Robin Rayne says, “Make your emotion work for you and not against you, remember, God gave you tears.”
Robin spends most of her time photographing today in the disabilities community. She is a photojournalist and documentary producer for the University of Georgia’s Institute on Human Development and Disability. Her compelling images illustrating human rights, disability and gender diversity issues are distributed internationally by Zuma Press.
When I was traveling and could not photograph my daughter’s senior prom Robin helped out for our family getting the photos of the important event in our family.
I can always count on Robin to capture those moments. The minute I knew I was away for that all too important Prom I called Robin.
Robin sees moments and captures the emotions we feel. When asked how she does it with such emotional moments she says, “I am thankful for auto focus when covering some stories, because of all the tears.”
Great photojournalists embrace their emotions.
“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” – Don McCullin
After Robin spoke this past weekend at the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar she commented that after talking with people about their portfolios she was always asking why for the photos.
Why does this story need to be told? Why should the public care?
What is surprising to myself and Robin is how when you ask this question so many have a deer in the headlights look on their face.
Though it may be interesting or even entertaining, the foremost value of news is as a utility to empower the informed. The purpose of journalism is thus to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments.
Robin is a photojournalist and not just a photographer. Robin is not interested in just entertaining the public, she is interested in informing the public. She is most concerned in telling the stories of people who cannot tell their own stories.
Robin is the voice for the voiceless who is also calling others to take up the call of photojournalism. She knows she alone cannot tell all the stories needing to be told.
When I asked Robin to speak to my Intro to Photojournalism class at Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication she challenged the class.
If we want to feel an undying passion for our work, if we want to feel we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves, we all need to know our WHY.
Robin explained how her why probably came about having a son with disabilities.
You have to find your niche. The combination of your WHY and HOWs is as exclusively yours as your fingerprint.
Covering events requires you to think as a photographer. This event was to honor Mohammad Ali and to do so they had his daughter Maryum Ali as the keynote address.
On the stage off to the sides were banners with Mohammad Ali’s photo on them. I worked to the side to get that behind Maryum so it was helping to tell the story using primarily the visuals.
Now another issue in covering a dinner is the lighting.
To be sure the people’s faces look good I had to use a flash, but the problem is then the background would go black.
I used a higher ISO 16000 to keep the background visible.
I arrived really early and had the guys running the sound and lighting board turn the lights on as they would be during the event. I then walked onto the stage and did a custom white balance using the ExpoDisc.
Using the ExpoDisc I put this over the front of the lens and did a incident light reading and custom white balance.
When you have the perfect color space from doing a custom white balance the dynamic range is increased to the fullest potential with that light source.
Tips for covering events
Arrive Early and Leave Late
Adjust your ISO to work with your flash to show context
Look for angles to help capture visually what you need words to say about the event
Get custom white balance
Shoot RAW – Because no information is compressed with RAW you’re able to produce higher quality images, as well as correct problem images that would be unrecoverable if shot in the JPEG format.
Well there are many “WHY?” questions when it comes to communication. One that I am discovering is not asked enough is, “Why should the audience care?”
Most organizations want to communicate with an audience in order to get that audience to help them. But the most obvious questions they are missing is the WIIFM question. What’s In It For Me?
WIIFM is the stuff that shows how or why what you have to sell or say matters to those who you are trying to sell or say it too. It’s the value proposition, the thing that makes them realize that what you’re offering is worth their money or their time.
I think most people think they have something important and that everyone will want to know.
The latest group of missionaries I worked with thought that churches should see their role as supporting them.
Now in consulting missionaries trying to connect with their supporters back home I had to remind them about WIIFM.
So, never forget that relationship building comes BEFORE favor asking. And there has to be a much bigger and better WIIFM when you approach people cold, without a solid relationship.
That said, sometimes people will offer favors if they are charmed by you, or like you, or are just in a good mood. But given how overwhelmed most people are these days, they usually appreciate and respond well to clear propositions with a straightforward action attached—and a benefit. Otherwise, you just become part of the noise.
