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One advantage of traveling to journalism workshops around the country is getting to hear great photojournalists talk about their work. We thought we'd collect some of their wisdom in one place as inspiration to their peers. We'd be happy to add your suggestions too. Just drop us a line. And for tips on teamwork, check these additional ideas.

  • Seek strong characters and your stories will sing. But how to find them? Jason Rhodes of KMBC-TV in Kansas City, MO, 1999 NPPA photographer of the year, has a simple trick. "Use visual cues in the field," he says. When photographers see something unusual they'll almost always get a shot, he says, but they may not go investigate. "If you see something unusual," Jason advises, "check it out. Chances are there are some unusual characters to go with it." Look beyond the usual suspects--the people with official roles or titles. Find people who are directly affected by the story or who can put it in perspective. Try these tips for "avoiding the suits."

  • Take care approaching people who might be reluctant to talk--on stories about grief or tragedy, for instance--leave the camera in the car but take the wireless mic with you. Photojournalist Julie Jones says it's less intimidating to show up with just a microphone, but it still makes clear that you want to put people on TV. If they say yes, the reporter puts the mic on while she runs to get the gear. "It speeds things up," she says, "and makes people more natural." If you are alone and you have to take the camera, Julie suggests carrying it with the lens pointing backward, and putting it on the ground as soon as you get close. "Anything to treat the camera as just a big thing I have to lug around," she says.

  • Don't stop the action for the interview. Photojournalist Tim Griffis of KOMO-TV in Seattle, WA, says you can capture more reality and energy from a subject who isn't forced to sit down and talk with a reporter. "Go with the flow," Tim says. "Try to 'interview' your subject while they're doing what makes them comfortable, or doing what your story is really about." Julie Jones avoids using the word "interview" in front of people because it tightens them up. Her alternative: "Can you tell me that on camera?"

  • Shoot steady video. Mark Anderson, director of photography at KSTP-TV in Minneapolis, inspires his staff with easy-to-remember phrases, as quoted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Beginning, middle, end. Steady, sequenced video. Zoom with your feet, not with your lens. Wide, medium, tight, super-tight. Get the moment." Like most NPPA photographers, he advocates the use of a tripod in almost all circumstances. But if you are handheld, get close to your subject and zoom out wide for steadier video. His colleague Dave Wertheimer says there's a good reason to shoot steady. "The human eye cannot pan, zoom or tilt," he says. "When we move the lens there has to be a reason or we are editorializing our pictures." Dave also advocates being prepared for all situations.

  • Shoot for sound, which means you have to listen all the time. Lane Michaelsen, formerly director of photography at KARE-TV in Minneapolis, likes to say that he shoots with his ears. "Wear headphones or an earpiece so you don't miss a moment," says Griffis. When you capture good sound, he says, use it to glue your story together, like "mortar between bricks." Wireless microphones can make a huge difference, not only in the quality of sound but the content as well. Julie Jones says that in breaking news situations she often asks the reporter she's working with to wander with a wireless in search of sound while she shoots the scene. "Let's say the fire captain is frantically telling the reporter that they are concerned with the other side of the building," she says. "Boom! Got your sound, got your information you need to keep shooting this thing."

  • Watch out for words and music. John Goheen, three-time photographer of the year, says video of words like signs or posters can be confusing. "Unless it totally fills the screen, don't use it," he says. Goheen also steers clear of using music in most of his stories. "When you use music," he says, "people get a false impression of reality." And he warns that music also raises false expectations: people expect your story to be the same quality as the movie you got the music from.

  • Simple tricks can save you in editing. If you're having trouble with an edit, consider this advice from Brad Houston, 1999 NPPA editor of the year, formerly at KUSA-TV in Denver, CO. "Tight shots, really tight shots, can help you get from here to there." To make it easier to find those shots, Houston shoots a bunch of close-ups on the same tape, all in a row--a tactic that can mean the difference between missing slot and making air. It also helps to be aware of what Jon Menell, 2001 editor of the year, calls "the psychology of the edit room." "We see people's work at their worst," he points out. Rather than telling a reporter what can't be done, "I always try to make their dreams come true." When it won't work, he says, then you have to talk.

  • Use your "third eye." Photographer Brad Ingram at WGHP-TV in High Point, NC, says he learned this from Brad Houston. "It's your passion and heart for this job," he says. Without passion and heart, you can have all of the tricks of the trade in your toolbox and they won't help you tell a serious and compassionate story. "I follow my 'Third Eye' all of the time now," Ingram says. "Your heart always finds a better story than it did the last time. It keeps the work interesting and keeps you from getting burnout with the same old thing we all deal with everyday. Follow your heart then your camera lens!"

  • Remember to watch. This seems like a no-brainer but a surprising number of photographers do not regularly watch the news programs they shoot and edit for. "Seeing how your work fits into the flow of the show is really important," says Mike Plews, chief photographer at WOWT-TV in Omaha, NE. Some newscasts are more quickly paced than others, he notes. "A nice well crafted feature piece that fits your Sunday morning program perfectly might stop the 10pm A block dead in its tracks," Mike says. "It is easy to fall into the 'darkened edit bay syndrome' where you produce a story that looks great in the bay but does not fit the show very well." Watching the newscast regularly will help avoid this problem.

Page Last Updated
January 15, 2009

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