Documentary photography, street photography and photojournalism are closely related disciplines that share at least a few theoretical, practical and aesthetic ideologies, but what sets photojournalism apart is pretty simple — newsworthiness. Newsworthiness, in turn, embodies these three main elements: timeliness, objectivity, and narrative. The goal of photojournalistic work is to capture an event as it unfolds at any given moment.
While photojournalism does present certain genre-specific constraints and everyone has their own way of presenting the world to viewers, there are a few general basic ideas that anyone interested in getting started with photojournalism will find beneficial.
Conduct Some Research
Never forsake the “journalism” aspect of photojournalism. Think of yourself as a reporter. You may not be broadcasting live on the nightly news, but you still need to be prepared. You still need to consider the who, what, when, where and why behind every event that you photograph. This not only helps you tell a more complete story when someone asks you about your work but knowing as much as you can about a subject also allows you to create more meaningful images of what/who you’re photographing.
This was the philosophical crux of legendary photojournalist Arthur “Weegee” Felig. If you want the opportunity to photograph evocative moments as they happen, you’ve got to be there. While Weegee took it upon himself to keep a police radio with him so he would always be up on the latest happenings, today’s photographers have it so much easier — if you’ve got a phone you’ve got access to all the information you could ever desire. Find out what’s going on around you and get yourself there.
Affirm Your Credibility
It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re on a paid assignment; photojournalism pivots around a photographer’s credibility. The best way to establish your credibility is to produce accurate work. Be mindful of the fact that your job is to capture an event as it happens; you are not there to impose yourself onto the proceedings in any way other than to be in the midst of the action.
There may be times when you will find it difficult to be neutral — you’re only human, but your credibility (and that of your work) rests on unadulterated visual storytelling.
Content Is Supreme
Just get the shot. In photojournalism, content is what matters most. Of course, everyone appreciates a beautifully crafted shot — things like lighting and composition still have value for photojournalists — but you should never allow yourself to miss out on a crucial moment in your quest to make a “pretty” picture.
In this respect, photojournalism can be a rather forgiving genre, as aesthetic perfection isn’t demanded; but viewers won’t be so forgiving if they perceive your work plays fast and loose with the facts. Again, worry about getting the shot first. All else is subordinate.
Respect The Dignity Of Your Human Subjects
I realize that it’s common to refer to those humans who appear in our photos as “subjects,” but they should never be treated as objects. This is of particular importance when documenting stories of suffering and tragedy. While we have already discussed the need for impartiality, I believe it is equally pertinent to be compassionate — even if at a distance — when photographing others’ pain.
Being both impartial and compassionate surely presents a challenge in execution, but it’s a skill worth cultivating. It’s a skill that — as abstract as it is — will be discernible in your work.
Photojournalism isn’t for everyone. If you’re not quite comfortable with or interested in certain elements of photojournalism, yet you enjoy capturing life on the fly, you might prefer street photography; if you want to follow a particular story over time, you might take on a documentary project. But if you are prepared to accept the responsibilities associated with photojournalism, the thought presented above are there simply to help you find your footing. Practice and perseverance will take you the rest of the way.
Find Out More About Photojournalism
- An Introduction to Photojournalism – The Spruce has a piece on the basics of photojournalism
- How To: Photojournalism Techniques – The Photo Argus has a “how to”
- A Brief History Of Photojournalism – Go back through our archives to see our post on a history of photojournalism