Assignment #1: Photo Essay

Assignment #1: The Photo Essay

Your photo project will consist of 12-20 images in slideshow or scrolling format. Remember, just because this isn’t a typical print news story doesn’t mean you can get away with telling an incomplete story. You will still have to do reporting, and by that I mean you will have to talk to the people you photograph, get their names and info, and take down at least a few quotes. This information will go into detailed captions (2-3 sentences per image) which, together with the photos, will provide a complete narrative.

Your story should have an angle, which is to say, it should be about something. Say you want to do a photo project that features some of the people and places of Crown Heights. What’s a possible angle? Maybe you could peg it to a recent/ongoing news event like the controversy surrounding that new bar Summerhill and get longtime residents who live nearby to weigh in on it and tell you some of the real history of the neighborhood. Or say you want to profile an up-and-coming fashion designer at their first Fashion Week (which happens to be coming up the second week of September and is always a good opportunity for some visual storytelling)—what’s the overarching theme? Are they doing something new? Did they overcome a lot to get here? Does their work provide some kind of social/political commentary?

Other events coming up in the next few weeks that are ripe for story ideas: the West Indian Day Parade (taking place this weekend, if you want to get a real head start), The US Open (the outer practice courts are open to everyone and it’s a good place to find and talk to young lesser-known tennis players and families), the Vendy awards for street food on Governor’s Island, the NYC Unicycle Festival—among many, many other things.

Your pitch will be due Wednesday, September 6. Write a paragraph or two on the blog telling me what you want to do your story on, what kind of access it will require and how you will get that access, and what kind of visuals I can expect.

First draft due Monday, September 25

Final draft due Monday, October 2

Introduction to Photojournalism

Here are some basic rules and guidelines of photography to keep in mind as you start 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
Credit: Emily H. Johnson
Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 4.04.39 PM
Screen Shot: Google Images

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

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: Emily H. Johnson
Screen Shot: Google Images
Screen Shot: Google Images

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.

Credit: Henri Cartier-Bresson

Layers will be one of your greatest tools as a photojournalist, because layers add context. They tell a story.

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

This is a famous photograph by South African photojournalist Kevin Carter. He won a Pulitzer Prize for this image, which showed the effects of the 1993 famine in Sudan.

Credit: Kevin Carter

“Photojournalism” means you’re telling a story, not just taking a picture.

7. Get close. Then, get even closer.

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.

What’s the process like? How do you go about shoving a camera in someone’s face?

For analysis: The Week in Pictures

So… how to construct a photo essay?

Unstoppable: Meet the Dancehall Queens of Brooklyn

Somali Life in Minnesota

Finally, here’s An Introduction to DSLR Photography.

Introduction to Multimedia Reporting

Hello, JRN 3510 students! This class blog is where you’ll pitch stories, submit drafts, publish your edited stories, and workshop each other’s projects and ideas. I will also post my lectures here so that you can refer back to them.

Welcome and introductions.

Review the syllabus:


What does “multimedia” journalism mean and how is it changing?

Traditional forms like writing, radio and broadcast have moved online and can complement each other when it comes to telling a complete, dynamic story.

Snow Fall was revolutionary in 2012; now this type of interactive multimedia-heavy layout is fairly common.

The old forms of traditional media still exist, but they have adapted to new methods of delivery and consumption.

Radio stories on the air –> downloadable/streamable podcasts

TV news –> online video (compositional framing changes, video length changes, formatting optimized for mobile)—and the bar for web video is getting higher and higher

Newspaper-style photography and landscape orientation –> Instagram and Snapchat (portrait orientation contains more information)

The availability of online multimedia content has also made aggregation easy (tweet roundups, etc.) and helped to create a click-driven economy. Twitter and other social platforms have changed the way news breaks.

Latest trends:

-Snapchat and Instagram stories

Facebook Live

360 video and VR

Wednesday: Intro to photojournalism