Chapter Two
Photojournalism Assignments and Techniques


Paul Martin Lester

Photojournalism An Ethical Approach

(c) 1999

When asked to describe a photojournalist, most people would probably tell of a slightly disheveled, camera-weighted, young photographer who scurries to troubled areas anywhere in the world to produce images that capture people in crisis. Quite a romantic view. The reality is different.

Most photojournalists, according to a 1982 survey, work for a daily newspaper, are college-educated men, have families, own homes, are in their mid-30s, and make under $25,000 a year (Bethune, 1983).

Photojournalists should consider themselves to be on an equal status as word journalists. Photojournalists are reporters. But instead of pen, notebook, or tape recorders, these reporters use a camera and its accompanying selection of technical devices to record events for each day's printed record. As reporters, photojournalists must have a strong sense of the journalistic values that guide all reporters. Truthfulness, objectivity, and fairness are values that give the journalism profession credibility and respect. From getting the names spelled correctly in a group portrait to not misrepresenting yourself or a subject, truthfulness is a value that gives the public a reason to rely on the accuracy of the news they read and see in their newspaper. If you are economically, politically, or emotionally involved with a subject, your objectivity will be put into question. A photographer's credibility will suffer if free gifts from a subject are accepted or if political views or personal opinions cloud news judgments. To be fair, a journalist tries to show both sides of a controversial issue, prints stories and photographs proportionate to their importance, and if mistakes are made, prints immediate, clear, and easily found corrections.

A photojournalist, from experience and education, must know what is and what is not news. The media are often criticized for concentrating their efforts on negative, often tragic events in their community. Journalism professors Ted Glasser and Jim Ettema (1989) reviewed the most commonly held news values: "prominence, conflict, oddity, impact, proximity, and timeliness." In their article, Glasser and Ettema argued that a journalist should also use common sense, taught in journalism schools or through work experiences, to decide what is news. Unfortunately, tragic events usually fit into most news value categories (pp. 18-25, 75).

Successful picture taking is a combination of a strong news and visual sense. It is no easy proposition. As reporters, photographers use their sense of news judgment to determine if a subject is worth coverage and to present a fresh or unusual angle to an ordinary event. As visual recorders, photographers must use their sense of visual composition to eliminate distracting and unnecessary elements in the frame. As technicians, they must have a high level of expertise to use their machine to expose correctly and in focus that peak news moment.

The French photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson used the phrase, "the decisive moment" to describe the same idea. The decisive moment is an instant when the subject and the compositional elements form a union. For a newspaper photographer, the moment may come when a subject expresses in a minor facial gesture or an overt action the essence of his or her situation and when the foreground and background visual elements contribute to a reader's understanding of that subject's emotional state.

A confident news and visual sense is essential when covering any of the many assignments a photographer may face. Photojournalistic maturity elevates an ordinary picture taker to a journalist with a clear communicative goal. Whether the assignment is a ground-breaking ceremony at a local high school or a five-alarm fire at a nursing home, a mature photojournalist will find a way to capture in photographs a fresh and decisive summation of the event.

There are six basic types of assignments a photographer faces. News, features, sports, portraits, illustrations, and picture stories each present a photographer with a different set of challenges.


News is the assignment most people probably think of with the term photojournalism. Crossing police lines to get to the heart of a raging fire or head-on collision, photojournalists often risk physical harm with the news assignments they cover.

Types of News Assignments

News is actually divided into two parts: spot and general.

Spot News. Spot news is any unplanned event where little advanced planning is possible. Photographers will often learn of spot news events through a radio call from their photography editor or directly from a police and fire scanner in their car. Because photographers are often driving in their car, spot news is sometimes found through coincidental circumstances. Although emotions are high when driving to a spot news scene, special care must be taken to drive safely. Traffic laws must be obeyed. Most likely, arriving an extra minute sooner because of a high speed chase will not make a difference in capturing the most dramatic moments. Almost always, spot news is an assignment where subjects will be injured or in physical trouble. The photographer must be prepared to help the injured if no rescue workers are on the scene. To get quickly through police lines, an identification card is usually connected to a small chain and hung around the neck. Police officials are supposed to allow news photographers access to news events. Understanding and tact are often necessary by photographers during heated emotional moments on both sides of the police line. A photographer who obstructs the work of the police or rescue workers runs the risk of arrest.

