Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tips of the Trade: Shoot Like a Photojournalist

I really loved this month's newsletter from Digi Pixels' Digital Photography 101 episode. I think in my heart of hearts, this portraiture photographer longs to be a photojournalist. My roots as a print journalist always have me seeking that candid, storytelling shot that I make sure I capture during every session. So I thought I'd share this episode with you in case you long to be a photojournalist too:

Have you ever glanced at the front page of the paper and seen a photo that told you everything you needed to know about the lead story? Photojournalists have the job of doing exactly that: telling a story or capturing a moment in a photo that needs no further explanation. Today I'd like to tell you a little about shooting like a photojournalist and how to apply it to your own photography.

Framing and Angles
A successful photojournalist will take full advantage of his or her frame, and will use angles to capture or omit details of the image that help tell the story. For example, a close up of a crying 5 year old child invokes emotion and sympathy, but when the same image shows the child crying as she gets onto a school bus, the photo becomes humorous. When you review your own photos, ask yourself, "does this photo need a caption or does the image say it all?"

Commentary through Photos
Taking a picture is more than just capturing a moment; when you take a picture, you are commenting on how a situation makes you feel, and translating your reaction into a photograph. For example, a picture of an elderly woman on a park bench can mean several things, depending on how you shoot the photo. If you frame the elderly woman on the far side of the photo with an empty bench next to her, that photo could represent loneliness or longing. But, if you frame the woman on the bench surrounded by cars and people on the go, then she could symbolize a moment of peace in the midst of a busy day. Finally, if you shoot the picture vertically with an old weathered tree behind the woman, you are making a statement about aging. Another example is a boy with a toy rocket ship -- if you frame the shot so the boy and his rocket ship are in the bottom with a lot of blue sky filling the rest of the shot, then you are saying something about the youthful innocence of our dreams. We as photographers have so much control over the emotion of a picture; the key is to ask yourself what you want to convey, then find the angle to capture it.

Taking the Shot
You need to learn to be quick on your feet when shooting as a photojournalist. I recommend this approach: as a situation is unfolding in front of you, take one or two pictures quickly, just to make sure that you get the shot. You can always go back and edit those later if you don't end up with anything better. Then, if there is time, examine the scene to look for the right angle or approach to express the feeling or statement you are after. Move your position, change angles, and mind the background and foreground. Keep shooting until the moment passes or until you are sure that you got the perfect shot.

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