COMM 230, Basic Photography for Mass Media, and COMM 242, Advanced News Photography (Photojournalism)
Instructor: Ross Collins, North Dakota State University

Lecture Synopses

Synopsis One
Our society relies on photography for a wide variety of needs. We take photos for our own albums, to remember important occasions and people who are significant to our lives, or to remember ourselves as we were but are no longer. Portrait photographers fashion formal photographs, while technical and architectural photographers make pictures as instructional tools. Photojournalists, on the other hand, make photographs:

Photojournalism as a separate profession is a fairly recent concept--the term was coined in the 1940s by historian Frank Luther Mott. It reflected the growing power of the news image in our society, a language unlike words, with no past, no future, often transcending culture, but appealing directly to emotions as a "slice of life." Photojournalism style photos always include cutlines to help give the work context, but what many of remember is not the words, but a visual image tied to an important event. World War II and the Iwo Jima flag raising, Vietnam and the Viet Cong prisoner execution, the China Tianenmin revolt and the tanks facing a lone protester--for many it is a single image that symbolizes the event, even if it's an entire war.

Photojournalism as a profession is not a growing field, and competition is tough, because for those who love to take pictures it offers travel, excitement, and access to interesting places and people. The majority of photojournalists work for newspapers, but many free-lance for agencies or magazines.

Camera show and tell guide
To prepare for the class, read the camera’s instruction manual to answer the following:

Synopsis Two
A camera is basically a box with a hole at one end, but modern cameras include a few other things to make them more efficient. These include a lens to collect more light, a way to control the amount collected, a way to control how long it strikes the film, a mechanism to focus the light on the film, and a mechanism to move the film from one exposure to the next. Cameras contain these elements in five basic ways:

Each of these has advantages and drawbacks, but most photojournalists and advanced amateurs rely on the Single lens reflex (SLR) style for its portability and flexibility. Light is controlled using an aperture which can "stop down," or let in less light, when photographing brightly-lit scenes. A "leaf" style shutter, standard in viewfinder cameras, controls how long the light strikes the film with a series of metal plates that open and close quickly. A focal plane style shutter, used for most SLRs, relies on a curtain with a slit moving quickly a cross the film.

Synopsis Three
Lenses collect and focus light rays onto film or digital sensor placed in the focal plane. Convex pieces of glass are set together in a light-tight barrel to focus light rays; the more acute the angle of light refraction, the "shorter" the lens (wide angle). The less acute, the "longer" the lens (telephoto). Zoom lens allow uses to adjust the distance between lens and focal plane, called the focal length. A "normal" (50 mm for 35 mm cameras; smaller for most digital cameras) lens shows the same perspective of your eye. Larger numbers are considered telephoto, and capture a smaller part of the scene, but a larger image, like a telescope. Smaller numbers, wide angle, capture a larger part of the scene. A telephoto appears to "stack" objects; a wide angle appears to "stretch" objects in a scene.

Depth of field refers to the range of images in the foreground to the background of a scene that appear to be in focus. "Point and shoot" cameras rely on this to capture an apparently focused field between about five feet and infinity, but SLRs and other more sophisticated cameras offer sharper images and can focus to one and one-half feet or so. Depth of field is shallower at a "lower" f/stop, and deeper at a "higher" f/stop.

F/stops offer control over the amount of light reaching the sensor. The lower the number, the more light reaches the film/sensor. Lowest is about f/1.4, available in some normal lenses in film-based SLRs. Highest is about f/22, available in many lenses. Succeeding numbers in between each indicate one half the light of the previous. Standard numbers: f/1.4; f/2; f/2.8; f/4; f/5.6; f/8; f/11; f/16; f/22. So if you "stop down" your lens from f/1.4 to f/2.8, you are letting one fourth the amount of light into your camera. Variable focal length "zoom") lenses normally are slower (won't let as much light in) than fixed focal length lenses.

