FROM THE BEST
|| 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.