A To Z Of Photojournalism
A for “Art?”
Photojournalism clearly contains an aesthetic element characteristic to art. But some observers object to the idea of photojournalism as art. Journalism in general is about reporting facts. Does Art connote something artificial? Or is it simply putting style over content? If photojournalism is art, does it necessarily become more of a commodity, more “entertainment” and less “truth”? – In other words, is it appropriate to look at photos of human suffering while sipping champagne in an art gallery or lattés over a photo book? There is no short and definite answers to these questions, so let the debate rage on!
B for “Black & White”
This was pretty much all there was during the first hundred years of photojournalism. When color photojournalism started appearing more regularly in print, from the 1960s and onwards, it was initially met with some resentment, even accusations of vulgarity. During the 1980s photojournalism was more dominated by color photos and today, interestingly, black and white is again in, not from inevitability any longer, but as an accepted stylistic choice. An argument often heard is that black and white photos focuses the viewers attention on the content of the photo, rater than the photo itself.
C for “Canon vs. Nikon”
Two of the biggest camera manufacturers in the world today. Photojournalists often engage in friendly mud-throwing contests between the Canonians and Nikonians. Both camera systems are excellent though, with a big catalogue of lenses to go along and service centers located around the world.
D for “Digital Photography”
Digital cameras have had a profound impact on photojournalism. No more darkroom maneuvers are needed. Photos can now be delivered almost instantaneous from anywhere in the world. You don’t have to choose between color or black/white film before you shoot. And you can have 20 “rolls” of film on a memory card the size of a stamp. But in spite of all these helpful improvements, has the actual quality of photojournalism improved as a result? It has certainly led to a flooding of the photo-market, and the fear is that prices dwindle to a point where it’s no longer economically viable for many professionals to make a living of it. The line between professionals and amateurs starts to blur.
E for “Eddie Adams” (1933-2004)
American photojournalist who is perhaps most famous for his chocking photo of the Vietnamese police chief executing a captured Viet Cong suspect on the street of Saigon, at point-blank range (1968). The photo won Adams both a World Press Photo Award and a Pulitzer Prize, but Adams later apologized to the police chief for the damage he had done to his honor by taking the photo.
F for “flickr”
Pioneering web-site, allowing free online storage of images. With about 30 million users and nearly 4 billion images (numbers not confirmed), it’s probably the largest image collection in the world today. It is both loved and hated. Many of its users like to have their work seen and praised by others. But it becomes problematic for more professional users, since copyright and licensing options are not very well implemented, or respected, to say the least.
G for “Google Images”
An even larger image collection than flickr. Except it isn’t really a collection per se, but rather an index of images on the web. Its potential for influencing stock photography is huge but it is currently of little professional use – the search quality is bad, most of the images are appalling and you aren’t necessarily allowed to use them anyway. With time, that might of course change, and perhaps we’ll look back at it the way we look back at Daguerreotypes as the forerunner of photography today!
H for “Henri Cartier-Bresson” (1908-2004)
Hugely influential French photojournalist whose trademark was capturing iconic, black-and-white, candid photos in what he called “the decisive moment”.
I for “iPhone ®”
The iPhone (and many other cell-phones now) have a decent miniature camera build into it. So suddenly, everyone with a cell-phone is a potential news photographer! More and more spot news are being shot by “citizen journalists” with their cell-phone cameras. But for pro photojournalists its main feats are still the slick and convenient ways to check email, calendar, maps, record audio etc. – not to mention speaking on the phone with people!
J for “Jacob Riis”
A Danish-American photography pioneer (1849-1914) who’s images of slum dwellings in New York, entitled “How The Other Half Lives”, led to some political improvements. Although many of his photos were staged, they became inspirational for many later photojournalists.
K for “Kodachrome”
The film that enabled us to see the world in color! Kodachrome, introduced in 1935, was the first mass produced color film. In the wake of the digital revolution, the Kodachrome film was discontinued in mid 2009
L for “Leica”
Legendary German camera maker whose small and high-quality cameras made it possible for photojournalism to take a leap forward in the 1920s and 1930s. Leica cameras became household items for professional photojournalists for half a century and are still today adored for the handling, the image quality, the brand history etc.
