Assignment 5: Interaction

Capturing storytelling moments is at the very heart of photojournalism. Moments are what allow photographs to tell stories and connect with audiences. Timing and anticipation are perhaps the most important skills for a photojournalist to develop. This is your chance to start practicing!

The best way to develop these skills is to start noticing the kinds of brief, fleeting visual and cultural cues people display when interacting with their environments and with each other, understanding what they mean, then trying to capture those moments with your camera. You must become a student of observation even before you lift the camera to your eye.

Due on the website no later than 5:30 p.m. on Monday, April 2!

The Assignment:

Turn in THREE pictures showing:

  1. One subject interacting with his or her environment
  2. Two people interacting with one another
  3. Three or more people interacting with one another 

Concentrate on capturing visual cues: facial expressions, gestures, body language, and actions.

All photos MUST be candid. No interference or coaching!

Each photo must be accompanied by a full AP Style caption. Review the post or download the handout on AP Captions so you understand the information you need to gather from your subjects as well as the proper form for presentation. All of the subjects in your photographs must be identified!

Practice using the Mantra I introduced in class …

  1. Create a focal point
  2. Control your background
  3. Fill the frame
  4. Wait for the moment!

Your grade will take into account 1) technical quality (focus, exposure, etc.), 2) Graphic Appeal (composition, use of light), 3) Emotional Appeal (visual cues/storytelling moments), and 4) AP Style captions.

#3 will be weighed most heavily, so make sure you keep shooting until you’ve captured some moments.

Again, your three selections are due on the website no later than 5:30 p.m., Monday, April 2.


Interaction Assignment TIPS 

Content counts! Make an assignment for yourself, rather than simply shooting pictures of random people or friends just to complete each category. Read the handout Forget Good! Make your photos interesting!  There are plenty of events and happenings going on. Think about an issue or activity of interest to you! Then try to make photographs that help us connect to the people in those activities or events.

MOVE! Remember, photography is not a static activity! You need to move around until you create a focal point in your frame. And you might have to move more to control your background and fill the frame. At a certain point, you might find the best place to be. THEN it’s okay to park yourself there and wait for the moment.

Be a witness, but put your subjects at ease. Be as unobtrusive as possible, but you shouldn’t try to ambush your subjects like a paparazzo. You’re not a spy or a voyeur. You’re a witness. Your goal is to capture REAL, honest interaction. Telephoto lenses help with this, but it’s not an option if you don’t have one. It might not even be the best perspective. When you approach subjects, try to exude an aura of trust. Your own body language and manner can make a difference.

You will have to interact with your subjects in order to get enough information for your captions. It is often best to begin shooting and gather information later. If they notice you and are distracted, try to keep shooting until they begin to ignore you and go back to their activities. It’s okay to explain what you are doing to your subjects and the people they interact with. Once you explain, simply ask them to ignore you as best they can. You can usually tell when subjects are playing to the camera. Don’t use these shots, however! Keep shooting until you feel like you are capturing honest moments.

You should be making arrangements to photograph subjects ahead of time so you can be where your subjects are when they are doing something of interest. Just make sure they are not doing something solely for the benefit of you and your camera.

Patience and persistence. These are the most important attributes to have, if you want to capture storytelling moments. It takes time to put your subjects at ease. It takes time to understand what’s going on in front of you. It takes time to figure out what story you’re trying to tell with your photographs. It takes time to put yourself in the right position to tell that story.

Often, it helps to shoot a lot of pictures, even if you don’t intend to use them. This is how you visually explore your subjects. Even if you think you’ve got a good shot, keep shooting! You might get something better. The best way to learn is to actually shoot pictures – a LOT of them!

Also, the assignment requires exactly three specific scenarios, but I encourage you to shoot more than three. For example, you might photograph someone teaching a class or making a speech, but over the course of the next two weeks, you might run across a better scenario which better illustrates a person interacting with his or her environment. Don’t settle for the minimum! Always see if you can shoot better pictures than the last ones you shot. The more you shoot, the better you’ll get.

Gather enough information for your captions. The assignment is to help you develop a sense of timing, but you still must be able to explain the nature of the interactions you capture. What are people doing? What are they talking about? Why might the audience care and how can you help them connect to and understand your subjects?

For example, student life is a common topic on a college campus. Your pictures may reflect some aspect of this, but you need to explain WHAT aspect. What are they participating in that facilitates their interaction?

You may have captured a great moment, but you need to explain – briefly – what the story is behind that moment in your caption. Make sure you talk to your subjects enough so you can explain the context of the moments you capture.

Don’t forget the WHY part of your caption!


Class (3/26) follow-up: “Interesting” photo assignments, Timing/Moments

Okay. Here are the follow up materials from class …

Now we start fully practicing TLC. Use your knowledge of light and composition to build a stage for capturing storytelling moments. Timing is everything! This is central to photojournalism. Start reciting this little mantra every time you lift the camera to your eye, from now on:

  1. Create a focal point
  2. Control your background
  3. Fill the frame
  4. Wait for the moment

Look over this presentation to review these steps:

Presentation: Timing & Moments

Photojournalist Jim Richardson said,

“If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff!”

He was trying to be funny and flippant, BUT he speaks the absolute truth!

Content counts! Remember – photographs, in the context of news, are content, not decorations for text. Photojournalists are reporters, not illustrators. See if you can go beyond the immediate and superficial. This is the handout about how to generate and execute “interesting” photo assignments, as opposed to the type of purely informational “doing” shots that are frequently produced:

Forget Good. Make your photos interesting –Generating and executing newsworthy photo assignments.

Learn the value of enterprise journalism! Trust me, employers are looking for idea people, not those who simply wait for assignments to be handed to them.

Here is the presentation from class. We jumped around a little bit. It includes our examination of creating interesting photo assignments and capturing storytelling moments. It might help to scan the visuals that supported the discussion. It also includes some examples that might help guide you with your shooting assignment.

Presentation: Interesting assignments, Timing/capturing moments

Contact me if you have any questions.

Review the presentation on Composition

Due to many technical difficulties, we really didn’t get to spend enough time discussing composition, so here’s a link to the PDF version of the presentation, with my presenters notes:

Presentation: Composition

Contained within the presentation is another document which will not only help you through your latest shooting assignment, but it can help you through the rest of the semester as you shoot assignments and edit your work:

Photo Checklist

Make sure you download this one, and perhaps print it out. You might want to keep it with you. It could help you remember and get better at thinking your way through shooting assignments.

Make sure you review the presentation, especially the parts about compositional creativity and requirements for your next assignment, so you can see examples before you begin shooting Assignment 3: Places and Faces. Like I said, you might want to keep your Photo Checklist with you and start looking for elements, out in the real world, that you could incorporate into your photographic composition.

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!

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