Art-a-Thon Photo Scavenger Hunt

Whether we’re building an Instagram following or just sharing vacation pics, we all want to take good photos, right? I don’t just mean flattering selfies; I mean pictures that tell a story and make people go back for a second look.

So I’m going to give you guys an introduction to some of the fundamental compositional elements of photography that can elevate your photos immediately. Here are some basic rules and guidelines to keep in mind as you are developing your eye:

1. The Rule of Thirds.

If you pay attention to only one element of composition, the rule of thirds should be it. If you start shooting with this “rule” in mind, your pictures will look a lot better immediately.

The general idea is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. If you place the main points of interest in your photo where the lines intersect, or along the lines themselves, your image will be far more visually interesting than if you just put the subject smack in the middle. Studies have shown that composing photos this way draws the human eye far more effectively.

Screen shot 2013-06-24 at 9.52.17 AM
Screen Shot: Google Images
Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Emily H. Johnson

2. Use color.

Black and white photography is a beautiful art form, but in photojournalism, most of the time you’ll be shooting in color. It helps to know what combinations of color to look for if you want your images to really pop.

Credit: Steve McCurry
Credit: Steve McCurry

You probably recognize this photo. Known as Afghan Girl, it is one of National Geographic’s most iconic images and was taken by color master Steve McCurry. One of the reasons this relatively simple picture is so stunning and so well-known is the colors: red and green, which fall on opposite sides of the color wheel.

Credit: Wikipedia

Opposite colors, paired together, can make each other look more vibrant. Notice how the green of the girl’s eyes is picked up by the wall behind her and set off by the rusty red of her scarf.

Images with variations on the same color, known as monochromatic images, can also be quite striking:

Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Emily H. Johnson


3. Capture the decisive moment.

“The decisive moment” is a term that was coined by renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. It refers to that fleeting instant that photographers love to capture: When someone leans in for a kiss, when a soccer player connects with with the ball, or when a protester throws a rock. If you aren’t ready with your finger on the shutter, you’ll miss the moment. If Bresson had taken this photo a split second earlier or later, it would have been a very ordinary photo of a man walking through a puddle.

Credit: Henri Cartier-Bresson

Another decisive moment, this one also by “Afghan Girl” photographer Steve McCurry.

other moment
Credit: Steve McCurry

4. Leading lines.

Leading lines are lines that move the eye from one part of the image to another part, or sometimes out of the image. They add a sense of drama and perspective, so it’s always good to be on the lookout for roads, bridges, fences, shorelines and the like.

Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Eric Kim Photography

5. Symmetry and patterns.

Symmetry and patterns exist everywhere, both in nature and man-made sights. Looking for repetitions and symmetries, while staying alert to things that then break those very patterns (especially on the thirds!) is a sure way to make an arresting image.

Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Emily H. Johnson

A moment of political passion breaks out amongst tens of thousands who gathered for a pre-election protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt. Credit: Amanda Mustard

6. Layers.

Another great way to make sure your images are visually interesting is to keep an eye out for what’s happening up close, in the middle distance, and far away. Think in layers. If you can frame your shots so that interesting things are happening in the background as well as at your focal point five feet away, you’re onto something.

Layers are one of a photographer’s greatest tools, because layers add context. They tell a story.

Shallow depth of field is that thing where one layer is in sharp focus and the rest is varying stages of blurred. Mobile cameras are getting better about allowing you to take advantage of that technique, which helps to visually separate layers.

It also often helps to frame your shot so that your subject stands out boldly and obviously against the background. You can do this by paying attention to light or by framing the subject in a way that provides contrast.

Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Credit: Emily H. Johnson

This image actually went viral.

7. Get close. Then, get even closer.

Remember to fill your frame. Get close, and work the edges of the image. Photographer Robert Capa famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Proximity with your subjects makes for more powerful and intimate photos. Don’t be afraid to get right in someone’s face with your camera. It may feel intrusive and strange at first, but a huge part of being a reporter is engaging with people and making them feel comfortable.


These guidelines are just a starting point. Sometimes the best photo isn’t the most technically perfect one. If you find a funny moment or a poignant contrast or just a really emotional look on someone’s face, that may end up being your take-home image. For example, the photographer had this to say about the following photo:


So here’s the list of composition elements for your scavenger hunt. Post to the Instagram account @artathonscavengerhunt (password: artathon) by 5pm today with your full name and the and the photographer who posts the best photo will win a $20 Starbucks gift certificate.