For the journalist WIIFM is the stuff that shows how or why what you have to say matters to those who you are trying to say it to.
This week spending time in Lima, Peru has proven to be quite helpful. We were able to answer all the people’s questions that are hosting us later when we come back with 12 students and all the instructors.
We covered what we are doing each day and how the team is helping us interview the people that they recommended for stories.
We went to the presidential palace to see about this being a place we will bring the group for an outing.
Jon Stone is a professor at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Lima, Peru and also one of those hosting the Storytellers Abroad team in January.
This is a must visit for those who have an interest in the early culture and how Christianity made its way to Peru. The Cathedral is beautifully designed, both exterior and interior with natural skylights, and has a nice garden within its compound, and one of the largest library in Peru – a 2 tier balconied library, with spiral staircases, that looks very much from the movies of Harry Potter.
The highlight of the visit is to the underground catacombs – up to 3 different basement tiers and you would need a guide to bring your through. The catacombs served as a burial place to all in that era, i.e. the rich, the poor and the priests and the bones and esp skulls are arranged in neat rows of up to some 70,000 dead.
Larcomar is located on Avenida Jose Larco, and it is along the cliff next to the ocean (mar means ‘sea’ in Spanish) thus the name Larcomar.
Just one block from the big roundabout in Miraflores you find Av. Petit Thouars. On block 52 to 55 are many artisan markets selling nearly everything what Peruvian craftsmanship has to offer. You get the typical souvenirs, nice artisan craftworks, beautiful silver jewelry and other silverware, clothes made of Peru’s famous alpaca, funny T-Shirts, pottery, paintings, wooden pieces, and much more from all over Peru.
Traditional Peruvian clothing and products ranging from shoes to tote bags are made out of bright, bold textiles.
The traditional Peruvian art form known also as ‘mates burilados’, dates back 3,500 years. The gourds tell a story of the customs, culture, people, history, and animals. Hang them from a Christmas tree or use them as a decorative piece around your home.
Editor note: we still have 2 slots available for this trip in January. Go to Storytellers Abroad to see how to register and come with us to Peru.
Lima, Peru is a desert. The weather patterns for South American generally move East to West. Most of the moisture gets help up in the Andes Mountains. The Andes are the longest continental mountain range in the world, forming a continuous highland along the western edge of South America.
There is a haze over the city due to so much dust from the desert.
People find places all over the area to build. Some areas have some building which is similar to squatters in the United States. They build housing without plumbing and electricity.
During this trip we are talking to the locals and our hosts for our Storytellers Abroad trip this January. We are visiting some of the possible locations that our students will be doing stories. We are doing this to see any potential issues that we may need to plan around.
We have visited the location we will use as the classroom part of the workshop.
Simple things like planning for power strips, projectors, sound, food and where we are staying is all being looked at and planned for in this trip.
We are asking security questions about is it safe to walk with cameras from where we are staying to the classroom each day?
John’s credit card company sent him a promotion to eat at his favorite steak restaurant for 50% off. Well this place would most likely be too expensive later for the class, but we love steak and a good deal.
The food was outstanding.
Today we will meet with their team and visit the prenatal clinic they started here to help pregnant mothers.
Anyone doing a story must plan. You need to know how you will get places and if the people are available and willing to participate in the story process.
Today we will talk to those helping us identify stories to be sure those subjects will be available when we return for us to follow them for three to five days solid.
We are also planning for the transportation of how we will get all 12 students to each of their stories and who will help them also with the translation during their interviews. We have four people coming on the trip who speak Spanish, but the rest will need translators.
Today we have to help get everyone to see these stories as the stories “WE” want to tell together. The subject, the translator, the transportation, the storyteller, the caterer and more are all helping make these stories come alive.
We are still exploring today and tomorrow. The more we do to prepare to do a story the better the story will be for the audience.
Every once in a while I am reviewing images I have taken to see if I can update my website. I have found that when you are just pulling from assignment work I have less “Portfolio” images.
What do I want to put on my website?
Often I shoot things that are just important to me. They are really photos you would put in your personal journal.