M for “Magnum”
A photographers’ cooperative founded in 1947. It continues to be the home for a range of international top photojournalists, both living and dead. Magnum can probably be said to be emphasizing the purely visual aspect of photography over the more narrative aspect.
N for “National Geographic Magazine”
One of the oldest magazines out there, started in the late 19th century and still published today, in the 21st century. Famous for many things, but perhaps most notably for its quality photos and stories. During its heydays, the magazine became a worldwide collectors item, with stories and photos of exotic people and places. Its status as one of the “gold-standards” of photojournalism has suffered somewhat since the brand was restructured to be multi-lingual and span travel, adventure, tv, children’s toys etc. But the characteristic yellow border on its cover remains as it has always been.
O for “On Photography”
A ground-breaking book by Susan Sontag, analyzing the changes photos have made in our way of looking at the world. Simply stated, she argues that photography has made us superficial and overly concerned with appearance to a point where images have subconsciously replaced reality as reality.
P for “Paparazzi”
A special form of photojournalists, often despised for chasing and taking candid photos of celebrities when they least expect it. Respect for privacy is a human right (Article 12 of the UN Human Rights Declaration). On the other hand, celebrities need media exposure to remain celebrities and a vast number of magazine readers are attracted to pictures of famous people.
Q for “Quad-sided”
Strangely, all lens apertures are round and all photos are quad(4)-sided! Ever wonder why? (Sorry, ‘Q’ was a tough one!)
R for “Royalty Free”
A method of buying / licensing photos that is preferred by many buyers for its simplicity. And equally despised by many photographers, since the price is calculated without regards to usage, placement, number of times used etc. The broad usage rights should logically result in a higher image price, but often (read: microstock) it is quite opposite!
S for “SEO”
A.k.a. “search engine optimization”, a technique that is increasingly used among photojournalists trying to attract new clients and opportunities over the Internet. SEO techniques can greatly improve the chances for a web site portfolio to show up in top of a Google search result page.
T for “TIME Magazine”
Weekly news magazine published since 1923. Has a history of giving prominence to photojournalistic pieces. Although it has high standards and is a global brand, like many other magazines, it is now facing a falling number of subscribers and advertising revenue.
U for “UV Filter”
Filter put in front of the camera lens to guard against ultra-violet light. In high altitude, strong UV light can degrade the colors and exposure of a photo. However, the primary use of UV filters is often simply to protect the front element of expensive lenses from getting damaged.
V for “Visa pour l’Image”
International photojournalism festival held every summer in the French city of Perpignan.
W for “World Press Photo”
Probably the most prestigious press photo award in the world. With a few exceptions, it’s been held since 1955. Recently it has been criticized by some of its own jurors for “reflecting a form of photojournalism that is more romantic than functional” (Stephen Mayes) which, I suppose, take root in the kind of submissions they receive. Another (anonymous) juror said that “90% of the pictures [in the competition] are about 10% of the world.”
X for “Xpro”
A.k.a. cross-processing. From the days of film, when the ‘wrong’ chemicals were used to develop a color negative. Intentionally used to give the picture a certain surreal / stylish look.
Y for “Yann Arthus-Bertrand” (b. 1946)
French photographer most famous for his aerial photos of nature around the world, compiled in the project “Earth From Above”. As a traveling exhibition, it has been seen by more than 100 million people. While his work is far from classic photojournalism, it has a strong component of “environmental photojournalism”.
Z for “Zoom vs. Prime”
A question that never ceases to pop up in photojournalist discussions: “Do you prefer to use a zoom or a prime lens?” There’s both tech and non-tech issues to consider. Zooms are generally more practical and flexible to work with, good for all-round work and while covering news, events and short assignments where you only get one chance of getting the shot you want. They’re lighter to work with compared to carrying two bodies / multiple primes, but primes in themselves are usually smaller, lighter, faster, more robust and optically superior – which is why some tech aficionados prefer them. But there’s also the question about your working methods. Some prefer primes because they don’t have to think about cropping but can concentrate on the timing. They know exactly what the frame will hold and so they move around more, perhaps with better results. And finally, using just one prime gives some consistency, while a zoom can give more variety in a series of photos.