The World of Photography–Chapter Thirty–Photojournalism

1980. Iran. Kurdistan. Banneh. Following the bombing of the city by the Iranian army, Payman's family, a nine-year-old boy, learns of his death and the one of his twelve-years-old sister.

Cyprus 1964, printed 2013 Don McCullin born 1935 ARTIST ROOMS

The Beginner’s Guide to Photojournalism

Photojournalism is the process of documenting the happenings of life on camera through photography. These days, it tends to extend into videography but the main elements of the practice still hold their roots in still image capture. Photojournalism can still be a tough job as far as getting work and images that are different than other photojournalists but that is still a story that would hold an audience captive.

How It Is Done:

There are many factors that go into photojournalism. Many of them are ethically related and others are just how the industry works. But to tell a good story there are certain shots that are essential.

– Cover shot

This is the shot that will make your viewers want to continue reading or viewing the rest of the story. It is your opening shot. A boring opening shot can kill a job.

A cover shot needs to tell us exactly what the story is about as well as be compelling. It should elicit an emotion out of someone that is looking at it and strongly emphasize one of the elements of photojournalism in it. More of the elements later on.

– Establishing Shot

This is the shot that tells us where we are in the story. It usually requires a wide angle lens of some sort and is very environmental. It should give the reader a feeling of where this is all taking place. For example, I shot the Woodstock of Chiptunes (a genre of music that combines electronica with old-school video game music) for a website called The above photo is a good establishing shot because it tells us that a concert of some sort is going on and the place is packed.

– Detail Shot

These shots are the ones that really get in close and emphasize something very particular. If you find yourself one day shooting a story on the conditions of people and how they live in shelters during the recession, take a good look at how they live vs how to average person does. Their room will either be very bare or with loads and loads of items due to hoarding. A real example of how much they hoard will be a good detail shot. It could be anything from stacks of old records to piles and piles of raggedy clothes.

Similarly, there is also a relief effort being done right now for earthquake victims in Haiti as I’m writing this. A great example of a detail shot that I’ve seen is one that was features on the photojournalism blog of the NYTimes on Saturday January 16th. In this story, a man was dropped off by the police and told the people he was a thief that escaped prison on Tuesday. The crowd stripped him, beat him and set him afire. And the photo is one of his feet wrapped around a whip of some sort. It is a disturbing image, but it gets the point across in a detail shot.

– Closing Shot

Closing shots are the ones that end a piece. They don’t necessarily have to be the ones that happen at the end of the story, but they can be the trickiest to think of. In some cases though it can be a shot at the very of the time you spent shooting the story. For example, perhaps you’re shooting a story on someone with a specific type of cancer. They could possibly recover from most of the effects and live out a great life, in which case you could possibly shoot the person having fun with friends/family as your closing shot. Alternatively, they might not make it. In which case, you should shoot the family at the funeral or them grieving over the body.

Something like that may be hard to do but it is what photojournalists do everyday. You just need to distance yourself from the story and not show emotions: just shoot.


These are all the shots in between that give your viewers and readers an idea of what the story is about. They take on all the elements of photojournalism and more. Perhaps they can be something that works very well with the rules of composition I mentioned in my introduction or possibly environmental portraits that really tell us what someone is about, what they do, etc.


– The Newsworthy

This is something going on in the area that is worth talking about in the news. It may not be necessarily very exciting but it is still something worth talking about. An example of this would be a robbery at a store in which the owner and assailant exchanged gunshots.

For the image, there could be evidence of this with broken glass and the store behind a police line. The image proves its point: it tells the reader that something happened there.

Every year, there is a giant pillow fight of some sort in New York City. It is literally just a bunch of people getting together when the weather is a bit warmer and smacking each other with pillows. A newsworthy shot would possibly be one that tells us where we are (establishing shot), a close-up of a specific fight (cover shot), etc.

– The Emotional

These are the shots that capture someone showing emotion. They can be the typical mother grieving the loss of her son to a fatal shootout or someone experiencing joy upon hearing that they’ve won the lottery. A less seen example of this is the facial expressions of Wall Street stock brokers as they see something they don’t like on the overhead monitors.

– The Intimate

This is where you take the emotional and combine it with interaction of people. Instead of a mother grieving the loss of her son, it is a mother, father and brothers grieving the loss together. Perhaps they are in each other’s arms crying.

