Photojournalism101

Coburn Dukehart, Digital and Multimedia Director

Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

A little about me:

  • I have an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin
  • I have a master’s degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri
  • I worked as an intern in the photo department of the White House and the washingtonpost.com
  • I worked as a photo editor at washingtonpost.com, USAToday.com, NPR, and National Geographic
  • I am now the digital and multimedia director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
  • Ok, enough about me, let’s talk about photojournalism!

What is Photojournalism?

At its core, photojournalism is journalism, with a camera.

Photojournalism is a way of documenting people’s lives and intimate moments to help readers and viewers gain insight into their story. This can take the form of documentary-style photos or environmental portraiture.

The same rules of journalism apply to photojournalism, and that means ETHICS.

So before we talk about making photos, let’s briefly talk about ethics. Can anyone give me some examples of what you should or shouldn’t do while working as a photojournalist?

The “Do’s” of ethical photojournalism

  • Always be truthful with your subjects. Tell them who you are and why you are photographing them. Do not use deceit to gain access to a photo op.
  • Be truthful with your camera. Only document the truth of what is occurring in front of your camera. Do not rearrange the scene or set something up that isn’t actually happening.
  • Be truthful in the editing of your images, and that can range from picture selection to “Photoshopping.” Only produce images digitally that accurately represent the scene as you saw it in person.
  • Work to represent diversity in your imagery. Go beyond your comfort zone to be inclusive in your visual reporting.

The “Do’s” of portraiture

  • Before shooting a portrait, ask yourself, what am I trying to show? What am I trying to say with this photograph?
  • Ask your subject how they would like to be portrayed. Do they have any ideas of where a good portrait could be made?
  • Ask them how much time they have and be respectful of it. Let them be a part of the creative process.
  • Know how to use your gear, even if it's just your phone
  • Know how to use light.
  • Have fun! (Really, you will make better portraits if you can have fun while doing it.)

Utilize the rule of thirds: With portraits, try to place the eyes on one of the cross sections.

Photo by Emily Hamer

A portrait doesn’t mean the subject has to be looking at the camera. It's ok to ask your subject to look away from the lens. Often, this makes them feel more comfortable.

Photo by Emily Hamer

Photo by Coburn Dukehart

Use interesting composition and perspective

Photo by

Emily Hamer

Look for interesting or textured backgrounds.

When shooting two people try to layer them so they aren't standing right next to each other.

Photo by Emily Hamer

Same when shooting a group, try to layer them so they aren't standing all in a line.

Photo by Coburn Dukehart

Overcast days can be great days to shoot. The lighting is usually soft and even when there is cloud cover.

Photo by Coburn Dukehart

This is what the lighting looked like on that day. See how their faces look evenly lit with no shadows?

(Also, see how they aren't arranged in a line and the composition adds perspective? Plus there are cows. Bonus.)

Photo by Coburn Dukehart

Often the best light is a cloudy day, or at the beginning or end of the day. This photo was taken during the "golden hour" when the sun is setting.

Photo by Emily Hamer

And never underestimate the power of window light.

Photo by Emily Hamer

Use perspective to set a mood and tell a story.

Shooting someone from above can set make them feel smaller or diminutive.

Photo by Emily Hamer

While shooting someone from below can make them seem more powerful.

Photo by Coburn Dukehart

What makes a good portrait?

With a portrait, in addition to light and composition, one of the main things you’ll want to think about is “depth-of-field” or “aperture.”

If you have a manual camera, you should always control the aperture during a portrait.

If you have an iPhone with dual lenses you can use "portrait" mode to blur your background.

*More on aperture explained here.

Even if you can't control the aperture, here are some basic tips:

Step away from that wall!

Putting a subject against a wall compresses the background and makes the image feel flat. Ask them to step forward a few feet.

That's better, but what could be better than that?

Look for interesting angles to use in the background

Hmmm...not quite...

Be aware of your lighting.

In this photo the shadows are very harsh, what can you do?

Getting there...

The lighting is better...but remember, step away from the wall!

So close….

This is good, but are there elements you can use to make it more compositionally interesting?

Yes!!

Using the window reflection and including her whole silhouette improves the composition of the photo. The lighting is soft and even, and there is depth to the frame.

