Follow-up on Classes 1 and 2

Here are some handouts to reinforce what we’ve discussed in the first two classes. You should downloads these and read through them. It’s up to you whether or not you want to print them out. These will be your study materials for exams and, hopefully, the handouts will lead to better discussions during class time in the future as we build a base of knowledge.

From class #1: Why are photographs the front porch of the news? How do we cut through the noise of all the photographs we are exposed to every day and create meaningful photographs in the context of news? What are the strengths and weakness of photographs as a medium for communication? What distinguishes professionals from amateurs?

Photographs: The front porch of the news

In class two, we examined the language of photography, it’s power to communicate, and began to create a new vocabulary for discussing photographs with Joe Elbert’s Hierarchy. Here is some follow up. First, here is a link to the actual memo that Joe Elbert shared at a photo editing workshop to help introduce his hierarchy for photo discussions. It’s well worth the time to read what one of the most successful photo editors in the biz has to say:

Joe Elbert’s Memo

Next is an expanded discussion of the Hierarchy.

Joe Elbert’s Hierarchy

Like I said, your mid-term exam and final exam will include this material, but don’t wait to cram. Read through them now! I want you to begin incorporating these concepts into your thought process. When you’re shooting assignments. When your editing assignments. When you’re discussing photos.

You don’t need to download the following document, but if you want to review the presentation and photos we looked at in class, here is a PDF version of the last presentation, including my presenter’s notes:

Presentation: The Power of Photography

Additionally, if you want to review some the videos from the past couple of classes, here they are:




As alway, contact me if you have any questions.


Dave LaBelle: On Storytelling

We watched this video in class, but I wanted to post it in case you wanted to watch it again.

Again, listen carefully as Dave explains how he discovers what he needs to shoot in order to tell someone’s story. Essentially, by talking to your subjects and getting to know them, they will lead you to where the pictures are. And understand the importance of projection. The best journalists, regardless of the medium they work in, learn how to put themselves in another’s shoes in order to tell their stories. And learn the importance of trust. You will never scratch below the surface and be able to move your audience without the trust of your subjects.


I’m including a BONUS video! In the first video, Dave tells us about working with a student during a workshop on a story about a woman caring for her 97-year-old father. In this video, we get to hear an actual conversation between Dave and the student, specifically talking about how to approach the story, the student’s concerns, and Dave’s advice. It’s like being in the huddle with a master coach, and it offers some keen insight into the thought process and problem solving while shooting picture stories. It’s a little longer, but I highly recommend you find a little time to view it. Great advice on shooting and what to look for. Great advice on editing. Just great advice …


Make an investment in your subject. Every picture (in a story) is like a word in a sentence. And never forget this: The secret to great storytelling is to get out of the way!

Captions Matter

I’m repeating it again: for your Features assignment (and ALL your shooting assignments, for that matter), make sure you gather enough information for complete AP Style captions to accompany your photos. It’s mandatory!

Over on Mark Johnson’s Visual Journalism blog, he explains the importance of captions: Captions Matter

Without captions, it’s just photography, not photojournalism.

The linked article specifically addresses making photographs of people who are grieving, which is one of the hardest tasks for a photojournalist. But the sentiments expressed really apply to any situation. Never assume people won’t talk to you, even in the most traumatic circumstances.

Mark chose one quote to feature. I choose another, by Kenny Irby of the Poynter Institute:

“Irby says there are two benefits when photographers introduce themselves and interact with their subjects. One is that they can obtain accurate caption information — which ultimately adds more meaning, value and credibility to the photo for the reader. The other is that it can make the experience of being photographed more rewarding for the subject — even in a moment of extreme grief.”

When you express interest in another person, he or she is less likely to feel violated or spied-upon. We are not voyeurs or paparazzi.

There are many reasons that complete captions accompanying your photographs are a basic professional standard. It’s not an arbitrary formality.

One of the greatest qualities of photography is the ability to help viewers connect with the subjects depicted in photographs. And if that is your goal, it’s difficult to achieve if you – the photographer – do not connect with your subjects. And simply talking to them and recording their information is one of the easiest ways to do this.

Be a journalist, no matter what medium you choose to communicate with!

Think photography is passé? Think again …

I introduced this into the discussion about feature photography, but I could very well use this for any number of discussions about photography. All the buzz created by this Super Bowl commercial really demonstrates the power that still photography has to connect and generate discussion, and that the public really does have an appetite for great photography.

Over on the blog A Photo Editor by Rob Haggart, you can learn more about the commercial and how it was made: The #1 Rated Super Bowl Commercial Shot By 10 Photographers

Forget good. Make your photos interesting!

Good photography starts with good subject matter.

To follow up on that, I ran across a blog post by photographer and photo editor John Loengard, and he has some good thoughts on this. Loengard says:

“It is not important if photographs are “good.” It’s important that they are interesting.”

What makes a photograph interesting? Loengard counts the ways:

  • It can be our first look at something.
  • It can be entertaining.
  • It can evoke deep emotions.
  • It can be amusing or thrilling or intriguing.
  • It can be proof of something.
  • It can jog memories or raise questions.
  • It can be beautiful.
  • It can convey authority.
  • Most often, it informs.
  • And, it can surprise.

Keep these things in mind when choosing a subject or a topic for your photographs. If you’re not accomplishing one or more of these, then you need to delve deeper into your subject and keep shooting until you reach one of these goals. Or you need to pick a different subject.

If you want your photographs to be interesting, you have to be interested in your subject. Be curious. Photograph something you might want to learn about yourself, and share what you learned through your photographs.

I hope this helps. As always, feel free to contact me if you want someone to bounce ideas off of.

The beginning: Visual Literacy


Society is inundated with images every day.

In modern society, we are inundated, literally bombarded with photographs every day, but few of us really understand the language of photography.

As a culture, we tend to look at photographs casually, not critically. We study literature and all kinds of writing and learn how to critique words and authors, striving to understand their methods and their intent. We do the same with classic art — painting, sculpture, etc. However, we rarely approach modern visual mediums with the same critical eye. The internet has run amok with trite photographs and third-rate videos, yet we are still fascinated to see the world for ourselves through the eyes of others, regardless of the quality. The lines have become increasingly burred between journalism and self-expression. How do we make sense of it all?

As more and more of the information we take in about the world comes to us through images, the concept of Visual Literacy becomes more and more important. Visual literacy enables people to navigate images, make sense of them, understand their messages, and make informed decisions about life — economically, politically, ethically, and spiritually.

The keys to visual literacy are:

  1. Knowing the abilities, strengths and weakness of particular visual mediums to communicate, and
  2. Understanding the process of using visual mediums to communicate.

The focus of this course is to become literate in the language and process of using still photographs to communicate.