The key to this is emotions and interaction with other people. That’s to say it doesn’t necessarily have to be people. It can also be a dog licking the face of his owner as he is on his back dying in the middle of the street.

– The Unusual

This is all that you don’t see in everyday life. It can be someone dressed up as SpongeBob Square Pants walking down the street. You’ll know it when you see it. If someone will look at something and say, “That’s unusual” then you know that it qualifies for an unusual photo.

Familiarize yourself with these and you’ll be able to see eventually how photojournalism can help you with almost all types of photography.

Why is photojournalism such an important part of the media?

Imagine a newspaper, magazine, billboard, news segment or online article that included no images. Not only do pictures help to enhance a story, they also tell a story all their own. When thoughtfully incorporated into the news, photos add context and comprehensibility. In the world of media, photos can make or break a story, thus positioning photojournalism itself as a vital craft in itself.

Photojournalism can be incredibly powerful. Time and again, photojournalists are the ones who define how people understand major events. Whether you know his name or not, when you think of the American Civil War, you think of Matthew Brady’s images of battlefields, and Dorothea Lange’s photo Migrant Mother is the iconic image of the Great Depression. War photographers like Robert Capa witnessed some of the worst conflicts of the 20th century, and when you imagine the end of World War II, the first image that comes to mind is often Alfred Eisenstaedt’s image V-J Day in Times Square.

Photojournalism is more diverse than that. It’s going to city council meetings week after week, snapping pictures of a community’s new construction project, photographing farmers markets, and checking out a protest with a camera in hand. It’s a rewarding and challenging field. Use these tips to survive and thrive in photojournalism, whether you’re a freelancer submitting to Reuters or on staff for the Washington Post.

What Is Photojournalism?

Photojournalism is the process of using photographs to tell a story. Whereas conventional journalists will share their information by employing pen and paper (or maybe a keyboard), photojournalists use a camera as their medium. A photojournalist will use images to tell the entire story, from start to finish, and if executed properly a reader may not even need words to fully understand the message being presented.

As our world today is so interconnected through digital devices, news outlets and media agencies will pay top dollar for the best, most encompassing and informative pictures available. Breaking news can change quickly, and distrust and skepticism are not uncommon as events unfold. Word travels fast, and many search for the most trustworthy and reliable sources of information.

Photojournalists are on the scene, right beside more traditional journalists; their objective is to create a story that speaks without words. 

A Brief History of Photojournalism

Photos have been used to accompany news articles since the start of the American Civil War, though they were then seen more as enhancements than as the main focus of a piece.

Photojournalism entered a Golden Age beginning in the 1920s, with the arrival of smaller cameras like the 35 mm Leica, which was invented in Germany in 1925. These cameras were seen as revolutionary by photographers everywhere, as much less equipment was required for them to set up and take their pictures.

Not only were the inventions of the Leica and Kodak cameras important in creating worldwide access to photography; another related breakthrough occurred at the time — the popularization of magazine journalism. Magazines were coming to prominence in Europe as a means for telling stories with images, and because they were considered much more creative and visually appealing than newspapers, consumers went wild.

By the time the fever made it to American shores, popular pictorial magazines such as Life and the French language Vu required well-chosen images to complement their stories, allowing for this new form of journalism to thrive.

What Is the Purpose of Photojournalism?

Simply speaking, a photojournalist’s role is to relate a story through photography. The goal is not only to take pictures, but to hold the images up to the highest journalistic standards in an effort to convey the truth. Not every one of a photojournalist’s images will pass the test, just as every traditional journalist has to pitch multiple stories before one is accepted.

All in all, photojournalists are simply trying to expose the average person to new and different stories in an arresting and digestible way.

What Is Photojournalism Used For?

Photojournalism is a form of visual storytelling and reporting. There is no one right way to tell a story through images: a handful of pictures can complement a text, but a single dramatic image can also furnish stand-alone commentary on an individual, world events or culture. No matter how the story is told, photojournalists seek to enlighten audiences by capturing a crystallizing image.

How Does Photojournalism Differ From Other Types of Photography?