For news and most other assignments, a photographer must be prepared for any type of film, lighting, and lens requirement. One camera bag should contain two 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) camera bodies. At least one of the cameras should have a motor driven mechanism to automatically advance the film. The bag should contain at least three lenses (wide-angle, normal, and telephoto), a portable flash unit with a fully charged battery pack, a portable radio for communication to the photo editor, a pen and notebook for caption information, and a variety of 36exposure film in an assortment of film speeds (100, 400, and 3200 ASA). Color or black-and-white film depends on the requirements of the individual newspaper.

Whenever possible, both cameras should be loaded with fresh film so that there are plenty of exposures for fast action. Depending on the situation, one camera should have a 35mm wide-angle lens and the other a 180mm or 300mm telephoto lens attached. Most photographers will take an initial wide-angle, scene-setting picture. After a few moments, an assessment of the salient elements of the event is made and the photographer switches to a telephoto lens for a close-up perspective.

There is a debate among photographers whether zoom lenses should be used. As opposed to fixed focal lenses, a photographer can move the focal length in or out for a variety of close-up and wide-angle views. Zoom lenses typically save a beginning photographer money because they can take the place of several lenses. Most professional newspaper photographers, however, do not use zoom lenses. Many find that zoom lenses do not focus as sharply as fixed focal lenses. With their typically small aperture openings they are not practical in low-lighting situations. Zoom lenses also make photographers worry about another technical consideration when shooting. While making aperture, shutter speed, and focus corrections, a photographer with a zoom lens must also decide whether to zoom in or out. A fleeting subject can be lost if valuable seconds are used to make those decisions.

For sensitive news situations, funerals, or courtroom scenes, where the photographer wants to remain as inconspicuous as possible, some photographers carry a small, rangefinder camera in their bag. A rangefinder, without the mirror mechanism of an SLR camera, is quiet and useful for low-light situations.

As with the other assignments, the best images will show the emotional struggle on the faces of those involved at the scene. Tired and dedicated rescue workers helping dazed and confused victims is a visual image that often shows more clearly than words ever can the emotions of concern and fear associated with spot news events.

Often, spot news assignments occur at night just before a press deadline. To get a picture quickly to the photo desk, some photographers will overexpose their images with their flash, underdevelop their film at drastically reduced times, print their negatives while they are wet, and turn in a print that has only slightly been fixed and washed. From unloading the film from the camera to turning in a print with caption information to the night city editor, the time can be cut by half. Afterward, the photographer should fix and wash the film. The negatives should be carefully filed and labeled within a protective sleeve.

General News. General news assignments give photographers a chance to prepare. Special film, camera lenses, and lighting needs can be anticipated. General news assignments usually take the form of a politician's press conference or a group of donors to a local charity. A photographer's main concerns with such assignments are typically arriving on time to get a good vantage point, making sure that names in a group picture are spelled correctly, and having enough energy and curiosity to produce an unusual, yet telling moment. A picture of a politician or lecturer will always be more visually interesting if an emotional facial expression or hand gesture is captured on film. A standing group of business persons all smiling at the camera, a milk bottle picture as a photo editor used to say, is a visually dull image. Take care to find angles or activities that will not only show the physical appearance of a group, but will reveal their personalities.

Be on your toes. Even during the most banal news conference, strange events happen. Still and video journalists covered the Dwyer news conference that suddenly turned tragic (the Dwyer news situation is detailed in chapter 4). A photojournalist must always be prepared for the unusual and the newsworthy.


With feature assignments a photographer needs the sharp reflexes honed by spot news events. The trouble with features, however, is that a photographer usually cannot anticipate where the assignment will take place. It is no wonder that many undergraduate photography students often complain that they cannot find meaningful feature pictures to photograph.

Feature assignments are usually self-generated ones. Photo editors, with no other assignments, will tell the photographer to shoot "wild art" or "a colorful enterprise picture for Page 1."

An ordinary photographer might drive to a public park and capture the usual scenes: a child rides a swing, a young woman reads a book, two men talk on a bench. These pictures are made to show readers nothing more than that the weather was nice and people enjoyed the day.

A more mature photographer anticipates the need for a feature picture by the photo editor and has already scouted an area of town or a particular subject that is both visually interesting and filled with meaningful content.

