Shooting Like a Photojournalist

The great thing about this form of photography is that anyone with a camera can try their hand at covering cultural and political events. The rise of eye-witness contributions from amateur and semi-pro sources has completely changed the media industry. There is still a place for professional coverage of course, but if you are interested in this type of work you don’t need a permission slip to get out and start building your portfolio.

To truly capture the event, you can’t be a mindless button pusher behind a piece of glass. Do some preliminary research. Once on scene, if you aren't afraid to talk to strangers, start some casual conversations with those attending the event. Apply the knowledge you gain and try to capture the emotions of the event in your compositions.

Some interesting shots are shots of others covering the event too, such as reporters and TV crews. They usually don’t mind if you hover and get shots of them in action and you get to hear the interviews to boot.

Obviously, you should check the weather report and dress appropriately. It’s one thing to be caught in the rain without an umbrella and have the fizzle taken out of that hairstyle you worked so hard on and another to be caught in the rain and have the fizzle taken out of a $2,000 camera.

If there is a chance of rain, you might want to bring a plastic bag to help keep your camera dry when you aren’t shooting. If you are going to be taking lots of pictures in the rain, you can buy an underwater camera case for less than $200. If you are going to be taking a lot of pictures outdoors, you might also consider a waterproof camera bag.

Lowepro makes a bag with waterproof zippers and a fully waterproof plastic-coated nylon shell at a reasonable price. Gloves with the index fingers cut out can be useful in the winter.

Every event has an overall message to be illustrated. As a photo journalist, you should try to capture images that best represent the event as a whole. In most situations, there will be outliers or images that may be dramatic but miss the larger picture (no pun intended) or meaning of the event.

If you’re shooting an event where 1000 people are pro issue X and 10 people show up against issue X, it wouldn’t be accurate to give both groups equal coverage. As a photojournalist, you need to be as honest as possible regardless of where your personal biases lie. Unfortunately, agenda’s often drive the final story; but, being a neutral photojournalist is an ideal you should strive for. 

The ironic thing about shooting crowds is that when you're trying to get the bigger picture, it usually entails getting shots of the individuals.

The first thing to remember in composing your shots of the crowd is that you need to see faces. A picture of the back of everyone’s head isn’t going to create the most interesting shot. It will simply lack emotion. This can create a conflict if the center of action is in the other direction. At the very lest, instead of shooting back-of-the-head shots, try to get at least one face in your shot and use that face as your focal point. This might mean that you have to swim up stream if the crowd is moving, or wade into the crowd and then turn around if the the crowd is stationary.

When picking a face out of the crowd, try and frame it with an interesting background. This might be a building, an interesting piece of architecture, or a sign. 

In this shot, the background happened to be the White House which gives the viewer a good context of the event.

Also, look for people with character, or people wearing unique clothing or hats. There is always someone making a fashion statement and those individuals will make a great focal point in your composition of the crowd.

If people are carrying signs, try to include the text as they help tell the story of the event. Usually you need to make sure you have both the individual and the sign, otherwise, all you have captured is a low-tech advertisement of their cause.

For example: the combination of the message on the sign and the children in this image.

Every rule can be broken of course like this headless sign shot is also visually appealing. Just remember, strive for an interesting and unique composition.

This article wouldn’t be complete without talking briefly about what type of gear you should take.

First, don’t get too hung up on gear. If you are using a point and shoot, then get out and point and shoot. If you have a nice 200mm zoom, then zoom away.

Avoid the feelings of “If I only had X, I could really cover that event.” you’ll never come to a point where you say “I have everything I want as a photographer,” so that feeling shouldn’t prevent you from using what you have now. Enough said.

Once you feel like you have enough experience under your belt, it’s time to go pro. You don’t want to be shooting without pay forever, so where do go for resources on how much to charge and how to work with perspective clients?

One of the best resources is the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). Things can get complicated when dealing with copyrights and contracts so do the research. 

Lastly, a great resource to help you make the leap from amature to pro is to attend a workshop. Look around for workshops in your area.

Good luck and happy shooting.

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