Anyone can take a picture, but not just anyone can be a photojournalist. There are two practical pillars of photojournalism: high ethical standards and a pursuit of objective truth. While photography in its different forms may be a means of self-expression, or artfully showcase truths about the human condition, the goal of photojournalism is reporting. It seeks to use images for the purpose of communicating a story, and educating an audience.

Ethics in Photojournalism

Since photojournalism is a form of reporting, ethics are central. There is a conscious need to provide factually accurate information, and photojournalists should seek to convey objective truth without altering it in a way that might change the meaning behind the image.

In order to create a standard for this practice, the National Press Photographers Association provides a code of ethics that photojournalists are expected to follow. Part of this code states that the NPPA “acknowledges concern for every person’s need both to be fully informed about public events and to be recognized as part of the world in which we live.”

With that in mind, they endeavor to uphold the strict ethical standards to which photojournalists must adhere.

Features of Photojournalism

Photojournalism has characteristics that make it different from regular photography. The qualities that make photojournalism stand out on its own are:

Photographs Must Be Truthful and Unbiased

On the whole, images in photojournalism are not used to create a false narrative. Images are intended to convey a truthful story about an event, person or place and will attempt to show all sides of a story no matter how difficult, unpleasant or graphic.

It is a photojournalist’s job to be unbiased when presenting their images. They must adopt a clear and objective stance, to assure that images will not be staged to create an untruthful result. Instead, all images should focus on presenting a real snapshot in real time. Every viewer should be positioned to see an honest version of the story being told, and if the image is undermined by questions, omissions or biases, it has not been properly executed.

The Context of the Photograph Matters

Photojournalism is journalism, and it seeks to convey the truth. Its goal is to depict objective reality, and photojournalists must adhere to guidelines similar to those informing the work of their counterparts who write articles. Photographs are not merely images, but a lens into a specific situation or event. As such, they should be centered not just on creating a beautiful image, but also on illuminating the circumstances surrounding the image.

Photographs Must Be Informative

Photojournalists tell a story that would be difficult to capture with words alone. The images they present can be vehicles for educating the public. A photo should be able to convey an entire story, but without words.

Photographs Should Tell a Timely Story

Readers want to see news when it happens, as it happens, and every image needs to be timely. In short, photojournalism needs to feature something or someone that the world is currently talking about. The objective is to tell the story at hand using new images rather than text, and each should work to illuminate the meaning and message of the story.

The Importance and Role of Photojournalism

Photojournalism plays an important role in today’s news cycle. They can either be stand-alone images offering insight into a specific story or accompany an article to provide more context. Below are some of the reasons photojournalism is important. 

Pictures Have an Impact

As mentioned before, the impulse to create images has been around for generations. Whether they be cave paintings or the ceiling of Sistine Chapel, images have been employed to convey information throughout human history. Images can make it easy for viewers to digest a large amount of information in a single frame. Often a user can see a single picture and immediately know what the broader story is about.

Images Are Easier for People to Remember

By their nature, humans recognize pictures better than they do text. In fact, scientific studies have shown this to be true: According to a study by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, participants were able to recognize over 2,000 images merely by memory, with at least 90% accuracy.

Photographs Can Make a Story More Tangible

Photographs can add another dimension or layer to a news story. When an image is added to an article, it makes it possible for viewers to better visualize or understand the events being discussed. The story becomes more real.

How to think and act like a photojournalist.

Professional photojournalists act differently than other people. When there’s an emergency, they run toward it, camera in hand. When everyone is talking at a public meeting, they’re silent. During a conflict, they’re off to one side documenting. “It helps to be the kind of person who doesn’t feel the need to take up a lot of space,” says photojournalist Beth Nakamura. “I like to observe and not make a fuss about myself.”

“Reporters are supposed to let everybody know that they’re in the room, be verbal, and interview people,” says Kathleen Marie, who’s worked as a photojournalist and art director for the Willamette Week and Portland Mercury. “A photojournalist moves in the background. They don’t want people to know they’re in the room.”

Decentering yourself and becoming the quietest voice in the room is key to delivering good work. “Stories are about other people, about amplifying others’ voices,” says Nakamura. “That’s a rewarding thing to do. That’s what drives you. Sit back and not be at the center of it.”

Being silent, being an observer, and letting others act while they document is what gives photojournalists their power. “Your introversion, willingness to listen, and instinct to make space for subjects are actually key qualities,” says Nakamura. “So much of what I do is listen, and witnessing is a form of listening. We love to observe. Use those features of your natural temperament to your advantage.”