Types of Feature Assignments

There are two types of feature assignments: human interest and pictorial.

Human Interest. These features show persons being natural and unique. The images cannot be anticipated. They are one of a kind moments that capture a person or group being themselves: odd, humorous, and natural. Cute kids, animals, and nuns are traditional subject cliches.

Features offer an opportunity for a page to be highlighted with a pleasant, happy picture that may offset the tragic events of the day. A photographer looking for human interest features thinks like a hunter. Keenly aware and observant, knowledgeable on matters of basic human nature, quiet and unassuming, and technically competent to capture quick and fleeting moments, the photographer stalks the city looking for pictures that go beyond the cliche.

Photographers have several techniques they use to take pictures of people. Some will use a 35mm. wide-angle lens and get close to their subjects. Others use telephoto lenses to keep a far and undetected distance from their subjects. They will either identify themselves immediately or wait until the subject asks for an explanation. There are two things that happen when you ask a person if you can take their picture and both of them are bad. Either they say no and you don't get the picture or they say yes and stare and smile at you like they were posing for a snapshot. When you see some unusual action, get an initial picture. Afterward, you can identify yourself, get their names, and take addition photographs after they become accustomed to your presence.

Pictorials. The other type of feature picture is the much maligned pictorial. Traditionally, the pictorial is a silhouette of two standing, arm-in-arm lovers at sunset. Pictorials rely on the graphic elements of composition and lighting more than subject matter. Many times pictorial feature pictures, when combined with bold page layout design, can educate unsophisticated readers to the artistic forms and lighting characteristics within their world. A photojournalist should never become distracted by shapes and shadows. Personal artistic expression in the form of pictorial feature pictures have a limited place in the photographer's portfolio. It is far better to take pictures that combine the striking visual qualities of the pictorial with human interest moments.

Because feature assignment photographers often are their own reporters, much of the responsibility for the caption is left to the photographer. Names and locations are a minimal requirement. Quotations from subjects bring more interest to an otherwise ordinary picture/caption package and increase the chances for larger, front-page treatment.


Although most persons would link photojournalism with news assignments, a recent survey of newspaper photographers revealed that the most common assignment is actually sports. Sports assignments combine the action and excitement of news within a clearly defined structure. The key for successful sports photography is to know that structure. You have to be familiar with the rules of the game to predict dramatic moments. You should also know the backgrounds of some of the key players and anticipate their contribution. If you know that a rookie kicker is about to attempt his first field goal for an NFL team you should concentrate your telephoto lens on his sideline preparations. In an instant, his face may reveal his nervousness that would make a good picture.

Types of Sports Assignments

Sports Action and Sports Feature are categories within the sports assignment. Sports Action is a photograph of any moment that occurs on the playing field during the run of the game. Sports Feature is a picture that shows anything else: an angry coach in the locker room, a frustrated player on the sideline, an anxious fan in the stands. As implied by the name, the same procedure applies to sports feature hunting as with human interest features. A photographer tries to capture a peak, dramatic event not happening on the playing field.

Most sports involve a ball and at least two opposing players. The best sports photographs not only show the ball, but reveal the determination in body language and facial expressions each player's struggle to out-perform the other. Readers are aware of the overhead perspective offered by television of the linebacker blitzing a quarterback. A successful sports photographer gets beyond the uniform and the helmet and into the eyes of the players. A reader should be able to see the passionate, determined eyes of that blitzing linebacker or the frustrated expression of the soon-to-be-sacked quarterback.

For most sports, long lenses are a necessity. Fast shutter speeds are also in order. Because many sports are played at night or indoors under artificial lighting, expensive telephoto lenses that let in as much light as possible are necessary. A fast ASA film or a film that is pushed to a higher ASA with high speed developer is as necessary as a fast telephoto lens. These techniques are valuable because a photographer wants the most depth of field and the fastest shutter speed possible from a film and lens combination. Focus is a problem with fast moving players. If the lens is wide open, there is no room for focus error. Stopped action without blurring is almost mandatory for sports pictures.