Shutter speeds also control the light reaching the film/sensor. Standard speeds are 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30, 60, 125, 250, 500, 1000, 2000. Each indicates fractions of a second, except 1, which is one second, and each lets in half as much light, as do f/stops. That is, if you change your shutter speed from 30 to 125, you are again letting one fourth as much light reach your sensor.

Of course, that makes f/stops and shutter speeds interchangeable. If you wish to gain depth of field, but keep exposure the same, you may change your f/stop from f/2.8 to f/8, and your shutter speed from 125 to 15--three stops more light to compensate for the three stops less light coming through the aperture.

If, on the other hand, you wish to stop action or avoid your shaky hands blurring the photo, choose a shutter speed of 60 or above, and "open up" the f/stop. You'll have a more shallow depth of field, of course. But photography seems always to be a series of trade-offs....

Lenses usually are made up of a number of glass pieces because no glass is perfect. "Aberrations" must be corrected by using several glass pieces ground and placed precisely. This is why lenses are expensive and, of course, usually break when they're dropped.

Synopsis Four
Light makes photography possible, and photojournalists learn to analyze it carefully, based on several characteristics:

Color temperature is based on degrees Kelvin; the higher the number, the "bluer" the light. Sunlight is about 5,550 degrees K. Incandescent light (light bulb) is about 2,800 degrees K. The spectrum of "white" light may miss whole chunks. For instance, florescent light is missing the warm end, which explains the greenish cast of photos taken in most offices. Photographers have to consider that most color film is "balanced" for daylight. If used under other light sources, the resulting color cast must be corrected, either by filters, a digital camera's white blance, electronic flash (about 6,000 degrees K), or by correction in Photoshop.

Intensity of light, of course, refers to its, um, intensity...controlled by f/stops and shutter speeds, as we noted. Quality is a perceived "hard" or "soft" quality. Hard light includes strong highlights and shadows, such as high-noon sun or spotlight. Soft light often is filtered through glass or plastic, and casts weak shadows. Office lighting is usually soft, as is light on an overcast day.

Direction of light can make a dramatic difference in a photograph. Light from the front at camera height drops shadows behind a subject, leaving a "flattened feeling." It's considered most unattractive, but where most built-in electronic flashes shoot. Dead giveaway is "red eye," those red catchlights in a subject's eyes. Bringing the light to 45 degrees above the subject, butterfly lighting, is easy and often used in fashion photography for young models with clear skin. Rembrandt lighting is 45 degrees above, and 45 degrees to the right or left of subject, named after the artist who liked to use it. It's identified in pictures by the triangle of light falling to one side of the nose.

Side or texture lighting comes, of course, from the side, and is used to emphasize texture, usually in objects, not people. Back or rim lighting creates an interesting rim of light around a subject, nice for highlighing hair and emphasizing a three-dimensional look. Ghoul lighting comes from below a subject, popular in spooky films for its unnatural look--seldom is our world lit from below.

Often photographers look for similar light in natural surroundings, or bounce flash to soften the front-light harshness.

Examples of lighting effects.

Writing cutlines

The idea of preparing content for the media is to tell a story. You can do this visually or in print. Photojournalists try to do it visually—but they also rely on a little print. All photos have cutlines because in the media business you want to create a factual portrayal of reality. And often you need a cutline to help you do that.

We try to help guide the readers to an accurate understanding of the photo through the cutline, although sometimes the emotional value of the photo far outweighs any explanation provided. The famous Eddie Adams photo of a police chief executing a Viet Cong prisoner included a cutline indicating that the prisoner had just murdered several people, but nevertheless, we can’t get over the emotional brutality of the photo.

Writing mass media cutlines is a stylized function that includes these rules:

1. Cutlines must be in the present tense.
This gives the feeling of immediacy to a scene that, in reality, happened in the past.

2. Cutlines should not state the obvious, but should add material perhaps not found in an accompanying story. Don’t just say, “Joe Smith hits a baseball,” if he is, indeed, hitting a baseball. Say “Joe Smith takes practice swings at Mattson Field in hopes of making it to the majors.”