Opposite colors

Monochromatic colors


Broken pattern

Close-up portrait

Dramatic lighting

Internal framing

Decisive moment

Humorous moment

Layers telling a story


LAST Class Agenda – Monday, Dec. 11

Guidelines for submitting your final projects:

Once you have all your separate multimedia elements completed (800-word story, video, and one additional element of your choice), lay everything out in Exposure:

If you’re doing a photo component, you can add your images directly to Exposure.

For your video, you’ll need to host it on YouTube and then use the embed option to add it to Exposure. Same thing goes if you’ve done an audio element; you’ll need to post it to Soundcloud first and then embed it.


And finally:

Last-chance editing help, screenings, next semester offerings, THANK YOU and have an awesome break!

Class Agenda – Monday, November 20


On Wednesday (Nov. 22) this week, I will be here during class time and throughout the day and available to help if you want to come in and edit or check in about your project. If you are traveling for the holiday that day or otherwise have no need to come in, that’s fine; your absence will not count against you.

Rough drafts of your final projects will be due on Wednesday, Nov. 29. Both classes next week will be devoted to in-class production.

By “rough draft” I mean that you should have a draft of the 800-word story written and laid out in Exposure. You should also have a rough cut of your video completed.

Your final multimedia element doesn’t have to be as complicated or big in scope as the standalone pieces we did. If you’ve chosen to do an audio component, for example, it might be two minutes of an interview with someone. If you decide to do photos, you might have 5-10 really strong images interspersed throughout the text. (Your captions for these don’t have to be as detailed as they were for your photo essays, because your print piece is already doing the work of giving a lot of the relevant background.)

Discussion: The Business of Multimedia Journalism

Learning how to come up with a story, report that story, compose a photograph, mix sound, and shoot B-roll and then put it all together into a clear and cohesive story is only half the battle. Something that often gets left out in school is the practical side of how to make a career out of this. Sure, you might get a good internship while you’re still in school and then get hired and start working your way up. But there are a lot of different ways into the industry, and a lot of them involve taking a little bit of initiative. I’d venture to say that most journalists I know have freelanced at one point or another.

Freelancing can be a great gig, and it can also be terrifying when you’re first starting out. Here are a few common issues freelancers often run into:

What’s the deal with taxes? You still have to pay them. You’ll become very familiar with the 1099-MISC form. Keep your receipts so you can write off as many business-related expenses as possible: Equipment, plane tickets, etc.

How do you make sure you get paid in a timely manner? Send an invoice as soon as you file the story. I usually ask the person receiving it to confirm they’ve received it and to tell me when I should expect the money to arrive. If they don’t respond, follow up early and often. “Polite but incessant” is my motto.

How do you know how much money to ask for? It’s easy to undervalue your skills when you’re first starting out, but it’s worse to ask for too little money than to ask for too much. Some publications have set rates: a flat rate for a certain kind of story, or a day rate, or they’ll pay by the word. In other cases, there’s room for negotiation. If you’re not sure how much to ask for, consult your colleagues. Always try and get them to reimburse expenses.

I can’t use the school’s programs anymore. How much is it to buy Adobe Premiere and Lightroom and all that stuff? Not actually as bad as you might think, because you no longer even have the option to buy them outright; there’s a monthly subscription service to the Adobe Creative Suite that costs anywhere from $10 to $50 a month, depending on how many programs you need.

Do I need a website? YES. Showcasing your previous work is more important than any well-crafted resume. The importance of being able to refer an editor to a slick portfolio website cannot be overstated.

What kind of equipment should I invest in? When it comes to still cameras, if you’re on a small budget, I usually advise people to start with a pretty basic camera body and to invest in a few good lenses if you’re going to spend money somewhere. When it comes to video, it’s become kind of an arms race out there and DSLR cameras don’t always cut it anymore. Take a look at Storyhunter assignments to get a sense of what outlets are looking for:

“C300 or C100 strongly preferred—higher end DSLRs accepted”

“Need to have a C100 or equivalent and lav mics”

“A camera capable of shooting 1080p 24fps and 60 fps for slow motion, if possible 4k video and 120 fps for slow mo”

The good news is that if you don’t have five grand to drop on a camera and audio equipment tomorrow, you can rent gear from places like Adorama and KitSplit.


I just spent an insane amount of money on my new equipment. How do I protect it? Insure your stuff! Renter’s insurance can sometimes cover your gear, but there’s usually a pretty high deductible for theft etc. If you’re planning on working internationally, insurance tends to be quite expensive, especially if you’re working in areas considered “high-risk.” NPPA members get a discount through one company, but make sure to shop around.

