Photojournalism Basics – Day 2

Week 3 Plan

  1. Questions about Blog Post #2 on Creative Devices? — Due today by 11:59 p.m. Submit URL to WyoCourses.
  2. Photojournalism Activity #1
  3. Discussion of Photojournalism Power
  4. Photojournalism Categories
  5. Review of Blog Post #3: Photojournalism — Due Mon. 9/30 by 11:59 p.m.
  6. Photojournalism Activity #2
  7. More Tips for Photojournalism
  8. Examples of Photojournalism
  9. Brainstorming Activity
  10. Reminder of Photography/Photojournalism Quiz on Mon. 9/23 in class at 11 a.m.
  11. Ethics in Photojournalism
  12. Editing in Photojournalism
  13. Concerns about the Field of Photojournalism

Photojournalism Activity #1: Memorable Photo

On a piece of paper, briefly describe one memorable photo that you have seen in your life (or recently). Describe the photo — who, what, where, when, why, how, so what.

Then, discuss why this photo is memorable to you.

Write your name on the paper. We will talk about these photos and submit the activity.

Purpose and Power of Visuals

Photojournalism is our window to the world around us. A picture is worth a 1,000 words.

The purpose of photojournalism is to capture the people and events that make the news. Photojournalism can supplement a text story or can serve as a stand-alone story.

We remember news stories in images because they are powerful and emotional.

Photographers have the power to frame the narrative surrounding complex issues, people, current events, and more. The media has a lot of control and influence over what issues the public discusses and how the public visualizes these issues.

For example, research shows that if we can more easily visualize a particular risk, then we are more likely to over-estimate the chance of that risk materializing in our own lives. Is it easier to visualize a terrorist attack or cardiovascular disease? Because it’s easier to visualize a terrorist attack, we tend to over-estimate this risk compared to the cardiovascular disease risk. And this impacts what our nation, politicians, and society focuses on in terms of money, resources, and attention.

Bottom line: Visuals are powerful.

Categories of Photojournalism

The following categories are defined by the National Press Photographer’s Association (NPPA) and included in the Best of Photography competitions. The College Photographer of the Year (CPOY) Awards also use these categories.

Feature (Enterprise): A photograph of a ‘found situation’ that features strong human interest elements, or a fresh view of an everyday scene. A picture that uses humor or focuses on the lighter side of life is well suited for this category. Examples

Portrait: A single photograph that captures a unique aspect of a local figure’s character and personality. Examples (Content Warning: the third photo down the page shows exposed breasts from breast cancer survey in blue light; it is not very graphic and tastefully done, in my opinion) 

Sports Action: A peak action picture that captures the spirit of a sports competition—either on the part of an individual or an athletic team. Examples

Sports Feature: A sports-related feature picture that depicts the jubilation of victory or the agony of defeat. The event covered should be separate from the game action or outside of the field of play. Examples

General News: Recognizing that much of the daily news coverage is planned in advance, we seek to reward outstanding achievement based on creativity and timing at organized events such as general meetings, promotional events and staged coverage opportunities. Examples

Spot News: An event that is not planned, so the photographer must react on instinct and news judgment. This picture may be of a breaking news event, or a part of issue coverage. Examples

Domestic Picture Story: This is a series of photographs surrounding the same event, person, or idea. The photographs tell a story with detailed paragraph-length captions and powerful photos. These photo stories have even more power to influence the frame, perspective, and tone applied to the event, person, or idea. As we look at these examples, think about an alternative frame, perspective, or tone that could be applied to these examples and become equally as powerful. Content Warning for Example 1 (it features a photo story about a person with a mental disability who was sexually abused) and Example 2

Blog Post 3 – Photojournalism

Let’s take a look at the next assignment while the categories are fresh in our heads.

Photojournalism Activity #2: Getting Up Close and Personal (and Uncomfortable)

  1. Think about your favorite creative devices photo that you have captured thus far for your assignment due tonight. Take a moment and think about how you’d describe this photo to another person. Why is it your favorite? What about this photo is powerful?
  2. Find someone in class who you have not spoken with before. Get really close to their face, like 6 inches apart.
  3. Take turns describing your favorite creative devices photos. Talk for at least 30 seconds.
  4. When I announce it, find someone in the class who you are friends/acquaintances with. Get really close to their face, like 6 inches apart.
  5. Take turns describing your favorite creative devices photos. Talk for at least 30 seconds.

To what extent was this activity uncomfortable? How does this relate to photojournalism?

Learning Outcome: Photojournalism (and journalism) can be very uncomfortable. It is essential to push yourself through these uncomfortable moments in order to gain your source’s full attention, trust, and confidence.

I forced you to be uncomfortable as part of a class assignment, and you did it because you had to. Now, take that forced push to your photojournalism assignment. Be prepared to be uncomfortable moving around a scene, taking photos of strangers. But push yourself to be calm, focus on using the creative devices, and see the unique angles and moments of the scenes.

How do you do this? Lose your ego and stop caring about “looking silly” or looking out-of-place with a camera.

If you are uncomfortable talking to someone or uncomfortable behind the camera taking photos, your source will be uncomfortable talking to you or uncomfortable in front of the camera.

In short: Be comfortable with yourself. Otherwise, forget about capturing real moments.

More Photojournalism Tips

The creative devices tips still apply to photojournalism. Other helpful hints are found below. Many of these highlights are found in Chapter 5 in Journalism Next.