3. Cutlines should not include words such as “This photo shows,” or “Above you can see….”

4. Cutlines should be kept short. Don’t write a story in a cutline.

5. Cutlines should always be complete sentences, with the exception of mugshot identifications, which might just include the person’s name.

6. Cutlines must include complete names of people close enough to be identified, unless absolutely impossible.

Captions, strictly speaking, are not cutlines. A caption is a small headline above a cutline. Sometimes if you have what are called stand-alones, or enterprise photos that don’t accompany a story, you will include a short headline, or caption, to draw attention to the cutline. Such as:

Big parade
The Fargo Kiwanis float featuring the city’s colorful new water treatment plant headlines Saturday’s spring parade down Broadway.

Synopsis Five
Photographers learn principles of composition similar to those of graphic artists, illustrators, and other visual communication professionals. While this class emphasizes photojournalism, and not basic techniques of composition, a few tips can help photojournalism students improve their work for publication:

Synopsis six
Photojournalists shooting spot news and enterprise assignments hunt for story-telling photos in sometimes fast-moving and confusing environments. It's usually considered unethical to pose spot news photos, but spot news photographers can rely on cropping, darkening/lightening, and sometimes artificially lighting a scene.

It's sometimes helpful for spot news photographers on the prowl to remember that their own vision is not exactly what the camera sees. While a field of vision is 180 degrees, wider than even the widest angle lens, the human eye can only focus on a small part of a scene. You can try this by holding two fingers in front of you: focus on one finger, move the other six inches away, and note how it loses detail and focus. A camera lens, on the other hand, maintains focus on everything in its plane of view.

Also difficult for photojournalists to remember is the human eyes' ability to delineate objects from a background using the three-dimensional stereoscopic view. Sometimes photographers close one eye to mimic what a camera lens sees in two dimensions--distracting background become more obvious.

Great news photography emphasizes strong composition as well as story-telling impact. The strengh of line, shape, tone, and texture enhances the ability of a good news photo to offer a feeling that the viewer was at the event. Photos that do not accurately reflect the story usually are rejected, even if they are strong in composition. Common mistakes to avoid: distracting backgrounds, empty foregrounds (no "near-far"), centered subject, no center of interest. Photojournalists try to shoot simple scenes with few elements (the "poster effect"); subtleties don't usually print well in journalism-style newspapers, magazines, or web sites. Photojournalists expect to crop.

To offset the difficulty of capturing strong photos in difficult light and uncontrollable events, photojournalists try to shoot many photos at many different angles. Burning through a hundred exposures is not unusual at one event, to obtain just one publishable photo. Photojournalists try for long or "establishing shots," medium shots showing identifiable people, and close-ups of details and action. All identifiable people must be identified by name, called "getting the idents."

Photos for publication may be chosen by the photographer, by a photo or picture editor, or by another editor. The editor looks for a story-telling photo, with people facing the camera, with idents, at a peak moment in the action and, if possible, showing powerful composition or emotional appeal. Questions of taste may be debated with other editors and photographers. Almost never will an editor publish a photo without people in the scene, no matter how powerful. Empty space will be cropped, although some editors avoid cropping ends of fingers or feet, which viewers can find disconcerting.

Some common spot news situations offer a photojournalist difficult challenges. Meeting photos can be bland, unless the photographer looks for interesting angles, interesting lighting, "near-far" effects, or interesting expressions. Speakers behind a podium usually become more interesting if photographed close up (with telephoto or zoom), at unusual angles, showing interesting expressions or gestures. Photojournalists try to avoid "grip and grin," ribbon-cutting or other staid set-ups, preferring to photograph a person doing what he or she received the award for, or people actually shopping in a store. Group shots also are boring, and conscientious photojournalists look for a more interesting scene showing the group engaged in some activity. Think action!