Freelancing is lonely. How do I meet other people in the industry? Journalists tend to be a social bunch. It’s an industry where skills are obviously important but where you can also go pretty far on the strength of your personality and on who you know. You already have a huge advantage by virtue of the fact that you live in New York, one of the world’s biggest media hubs. Make yourself known to editors and colleagues by checking out industry events like these:

ScreenUp NYC 

Video Consortium (New York chapter)

The Bronx Documentary Center

The Half King (journalist bar in Chelsea, hosts photo series as well as other events)

RISC Training (first aid training for freelancers who work in remote, sensitive, and conflict areas, often host events/panel discussions at the Brooklyn Brewery


  • Photojournalism

The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA membership gets you certain benefits, including discounted camera insurance and press accreditation; follow them to find out about grants)

Photography/Multimedia Internships and Jobs (great place to find out about entry-level opportunities)

Photo Grant Opportunities (great place to learn about grants/competitions/exhibitions for emerging photojournalists)

Lightstalkers/N11 (for photojournalists)

Photojournalism Now (blog focused on photojournalism and social documentary photography)

Women Photograph (a resource for female* documentary and editorial photographers and the people who would like to hire them—GRANTS!)

Eddie Adams Workshop (a prestigious, game-changing, three-day workshop for emerging photographers in upstate NY that puts you in a room with some of the biggest names and top editors in the industry)

The New York Times Portfolio Review (free but competitive, puts you in a room with some of the top photo editors in the world for advice and critiques on your ongoing photo projects)…/applications-open-for-the…/


The International Festival of Photojournalism

  • Audio Journalism

Third Coast Audio Festival

Public Radio NYC Google group. Be warned, you’ll get a LOT of emails but it’s a great place to pick up transcription work and the occasional tape sync, which usually pays about $150 for a fairly easy recording gig:
(Let me know if you’d like me to add you.)

Radio Women Rule the World (for women in radio)

  • Video Journalism

Storyhunter (online brokerage where videojournalists and filmmakers can apply for assignments)

Global VJs

Binders Full of Video Journalists (for female VJ’s)

  • All Media

Vulture Club (for international journalists)

The NVC (the non-Vulture Club, founded by people who were kicked out of Vulture Club—long story)

Freelancers Get Your Freak On (for freelancers who work in different media and are looking to collaborate)

Journo Housing Exchange (for wandering journalists looking for short-term housing around the world)

Journalism and Trauma (a place to discuss how we as journalists engage with trauma, from how to interview someone who has experienced it to how to cope with our own direct or indirect trauma)

Ladies Writing and Journalism (for female print journalists)

Binder of International Reporters (for women who work internationally)

Binders Full of Digital Journalists (for female journos who work in digital)

Riot Grrrls Of Journalism (global group for women who work in all different media)

  • Formal Groups/Organizations

New York Association of Black Journalists (NYABJ)

(NABJ) National Association of Black Journalists

South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA)…/

Asian American Journalists Association

National Association of Hispanic Journalists

Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA)

Association of Health Care Journalists

Society of Environmental Journalists

Native American Journalists Association

The International Association of Religion Journalists…

Association of Food Journalists

Overseas Press Club of America

Society of Professional Journalists

Committee to Protect Journalists

Blink (resource where outlets can search for and hire freelancers)

  • Funding Opportunities

International Center for Journalists

The International Reporting Project

The International Women’s Media Foundation

Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Open Society Foundations

Class Agenda – November 8, 2017


Reminder: Pitches

Now due Monday, Nov. 13. But because of this extension I’m expecting really strong, thorough pitches. That means I want you to really sell me on the news value of the story—the “so what?” factor—and I want to see evidence that you have already spoken to some of the key people involved and secured access. And you should explain precisely how you plan to tell the story across a variety of media.

Once again, your final project will be a multimedia feature story consisting of a 2-3 minute video, 800 words of text, and one additional multimedia element of your choice (there also must be at least one still photo as lead image). This means that your pitch will need to specify how the whole project will break down.

For example, if you plan to do a story about a Puerto Rican family who has come to stay with their relatives in New York after Maria, the print story will give the big picture: It will tell the story of this one family as a way of shedding light on the larger crisis that the island is facing with many people forced to leave following the hurricane and what that migration will do to the local economy and long-term recovery. The video might follow the mother for a day as she looks for work, and there could be a photo or audio element that focuses on how the children are adjusting to their new school. Be as specific as possible.

