Photojournalism is an area of photography dedicated to taking accurate shots of current events. The basic mission of a photojournalist is to take pictures to accompany a news story (whether it is broadcast or published in a newspaper). However, truly great photojournalism pictures should tell the story BEFORE the text or broadcaster does.
Photojournalism pictures attempt to capture the viewer’s attention and emotion to entice him to continue listening to or reading about the story. Think of newspaper covers with large, dramatic shots of the latest current event: these pictures reflect the articles’ titles while adding a dynamic edge to story by visually communicating the pathos of the event.
Photojournalists and Ethics
A key aspect of photojournalism is to present accurate pictures that don’t compromise the integrity of the actual situation. Consequently, altering pictures with computer software is considered taboo among serious photojournalists and news organizations. This code of ethics is one of the central features of photojournalism that distinguishes it from other areas of photography.
Careers in photojournalism can be destroyed by even a hint of photo manipulation. For this reason, many photojournalists prefer to use traditional film rather than digital cameras. Although digital cameras allow photojournalists to review photos immediately in the field, digital images are easier to manipulate than film negatives.
Manipulating images can seriously damage a publication’s reputation, as happened in 1994 when ex-football player OJ Simpson was arrested on suspicion of murder. Both Newsweek and Time Magazine ran cover pages appearing to feature Simpson’s mug shot. Time, however, ran a photo-illustration based on the mug shot. While the magazine noted the image was a photo-illustration inside, a casual observer of the magazine cover would not be aware of this.
The issue caused a scandal, including accusations that Time was pursuing a racist agenda and presupposing Simpson’s guilt. The respected magazine’s reputation was badly damaged by the fiasco, highlighting the need for image integrity in photojournalism.
P hotojournalism is primarily a practical form of photography, especially given the importance of maintaining the integrity of the scene. However, the field of photojournalism may also be considered to be an art form in its own right. Scene composition, choices of angles and lens choices all determine the impact and power of the resulting shots.
In recent years, more and more art galleries have displayed pieces of photojournalism, lending it more respect as an art form. Working within the boundaries of photojournalism ethics and still producing art can be compared to writing haiku poetry: part of the beauty or impact comes from how the photographer (or poet) works within the genre’s restrictions.
The definition of photojournalism as art does raise some problems for the standing ethics of photojournalism. While image manipulation is taboo for photojournalists, does this restriction apply to photojournalism used as art? If photojournalism images are manipulated in the name of art, people may be less willing to trust the images they see in newspapers and magazines.
Odd though it may sound, comic books have inspired more people to consider careers in photojournalism. Jimmy Olsen (Superman creator) and Peter Parker (Spiderman inventor) hearken back to the days when a camera and a good eye for detail were all that were essential for careers in photojournalism. (By the by, Peter’s tendency set up his camera to take pictures of himself as Spiderman go against the deepest ethics of photojournalism. For shame, Spidey, for shame!)
Today, courses or degrees in photojournalism or professional photography are often requirements for careers in this field. While this doesn’t mean that a talented amateur photographer can’t break into the field, editors are more likely to consider hiring someone with formal training. Courses in photojournalism are available at some colleges and most photography schools.
The best photojournalistic pictures inspire the emotion of the scene within the viewer. Some of the more recent examples of photojournalism have been the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Iraqi War.
Good examples of photojournalism engage viewers and make them want to read the accompanying story. Perhaps the most powerful examples of photojournalism in recent memory were the images taken of the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001.
Images of the hijacked planes slamming into the towers shocked people worldwide. For many, these images continue to linger in and haunt the memory long after the words in the news articles have been forgotten. Such examples of photojournalism convey the power and responsibilities of the professional photojournalist.
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