Photojournalism: A Look Behind The Lens
If you have an interest in digital marketing, photography, or visual storytelling, you have likely heard the term “photojournalism”. When I first heard this term, I had so many questions. Is it journalism? Is it photography? Is it an art, or a marketing strategy? In short, it is and can be all of the above. Photojournalism is the creative practice of communicating news or stories through photography.
Photojournalists typically work on an employment or contracted status with established news publications. If you’ve ever read an article in Time Magazine or National Geographic, you have undoubtedly been transported to locations both far and near — from The Galapagos to the halls of Congress, and everywhere in between.
While previously reserved for career photographers with sophisticated camera equipment and the prestigious letterhead of an official publication, the popularity, accessibility, and affordability of social media and camera technology have sprung open doors that were previously closed to aspiring visual storytellers.
While it’s true that anyone can take a reasonably high-quality photo of their vacation, #OOTD (“Outfit of the Day”), or even their pet, there remains a wide gulf between typical social media photography and photojournalism. It is not about taking a beautiful photograph — that aspect is more accessible than it has ever been — it’s about telling a story by capturing a fleeting instant. So where should you begin?
Traditional career photojournalists are more accessible than ever, and this effortless shareability turned them into social media’s first teachers. For example, award-winning career photojournalist David Guttenfelder has received specific recognition for his work shared on Instagram. His lifetime of success in visual storytelling opened doors into one of the least photographed places in our world: North Korea. He updates his social media feed with glimpses into the daily life of this secluded country. Guttenfelder’s photos shine a spotlight on the typically unseen quotidien humanity of North Koreans, compelling the viewer to form a previously impossible connection with Guttenfelder’s subjects.
However, you don’t need access to a sealed-off country or a career of practice to become a photojournalist. It’s true that the rise of social media has crowded the field of visual storytelling, thus requiring aspiring photographers to post consistently eye-catching images in order to stand out. There is a bright side: unlike traditional career photojournalism, which mandates a certain amount of money, equipment, and connections, social media has transformed today’s photojournalism into a nearly true meritocracy.
A favorite example of mine is the case of Brandon Stanton, who began his storytelling success without leaving his hometown. Stanton began photographing and interviewing strangers on the street, and found undeniably compelling stories within the Humans of New York. With over 20 million followers on social media, the stories of New Yorkers and people all around the globe reach the living rooms of HONY’s now worldwide audience. Without name recognition, the backing of an established publication, or a team of photo editors, Stanton has reached undisputed success on social media. He is an example of Instagram’s merit-based system: a compelling story, told through the platform available, can reach a larger audience than photojournalist veterans or well-known celebrities.
No matter where you live or what you do, you can tell a story that’s all your own. Begin by photographing what you know and what you find most interesting. Your fascination and familiarity will make your photos come alive with the visual stories of its subjects. Whether you photograph yourself, your dog, your kitchen, or your unknown hometown, you have the unique and invaluable ability to bring it to life better than anyone else.
So what are you waiting for? You already have everything you need to become a photojournalist. I cannot wait to see the content you create!