War photographer in the field

Photojournalism

The Image as News

Photojournalism is a form of journalism that uses images instead of words to tell a news story. Photographic images can reveal great truths, expose wrongdoing and neglect, and inspire hope and understanding through the language of visual understanding.[1] There have been times when a single image has changed the course of politics, ended wars, and ignited revolutions. While individuals and groups have often used these images to advocate for one position over another, photojournalism’s primary goal is to depict the subject matter honestly. Therefore, photojournalism differs from other forms of photography – and, at times, from other forms of journalism – by its need to remain completely objective. This means that photojournalists should not be biased or take sides. Photojournalism must also be timely, as tackling current issues makes the images more relevant to the viewer. Just as the print journalist writes about a breaking news story, a photojournalist must capture the here-and-now aspects of the story.  Photojournalism must be interesting to catch the intended audience’s attention. For a photo to have the requisite social impact, it must also have the requisite aesthetic impact.

Photojournalism Code of Ethics

Because photos can cause great harm if they are overly intrusive or manipulated, photojournalists must adhere to strict ethical standards. The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), a professional society that promotes standards in photojournalism, has established a code of ethics designed to ensure the highest quality in all forms of visual journalism and to strengthen public confidence in the profession. It is also meant to be an educational tool for those practicing photojournalism. The NPPA code of ethics requires photojournalists to be accountable for upholding the following standards in their daily work:

  1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
  2. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
  3. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one’s own biases in the work.
  4. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.
  5. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.
  6. Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
  7. Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.
  8. Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
  9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.
  10. Do not engage in harassing behavior of colleagues, subordinates or subjects and maintain the highest standards of behavior in all professional interactions.

Ideally, visual journalists should:

  1. Strive to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in public. Defend the rights of access for all journalists.
  2. Think proactively, as a student of psychology, sociology, politics and art to develop a unique vision and presentation. Work with a voracious appetite for current events and contemporary visual media.
  3. Strive for total and unrestricted access to subjects, recommend alternatives to shallow or rushed opportunities, seek a diversity of viewpoints, and work to show unpopular or unnoticed points of view.
  4. Avoid political, civic and business involvements or other employment that compromise or give the appearance of compromising one’s own journalistic independence.
  5. Strive to be unobtrusive and humble in dealing with subjects.
  6. Respect the integrity of the photographic moment.
  7. Strive by example and influence to maintain the spirit and high standards expressed in this code. When confronted with situations in which the proper action is not clear, seek the counsel of those who exhibit the highest standards of the profession. Visual journalists should continuously study their craft and the ethics that guide it. [2]

Types of Photojournalism

Though we tend to think of the photojournalist as someone on the frontlines snapping pictures while under fire or someone amid rioters being teargassed, rest assured that there are also less dangerous forms of photojournalism.

Breaking News Photojournalism

Breaking or spot news photojournalism is characterized by its unplanned nature and sense of urgency. It seems to involve primarily unpleasant events like accidents, natural disasters, man-made disasters, crime, acts of terrorism, etc. Since it occurs without notice, a breaking news photojournalist must be prepared to arrive on the scene quickly and quickly ascertain the essential aspects of the incident. They then need to position themselves to get the one or two shots that best capture those essential aspects. Often, breaking news photojournalists place themselves in danger to bring the story to the general public.

General News Photojournalism

Though less adrenaline-pumping than spot news photojournalism, general news photojournalism is no less critical. General news photojournalists typically cover planned events such as press conferences, speeches, product launches, political rallies, etc. The planned nature of general news photojournalism allows the photojournalist to make well-informed decisions about the coverage and delve deeper into the subject matter.

War Photojournalism

War photojournalism is the earliest form of photojournalism. The beginning of photojournalism can be traced back to the Crimean War in the 1850s. War photojournalism involves capturing violence, conflict, and its effect on non-combatants and the surrounding environment. This type of photojournalist often puts themselves in danger as they record the reality of war and try to report it back to the civilian world.

Wildlife Photojournalism

Wildlife photojournalism is one of the most challenging forms of photojournalism and requires a solid understanding of the behavior of the animal whose image you want to capture. Wildlife photojournalism can be used to advance the cause of science. Because professional scientists cannot spend nearly the same amount of time out in the field as the sum total of all recreational photographers, the use of citizen scientists to provide actionable information has become invaluable.

