The other night I watched a slide show of a friend’s trip. They showed a lot of stuff they came across; a building they saw, a person they met, a famous location they stumble upon. The subjects were dead center (and I mean dead) in every snapshot. I began to wonder if their camera had sights rather than a viewfinder. My friend kept us informed (not necessarily entertained) by telling us what each photo showed.
I have another friend, Joanna Pinneo. She shoots for National Geographic. When Joanna showed photos of some of her trips each photo was a story in itself. Her photos spoke volumes. Her pictures were worth a thousand words. There was no need for a running dialogue with her presentation.
The difference wasn’t subject matter. My “dead center” friend showed us a subject, but Joanna used verbs. She presented her subjects in a variety of angles, framing, lighting and mood.
What Joanna, and other photojournalists, do that many photographers do not is they offer an assortment, a mixture of images.
Jeff Raymond is director of photography for a Christian missionary agency. Jeff and I were training his student photographers in a workshop.
Jeff said, “A lot of these students have improved their coverage of stories, but mostly what they have done is just move their subjects from dead center and made nice portraits of them.” Jeff calls these “People Need The Lord” photographs. He called them that because every missionary was copying what Steve McCurry did when he made that iconic image of a young Afghan girl wearing the red scarf for the cover of National Geographic Magazine in 1985.
The problem Jeff Raymond was addressing is that there is so much more to photograph than just a nice portrait.
To move beyond just a nice portrait some photographers use the “Day In The Life” approach. Just follow a subject for a day and capture what they do. You could tell the story as if you were doing a major paper for a school project. Take photos systematically over a period of time and use these to help tell the story.
No matter the approach you take you will need a variety of photos. A classic way to accomplish this is to begin with an overall establishing shot. Then make some medium shots that show the environment. Follow this with close-up photos like a portrait or even some extreme close-ups to show those details.
Just like when you write that major paper for a class project, you will need to gather lots of material before you start writing or in this case editing the project. You will need a lot of variety for each type of photo so you can pick the best that work together as a package.
If you are covering an event look for the broad view that gives a sense of scale of the occasion. A wide-angle lens like a 28 mm from a birds-eye or worm-view will add drama and make the presentation more exciting.
Use those leading lines and graphics for impact. Study National Geographic or Sports Illustrated.
My friend Bob Rosato, staff photographer for Sports Illustrated, spoke to a professional photographers group not long ago. Bob talked about how important it is to capture the atmosphere and grandeur of an event. He showed many images we have seen in the magazine which were shot with a wide angle. Sure, he had photos made with those super behemoth telephoto lenses we typically think they always use, but to capture the splendor he used wide-angle lenses.
Capturing atmosphere is difficult. The sensations of an event are gathered from sounds, smells and all our senses. You must rely on visual cues to evoke these emotions with your audience.
Shoot wide, but extremely close also. Show details as close as your camera will focus. Find a fall leaf that brings to mind autumn rather than only showing the wide-angle view of the forest.
Now we see why photojournalists carry two or three cameras. You see something and shoot, no need to change lenses to capture the moment.
Ah yes, the moment. Don’t limit yourself to a predetermined list of shots. Be ready for the unexpected. These serendipitous moments are what will add a human touch to your photography.
You cannot sit in a chair at an event and capture it all. You must move around and look for unique perspective and a variety of images.
No matter how many shots you take of an event you usually wish you had taken more because as you tell your story with images you need transition images. You need photos to lead the audience to the next point or subject.
In television shows they use bumps to help break up the changes. The TV show Home Improvement used little detail graphics of a tool, a fence or something with a sound to let you know you were changing thoughts.
When you show your photos and you feel little need to explain what is on the screen, then you have done the job. A good job.