Yes!!

And see how the rule of thirds applies to this composition as well.

So….some (very) basic tips:

Think about what you are trying to say with your image. What mood and message do you want to create?

Look for available light and consider how to use it.

Get closer.

No really, GET CLOSER!

Then, get further away.

Change your perspective.

Shoot a lot.

Patience is a virtue.

Thank your subject for their time.

Photo by Emily Hamer

Some more resources:

This NYTimes article on shooting for Instagram.

(This is about food but could also apply to people)

Example of how using the Rule of Thirds can improve a landscape.

Some helpful iPhone photo tips

The basics of aperture explained here.

Documentary photojournalism: a few tips

  • Introduce yourself and thank your subject for allowing you to be there.
  • When you are ready to shoot, be deliberate and thoughtful.
  • Blend into the background. As much as possible, don’t talk or engage with the scene in a way that changes the event.
  • Always secure access and permission before shooting on private property. This includes schools, hospitals, and private businesses. Public events and things happening outdoors or in public buildings are usually ok. When in doubt - ask!
  • Always be transparent about what you are shooting and why. If people ask you to stop or seem uncomfortable, you should stop. We are not the paparazzi!
  • When getting to a scene, unless it’s breaking news, take some time to watch and wait. Learn what is going on, find out when the peak action will happen, ask questions to learn more about the story.
  • Arrive early and stay late. (always pack food, water and appropriate clothes!)
  • Try different angles and different lenses to capture the scene.
  • Bore people with your presence. They will be self-conscious at first, but ultimately forget you are there.
  • Shoot a lot. Don’t forget wide, medium, tight, and super-tight shots.
  • Anticipate the action. Be in front of it, not behind it when it happens.
  • Try to tell a story with your photos, look for the perfect combination of composition, light, and moment.
  • Look for emotion, capture honest moments
  • Always get names, and write down the details of who, what, when, where and why
  • Know how to use your gear. Be ready to change settings on the fly.
  • Look for where the other photographers are, and then go somewhere else

Photojournalism101

Coburn Dukehart, Digital and Multimedia Director

Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

A little about me:

  • I have an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin
  • I have a master’s degree in photojournalism from the University of Missouri
  • I worked as an intern in the photo department of the White House and the washingtonpost.com
  • I worked as a photo editor at washingtonpost.com, USAToday.com, NPR, and National Geographic
  • I am now the digital and multimedia director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
  • Ok, enough about me, let’s talk about photojournalism!

What is Photojournalism?

At its core, photojournalism is journalism, with a camera.

Photojournalism is a way of documenting people’s lives and intimate moments to help readers and viewers gain insight into their story. This can take the form of documentary-style photos or environmental portraiture.

The same rules of journalism apply to photojournalism, and that means ETHICS.

So before we talk about making photos, let’s briefly talk about ethics. Can anyone give me some examples of what you should or shouldn’t do while working as a photojournalist?

The “Do’s” of ethical photojournalism

  • Always be truthful with your subjects. Tell them who you are and why you are photographing them. Do not use deceit to gain access to a photo op.
  • Be truthful with your camera. Only document the truth of what is occurring in front of your camera. Do not rearrange the scene or set something up that isn’t actually happening.
  • Be truthful in the editing of your images, and that can range from picture selection to “Photoshopping.” Only produce images digitally that accurately represent the scene as you saw it in person.
  • Work to represent diversity in your imagery. Go beyond your comfort zone to be inclusive in your visual reporting.

The “Do’s” of portraiture

  • Before shooting a portrait, ask yourself, what am I trying to show? What am I trying to say with this photograph?
  • Ask your subject how they would like to be portrayed. Do they have any ideas of where a good portrait could be made?
  • Ask them how much time they have and be respectful of it. Let them be a part of the creative process.
  • Know how to use your gear, even if it's just your phone
  • Know how to use light.
  • Make sure you have their name and title spelled right.
  • Have fun! (Really, you will make better portraits if you can have fun while doing it.)

Utilize the rule of thirds: With portraits, try to place the eyes on one of the cross sections.

Photo by Emily Hamer

Let's talk about about depth of field

With a portrait, in addition to light and composition, one of the main things you’ll want to think about is “depth-of-field” or “aperture.”

