Simply put, it is telling a story with photographs. But its beyond that, like our writing brothers who tell stories with words, its conveying the truth. Its providing information, and its entertaining. A photojournalist isn’t someone who just goes to an event and snaps a few photos from it, they give insight to the reader.
Photojournalism became an integral part of our lives during World War II, when photos taken at the battle front came home to give the families at home a feel for what was happening. From National Geographic to your home town news paper, we all depend on photos to add a part to the story that connects us to the story.
Why is Photojournalism important?
We depend on photojournalists every day. More and more that photojournalist is a videographer instead of a photographer, but either involves telling the story visually instead of with words. Even though news sources like CNN get the news to us quicker, we still pick up the daily news and read the details.
Photos make or break a paper. Only the Wall Street Journal has survived all these years free of photos. In the United States, journalism is one of the last bastions of freedom that thrives today. Guaranteed by our forefathers, and protected by the
Constitution, the freedom of speech and expression is one of the most contested rights granted to us.
Our job is to make sure that the truth is told. Both sides of an issue spin the story their way, only though the unbiased press can the truth be told or presented so that we can make our own decisions on what the truth is.
However, words alone can carry the bias and spin of the person who wrote it. Photographs are seen and perceived as the unalterable truth. The photos connect us visually to the story and helps us identify with it. Photographers who work in the journalistic field must realize that they are not taking photos and getting paid. They are upholding a level of public trust that cannot be violated.
The ethics of a photojournalist must be the first and foremost thought in the photographers mind as they record history. Over the years pictures have been faked in some form or the other and the true photojournalist strives to make sure the photos that show in the pages of their publication are accurate. The “Digital Dentistry” of Newsweek performed on a recent cover, they all mis-lead the public and hurt the credibility of everyone in the profession.
As a photojournalist, you must understand it is not your job to make news but to record news. So if you are photographing the meeting of two city councilmen and you move them to make a better photo, you have changed the truth. You have altered the scene. You have misled the public if you become a part of the story. With the digital age upon us its even more tempting to zip an open fly, remove an ugly blemish from someone or flip a picture so it is more visually appealing, but doing so is a lie and we have to maintain our credibility.
Each person entering the field of Photojournalism must have strong ethics to do only what is right, lest we become nothing more than tabloids where no one believes anything, they just read it for the entertainment value.
Photojournalism the Career
The career of photojournalism is an interesting field to join. Depending on your desires, you can travel the world to exotic places or record your own town’s history in your local paper. It means getting in to places others can’t. It means being creative. There is a big thrill to open the pages of a magazine or news paper and see a photo with your name below it.
It also means low pay, long and sometimes weird hours. It means the stress of deadlines. It means bumping heads with other, sometimes much more aggressive photographers. There are physical toils as well. You sometimes have to lug heavy gear for distances or for long periods of time (the author’s camera bag weighs in at 23 pounds) where your body is out of balance. You sometimes have to work with less than pleasant chemicals, if you do your own film processing. Its not a glamour job.
There are several types of employment options available to photojournalists. The are: Staff, Freelance, and Stringer. Each has advantages and disadvantages, as you shall see.
The “staffer” is a person who works full time for a publication. A staff photographer gets the benefits associated with most full time jobs: Regular pay, medical benefits, retirement, vacation, workman’s comp, withheld taxes, access to equipment, and minimal personal expenses.
However, the photos taken by a staffer become the property of the publication they work for. Their schedule and assignments are set for them, and in many cases, the staff photographer has to do considerable post production work.
The freelance photographer is a photographer who works for himself. He sets the rules by which he shoots, decides which assignments to shoot, maintains complete creative control of his works and is not limited to shooting for one publication. He also decides when he wants to work and for how long. The freelancer may also delve into other fields of photography besides photojournalism, such as weddings, advertising, and studio work.
But the freelance photographer has no paid medical insurance, no retirement plans, no one to keep track of taxes and no access to pool equipment. The biggest drawback is that the freelancer doesn’t have steady work. They have to go make their own work. Freelancing isn’t for everyone.
The stringer is a cross between a staffer and a freelancer. A stringer is a freelancer who primarily provides photos to one source, more as a contract photographer. The advantages is you have a good outlet to sell your work where the pay is pretty steady. Most of the other aspects are as a freelancer, but you know that if you go shoot an event, there will be a buyer for the photos for you.
Film vs. Video
Today, photojournalists include video news personnel. In fact, videographers frequently have better access to event than do photographers. It is nothing to see both still and video photographers along the sidelines at a sporting event. Each has a market to sell to. This seminar will focus on still photography more than video, but many of the concepts work for both areas. In fact a new breed of photojournalist is showing up, photographers who do both.
The platypus is an odd beast who is difficult to classify. The term has been applied to a new breed of photojournalist who use both video and stills to record an event. Packed in their camera bag besides their trusty 35mm is a small video camera. More and more of these multi-purpose photographers are starting to show up. There is no doubt that video can be more compelling that stills depending on the event and a photographer who can capture both increases their market potential.
The 21st Century Marketplace
As we head toward the millennium, the world is a far different place than it was just a few years ago. Today we are in the “information age”. People want information, including visuals and they want it fast. With CNN providing around the world coverage as soon as it happens (if not sooner), people have grown to expect information now.
The information age has been driven largely in part by computers and computers are the driving force behind the single biggest revolution of the century, the Internet. All this leads to a digital environment. Not too long ago, it would take several hours to get an image from the camera to the press room. The event had to be recorded, the film had to be processed, and if it was a remote event, taken to a wire service to be broadcast to the publisher who took the image, set it, and then printed it.
Today, the photographer takes the picture, runs to her car, plugs the camera into a laptop and emails the photo over the Internet to the publication using a cellular modem. The publisher can get the photo within minutes of the photo being taken and have the paper out in a couple of hours.
Even hybrid film/digital setups are becoming the norm. Many photographers still prefer to work with film, but they scan the negatives or slides and then computers do the rest until press time.