Getting into photojournalism.

Photojournalism and documentary photography are ways of making a career out of observation. To do that, aspiring photojournalists need to know what drives and motivates them. “First and foremost, be yourself in the work,” says Nakamura. “Get to know yourself and what your values are, the things that concern you in the world and follow those impulses. Be your own, authentic voice and stay that course.”

The journalism industry is in flux. Publication models and revenue streams for news outlets of all sizes are constantly changing, and it’s affecting everyone from the New York Times down to local newspapers. “We are at a time when things are happening at hyper speed,” says Nakamura. “So always be open to change.”

New photojournalists need to be aware of new ideas, new business models, and new technology. Traditional publications like Harper’s Weekly have moved online and must consider how their content performs on social media on a daily — or even hourly — basis. Digital camera and photo technology is changing all the time. The way publications pay and employ staff changes. Editors and publishers are always figuring out how to stay ahead of the curve, and photojournalists need to, as well. “When there’s a new idea or a new app coming at you,” says Nakamura, “figure it out.”

Different Types of Photojournalism

There are multiple types of photojournalism, including: 

General News Photography

General news photography pertains to any event that is planned ahead of time and is not considered breaking news. Elections, the Olympics and other scheduled events fall under this category. General news photography allows a journalist to become fully familiar with a story before reporting on the results or the outcome. It is also an opportunity to educate readers and viewers on specific events as they occur.

FILE Ñ President Joe Biden signs the $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law at the White House, Nov. 15, 2021. The law funds programs that have historically favored wealthy, white communities Ñ a test for BidenÕs pledge to defend the most vulnerable against climate change. (Al Drago/The New York Times)

Portrait Photojournalism

This is not typical portraiture. This type of photojournalism generally portrays prominent members of the government or the community assuming a natural pose in their typical environment. A good example of portrait photography might be a picture of the President working in the Oval Office, or a physician performing surgery in a hospital operating room.

Halle Berry in Los Angeles, Aug. 25, 2021. In many ways, her new film “Bruised” lets her assert control over how she appears onscreen. But first she had to win the job. (Adrienne Raquel/The New York Times)

Obituary Photography

Obituary photography seeks to showcase a life through a series of curated images. Its objective is to recall and commemorate a deceased subject, recognizing their impact on a group, a community or society at large.

A photo of Prince Philip dominates Picadilly Circus in London on Friday, April 9, 2021, after the death of the Prince Philip was announced earlier in the day. Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, father of Prince Charles and patriarch of a turbulent royal family that he sought to ensure would not be BritainÕs last, died on Friday, April 9, 2021, at Windsor Castle in England. He was 99.

Feature Photojournalism

This type of photojournalism runs concurrent with a headline story or photo series to offer more in-depth coverage. Feature photojournalism brings context to the main story and offers supporting details about the people and places involved, or additional perspectives on events and issues the main story explored.


(Tyler Hicks/The New York Times) Tyler Hicks of The New York Times was nominated for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Photography. His photographs captured the toll of the Covid-19 pandemic deep in Brazil’s Amazon forest, and the ways it ravaged the region’s Indigenous population.

Documentary Photojournalism

This is long-term photography that tells an unfolding story. Photojournalists might be assigned, for instance, to tell the story of the Olympic Games or other sporting events that unfold over days and weeks or a season.

What Are Some Examples of Photojournalism?

Exemplary photojournalism addresses a topic that is of potential interest to people around the world. The following are prime illustrations.

The U.S. Military Withdrawal From Afghanistan

The U.S. military has officially withdrawn from “America’s Longest War,” and New York Times photojournalists were committed to documenting the historic events, not only from the viewpoint of the American military, but also from that of the Afghani people. Visceral photographs capture emotions of all kinds; feelings of anguish, sadness, violence, relief and exhaustion, to name but a few.

Through our feature photojournalism, readers can experience issues related to this pivotal moment firsthand, from a multitude of perspectives. Since the initial fall of the Taliban in 2001, women in Afghanistan have been able to attend school, work outside the home and even join the police forces. Today The New York Times is covering the status of women’s rights in a new era of Taliban rule.