If you have a manual camera, you should always control the aperture during a portrait. Use the smallest aperture you can to blur the background.

If you have an iPhone with dual lenses you can use "portrait" mode to blur your background.

*More on aperture explained here.

A portrait doesn’t mean the subject has to be looking at the camera. It's ok to ask your subject to look away from the lens. Often, this makes them feel more comfortable.

Photo by Emily Hamer

Photo by Coburn Dukehart

Use interesting composition and perspective to draw the eye through the frame.

Photo by Emily Hamer

Look for interesting or textured backgrounds.

When shooting two people try to layer them so they aren't standing right next to each other.

Photo by Coburn Dukehart

When shooting a group, try to stagger them so they aren't standing in a straight line.

Photo by Coburn Dukehart

Overcast and cloudy days can be great days to shoot. The lighting is usually soft and even.

Photo by Coburn Dukehart

This is what the lighting looked like on that day. See how their faces look evenly lit with no shadows?

Also, see how they aren't arranged in a line and the composition adds perspective?

Plus there are cows. Bonus.

Photo by Coburn Dukehart

Often the best light is a cloudy day, or at the beginning or end of the day.

This photo was taken during the "golden hour" when the sun is setting.

Photo by Emily Hamer

And never underestimate the power of window light.

Photo by Emily Hamer

Use perspective to set a mood and tell a story.

Shooting someone from above can set make them feel smaller or diminutive.

Photo by Emily Hamer

While shooting someone from below can make them seem more powerful.

Photo by Coburn Dukehart

Even if you can't control the aperture, here are some basic tips:

Step away from that wall!

Putting a subject against a wall compresses the background and makes the image feel flat. Ask them to step forward a few feet.

That's better, but the background is still fairly dull, what can you do to improve the composition?

Hmmm...not quite...

Be aware of your lighting.

In this photo the shadows are very harsh, what can you do?

Getting there...

The lighting is better … but remember, step away from the wall!

So close….

This is good, but are there elements you can use to make it more compositionally interesting?

Yes!!

Using the window reflection and including her whole silhouette improves the micro-composition of the photo.

The lighting is soft and even, and there is depth to the frame.

And see how the rule of thirds applies to this composition.

Her eyes are on the top third line, and her shadow is in the left third of the photo.

So….some (very) basic tips:

Think about what you are trying to say with your image. What mood and message do you want to create?

Look for available light and consider how to use it.

Get closer.

No really, GET CLOSER!

Then, get further away.

Change your perspective.

Shoot a lot.

Patience is a virtue.

Thank your subject for their time.

Photo by Emily Hamer

Some more resources:

This NYTimes article on shooting for Instagram.

(This is about food but could also apply to people)

Example of how using the Rule of Thirds can improve a landscape.

Some helpful iPhone photo tips

The basics of aperture explained here.

Documentary photojournalism: A few tips

  • Introduce yourself and thank your subject for allowing you to be there.
  • When you are ready to shoot, be deliberate and thoughtful.
  • Blend into the background. As much as possible, don’t talk or engage with the scene in a way that changes the event.
  • Always secure access and permission before shooting on private property. This includes schools, hospitals, and private businesses. Public events and things happening outdoors or in public buildings are usually ok. When in doubt - ask!
  • Always be transparent about what you are shooting and why. If people ask you to stop or seem uncomfortable, you should stop. We are not the paparazzi!
  • When getting to a scene, unless it’s breaking news, take some time to watch and wait. Learn what is going on, find out when the peak action will happen, ask questions to learn more about the story.
  • Arrive early and stay late. (Always pack food, water and appropriate clothes!)
  • Try different angles and different lenses to capture the scene.
  • Bore people with your presence. They will be self-conscious at first, but ultimately forget you are there.
  • Shoot a lot. Don’t forget wide, medium, tight, and super-tight shots.
  • Anticipate the action. Be in front of it, not behind it when it happens.
  • Try to tell a story with your photos, look for the perfect combination of composition, light, and moment.
  • Look for emotion, capture honest moments
  • Always get names, and write down the details of who, what, when, where and why
  • Know how to use your gear. Be ready to change settings on the fly.
  • Look for where the other photographers are, and then go somewhere else
Photojournalism 101 - Google Slides