More on visual narratives … learning the process

This last shooting assignment is a way for you to demonstrate what you have learned this semester. It’s a lot to fill your heads with, especially for those with Spring/Graduation fever. However, as society becomes more and more visually oriented and literate, the ability to create visual narratives can make a difference in your ability to be employed and contribute to a changing society. Hopefully, this assignment can give you a fundamental understanding of the process.

Producing visual narratives is a process. In the real world, it is typically a collaborative process that involves subjects, photographers/videographers, as well as editors and producers who help shape the final presentation. And, of course, all of this is conceived and practiced by keeping our audience in mind. Our work simply has to resonate with our audience – otherwise, we are wasting other people’s time.

This assignment requires you to find people/issues that need storytellers. And for YOU to be the storyteller. As we work our way through this, I would like to function as your editor, but I would also like you to recruit your classmates as collaborators. That way, we can all learn about some of the roles that are fulfilled by both content producers AND editors.

So, with that in mind, PLEASE share progress on your stories – either by email with me, or on this website, or on the Facebook group. I highly encourage you to share your progress with everyone! It might be just one, or two, or three pictures of a particular aspect of your story that you are having trouble with.

By sharing it with everyone, we can all take on the role of “editor.” We can call start applying the concepts we have learned in order to evaluate the work of others. And trust me – that is a role that many of you might find yourselves in, at various capacities in the future. For example, you might be a PR professional, and you are presented with multiple images – by both amateurs and professionals – that could make-or-break your latest promotional campaign. You simply HAVE to know what your audience expects.

In other words, many of you might find yourselves in a position to decide whether or not images have editorial or societal merit – so you need to have a foundational understanding of these attributes. Don’t think of this as a way to be judgmental about your classmates. Instead, look at this as a way to HELP your classmates to better evaluate their work, as well as developing your own sense of visual literacy.

SO – let’s start sharing ideas and progress, in pictures, as we generate our last shooting assignment.


Covering the news: materials from class on 3 /22

I will post the particulars of your “Events” assignment shortly, but for now, please review the content of yesterday’s presentation before you head out to cover an event.

We’ve spent our time developing fundamental basics and practicing them up to this point, but now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of photojournalism and daily visual news coverage.

First, here is the handout that accompanies yesterday’s presentation. At first glance, it appears to simply reiterate the class presentation, but please take a few moments to read it.  This handout probably articulates some of these concepts a little more thoroughly. It might be helpful to read through the handout to put yourself in the right frame of mind before you shoot your Events assignment:

Covering the news: How to approach news assignments visually

And here is the PDF version of the class presentation (with presenter’s notes, as usual), in case you want to review it. If you were not in class Wednesday or had to leave early, make sure you view the full presentation so you can see examples of the concepts we explored and better understand the assignment!

Presentation: Covering the News

So, review the lesson, then go forth and cover a news event!

Again, assignment particulars to come …

Follow-up on Class – 1/18

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 Imagesphere” 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. I shared his memo in class. Here is some follow up:

Joe Elbert’s Hierarchy

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

Presentation: The Power of Photography

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



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!

Video: Learning about the process …

Photojournalism isn’t about mindlessly snapping pictures and haphazardly throwing together a group of them for display. There is a process – a distinct and professional approach – and this course is chiefly about learning about and understanding that process.

If you want to see photojournalism practiced at it’s very best, it still doesn’t get any better than National Geographic.  Watch this video if you want to see how the process ideally works: The Sense Of Sight.

The video is 20 years old. The tools have changed, but the process is the same. Photographers, editors, and designers all play a part in producing meaningful content. We will touch on the teamwork aspect during the course, but pay particularly close attention to what the photographer, Joe McNally, has to say about his approach to shooting a story. And watch how he goes about doing his job.

McNally has an excellent blog and posted some thoughts about the video, which documented his first assignment with The Geographic. Check it out here: Starting Off, Looking Back