(Kiana Hayeri/The New York Times) High school students at the Marshal Dostum School in Sherberghan, Afghanistan on May 5, 2021.


During the past year and a half, New York Times photojournalists have been documenting ways the Covid-19 pandemic is reshaping our world. Their goal is to share not just broad newsworthy developments but also the personal stories of people as they negotiate the ongoing outbreak.

Volunteers remove the body of a baby, whose mother tested positive for COVID-19, hours after it was born, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Aug. 13, 2021. The disease kills far more children in developing countries than in rich ones, and some factors make them especially vulnerable in Indonesia. (Ulet Ifansasti/The New York Times)

Tips for capturing great photojournalism.

Whether you’re a freelance journalist or a staff photographer, always have a camera on you. 

You never know when news will happen, when an editor will send you out, or when you’ll have to spring into action. Be ready to cover events and happenings outside your comfort zone. Even if you normally cover community events, don’t let that stop you from covering politics.

For someone with editorial authority over images, any picture is better than none. High-quality photos are ideal, but publications can never know in advance what will resonate. “Just document it so that I know what you got into,” says Marie. “No matter what your tech is, get in there. Get that photo taken. I don’t care if it’s a screenshot from a livestream, we need that documentation.”

Stay organized.

Keep track of when you took your photos, and label them accordingly. “Do everything by date,” says Marie. “Do everything by year, by month, by day — everything. Metadata is also super important, and make sure your photos aren’t named something like ‘screenshot.’” 

Photojournalism is documentation, and that’s something you can do anytime, even if it’s your first time. No matter who you are or what type of gear you have, there’s a world out there right now for you to observe, whether it’s on a small town’s rural roads or a city’s bustling streets.

Marie, like a lot of editors and directors who work with images, has specific rules for how submissions are formatted and named. Good photojournalists know the conventions that their publications and editors adhere to and follow them.

When that picture does run, it will be in a whole new context.

Your work will appear beside news stories or other content. “When a photographer decides which photos they’re going to share, they’re ultimately giving someone else editorial access to their images,” says Marie. That includes publishing images alongside someone else’s copy.

Even with amazing photos, the real power of an image won’t be apparent until it runs in an article or as a photo essay. “Being a photojournalist isn’t about taking all the right photos,” says Marie, “but being able to look back and find photos that create stories.”

Know your limits and know your rights.

Photojournalists are not spies. Be respectful. “Always ask for permission, not for forgiveness. Access is so important for photojournalists,” says Marie. She has had to deal with photographers who were kicked out of venues or situations they did not have permission to be in. “I think that’s bad for photojournalism as a whole,” she says. “If you can’t have permission, stay at a safe distance and know your legal rights.”

Final Thoughts

Photojournalism is not just about the here and the now. It is about the future. Images have the capacity to educate future generations about the events of the past, long after the texts of news stories have been forgotten. With this in mind, we can safely say that photojournalism has the ability to change the world as we know it.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does Photojournalism Differ From Journalism?

Photojournalism is a branch of journalism and focuses on the images taken to convey objective truth. Journalism, however, can also include written articles and other forms of media such as video.

What is Good Photojournalism?

Good photojournalism seeks to convey objective truth. It follows a specific set of ethics to tell a story. Good photojournalists are also well versed in photography and reporting. 

What is a Photojournalist’s Role?

A photojournalist seeks to report on a story through pictures. Their photographs must follow a specific set of ethics and guidelines while conveying an objective truth.

Is Photojournalism a Form of Art?

While photographs taken from journalists can be beautiful, these are not considered art. Photojournalists do not express themselves through these photographs. Instead, images are meant to report on an event, story, or situation. 

Why is Photojournalism Such an Important Part of the Media?

Photojournalism is able to provide further context to stories being reported on. These photographs can make a story more tangible and provide further depth to an article. They can also be stand-alone pieces giving further insights into events or other newsworthy moments.

What is the Difference Between Photojournalism, Editorial and Commercial Photography?

Photojournalism seeks to tell an objective truth. Editorial photography may be used in magazines but is not confined by this set of ethics. Commercial photography is used to promote a brand or business.

Resources, “The Beginner’s Guide to Photojournalism. ” by Chris Gampat;, “Photojournalism tips for beginners. ” BY Bet Nakamura and Kathleen Marie;, “What is Photojournalism and away Is It Important?”;