There is an old adage when it comes to photographs: one picture is worth a thousand words.
But why do some photographs seem to be worth so many more words than others?
Although journalists normally leave the picture to the professional cameramen, sometimes the odd situation arises where the journalist must become the photographer and know how to produce that terrific front page-worthy photograph.
Herald Sun pictorial editor and senior photographer Bruce Magilton shares his top 10 tips to take photos like a pro – and to be a better journalist.
1. Tell a story
A picture is the ultimate storytelling device.
Think visually before you take the shot – what story do you want your photo to tell?
How your subject looks and what they are doing is usually the most important factor to consider, however, the background might also be relevant to the story. If so, make sure it’s the most visually stimulating scenery you can find.
If necessary, move your subject around until you find a backdrop that’s more suitable and engaging.
Props may also be necessary to help tell the story. This will be up to you, so think about whether you will need to bring anything extra before you leave the office. You are the stylist.
2. Frame your photos
Get up close to your subject and remove the “clutter”. Make the shots “tight”, and unless the background is relevant, don’t include it.
Checking how the light is hitting the subject and where the shadows are is very important. The general rule is to make sure the light is behind you.
If you’re aiming for a portrait photo, sit your subject down and position them so they are leaning forward and tilting their face upwards slightly. Shoot the photo from above for the most flattering angle.
3. Warm-up your subject
Taking the time to warm-up the subject of your photo can make all the difference between taking a good photo and a great photo.
Getting to know your subject and encouraging them makes them feel more relaxed and comfortable. Magilton says this will really shine through in the photo and will generally make it feel less stilted and awkward.
Sometimes the tactic of “blending in” works – adapt to your subject by assuming their demeanor and manner.
4. Get their attention
Sometimes you just won’t have the luxury of taking the time to get to know and position your subject for a photo.
There may be too many photographers or your subject just may not want their photo taken, especially if it’s for a story that’s not going to make them too happy!
But if you can capture their attention for a moment – for example, call out their name – to make momentary eye contact as you snap your picture, already that picture will be that much more powerful in establishing a connection with the viewer.
5. Confirm their details
One of the biggest mistakes a journalist can make is to forget to note down the subject’s name, age, occupation and any other details that may be relevant to the story.
Make sure you bring a notepad and jot these down.
6. Stay on the cameraman’s good side
It’s important to foster and maintain a good working relationship with the cameramen.
Magilton says it’s an unwritten rule – the older and more experienced photographers teach the younger, fresh-faced journalists and vice versa.
Photographers are a wealth of knowledge and we as journalists should be picking their brains to find out as much as we can about them and what they do (and a little flattery never hurt anyone either).
It’s very easy for them to make you look bad – they are responsible for filming you or taking photos for the story you’re writing, after all.
They almost single-handedly have the power to make or break journalists, so make sure you keep them on your good side.
And Magilton says the worst thing you can possibly do as a journalist is to tell the cameraman how to do their job, or introduce them as “my cameraman” – a big no-no.
7. Rules of engagement
So what are the rules of engagement?
Magilton says that the photographer always drives, and the journalist always navigates. That’s just how it is.
8. Be on time
If you’re late, the best thing that can happen is that you annoy your interviewee.
The worst? Well, the late journalist never catches the story.
So be punctual.
9. Always keep your smartphone on you
This piece of technology is the must-have device of any journalist.
The cameras on smartphones these days rival standalone cameras – and are a sufficient quality for newspaper photos.
And you never know when you might need a camera – sometimes the news will happen when you least expect it.
10. Stay true to your beliefs
Ultimately you are the one that will have to live with you and what you do.
Know your moral compass and never comprise your own personal beliefs.