Some photographers use an electronic flash on their cameras where it is permitted by sports officials. Players and television videographers may object to the flash as it causes a brief flash of light that may distract from the game. Flash, however, has been used successfully during basketball games when the electronic strobes are mounted in the four comers of the arena and controlled through a radio frequency on the camera by the photographer at courtside. Of course the cost of such a system is prohibitive. When using flash, make sure that the power output dial is set low (1/16 of second on some units) and the portable battery pack is fully charged. Sports action happens quickly. A low power setting will make sure that the recycle time is quick enough to capture that action. A photographer should also use a camera that synchronizes its shutter with the flash at 1/250th of a second. Ghosting, an undesirable bluffing effect, can occur when a player moves faster than a shutter speed can stop. For example, at 1/60th of a second, a common shutter to flash synchronization, ghosting would certainly occur with any player moving faster than a walk.

To round out a photographer's equipment list, cameras should include motor drives for fast film advancement, a unipod to help support the telephoto lens, and a players' roster for caption information. Many photographers keep track of key plays by shooting the scoreboard immediately afterward.

Tips for Shooting Various Sports

It is difficult to give guidelines for shooting sports because they are so different. Knowing the rules of the game will help you find a spot where the key action is most likely to occur. Here are some general rules, but always look for an unusual angle. Suggestions are included.

Football photographers usually squat about 5 yards either side of the line of scrimmage with a 300mm telephoto lens on a unipod. When a team is within 10 yards of the goal, photographers usually stand behind the outside boundary of the end zone. Another camera with a wide angle lens is ready for close-up, sideline action or features. To facilitate mobility, many shooters use a small, stomach bag to carry film, another lens, and a flash. Pay strict attention to the movement of the players. Several photographers have been hit and their equipment damaged by a 210-pound running back. Play your hunches. A quarterback may be ready to throw a "bomb." Get away from the pack and catch the reception.

Basketball photographers seldom locate themselves on the sidelines. They are most likely found on one side or the other of the net with a 35mm lens for close-up action and a 300mm lens for action farther down the court. Try an 85mm lens with a straight-ahead perspective. Or you might use a telephoto lens from a high, sideline position.

Baseball is a difficult sport to cover because the action is usually quick with long periods of dull innings. Photographers are usually confined in a special area behind first and third base. The usual equipment configuration is to have one camera on a tripod that is fixed on second base with a second camera around the neck. Pay attention. Foul balls can hurt if they are a surprise. Use your fixed position to take pictures with your wide angle lens of fans reacting to key plays.

Soccer photographers roam from the sidelines to the goal looking for headers. You may want to use an extreme low angle through the netting of the goalie attempting to stop a score.

Hockey photographers try to get high enough with long lenses to avoid the protective shield around the playing area. Use a wide angle lens up against the plastic protector to capture a hard check or scuffle.

Tennis is best photographed while kneeling at one side of the net. However during professional matches photographers are limited to an area at a courtside location. As with baseball, try to get crowd feature pictures.

Swimming events are often photographed with a flash and a long lens wit favorable results. Use an underwater camera to record the other side of a dive or turn.

Most track and field events require a long lens and knowledge of the individual event. You might use an extremely long telephoto lens and take close-ups of key actions-the relay hand-off, the pole vaulter's grip, or the shot put thrower's grimace.

Whenever there is doubt on how to cover an event, look at the positions and equipment of other, more experienced photographers. Then, think of a position based on your knowledge of the game. Above all, keep in focus, minimize blurring, and show the drama of competition in the players' eyes.


Readers want to know what people in the news look like. The portrait assignment is an opportunity for photographers to capture a person's personality. It is no easy task. Important and ordinary newsmakers tend to hide behind a facade of friendliness. Seldom does a photographer get the luxury to spend long periods of time with a busy businessman. All the photographer's instincts and technical competence come into play to watch for a moment when the subject's personality is revealed.

Types of Portrait Assignments

There are two kinds of portrait pictures: mug and environmental. Mug shots, those little head and shoulder, close-up portraits, have staged a comeback on the pages of newspapers. A recent research study revealed that the front pages of five large circulation newspapers are filled with the tiny face photographs. It seems that photographers must learn to live with the small images (Lester, 1988).

Mug Shots. The term mug shot comes from the definition, "to make faces." The challenge for photographers is to make the mug shot more than a picture of a subject smiling for the camera. Despite its small size, the picture can and should be a telling record.

