Today, photojournalism remains the most efficient form of storytelling. It’s amazing what a single image can do, how a frozen moment can match the power of a movie or article.
Even the process itself, however, is not so cut and dry. A stunning shot is not slowly put together piece by piece, it materializes from thin air all at once and disappears just as quickly, if you’re not quick enough to catch it. It’s spontaneous; the story you didn’t know was there until you saw it.
So is photojournalism just plain luck and reflex? Far from it. It’s an age-old craft that’s as relevant today as ever before. We’ll always need people who can bring the world to us one image at a time, and even today, a new generation of nascent photojournalists are chomping at the bits to grab a camera and punch a plane ticket to see what’s out there.
Whether you’re experimenting for fun or considering photojournalism as a career, these 7 photojournalism tips will break down what it takes to tell compelling real-life stories through photography, and get you ready for whatever comes your way.
Spontaneity is the fruit of preparation. The more you know about a story, a place and a people before you arrive on the scene, the more free you are to explore. Otherwise, it’s like walking into a movie midway through. Learn as much as you can about who and what you’re shooting, and know your equipment like the back of your hand. That way, when you’re on the scene, capturing will feel as natural as breathing.
2. Aperture Priority Mode
We’re going to get technical here, but you’ll thank us for it. Aperture Priority mode (Av mode, on some cameras) is a semi-automatic camera setting that gives you basic control to choose your aperture ahead of time, while freeing you up to fire a quick shot without fumbling. Aperture lets you set your depth of field, which determines how much of what is behind and in front of your subject will be in focus. If you lock in your aperture below f/4, you’ll have a shallow depth of field, which is perfect for close-ups and portraits because it blurs everything behind them, putting them in crisp focus at the center of the story. Because Aperture Priority mode is semi-automatic, your shutter speed will be determined automatically, so you won’t get tied up fiddling with settings and miss the moment.
So much of photojournalism comes to the simple act of waiting, but if patience is a virtue, then so is vigilance. Nurture living in an open state; use your eyes, ears and your instincts. Moments are constantly brewing, and if you’re inward looking, you’ll miss the indicators and tremors. Most importantly, remember that you will miss moments all the time, but defining moments don’t just happen once. Keep your antennas out, even after a big moment passes you by — lightning often strikes twice.
4. It’s a Camera, Not a Gun
People often respond to cameras similarly to the way they do to weapons. You need to draw attention away from your camera, and watch your body language. Pulling a camera up to your shoulder like a sniper rifle will draw the wrong kind of attention. If you’re in a tense situation, you may even need to learn to shoot from your chest looking down at your viewfinder. Otherwise, just pull up the camera for a quick snap like it’s no big deal and put it down. Never enter a room with your camera held at the ready — don’t let the first thing people see be you staring them down through a long black lens. Blend in, keep your intensity low and handle your camera in a friendly, non-assuming way.
5. Care, Don’t Judge
Being a journalist means bearing witness, and learning how to be a good witness is important. If people feel your judgement or distrust you, it’s hard to capture candid shots. Don’t give opinions; ask questions. Disappear through integration, talk to people on their level, and if people ask you questions, you don’t need to dive into a debate, just communicate that you care. If you care people can feel it, and they’ll let you into their world.
6. Choosing Your Subject
The most important part of photojournalism is surprisingly not as obvious as it may seem. An event is actually a multitude of stories, and what you focus on will decide where you think the real story is. Do you focus on the cause or the effect, the people or the place? Is what everybody’s paying attention to the same thing that you should be paying attention to? Be smart about where you aim your lens, and shoot what connects with you most.
7. One Step Closer
So much of the power of photojournalism is that it brings us all closer to powerful and intimate moments that we usually can’t see from far away. You won’t capture photos like that standing on the other side of the room, you want to get as close as you can to your subject. A good general rule is to get as close as you can without getting uncomfortable, then take one step closer.
Have you captured any stories that you would like to share? Share your favorite shots on PicsArt photo editor with the hashtag #PhotoStory and tell us about it!