Rough drafts of your final projects will be due on Wednesday, Nov. 29.

Workshop: Using the Video Cameras

Team up in groups of three or four and practice using the cameras. Take turns putting up the tripod, attaching the camera, adjusting the settings, zooming in and out, attaching the microphone, clipping the microphone to your collar, framing a talking head shot for an interview, etc.

In-Class Assignment:

The “Five-Shot Sequence”

In your groups, I want you all to head out for 20-30 minutes to find and film a five-shot sequence.  Think of an action that is conducive to this sort of thing: someone cooking something, playing an instrument, putting on makeup, playing chess, opening a locker to put something inside, etc.

The Five-Shot Sequence

When it comes to B-roll, your job is to use these visuals to tell a story in a way that is very clear and keeps the viewer not just interested but oriented: clear on what’s happening. Cutting together a sequence is often an effective way of doing this.

The classic sequence that every budding videographer learns when starting out is the five-shot sequence.

  1. Close-up on the hands.
  2. Close-up on the face.
  3. Medium shot.
  4. Over the shoulder shot.
  5. One additional creative angle.

You won’t always edit things in this exact way when you do a sequence in the real world; sometimes it’ll only be three shots, or it might be ten, and they might be in a different order. But the five-shot sequence is a useful framework for thinking about depicting an activity clearly and engagingly with video.


Class Agenda – Monday, Nov. 6

Intro to Video Journalism

With video, we build on the compositional techniques of photography and the structural, storytelling aspects of audio with one obvious additional element: Motion.

How does video storytelling for the web and mobile differ from TV and film?

  • Need to be CLOSER to your subject. Web videos are smaller and more compressed.
  • 40% of online viewers leave in the first 20 seconds. Another 40% leave after a minute. So you have 20 seconds, max, to grab your viewer and make sure they stick around. Ideally less than that.

How important is audio?

  • Good audio is of paramount importance. If you have low-quality video and good audio, the video will still be watchable. If you have gorgeous visuals but terrible audio, it will not.
  • Tips for gathering audio

When is narration necessary?

Sometimes, you can let the subjects of your video tell the story all on their own — as long as you edit with care, presenting what they’ve told you in a way that makes narrative sense. One benefit of non-narrated videos is that they can feel more organic. There’s no disembodied voice stepping in to tell the story, which keeps the focus on the characters in the story.

But sometimes, for clarity’s sake or for stylistic reasons, narration is necessary, or text.

Narrated videos

Text-Narrated videos

These are more and more popular thanks to social media distribution because they automatically start playing as you scroll through your feed and they can be watched without sound.

Non-Narrated videos 

Shooting Your Video

There are two main components to any video: your interviews and your B-roll. The rules of composition we learned for photography (thirds, colors, patterns, symmetry, etc.) all apply here, but you also need to keep an eye out for motion. Tracking shots involve following the action with your camera, while static shots involve keeping your camera still, but that doesn’t mean there’s no motion involved; you might just be letting the action go in and out of the frame.

What is B-roll? And what difference does it make?

A big difference.

Things to keep in mind while you’re shooting B-roll:

  1. Shoot more than you think you’ll need.
  2. Get a variety of shots. Close-up, medium, wide, detail shots, static shots, tracking shots.
  3. Use a tripod whenever possible. If you don’t have one or you’re shooting in a mobile, chaotic situation, be resourceful about stabilizing your shots.
  4. Think about your interviews and let them inform your B-roll shooting decisions. Look for shots that illustrate what the person is talking about.
  5. Hold your shot longer than you think you need to. A good rule of thumb is to hold it for at least 10 seconds (AFTER it’s already steady).

Things to keep in mind when you’re shooting your interviews:

  1. Frame the shot with your subject on one of the thirds, angled so that they’re looking slightly INTO the frame. Have them look at you, not at the camera, so be mindful of where you are sitting. It’s a bit intense when someone looks directly into the camera.

2.  If you’re working with a translator, be mindful that the subject will want to look at them, so make sure they are positioned in the ideal place to draw the person’s gaze.
3.  Prioritize good audio.
4.  Make sure their face is lit, but not too harshly.
5. Think about composing the shot in a way that allows for some negative space where the Lower Third will eventually go.

The Five-Shot Sequence

When it comes to B-roll, your job is to use these visuals to tell a story in a way that is very clear and keeps the viewer not just interested but oriented: clear on what’s happening. Cutting together a sequence is often an effective way of doing this.

The classic sequence that every budding videographer learns when starting out is the five-shot sequence.