The portrait can be taken in the newspaper's studio where the lighting and background can be rigorously controlled or in the subject's office or home. A short telephoto lens, in the range between 85mm and 105mm, is the best choice for the close-up portrait. The subject is likely to be nervous. With a telephoto, the photographer need not get too close in order to fill the frame with the person's face. A telephoto also tends to have shallow depth of field. A close-up mug shot should not contain distracting background elements. Don't be hesitant to take pictures of hand gestures that occur close to the face. Unusual angles including a side view might be tried. Cropping on the face can also be tighter than normally expected to add interest to the portrait. Expect to take a 36 exposure roll of film for a variety of facial gestures. If a subject is outgoing, an editor may be convinced to print a series of three head portraits for a more interesting and revealing layout. Be sure to take pictures from each side and in front for a variety of views.

The Environmental Portrait. The environmental portrait not only shows what the subject looks like, but also reveals aspects of the sitter's personality by the foreground and background objects the person displays. Personal mementos on a desk or hung on a wall let the reader know more about the subject than a simple portrait can reveal. It is a picture of a person AND that person's environment-NOT simply a picture of a person in an environment. Some photographers specialize in the environmental portrait with wonderful results. Arnold Newman and John Loengard make photographs that reveal a subject's personality through facial expressions and background clues.

Because the environment in which a person lives, works, or plays is a necessary part of the photograph, a wider lens is needed than for a mug shot. The depth of field should be more extreme because the background needs to be in focus. A wide angle lens choice in a range from 20mm to 35mm is most preferred by photographers.

If a large, picture window is available, use that soft, natural light for the portrait. Often, however, the available lighting must be supplemented with electronic flash. A bare-bulb flash simulates soft, window light and is an excellent flash choice. If the ceiling is of moderate height and lightly colored, a flash head aimed at an angle will bounce the light off the ceiling and create a soft, even glow. If possible, a photographer may want to bring an umbrella or a light box and a stand for the flash. The photographer should try to avoid the flash mounted on the camera and pointed directly at the subject unless the personality of the subject warrants such a technique. Direct flash creates a bright, blinding light and harsh shadows that is inappropriate for most portraits.

Some photographers stage manage their environmental portrait subjects. They tell them where to sit or stand, whether to look at the camera or away, and to hold a prop. The clich6 environmental business person's portrait always has the subject pretending to talk on the telephone. Such a picture always looks phony and is a result of laziness or a photographer's much too prevalent ego who assumes he or she knows how the subject should look. The best method is to have plenty of time for picture taking, have a reporter interview the subject so that the photographer can work more freely, and if asked by the subject where to stand or what to do, simply tell him or her to decide. It is always better to not create or stage manage a portrait session. Even if a pen and pencil set on a desk or a large, leafy, potted palm is in the way, avoid the temptation to move those objects. Part of the challenge of being a photojournalist is to work with the limitations that are presented during a shooting session. Distracting visual elements are a part of the subject's personality and should be left in the composition.


Consisting of food, fashion, and editorial subjects, the illustration assignment has come under criticism by leaders in the field who worry about the rise in the use of set up, contrived and computer manipulated images. The judges for the 47th Annual Pictures of the Year, one of the most prestigious photographic competitions in the world, announced that because of a concern for photographic credibility, the editorial illustration category would be eliminated. In addition, "photos that portray the subject realistically . . . will be preferred to those that illustrate a clever headline or concept" ("Contest Instructions," 1989).

Such trends have come and gone throughout the history of photojournalism. It is certainly hoped that a photographer who works on an illustration assignment does not carry those techniques to the other types of assignments. A fashion assignment, for example, lets the photographer work with an art director to create images that show models and clothing in pleasing compositions. The nature of an illustration is such that it demands much pre-planning. Locations, models, and clothing must be selected. During the shoot, poses must be managed. The ethical danger lies when the photographer, fresh from a fashion shoot, is asked to make an environmental portrait and uses those same techniques to manipulate the subject for an editorial story. The photographer's credibility may suffer. Readers who notice the name of a photographer who created an illustration may also see the same photographer taking pictures for other assignment categories and assume those pictures were set up as well.