Synopsis Seven
Technology needed for photography has been around for centuries, but the actual process was not invented until the 1820s. Nicephore Niepce from France is credited with the first permanent photo, although the process took hours and was unlike anything we know today. He teamed with Jacques-Louis Mandé Daguerre soon after, and when the former died, Daguerre continued until he perfected a process unveiled in Paris in 1839, the "daguerreotype." We date the beginning of photography as we know it from that date. William Henry Fox Talbot in England also patented a rival process using negatives, the "calotype," while Daguerre's process produced unique pictures on metal.

In 1851 the "collodion" process made possible negatives on sheets of glass, but photos had to be taken before the chemicals dried, so photographers needed to bring portable darkrooms to their shoots. Famous U.S. Civil War photographer Matthew Brady and his assistants relied on this technology, which reached into the 1870s. "The dry plates" invented then soon gave way to the revolutionary invention of roll film in 1888, attributed to George Eastman, who established the Kodak company. For the first time it was possible for casual photographers to make pictures and, along with the development of the halftone printing method about this same time, published mass media began to rely on photography as a standard for all most publications. Color, however, did not regularly become part of publications until the late 1930s, with the invention of Kodachrome (slide) film, still favored by some professionals today.

History of photography.

Synopsis Eight
Photojournalists normally shoot two kinds of portraits: mugshots and environmental portraits. The former is a standard studio-style head and shoulders shot. They aren't the most interesting, but sometimes they're necessary. A few tips: ask the subject to pose with body at an angle to the camera to avoid the "football player" look; ask the head to be tilted slightly down, the body slightly forward, and sitting with back straight; ask for conservative clothing; ask subject to look at the camera to avoid "whites of eyes"; use a slightly long (about 85 mm film, a little longer most digital) lens for best perspective; use softer lighting for women and children.

Karsh's photo of Churchill.Portrait photographers try to capture interesting expressions or gestures to take a posed portrait out of the trite an ordinary. Josef Karsh's great Life magazine photo of Winston Churchill (at right) succeeded after he removed the ubiquitous cigar from the famous World War II leader.

Environmental portraits are better for photojournalism--showing subjects doing something in an environment that helps explain that person's profession and personality. Try to go "on location" for these photos, ask the subject to do something relevant, and to avoid looking directly at the camera.

Synopsis Nine
Sports photography emphasizes mostly action shots, but sometimes photojournalists also take sports features. A feature photo emphasizes player activities before or after a game, or photos of coaches, referees, fans, etc.

Most sports editors prefer action shots, however. Of the "big three" sports (football, basketball and baseball), football most likely demands long telephoto or zoom lenses (300 is not too long) and fast film. Usually photographers will stand at the sidelines where they expect the action to move, and wait for something to happen in their focus zone. A shutter speed of 1/500 second or above usually is minimum. Basketball and baseball, too, demand high shutter speeds, but basketball photographers can get by with a shorter lens--50mm to 85 mm, because the court is smaller. Baseball photographers often stand behind first or third base, and wait for action. Basketball photographers often crouch at one end of the court, and wait for action. Photos of basketball lay-ups, or "armpit shots," are considered cliches. In all cases, it's important to get the ball in the photo. Some photographers rely on "zone" focusing--directing your camera to a spot and waiting for the action to come that way. Another option is "follow" focusing, as you follow a player around a court or field, and allow the background to be blurry and suggest motion.

Generally sports photographers need to take a program to identify players later. Safety is also a concern, particularly in football: never turn your back to the action, and be ready to spring out of the way.

Synopsis Ten
Sometimes, in fact, fairly often, a photojournalist needs to take a photo which clearly is not for a photo documentary, or hard news story, but instead for a feature story. Or moving farther along, a photojournalist might also shoot photos for public relations and advertising. This is the realm of what we might call controlled, or manipulated images. From a journalists' perspective, you can manipulate an image if you are using it to accompany a feature story, that is a non-news event. This is called photography for illustration. We can manipulate this photography in two ways:

These are photo illustrations, that is, photos used to show a story concept. They do not necessarily mean a subject is formally posed, but they could. Within the idea of illustrations to accompany other written material, we have the editorial photography, public relations photography, or advertising photography.
Editorial illustrations are often used in these areas:

Public relations photography is, in effect, persuasive images designed to reflect positively the person or group being photographed. Photojournalists will take public relations photography for corporate annual reports or press releases. These photos reflect the concept of what the public relations director hopes to portray, so photojournalists themselves usually have little say in how the photo is manipulated. Advertising photography, paid for by a client, is even more tightly controlled from all aspects so that the advertising concept portrayed is exactly what a advertising creative team wants to see.