People are not always hiring photographers to document everything, but I see the value for if for no one else for me. I love to look back and remember the things I have done and seen.
For example I was able to take a helicopter ride this year over the Kilauea volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. This is so different than what I shoot most of the time.
I do a good number of head shots each year like these actors studying at Columbus State University.
As every parent I love doing things with our children. Here making my daughter’s head shot for her to use in her career as an actress brings me great joy.
While this isn’t a soccer game photo, I do find myself making interesting sports photos. So who will hire you to shoot this? Should this be on my website?
How about a group photo? Well many people do hire me to do team photos of their co-workers and yes sports teams as well.
Clients also hire me to photograph new things their company is doing. For example Chick-fil-A started using canopies to help protect their team members that help speed up the drive thru by being outside taking orders.
Do you put things into your website that are more of a trend? For example many offices are renovating to the open office space design.
The biggest issue now facing corporate America is the lack of employees. The industry refers to this as attracting talent.
Companies are also trying to be sure they communicate their culture.
So this year I captured some fun things as well for clients. Do they belong in a portfolio?
While fireworks are fun to see would anyone hire me to shoot any for them?
I got a lot of likes for this photo on my Instagram account, but does this go into my website to help me get jobs?
I took an afternoon to go and explore the Old Car City in White, GA this year. I got some really cool shots. Again many people liked them on Instagram, so does this mean they go into my website portfolio?
I can see companies hiring me to shoot photos of their properties. They do want to remind people how to find them.
Now speakers at podiums lit by stage lighting are not that difficult to do, but should they be part of my portfolio? Can people figure out that if I can do one type of photography that those skills often transfer to something else?
I find that people are often more interested in the photos themselves and if I have enough compelling images I might get a call to shoot their event.
So how many images is enough? How many images of events should I post?
What will draw people to my website?
I can tell you this is the thoughts of not just me, but every photographer working today in this profession.
What do you think? Do any of these photos need to be on my website as part of my portfolio? Should some never be in my portfolio?
“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough”
– Robert Capa
This year I have been teaching Intro to Photojournalism. This is the first photography course for many of the students.
For many in the class this is their first time taking pictures for an assignment. For most the photos look a lot like this photo here.
Now when you and I look at the photo we see primarily a BBQ Grill. They see the fireman.
I comment on their photo that they need to get closer. So the next round of photos looks more like this photo.
While this is a much improved photo, my comments are still “Get Closer.”
Then we end up with this photo.
They have now switched to their telephoto lens. They are still not close enough. Again I am saying in my comments to get closer.
So instead of shooting with their zoom telephoto lens at 55mm they zoomed in to 200mm.
I talk to them about getting closer with their wide-angle lenses.
This is what I show them and talk more to them about.
I want them to understand getting close means that they move their feet until they are right next to the subject. The distance you would have a conversation with them over a cup of coffee.
Why am I afraid of talking to people while at the same time I wish to talk to someone?
For the introvert you are being held back because you are worried about being judged, or you don’t know what to say or … well, for any reason really. Here is an insight that you need to know. You will discover, without realizing, people you talk to are worrying about exactly the same things you are, and feel just as afraid, they just might not show it. You are not alone.
I’m introverted at heart, but that doesn’t mean I have to be shy. The two are quite different, and realizing that shyness is a habit that can be broken was a big first step in understanding that I can develop social skills.
Realize it isn’t all about you. The trick I learned through the years was to focus on the other person. Make them the center of the attention.
Instead of hiding behind texting or emails, go down the hall and talk to that person face to face.
The cool thing about having a camera and on an assignment it was the ice breaker. Telling them I am on an assignment and I would love to feature them in a photo and tell their story really worked most of the time.
What I also learned was that once I was just talking to someone and getting to know them I was now “Close Enough” to shoot with a wide angle lens and the photos were much better.
I would then take photos with those wider lenses and slowly move back to shooting with a moderate telephoto lens. For my full framed Nikon D5 that go to lens is the Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8 lens for a portrait.
