Chapter 16

Chapter 16 - Photojournalists

Taking good journalistic pictures is far more difficult than simply snapping the shutter of a camera. Good pictures take considerable knowledge, skill, and planning -- with a little luck thrown in.

Photojournalists must understand the essentials of a good picture. Subjects should be expressive and active. The framing and composition of the photo must present the subject in an understandable and interesting way. The technical quality of the photo should be such that it allows the viewer to see what the photographer wants to show. None of these is particularly easy to achieve.

Photojournalists must begin their work with an understanding of what makes a good photograph and how it is an essential part of journalism. They should also know their equipment well enough to understand how they can use it to take good pictures. Finally, on any photo assignment they have, they should do a lot of thinking and planning about how they will shoot that assignment.

Many of these qualities become instinctive for experienced photojournalists, but experience is the key. Those who aspire to become photojournalists should start taking pictures right away.

Study questions
  • Describe some of the things a photojournalist must do to take a good picture.

  • What are the three types of news photos? What is the value of each? Which is generally the easiest to take? the hardest? Why?

  • What tools are as important to a photojournalist as the camera?

  • What are the characteristics of a good news photograph?

  • Describe the process of photo editing. What steps are usually taken to get photographs ready for publication?

  • What is accomplished by cropping a picture?

  • What formula does the book present for scaling a picture?

  • Scaling should always be proportional. What does that mean?

  • How has digital photography changed photojournalism?

  • What are some of the major ethical principles and practices a photojournalist and photo editor must observe?

  • What are the general rules for writing a cutline?

Chapter notes

Three shots. The chapter discusses three types of photos based on how far away the photographer is from the subject: establishing shots, mid-range shots and close-ups. Students should know the differences among the three and should understand why each is important. The collage at the right shows an establishing shot at the top, a mid-range shot in the middle, and a close-up at the bottom. The hardest shots to take for most students are the close-ups. Beginning photographers often feel self-conscious about what they are doing and believe they will irritate their subjects if they get to close. They should work to overcome those feelings.

Cutlines. The book mentions cutlines at the end of the chapter but because of space reasons does not give any examples. Cutlines are sometimes hard to construct, but they are very important. Photographers do not always have to write the cutlines for their pictures (although they should do so whenever they get the chance). They should always gather the information needed for a cutline, including the names (spelled correctly) of the people visible in their photos.

Planning. The chapter emphasizes the importance of planning for photographers. They should think about what they will be doing at a news event – where they will be, what kind of shots they will be taking, who will be in the pictures, what is likely to happen. Drawing a sketch of the scene and making notes on it is a good idea. Discuss an upcoming news event at your school or college and how a photographer might plan for it.

National News Photographers Association. For those interested in photojournalism, this is one of the best organizations to be affiliated with. Visit the organization’s web site ( and find out what’s required to join. You’ll also find a lot more there.

Digital manipulation. All good photojournalists want to protect the integrity of a photograph. That is, they do not want to distort or photograph or change the content so that it is not true to its subject. Unfortunately, digital photography and electronic editing make such manipulation all too easy. That is a constant worry for photojournalists. The Associated Press has issued guidelines on electronic handling of photographs that are well worth reading.

Key concepts and terms

• Despite the ease of the technology, taking a good picture – one that is worthy of good journalism – is difficult; it takes both skill and planning.

• Three types of photos dominate photojournalism – establishing shots, midrange shots and close-ups.

• Pictures can be inaccurate in that they can place information in an inaccurate context; photojournalists must have the same commitment to truth and accuracy that other photojournalists have.

• A pen and notebook are as important to the photojournalist as a camera.

• Three of the most important elements in making a good photograph are drama, emotion and action.

Mug shot – journalistic slang for a picture of a person’s head and shoulders.

Cropping – in the photo editing process, eliminating unnecessary parts of a photograph.

Scaling – changing the size of a picture to fit into a publication or web site.

Proportionality – maintaining the relationship between the width and depth of a photograph when it is being changed in size; the opposite of proportionality is distortion.

Cutline – the words that explain what is in a photograph.

Related web
sites for
Chapter 16

American Photography: A Century of Images (PBS)

American Society of Media Photographers

American photojournalist. com

Associated Press Photo Managers

The Digital Journalist

NPPA: National Press Photographers Association

Poynter Online Photojournalism tipsheets

Section I | 1: News and Society  |  2: Culture of Journalism  |  3: Becoming a Journalist
Section II  |  4: Newspapers  |  5: Magazines  |  6: Television and Radio  |  7: News Web Sites
Section III  |  8: Reporters  |  9: Reporting  |  10: Writing news and features  |  11: Style  | 
12: Editors13: Editing and headline writing  |  14: Visual Journalists  |
  15: Graphics Journalism  |  16: Photojournalism  |  17: Publication Design  |
  18: Broadcasters  |  19: Writing for Broadcast
Section IV  |  20: Beginnings of Journalism  |  21: Journalism Comes of Age  | 
22: New Realities, New Journalism  |   23: 20th Century and Beyond
Section V  |  24: Law and the Journalist  |  25: Ethical Practices  |   26: Present and Future
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