What is a photojournalist?

(Last Updated On: January 9, 2009)

photo by Rosh Sillars
photo by Rosh Sillars

The most exciting part of being a media photographer is that you have the opportunity to meet great people and witness events first hand.

Unlike commercial photographers, whose work remains nameless, the photojournalist’s identity is revealed to the world through the photo credit. Most importantly, a photojournalist is given the awesome responsibility of recording the history of a community, perhaps the world, from his perspective. 

I spent about 20 years working for newspapers. I’ve photographed rock starts, professional athletes and presidents as well as the local heroes. I’ve seen death. I’ve captured birth and true love in front of my lens. But, just as important as all the history passing in front of me is the style in which I depict it. Each image needs to tell its own story.

Some people would say many of the great early photojournalists such as Robert Capa where not very good photographers. I’ve heard it said that what made them great was that they were there and they got the shot. That may be true, but today with cameras found in every device and in the hands of more people than ever, being there is generally not enough.

You must be able to capture the decisive moment. This is the point in time that reveals the peak moment of a story. This requires the ability to read the scene, use your gut, and prepare yourself for a once-in-a-lifetime event or opportunity.

Photojournalism is a style of photography. Many wedding photographers present themselves as using the photojournalistic style, but all they are really offering are candid images. Photojournalism is not about candid photography.

Good photojournalists, including true photojournalistic wedding photographers, have studied the style. They understand the difference.

Being a photojournalist is a never-ending quest to better tell the stories in front of you with the photographic tools you carry. It’s mastering the wide lens by layering subjects to better tell the story. It’s the ability to use a long lens, composing fast-moving subjects while considering the interest of the foreground and background. It’s always observing and thinking about better ways to use light.

Although photojournalists may have a look or style to their images, their portfolios will show a variety of images: overall shots that set the scene; medium photographs that help tell the story; and close-up images to add drama. A good portfolio is packed with shots of emotion jumping off the pages.

Photojournalists are generally not the highest paid photographers, but are generally the most well known. They build relationships with editors, reporters and the community around them.

Some of the best commercial photographers were once working photojournalists. The ability to create beautiful imagery out of chaos translates well into the world of  commercial photography.

Photojournalism is a lifestyle and a rewarding career. However, the opportunities for the photojournalist are changing. Print media is shifting to the Web.  More editors are depending on citizens and stock photography to supply imagery. But, the ability to be able to tell a story well will always be in demand.

The future of the traditional photojournalist is unknown. But, the need for good imagery is growing. The photojournalist needs to continue to understand his value, not give in to pessimism and harmful pressure. Photojournalists will decide their own fate.



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