Most of the students just have an 18-55mm lens on a cropped sensor camera. So here is me using the same lens as they have on similar cropped sensor. I am showing how to shoot from wide to close as you back out. The other thing I want them to do is to walk around the subject and shoot them from different angles.
Now this is the moving around the subject. I am looking for an interesting and captivating image.
Now when shooting from the back I try my best to still show their face. Sometimes it might work without their face.
Now go to the other side and see what that looks like.
Now zoom in and get a tighter shot.
Move again and shoot more images.
When shooting an event I am doing this exercise over and over and over again. I want to have at least 10 to 30 images of which I will pick only one of them for the photo story package.
“Spray and Pray” is a common phrase associated with the practice of shooting rapid fire, as many images as possible, and then hoping and praying that you’ve got something good. That approach almost never works. Notice in these examples I am moving and taking a couple a frames.
There are a couple times where a motor drive can help. In those cases, such as photographing things like sports, doing panning shots, or anything with action like birds or wildlife – shooting in burst mode, and taking multiple frames at a time, will likely help you get some good images.
I have found that trying to get your first photo to be the one you want is much better than just starting to fire randomly and then picking an image later.
I personally suggest slowing down and actually taking less photos, than the “Spray and Pray” mode. I am always looking.
When you are starting out it is really better to over shoot. You need to push yourself early and as you get more aware of what will work and not work. You will find yourself walking around subject and exploring and picking moments and compositions.
While covering the Transgender Parade, which is part of Atlanta Pride events, I watched as the people in the parade were reacting to each other like a family reunion.
I found everyone that I talked to very open. I was needing to get their information for writing captions for the photos I was taking.
Emily Graven, a UGA Photojournalism student, was shadowing me for the day. We met up with Robin Rayne who has been covering this event for many years to get some tips.
In looking for stories we spend time talking with people. When we have done a good job of building relationships with people they will come out of their shell.
What I find very important in being a good photojournalist is be present with people. This means you listen, laying down our defensiveness and agendas, and offering up empathy instead.
The most courageous thing we can do is listen. The bravest thing we can do is to stand with them.
I had learned about the concept of the ministry of presence through some pastoral counseling sessions and a great deal more when my wife was a chaplain at the VA hospital.
The ministry of presence is a way of “being” rather than of “doing” or “telling”.
My undergraduate degree was a B.S. in social work. It was this training that helped me be a better photojournalist. That coupled with my pastoral classes in seminary taught me how to prepare to be with others that are suffering is not to think about what to say or what to do. We are not anticipating how to react to certain situations that might develop.
We prepare by being present in the moment–The NOW.
To maintain objectivity in journalism, journalists should present the facts whether or not they like or agree with those facts. Objective reporting is meant to portray issues and events in a neutral and unbiased manner, regardless of the writers opinion or personal beliefs.
Now when I show up anywhere I am bringing all of me to that place. One of the greatest things to change my life has been my faith. When I read my bible I do not use it to condemn others, I use it to help change me. Through the years the scriptures have challenged me in ways that has helped me be a much better journalist.
Matthew 1:23 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When telling the story of Jesus the Bible talks about the birth of Christ and him being called Immanuel. In most of the Bibles I have they have in parenthesis what Immanuel means. “God with us.”
John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The scripture points out that we are to be like Christ to others. We are to “be” with others.
As journalists we too need to learn to just “be” with others. This is where you are there to listen. You ask them questions to understand them. You ask for their stories.
I don’t want to hear, “If Truth be told.” This means they feel somewhat uncomfortable.
I mention that because many people feel they must be guarded. They don’t believe people will believe them and use their words against them.
My mentor Howard Chapnick wrote a book that the title alone says what the power of photojournalism is all about–Truth Needs No Ally.
TRUTH is the rock foundation of every great character. It is loyalty to the right as we see it; it is courageous living of our lives in harmony with our ideals; it is always—power.
I challenge you to learn to just “be” with others today. Learn to listen. One of the hardest parts of doing this correctly is not letting someone’s comment have you thinking about a reply. Truth comes when we really listen with the intent to understand.