Syllabus

Multimedia Journalism 3333: Photojournalism

Spring 2017

Rm. 2012
Sanford Hall

Course Overview

The primary goal of this course is to introduce students to the practice of visual journalism using still photography as the medium of expression.

This course is not an introduction to photography.

Taking pictures is easy. Easier than ever, in fact. Today, most people have a pretty decent camera with them at all times in the form of a smart phone, which also presents the means to share their photographic creations with the world – instantly. At its very essence, photography is about sharing, and studies on how we use social media online today validate that notion.

Using a camera does not make you a photographer, however. Becoming a photographer, as opposed to a snapshooter, means having something to say and being able to express it through photography – consistently, with craftsmanship and purpose – in a way that resonates with other people. Photography can a powerful medium for expressing one’s personal artistic vision.

But that’s not the purpose of this course, either. While an artist is a voice who can reflect and comment on culture through his or her work, a photojournalist gives a voice to others.

Using photography to communicate the news, document history, and tell stories that resonate with the public requires more than a camera, craftsmanship and personal vision. The fundamental role of the photojournalist is to bear witness and share information – visually – so people may better understand and appreciate their communities and the world in order to make informed decisions based on that information, either in personal life or in forming public policy. Journalism is a public service, whether you are holding a notebook, a camera, or a microphone. This course designed to teach and reinforce this core value.

The primary focus of this course will be about the methods and process of visual journalism, not the tools. Technology has made photography more accessible to the masses, and it’s easier than ever to produce technically acceptable images. But the photographer is still the one who decides where to point the camera and when to push the button, and why. To take meaningful pictures, pressing that button is only the last thing you do in a long series of actions set in motion by knowledge and experience.

It’s this decision-making process that separates the professional photojournalist from the the casual snap-shooter. Professionalism will be a major focus of this course. The fact is, everyone is capable of producing at least one great photograph. Digital capture and digital delivery have leveled the playing field between the amateur and professional. However, a professional offers consistency, reliability, and the ability to visually conceptualize issues in a meaningful and relevant way. That is a valuable public service.

Professionalism goes beyond the ability to make great images, though. Gathering and publishing information (photographically or otherwise) for public consumption are Constitutionally protected activities encouraged by this country’s Founding Fathers. Professional journalists must understand the extent of these liberties and when they might be limited in order to perform this function in society. Additionally, professional journalists must understand how ethics play an important role in establishing credibility with the public they serve. Ethics and the law will be addressed early in the course and will be the topics of ongoing discussion throughout the semester.

Even if you are not planning to pursue photojournalism as a career, it is likely that many of you will handle photographs and make editorial decisions about them while producing periodicals or web sites in the news business. Because of that, it is essential to develop a vocabulary and understanding of the process involved in creating relevant photojournalism. It is important to become visually literate and to be able to recognize and respect great photography and understand the role it plays in society.

Topics

Some topics will be the subject of class lectures and discussion. Some topics will be ongoing discussions. Some will be both. Classroom presentations will be reinforced and supplemented with handouts supplied by the instructor. Students should expect to be quizzed regularly on the content of these handouts.

Some of the topics expected to be covered are:

  • Professionalism
  • Press law and Copyright law
  • Ethics
  • Basic technical control (exposure, sensitivities, etc.)
  • Creative control and professional aesthetics – moving beyond the “snapshot” mentality
  • Captioning
  • Workflow basics – digital capture, digital imaging, and digital delivery
  • Photo editing – assignment creation, image selection, cropping, sizing, layout & design
  • Teamwork and collaboration

Expectations

A word of warning – check your ego at the door. Critiques of your work will be constructive but, at times, extremely frank. While most everyone shoots pictures, most are not used to having their pictures critically analyzed. But it’s an extremely important process in order to progress in both knowledge and skill. On a basic level, personal taste and subjectivity are unavoidable issues. However, there are professional standards and aesthetics in photojournalism, and one of the major goals of this course is to introduce you to them. Being fluent in the language of photography is essential, and making the technical aspects of photography second nature and learning to concentrate on content takes time and lots of practice. You will have the opportunity to re-shoot every graded assignment, and you will be strongly encouraged to do so.

Expect to shoot a large number of images during this course – over a thousand, easily. Practice makes perfect. However, it is also important to understand that the amount of time students spend shooting assignments is extremely important, as well. In fact, you will discover that the amount of time spent shooting will improve your results more than the number of frames shot.

Because many of you will be learning basic photography skills for the first time, it is imperative to learn how to see and use existing light. There will be no flash photography allowed for any assignment.

One more point before we begin: the role of the photojournalist is to be a witness, not a participant in events. To this end, staging photographs is not allowed. Your photographs should be accurate and honest depictions of events and actions as they occurred, not done for the benefit of your camera. Candid photography is the rule, the only exceptions being head shots and portraits. For further clarification, please read the Code of Ethics page on the web site.

Attendance

Attendance is mandatory. Not showing up for class will greatly affect your ability to succeed. In the case of an absence, the instructor will attempt to furnish you with material handed out in class, but in-class discussions and presentations are designed to build a base of knowledge from one session to the next.