  1. Have a working camera with you at all times. Even a smartphone is acceptable.
  2. Have one clear subject in your photo. The subject should be in focus and stand out from everything else in the photo. A street is not a subject. Seven people walking down the sidewalk is not a subject. One person walking down the street is a subject. Note: This rule is sometimes meant to be broken. You can take great photos of a mass crowd or a group of people, however, more skill is required. It’s easier to stick with the rules as you’re learning. Then, break them later when you know what you’re doing more.
  3. Act natural. Make yourself comfortable and invisible.
  4. Move around without violating Tip 4.
  5. Be patient and don’t rush.
  6. Take a lot of photos. For every subject, take at least 10 photos. **I can’t emphasize this enough. Move around and take a lot of photos!**
  7. Place subjects so that they are moving or looking into the photo, rather than out of it. For example, if a person is pointing to the right, be sure he is at the left of your photo.
  8. Keep the light behind you so the subject’s face is lit (unless deliberately creating a shadow out of the subject).
  9. Avoid using the flash as much as possible. Use natural light.
  10. If you’re shooting sports action, then avoid evening or low-light conditions (the photos will be blurry)!
  11. Be aware of the background. Make sure there are no trees or objects protruding from your subject’s head or limbs. And, make sure there are no photobombs.

Examples of Photojournalism: Sports, Human Interest / Feature, and General News

Let’s check out some strong regional photojournalism by AAron Ontiveroz, Denver Post photojournalist.

Brainstorming Photojournalism Opportunities

Take a few minutes to brainstorm what photojournalism opportunities you’d like to engage in. Check out the WyoEvents calendar on WyoCourses. Think about where you can go to get good feature photos and sports photos. Once you have an event or photography idea, please take a few minutes to anticipate what may happen there and what you should take photos of. This is what “real” photojournalists do. They are assigned events and issues, and they must decide how to visualize the story. Write down some ideas about:

  • The “cover-your-ass” photos — (Phase used by AAron Ontiveroz, Denver Post photojournalist) These are the absolutely necessary photos that you need in order to just “have the basics” covered for the event. Think about these photos as the more obvious shots.
  • The creative photos — These are the shots that really show off your skills as a photographer. How can you use creative devices, perspective, your own movement/location to take memorable shots?

Remember that we are taking photos of strangers and we aren’t posing people in photos. We need at least one non-sports feature photo and one sports photo (feature or action). The rest of the three photos are up to you. Raise your hand if you have any questions during this brainstorming time.


According to the President Emeritus of the NPPA Alicia Wagner Calzada, photojournalists must live up to a high standard because ethics are “what sets us apart from art and advertising.”

She notes that when journalists are reporting, they should not cave-in to pressure from people who ask, “what do you want me to do?” Journalists should instruct people to continue their behavior as if they were not present.

Photojournalism is capturing history the way that the stories actually unfolded. You are telling the story with images. You are not supposed to manipulate the story. These are reasons why there is a code of ethics.

Copied from the NPPA Code of Ethics

1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.

2. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.

“But sometimes it is not the photographer who manipulates the scene, but rather the organizers of media events through what is known as a “photo opportunity,” where the subject(s) of a picture are asked to pose for the photographers — politicians shaking hands for the cameras or victorious athletes holding up their trophies.

While these scenes are real, in the sense that they actually happened, they should be clearly captioned as photo opportunities for maximum accuracy and transparency.

The same accuracy is also necessary when describing portraiture — those occasions when photographers pose their subjects for formal portraits.” — Santiago Lyon, vice president of photography for The Associated Press

3. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one’s own biases in the work.

4. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.

5. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.

6. Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.

“But there is another type of image manipulation — when a photographer orchestrates a scene to fit his or her own narrative by asking the subject(s) to do things they would not ordinarily do, or by asking them to repeat things they were doing prior to the photographer’s arrival.”  — Santiago Lyon, vice president of photography for The Associated Press

7. Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.

8. Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.

9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.

What NOT To Do: Breaking Ethics Codes

Following ethics codes is about establishing and maintaining the trust of our audience. The cases below illustrate when that trust was broken.

  1. Brian Walski from the LA Times combined two photos to create a more aggressive and confrontational presentation of the situation.
  2. Time magazine made OJ Simpson look more sinister by manipulating the color, burning the corners and shrinking the prisoner ID number on his mugshot. Newsweek did not alter the photo.
  3. Klavs Bo Christensen, a Danish photojournalist, was disqualified from a photo competition because of using too much color saturation.
  4. Read thoughts from photographers about manipulation, staging, and excessive digital editing of photographs.

Editing in Photojournalism

For more details, you can read Ch. 5, starting on p. 165 about managing and editing digital photos.

The basics of editing include:

  1. Cropping
  2. Tone and light adjustment
  3. Resizing
  4. Saving for the web

You can accomplish these tasks on many programs, including the subscription-based Adobe Photoshop (although, free on UW student computer labs) and free online software like Pixlr.

In your Blog Post 3 – Photojournalism assignment, you are limited to these minor photo adjustments.

Remember, you should only edit photos to better reflect how the event actually occurred in real life. Use your memory to guide you. Err on the side of no editing than over-editing.

Concern About the Photojournalism Field

The photojournalism field is dominated by men, and there are problems with sexism and harassment in the field.

Let’s listen to this report by NPR to get a sense of how photojournalism is shaped by men.

About The Author

I'm an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Communication and Journalism Department at the University of Wyoming. In my ninth year at UW, I regularly teach multimedia production, web design, political communication, quantitative research methods, and media, science, and society.