  1. Close-up on the hands.
  2. Close-up on the face.
  3. Medium shot.
  4. Over the shoulder shot.
  5. One additional creative angle.

You won’t always edit things in this exact way when you do a sequence in the real world; sometimes it’ll only be three shots, or it might be ten, and they might be in a different order. But the five-shot sequence is a useful framework for thinking about depicting an activity clearly and engagingly with video.

How to fit video into a larger multimedia story?

Here’s one great example:

Ambulance Work in Liberia Is a Busy and Lonely Business

On Wednesday, pitches are due. We’ll workshop them together. Next week, we’ll practice shooting a five-shot sequence with the Sony cameras and microphones, and you’ll have your first lesson in video editing.

Class Agenda – Wednesday, Nov. 1

Believe it or not… we are now entering the home stretch of the semester. This means that it’s time to get to work on your final projects, which will include our third and final major multimedia unit: Video.

The Assignment

Your final project will be a multimedia feature story consisting of a 2-3 minute video, 800 words of text, and one additional multimedia element of your choice (there also must be at least one still photo as lead image).

Pitches for your final project will be due Wednesday, November 8.

Some previous student final projects:

Professional examples:

Class Agenda – Monday, October 23

In-class production day! That means working on whatever part of your project needs your attention today, whether that means audio mixing, recording narration in the sound booth, going over scripts. Wednesday will also be a production day. But first…

Recording Narration: A Tutorial


For a good quality audio recording, I highly recommend taking advantage of the new studio we have in room 174 off the Dollars and Sense suite. If for some reason it is unavailable to you, you can improvise a recording studio by covering the walls of your closet with blankets or towels, or simply pulling a blanket over your head. It sounds silly, but it works in a pinch.

The important thing is to be in an environment that absorbs sound. The absolute worst place you could go to record your narration would be something like an empty stairwell, full of echoes and hard surfaces.


Use a Zoom!

Remember that generally, you’re going to want to hold the mic 1-2 feet from your mouth while you’re recording. Too close and your breath will create a popping sound; too far and we won’t be able to hear you.


Here’s where we get into the art of it all. You may be reading from a script, but you don’t want to sound like you’re reading. Good audio is conversational. Pretend you’re telling a friend about this really interesting thing that just happened to you. Speak clearly but don’t over-enunciate, either.

Trends in narration: A lot of people on the radio these days seem to be doing a straight-up imitation of Ira Glass.

NPR Voice

It helps to print out your script or read it from your phone; this serves two purposes. First, you can hold it up in front of you so you don’t have to hunch over a screen, which will make your voice sound weaker. Second, sometimes having serious electronics too close to your mic can create feedback and ruin your recording.


Stand up straight and speak from your stomach, not your throat. Bear in mind that your voice will sound better if you’re hydrated, and phlegmy if you’ve just had dairy products. Professional radio reporters and hosts will sometimes do tongue twisters and literally stretch their jaws before recording. Again, it sounds silly and looks silly, but it makes a difference.


Use them! Without them, you can’t monitor your levels. You don’t want to spend twenty minutes creating the perfect narration only to realize the mic was unplugged the whole time.


Audio Editing Workshop

Audio download here.

AMBI2: Hammering at full volume for several seconds, then fade under track, then fade into AMBI1 to loop under the scene.

TRACK: I’m with safety coordinator Brian Reavis on the Vaughan-Bassett factory floor, where workers are constructing nightstands on a long assembly line.

ACT: BRIAN REAVIS: “When we put chairs together… the proof is in the product itself.”

TRACK: Those forces of globalization have a lot to do with the fact that Vaughan-Bassett is the last wooden furniture factory standing here in Galax, which used to be home to five more of them.

ACT: “Oh yeah we had… unfortunately they’re gone, and they’ll probably not be back.”

TRACK: The loss of those factories devastated many people in the town. When John Bassett III waged his fight against illegal Chinese imports rather than shut down his factories and outsource the jobs, it was because of families like Reavis’s.

ACT: BRIAN REAVIS: “We have a lot of family members… it’s a vital part of our mainstay, our life.”

Reminder: Due date for audio project is Monday, Oct. 30.

Class Agenda – Monday, Oct. 16


Script-writing exercises


Your script drafts are due this Wednesday, Oct. 18. Rather than having a regularly scheduled class, I will instead be holding individual meetings to do script edits with you one-on-one. Please sign up for a time slot here. If you’re unable to meet during any of the available times, let me know and we can schedule a time to do it over the phone.