Photojournalism is a medium in which to convey a story, particularly a news story. Photojournalists aren’t only taking photos that look good. They are also taking photos that tells the viewer what is happening at that particular moment in time. It makes the viewer seem as thought they are right there in the action.
One thing that is different about photojournalism is the philosophies behind it. The photojournalist is there to take objective photos. You’re not promoting anything. You’re not selling anything. You are there to tell a news story, as the story is happening in front of you. There’s no judgement of what’s happening, there’s no fancy tricks to make a scene look better. What you take is what it is.
Which is why when you look at a lot of photojournalism works, they tend to be bare and raw. What’s most important is the scene.
In this article, I will give a primer on photojournalism and how to explore this side of photography.
Leaving Your Comfort Zone
When news stories happen – they simply happen. You have to be at the right place at the right time to take the best photos that describe what is happening. News stories have the pesky quality of happening in some odd places and usually with lots of people around, and they usually don’t check to see if you are fine with it.
There is an element of chaos in photojournalism because firstly, you have no idea when the ideal scene will occur. Secondly, no-one is following a script and events can suddenly occur or change. Case in point: I was taking photos at the Commonwealth Heads Of Government (CHOGM) meeting in Perth, Western Australia. One moment, it was fairly sedate with people chanting slogans while marching through the CBD. Next moment, a group of protesters are challenging the police, as they wanted to get past the police block.
What did I have to do? I battled through the crowd and took a photo. The above photo is what I managed. I had no warning that the protesters were going to challenge the police. I had no idea if the situation was going to escalate. Were the police going to take action and arrest them? Were the protesters going to make a serious push for the police block? Were other protesters going to join them?
However, it was a pivotal moment in the event and it was a photo that had to be taken.
So – you will have to leave your comfort zone. You will have to be comfortable with crowds, who are emotional and volatile. You will have to be comfortable with events suddenly going out of control. Put a good pair of running shoes on because you will be on your feet for long periods and you may need to dash out of the way when situations go bad.
Taking The Photo
One of the core essentials you’ll need to be a good photojournalist is quick reflexes. There is no time to set the scenes – and you can’t, anyway because people tend to be too busy being caught up in the moment to care about posing – so you have to go with the flow, and be quick with snapping opportunities. The best thing is to quickly set up the ISO, aperture and shutter speed (preferably as high as possible), and then snap away.
It’s best to stand around the outer edges of the crowd, as there will be less interference. There is nothing like seeing an interesting scene, only to have someone bump you with a placard the moment you press the shutter. Generally, a lens of 17-50mm (or even better, a 18-200mm) is enough to give you wide shots, and also an option to zoom closer as needed.
Look for interesting scenes. See who are the main characters in the scene. Have a listen around to see what is happening, which will help you determine which people are the important ones. If it’s a rally, see if you can find the organizers and take some photos of them, as they are leading the events from the front. Also, with any situation, there is always at least one character who stands out, either by their dress or their attitude. It might be someone dressed up for the occasion if it’s a rally, or it might be a bystander who has an attitude incongruous to what is happening, or is a scene that is out of the ordinary.
An example of a scene that is out of the ordinary is this photo above I took during the CHOGM protest. There was a very heavy police presence that day, and it is extremely rare to see so many police out in full force in the CBD. Or anywhere in Perth, for that matter.
The Ethics of Photojournalism
One of the issues with photojournalism is the ethics surrounding it. How far can you take the concept of “objectivity”?
A lot of photojournalism involves taking photos of people. If you were to go around and ask every person you take a photo of whether or not they give permission to take their photo, you would end up with not many photos at all. In a crowd situation, you will probably take photos of many people, not just the central subject. You may never be able to ask everyone for their permission.
Therefore, you may end up taking photos of people who do not want to be photographed for various reasons. For instance, they may be jeopardizing their job because their workplace does not condone their actions, or it could be for cultural reasons, or they just don’t like photos. Just because they are in a public space does not mean they have given permission to be in your photo. They may not find out until they come across your photo (if you have published it), which can be a rude shock.
Also, there will be times when you will see unpleasant situations, especially involving violence. Sometimes you will people fighting. Other times, you see the aftermath of a fight. Will you go and help the person on the ground, or take a photo first? How far out of your comfort zone are you willing to go?
In summary – photojournalism can be a very interesting experience, especially if you want to tell a story about an event. Watch yourself and weigh up how far you can push yourself, and you could be telling a great narrative with an arresting photo.