In accordance with the Georgia Southern University Department of Communication Arts attendance policies, all absences will be recorded. In event of an illness, court dates, or any other unavoidable conflict, the instructor needs to see documentation to consider excusing the absence.

Supplies & Equipment

You will need a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera and lens for this course. This is now a requirement. You will be learning how to control your camera’s most important settings in manual mode.

There are several Canon Rebel camera/lens kits available for checkout by students. Note that these are available to all students enrolled in Communication Arts classes, so there is no guarantee one will be available for every shooting assignment. Purchasing your own DSLR kit is highly encouraged. For further discussion and advice on camera gear, please search the “Gear” category on the web site.

If you already own a camera, make sure it meets the requirements to participate in this course: Camera requirements.

Mobile phone, iPad/tablet and iPod cameras are not acceptable.

The instructor will try to work with every student on how to operate their cameras, but it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to learn these settings. Bring your camera manuals to class. If you have not retained your manual, download one from the manufacturer’s web site. The instructor will assist you, if necessary.

If you check out university camera kits, you will still need to provide your own memory card. The Rebels use SD (Secure Digital) cards. Purchase the highest capacity cards you can afford for your camera, as you will be shooting on the highest quality setting your camera allows. An 8 GB card is probably the very minimum.

You will be downloading images onto University lab computers, but you cannot store them there permanently, so – at minimum – a USB (jump) drive is also highly recommended for storing and transporting your images. A 32 GB capacity minimum is suggested. Get something larger if you intend to use your jump drive as backup for your images for the whole semester.

It is recommended that you reformat your camera’s memory card after every assignment so you always have the necessary space for your next assignment. This makes file backup essential. Loss of images is NOT an excuse for a late assignment. Save and back up all of your images at least 2 or 3 times: to your computer hard drive, to your USB jump drive, and to recordable disc for every assignment. This way, you will always have your images available even in the case of failure. Devises do fail.

It is highly recommended that you purchase a flash card reader to download your images. It is much faster and safer than downloading directly from your camera. Not every computer has a built-in SD card reader. Having your own card reader allows you to download your images wherever you are. The instructor will be happy to make recommendations.

Further, since full identifications and complete caption information are required for any subjects photographed for this course, it is recommended that each student purchase some reporters notebooks. They may or may not be available at the university bookstore. If you cannot locate them locally, find something similar that conveniently fits in a camera bag or a pocket. Some students prefer to use their smart phones for taking notes. This is fine as long as you can do so quickly and efficiently. Whichever way you choose, note-taking on assignment is crucial.

You will need access to basic image editing software outside of class time in order to prepare your assignments for submission. You can find computers with the necessary software in the library or in various labs around campus. However, if you own your own computer and you are a communications major, you should consider installing an image processing/browsing/cataloguing application on it. Please read the imaging software link for more info.

You should bring your shooting equipment to class every week. In-class exercises and demonstrations will happen. Be prepared.

Textbook

No textbook is required for this course. The instructor will supply all of the written materials necessary, and students are expected to study the material provided for tests, quizzes and the final exam. Materials will typically be posted here on the class website and be available for viewing and download via links.

Not required, but recommended: “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Peterson and “LIFE Guide to Digital Photography: Everything You Need to Shoot Like the Pros” by Joe McNally.

Web site and Facebook Group

The instructor has created this web site for the course. Read About This Site for further information.

In addition, the instructor has created a Facebook group to supplement the website, share links relevant to course materials and subjects, and maintain communications about the course. The instructor may opt to start a Facebook group for this class, but the page is already up and running.

Students are required to join the group so posts will appear in their Facebook newsfeeds.

Assignments

Shooting assignments are designed to teach students the fundamentals of photography as well as common professional journalistic practice. Each assignment is typically multi-faceted, with more than one objective. To that end, most assignments will require students to turn in multiple photographs for each assignment. Typically, expect to turn in at least three photographs in order to receive credit and a grade. Students will receive shooting assignments in writing (read over them carefully!) and details on requirements will be explained and clarified in class.

Except for the very first one, assignments are to be posted on the web site 24 hours (5:30p.m. Tuesday) before class. See Submitting Assignments.

Deadlines are absolutely essential in the news business. Assignments are considered “On time” if they are posted to the website by the 5:30 p.m. deadline the day before class. Assignments posted after this deadline will not be accepted.

Budget your time! You must not only plan time to shoot your assignments, you must also make enough time to edit, process, and upload your assignments to the web site by deadline. On average, expect to spend at least the same amount of time on shooting assignments as you do in class (about 2 1/2 hours per week).

All photos submitted must be accompanied by complete, AP style captions. Captions should be embedded in each image file submitted along with contact information for you. The caption should also be posted with photographs uploaded as a blog entry on the web site.

While some guidance will be given at the time an assignment is made, understand that you will have a great amount of latitude in choosing subject matter. While objectivity, fairness, and accuracy are guiding principles, journalists still must be able to analyze events and issues, then break them down so that readers and viewers can understand them. This applies to the medium of photography, as well. The goal is to illuminate, to bring attention and understanding, and to make people care about what you photograph.

