.
Political rallies, protest marches, sports events, notable social events, distinctive local events and the likes are some of the types of categories which often contain information that the public will deem as newsworthy.
Any budding photojournalist should build a portfolio of images, selecting only the best to display to potential employers. In particular, these images shouldn’t be arbitrary in nature, and instead should be of events that could be seen as newsworthy. Architectural photos will also add to the portfolio, showing an ability to formally compose an image. Another favourite for photo editors is the capturing of well-known business people and politicians: this will not only show resourcefulness, but the understanding of how character can be conveyed in an image.
Once you’ve established yourself as a photo journo, it is likely that you will get assignments from newspapers and magazines. Until then, however, freelance photojournalism is a good way to earn a living: photographers that are willing to put themselves in danger, for example in war zones, get spectacular shots that news agencies will pay large sums of money for.
The advent of digital photography has made the world of photojournalism just that little bit easier. The ability to take many photos in a short period of time without having to worry about development costs and time means that images can be published right after they were taken. Email further allows a journalist to send a photo thousands of kilometres in a matter seconds.
Whereas all this might sound exciting, it must be borne in mind that the life of the photojournalist can be very difficult, unpredictable, and in certain instances, the vocation can be fatal. Due to the need for photo journos to obtain photographs in all kinds of adverse circumstances (and in very dangerous situations), many photojournalists die each year in war zones and at different natural disaster sites around the world.
Time in the world of the photojournalist is measured in seconds, and at best, minutes: this is because the information consumption environment moves at such a rapid pace that today’s news is tonight’s history.