Citizen Photojournalism

A new and somewhat controversial type of photojournalism is citizen photojournalism, which involves images taken and edited on phones by non-professional photographers. The controversy has to do with the “amateur” nature of citizen photojournalism and the failure of these photographers to adhere to photojournalism standards of conduct. However, established news organizations increasingly rely on these citizen photojournalists to help capture breaking news.  Citizen photojournalists often use their social media accounts like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook or create their own website or blog to publish their comments, photographs, or opinions.

Citations

  1. Code of Ethics, National Press Photographers Association.
  2. Code of Ethics, National Press Photographers Association.
The path to becoming an underwater photographer

The Path to Becoming a Photojournalist

From High School to Your First Job

Build a Solid Academic Foundation

Basics:

Take a wide variety of classes, including those in science (biology, physics, chemistry, computer science), history (American, European, World), political science, government, geography, and economics. Take photography, art history, comparative religion, advanced writing, and foreign language classes.

Recommended:

If not available at your high school, try taking photography courses (photojournalism, fundamentals of digital photography, Photoshop, image editing, lighting, composition, fine art, nature, and wildlife) and journalism-related courses (investigative journalism, political journalism) offered online.

Keep in Mind:

Volunteer for your school newspaper and try and obtain an internship with your local news organization. Learn how to write well. The ability to communicate clearly in writing cannot be overstated. Given that you may need to travel abroad for your work, you should become fluent in a foreign language.

Dive In!

And become an expert

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Make all the right moves

Advice from those who know

Master the technical skills of photography

Build experience through internships

Work at your school or local newspaper

Participate in photography competitions

Create a website or blog to exhibit your work

Cultivate connections in the industry

Become knowledgeable about privacy and copyright laws

Join professional societies and organizations

Stay current by reading industry and professional journals

What degree is right for you?

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Undergraduate Degree

There is no degree requirement to pursue a career in photojournalism. However, an undergraduate program in photography will help you hone your photographic technique and provide more entry-level opportunities. Not many schools have specific photojournalism majors, but almost all schools that have journalism or photography majors will offer at least one or two courses in photojournalism.

Graduate Degree

Most photojournalists will tell you that it would be better to spend two years gaining experience rather than in graduate school. There are, however, graduate programs in photojournalism that will certainly give you an edge when seeking a position with established news organizations. Also, many of these graduate programs offer internships with high-quality media and news organizations.

10 Schools With Excellent Photojournalism Programs

Want to see the full list of colleges and universities with degree offerings or relevant courses?

See the full list

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Photojournalism
Columbia College Chicago

Photojournalism
University of North Texas

Photojournalism Concentration
Ball State University

Photojournalism
University of Missouri

Photojournalism Option
Rochester Institute of Technology

Photojournalism
The George Washington University

Photojournalism
Western Kentucky University

Photojournalism Minor
Kent State University

Photojournalism
Minnesota State University Moorhead

Photojournalism
Central Michigan University

Tip 1

Just like aspiring artists study paintings in a museum, to improve your photojournalistic skills, you should analyze the photographs of successful photojournalists and see how their images tell a story in a compelling manner.

Tip 2

When choosing the subject matter for your story, consider your own perspectives and experiences in the world and how they can lead your storytelling in a way that offers access or insight that other photojournalists cannot.

Tip 3

Gain experience by working for the student newspaper or from internships with a local newspaper. This will help you build a portfolio for prospective employers. Don’t wait to be employed to start acting like a photojournalist.

Have familiarity with one or more of the following areas

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Camera and lens mechanics

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Photo editing software

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Color science

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Photojournalistic ethics

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Film science and development

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Digital platforms

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Shot composition

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Research

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Aesthetic photography

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Social media

Typical Job Functions of a Photojournalist

Here are some of the interesting things you could be doing.

Capturing subjects on film.

Conducting research to gather background information about a subject.

Conducting interviews to enhance and verify news stories.

Writing narration to accompany images.

Processing and printing negatives or film.

Using image-editing software to edit images.

Submitting images, text, and other information to the editorial staff.

Traveling to assigned locations.

Exploring relevant story concepts alongside writers, reporters, and editors.

There’s an Ocean of Possibilities

As a photojournalist, you can work independently as a freelancer or on a news or other organization staff.

Career paths that a photojournalist can pursue include:

  • News
  • Investigative
  • Portrait
  • Fashion
  • Wildlife
  • Sports
  • Travel
  • Documentary
  • Editor
  • Copywriter

Potential employers include:

  • News Agencies
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Broadcast Companies
  • Media Groups
  • TV Stations
  • Public Relations Firms
  • Communications Companies
  • Social Media Companies
  • Film Studios
  • Advertising Agencies

Start your career search with our extensive list of employment websites.