To that end, choose your subjects carefully. While photographing friends and family offers a certain comfort level while learning the technical aspects of photography, this is not what photojournalists typically do. You will be encouraged to photograph subjects unfamiliar to you. The process of learning about your subjects and becoming familiar with them will give you the opportunity to become a teacher, as well as a student. This is at the very heart of the profession. For further discussion on this concept: Forget good. Make your photos interesting!

Since the intent of this class is to learn, not just earn a grade, any assignment that is turned in on time can be redone for a different grade. The original grade will still count, but the new grade can raise the overall average and the effort will be noted. Not re-shooting assignments won’t negatively reflect final grades. Re-shoots are due two weeks after the graded work is returned to the class. (The final portfolio is exempted from this policy, however.)

Students may be required to post links to examples of published on-line works and discuss them in class. The instructor will give fair warning for these assignments.

Expect in-class critiques on most assignments. The following assignments are somewhat tentative, depending on the needs of the class:

  1. Nouns and Verbs – Get to know your camera/lens combination, start learning to think visually and learn how to control how your images look by shooting in manual mode.
  2. The Mug Shot/Depth-of-Field/Lens Selection – Head shots are the most basic image a photojournalist makes. As journalists, we constantly have to approach strangers and ask them questions. Here’s your chance to practice. Also, we need to start learning to control how our images look through lens selection and settings.
  3. Interaction – Developing a sense of timing and anticipation is crucial to making newsworthy photographs. Visually explore how people interact one-on-one, in groups, and with their environment by capturing storytelling expressions, gestures and body language.
  4. Portraits/Light – Show us who someone is. And help do it by creating interest or emotion with light.
  5. Events – Know how to cover them and give your audience a sense of being there.
  6. Features photos/Creative Composition – Show us a slice of life: moments and creative composition can help us learn about our communities and see things in new ways.
  7. Visual Narratives – Use a sequence of photographs to tell a story about a person, place or event.
  8. The Portfolio – A final representation of your work for the term – show what you’ve learned in 9 photographs and your visual narrative. This may include your assignments, re-shoots, and any enterprise* assignments completed.

*Enterprise – Enterprise assignments are those completed by students on their own and without prompting by the instructor. Examples include taking on photo assignments for the George-Anne or Southern Reflector Magazine, having a picture published in any news periodical, providing photos for a published brochure or newsletter, coverage of a breaking news event, and other self-generated assignments.

Tests, quizzes and Final Exam

There will be a written test just before Spring Break, covering material from class handouts up to that point. There will also be a written test at the end of the semester, covering the material introduced after Spring Break. There may be pop quizzes, as well, so don’t wait until right before the tests to starting studying.

The final exam will cover information learned over the course of the entire term. It will drawn from topics that have been consistently reinforced over the semester.

Grading

Shooting assignment grades will be based on a combination of factors. Captions, technical quality, control and composition, and the level of success in communicating with potential readers – that is, content. While developing technical expertise is an important element to this course, students should understand that the content of their photographs will be heavily emphasized, both in instruction and grading.

Shooting assignment grades

A (90%+) – Professional quality work. Not necessarily award-winning, but technical execution, composition, content and captions meet professional standards.

B (80-89%) – Publishable. Competent technical quality and understandable, relevant content. Some correctable flaws.

C (70-79%) – Marginally publishable, but not desirable. Could have good content with technical problems. Could be technically fine, but lacking in journalistic value. A “record shot” which might be fine for Facebook, but not for professional news publications.

D (60-69%) – Not publishable. Poor technical quality and little-to-no journalistic value.

F (Below 60%) – Not acceptable. Major technical problems and no journalistic value. Missed deadline.

If students are concerned about their grades or averages during the course of this semester, please feel free to approach the instructor. The instructor uses an application called Easy Grade Pro by Orbis Software to calculate grades and keep records. Any concerns about grades will be addressed privately.

Like shooting assignments, quizzes and tests are designed to challenge students in their knowledge of the class material. Topics where the entire class may have scored poorly may be re-emphasized in later class discussion and presentations. Quizzes and tests may be graded on a curve – if necessary – when final grades are calculated.

Final grades will be determined as follows:

Class participation (discussion, effort, improvement) ……….. 5%
Assignments 1 & 2 ………………………………………………….. 10%
Assignments 3-7 ……………………………………………………. 40%
Portfolio ………………………………………………………………. 25%
Written exams ………………………………………………………. 20%

Extra Credit – Up to 5% extra credit for enterprise assignments or any other extra credit approved by the instructor.

A note on the grading of the portfolio: A grade will not be assigned based on an average of the grades previously received on assignments. Rather, the grade will be based on the body of work as a whole. Beyond the criteria for individual assignments, improvement and overall grasp of the concepts taught during the course will be considered.

  • Please note, this syllabus is a general plan, and deviations may be necessary. Any change will come with fair warning.