The rise of the illustration assignment can be directly related to the rise in the use of color. Newspapers have invested heavily in color printing technology to attract readers and advertisers. Color printing in newspapers has increased steadily in quality and quantity to the point where readers expect to see color photographs and graphics everyday. To keep up with the demand, many photography staffs have switched to shooting all color negative film, bought color enlargers and film and print processors, and purchased portable lighting equipment powerful enough to be used in poor lighting situations with low ASA color films. New films on the market, however, have made the shooting of color as easy and worry free as with black-and white film products without complicated electronic flash techniques.

Some staffs have hired or made a photographer responsible for all the illustration assignments, thus avoiding an ethical conflict of interest. The photographer is trained in 120mm and large format color negative and transparency lighting and shooting techniques.

From an idea originated from a reporter or editor, the photographer is asked to illustrate a vague concept through an arrangement of props and models usually in a studio location. Many photographers enjoy the creative challenges offered by the illustration assignment. Problem solving is an absolute necessity as props get lost, food wilts or melts, and models complain.

The use of illustrations should be kept to a minimum by a newspaper. Whenever possible, illustrations should be made in realistic settings. Above all else, a photographic illustration should be clearly labeled as such in the caption and techniques that are special to the illustration should never carry over to another assignment category.


With all other assignments, the pressure to produce pictures on a tight deadline sometimes causes photographers to hurry themselves through a shooting session. The picture story assignment gives a photographer a chance to slow down and produce a package of pictures over a longer period of time. Although not as numerous as some of the other assignments, picture stories should be essential components in a photographer's portfolio. At its best, a picture story illuminates a serious city-wide social problem through the telling in words and pictures a particular person's plight.

Picture story ideas come from an editor, a reporter, or a photographer. Gene Smith, one of the most respected photojournalists and producers of picture stories until his death in 1978, said that "The best way to find ideas for photo essays is to be immersed in enough activities and different people so that you keep your mind stimulated" (cited in Kobre, 1980, p. 288). A curious and energetic mind will always find stories worth telling.

There may be a pressing story in a foreign country with many of the newspaper readers concerned about the situation. An editor will send a reporter/ photographer team to report their findings. Closer to home, a reporter or a photographer may have an idea for a story based on his or her own interests or previous assignments that warrant a longer treatment. In some cases, a photographer has the opportunity and the talent to produce both the words and the pictures.

Once a topic is decided upon, one of the first and crucial next steps is to conduct research on the topic. What has been written on the subject in the newspaper or in magazines and books? What can social workers, city officials, or persons in similar situations tell? Before contact is made with a subject, the photographer should read and talk to as many sources as possible in order to get as thorough an understanding as possible.

Part of the research process is to decide on the film and equipment that will be necessary for the completion of the assignment. Is the project a black-and-white or color film story? Will special lighting or camera equipment be required? Will permission from subjects be necessary?

Another crucial part of proper picture story planning and yet often overlooked is the deadline. There should be some kind of forced completion date for the project. Even if the story is self-imposed and the photographer shoots the pictures on his or her own time, a strictly enforced deadline upheld by a caring editor will prevent a photographer from spending too much time on the story. Many serious and professional photojournalists have sacrificed their careers because they became emotionally involved with the subject of a picture story. One photographer worked for over a year on a story of a little girl dying of cancer. When she died, the photographer decided to continue with the story and show how a family copes with the death of a child. The photographer could have used a strong editor to help manage the story and prevent the photographer from becoming obsessed.

The next step is to make contact with the subject. Some photographers do not bring cameras with them to the first meeting. Others take their cameras, but leave them in the trunk of their car. Most photographers will bring a camera with a 35mm lens on a strap around a shoulder to get the subject used to the picture taking process. Most persons think of photography as a means to prove they were at a famous landmark, to document the growth of a child, or to record the smiles of family members and friends. A photographer must take care to explain to the subject the purpose and intended outcome for the pictures. More importantly, the subject needs to understand that tiny, revealing moments only come if a subject is willing to be revealed and a photographer is willing to be a fly on the wall quietly observing and recording.

A picture story usually has five kinds of pictures: an overall scene-setter, a medium distance interaction, a portrait, a close-up, and an ending picture. The overall scene-setter describes in one picture the essence of the story. The photograph should readily place the main subject in the context for the reader. The medium distance interaction picture should show the subject communicating with some other person connected with the story. A portrait is usually a candid moment that reveals the subject's personality. The close-up photograph can be a tightly cropped detail of an object or a person that tends to symbolize the person's situation. Finally, the ending picture sums up and concludes the set of pictures. A photographer tells a story with words and pictures. There should be a logical beginning, middle, and end.