The truth is that most photography is manipulated to some extent, photojournalism and otherwise.

Test your power to identify manupulated images: which of these images (from former photojournalism students) has been manipulated, and how?

Synopsis Eleven
Photojournalists designing portfolios usually submit their work on CD or web site. Standard portfolio is about 20 photos, ideally showing a diversity of common themes: news, sports, feature, portrait, photo story and illustration. If a photographer does not have a strong photo in each category, however, it's better to offer a less diverse, but stronger portfolio: the work is judged by its weakest photo. Cliches to avoid: kids in sprinklers, second base slides in baseball, armpit shots in basketball, sunsets, silhouettes, babies, flowers, rock musicians, photos of your trip abroad. Of course, if you really have a strong picture from any of these, you can make an exception.

Veteran photo editors give advice on how to prepare a professional portfolio.

Some portfolios to critique (randomly found on the net):

Serious photojournalism students should consider joining the National Press Photographers Association. Membership gives you credibility in the real world, and access to portfolio critiques, contests, the best of photojournalism, and other great stuff, including advice on how to get a job in photojournalism.

Synopsis Twelve
U.S. media law gives great freedom to photojournalists, even in cases where their behavior clearly is unethical. A few laws do impose on photojournalist freedom, however. Trespassing means entering private property without authorization, and can include shopping centers, hospitals, restaurants, nursing homes, etc. You need permission. Government buildings and universities generally are open to photojournalists, although military bases are off limits without authorization. Photos you take "on the streets" are generally legal, even if they show an individual in a situation they'd rather not be in--such as after a car accident. However, following that victim into an ambulance, for instance, would probably violate both trespassing and right to privacy laws. Elementary and secondary schools are public buildings, but laws introduce more restrictions in the case of minors. Usually you need permission to take pictures in these places. Generally, though, in public places people cannot legally stop you from taking photos just because they don't like it.

Generally, identifying yourself and asking people for their names is one way to assure they are all right with your taking their photo. Such verbal permission may not hold up in court, however. Written "model releases" are necessary for photos taken for promotion or advertising, or for "re-purposing" a photo originally used in a journalism context. Police can decide to chase photojournalists from any scene, public or not, and the courts have not been understanding with photographers who sneak under police tapes. On the other hand, a photojournalist could legally use a telephoto lens in a situation in which the scene would clearly be visible to any passer-by.

Find out as much as you need to know (and 'way more) about model releases.

Copy the basic model release below (from the New York Institute of Photography) to use when you feel it's necessary.

Know your rights: Carry this handy lawyer's reference describing your legal rights as a photographer.


In exchange for consideration received, I hereby give permission to [ your name here ] to use my name and photographic likeness in all forms and media for advertising, trade, and any other lawful purposes.
Print Name:



If Model is under 18:
I, , am the parent/legal guardian of the individual named above, I have read this release and approve of its terms.

Print Name:




Synopsis Thirteen
Photojournalism ethics is journalism ethics, and most students study this subject in detail. Generally photographers, too, need to decide cases based on "deontological" (duty-based) ethics, "teleological" (greatest good for greatest number) ethics, golden rule (do under others as...) or even egoism (greatest good for me). Photographers need to consider the mission of their publication (or web site). For most journalism, the mission is at least at base the goal of truth. This would suggest limiting manipulation in Photoshop, and trying to photograph situations that show an "overall truth," and not just "one part of the elephant."

Copyright 2004 by Ross F. Collins <>