Once the pictures are taken, some photographers give contact sheets to an editor for the final decision. Others make 8 X 10 work prints of their favorites, called 11 selects" and let the editor chose from them. Many photographers work with an editor to produce a layout together. The editor concept, the idea that someone not emotionally involved in the story selects the pictures for the final layout, is a strong and valid one. An editor should keep the reader in mind. The photographer still has the subjects in mind. An editor should know from experience the pictures that best communicate a story. But a confident editor should never object to a photographer's input. Perhaps the best compromise is for a photographer to make prints of the favorites and for an editor to select from those images with a photographer's gentle prodding.


Photojournalists are not only social historians with a camera, they are competent technicians who must keep abreast of the changing technology and the acceptable ethical considerations associated with that technology. In the 1940s, it was ethically acceptable to pose many subjects because the commonly accepted technology of the day, the awkward 4 X 5 press camera with a portable flash, was a poor recorder of the candid moment. Also, without a 36 exposure film cassette, photographers were forced to make every picture count.

Photographers commonly use cropping, exposure, contrast, dodging, and burning techniques in the darkroom to make the meaning of a picture more clear. Cropping can be accomplished during shooting by the choice of lens, distance from the subject or angle chosen, in the darkroom by changing the height of the enlarged image or moving the blades of an adjustable easel, or by marking the white borders of a print to show the area of the final, printed image. With manipulations in aperture and shutter speed combinations or the use of filters when shooting, times and temperatures when processing the film, aperture and time settings with an enlarger, and filter or paper grade selections in the darkroom, photographers can alter the original tones of the scene dramatically. By preventing light from exposing on a certain area of a print with a tool or by hand, the area can be "dodged" to appear to be lighter. Conversely, by adding more light to a specific area, the print appears to be darker or "burned." Dodging and burning can also be accomplished with concentrated developer or chemical bleaches.

Some photographers have resorted to a simple technique to manipulate an image-flopping. A negative is turned upside-down in the enlarger carrier to produce a picture that is reversed, or flopped. Sometimes the angle of a subject's face or hand fits a layout design more pleasingly if the angle is reversed as if viewed in a mirror. The practice is dangerous because right-handed people can be made to appear left-handed, a wedding ring is seen on a right hand, and words in the picture are reversed. Photographers should notice the best angles while shooting without resorting to flopping a negative.

With computer technology, the picture manipulations cited here are possible without ever entering a darkroom. Newspapers and national news bureaus are experimenting with technologies that in a few years will be commonly thought of as the industry standard. Whether a subject is photographed with negative film or by electronic still video cameras where photographers are able to record their images on a 2-inch floppy disk, the pictures can be converted to computerized, digital images. The photographer can then make exposure, color balance, and cropping adjustments on a television or computer screen, type caption information, and send their words and photographs via a telephone line to the photo editor's computer terminal. Once in the newsroom's computer, the pictures can be readied for the printing process. The photo editor can make exposure, color, and cropping corrections. Computer-controlled color separations are then automatically performed with the pictures ready for the printing press. At the present time, the new technology saves time, yet is expensive with the quality not as high as present, traditional methods. But the day will come when the technology becomes affordable for even university photojournalism programs.

There are certain principles that should remain constant despite technological advances. The guiding principle for such manipulations should always be the content of the photograph. Is the content or intent of the image drastically altered by the manipulation? Will an exposure adjustment, angle or perspective change, tight crop, color correction, filter selection, flopped negative, or a dodged or burned area mislead a reader? If the answer is yes, the manipulation should not occur. Whether by traditional or new technological methods, the underlying principle of not fooling the public should never be compromised. Credibility forms the distinction between a respected chronicle of a community's best and worst moments and a supermarket tabloid.

A modem photojournalist is a mixture of reporter, artist, and craftsperson. A photographer is expected to determine in 1/500th of a second, whether a subject is newsworthy, aesthetically pleasing, and technically possible to record on film. Assignments during any one shift can run from coverage of a five-alarm fire to a meeting with the governor. Consequently, photojournalists should be well-educated, curious, and cool under stressful situations. Photographers must also be humane, caring individuals aware of the many ethical concerns that are a part of any news assignment.