A father’s prayer

August 21, 2014 in Events by T.J. Thomson

Teeney Franck, 7, was one of hundreds who gathered outside the Boone County Courthouse on Aug. 21, 2014, during "A Call for Justice for Michael Brown," a rally organized by the Missouri NAACP.

Teeney Franck, 7, was one of hundreds who gathered outside the Boone County Courthouse on Aug. 21, 2014, during “A Call for Justice for Michael Brown,” a rally organized by the Missouri NAACP.

“We have gathered together on this hill, in this place, to ask for the simple things.

Give us wisdom, that as we raise our voices, we might be able to speak truth to power. Give us courage, that when, the winds and waves of racism, and sexism, and homophobia and economic disparity come against us, we might be like a tree planted by the rivers of water and say, ‘We will not be moved.’

Give us power, that we might speak and move and change things, and not accept things as they are, but expect things as they should be.

Judge us. We know that we have no money. We have no power. Our mommas and our daddies don’t live and go to the country club, but we know that you can use ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

MU NAACP Youth and College Division member Storm Irvin speaks during an NAACP rally while Columbia attorney David Tyson Smith listens.

MU NAACP Youth and College Division member Storm Irvin speaks during an NAACP rally while Columbia attorney David Tyson Smith listens.

So Lord, here we are before you, and we believe that you will empower us, and as a sign that we’re going to trust you in these dark days, we hold our hands up. It used to mean we surrender, but we hold our hands up to signify that we are still here.

We hold our hands up that the world might know that we are somebody. You can beat us, you can imprison us, you can shoot at us, but we are still somebody. We hold our hands to say to the world, ‘No more!’

Denise Tucker, wearing a sign that reads, "Hand's up. Don't shoot. Let-me-live-2-C-"my" dream come true. No more killing in this world," listens during the rally.

Denise Tucker, wearing a sign that reads, “Hand’s up. Don’t shoot. Let-me-live-2-C-my dream come true. No more killing in this world,” listens during the rally.

And if you would, mama, father, God, if you would. Hold our hands while we run this race. And you know what? We’re going to learn how to love a little better, do a little better, speak a little more powerfully.

Missouri NAACP President Mary Ratliff grasps the hand of a Missouri Faith Voices affiliate during an NAACP rally in Columbia, Mo., on Aug. 21, 2014.

Missouri NAACP President Mary Ratliff grasps the hand of a Missouri Faith Voices affiliate
during an NAACP rally in Columbia, Mo., on Aug. 21, 2014.

I ask this in the name of the God who’s the God of all creation, and if there’s anybody who’s believing, won’t you say ‘amen’?”

— The Rev. C.W. Dawson Jr., speaking at a NAACP-organized rally, “A Call for Justice for Michael Brown,” in Columbia, Mo., on Aug. 21, 2014.

Six months after firefighter Bruce Britt’s world collapsed

August 17, 2014 in Analysis by T.J. Thomson

At 4:45 a.m. on a frosty February morning, 48-year-old Lieutenant Bruce Britt died after a walkway collapse at a Mizzou apartment complex prompted the evacuation of Building 707′s 18 residents.

The incident triggered a slew of inspections and an eventual decision by the university to shutter the complex and displace its more than 100 residents.

Six months later, more collapses are happening, but they are supervised by men wearing hard hats and neon vests. Bulldozers sit where residents’ cars once did and mounds of rubble, the remains of the apartment buildings, dot the complex’s expanse.

A soccer ball lies amidst the rubble of a demolished apartment building at the University Village complex in Columbia, Mo.

A soccer ball lies amidst the rubble of a demolished apartment building at the University Village complex in Columbia, Mo.

Signs of the residents’ former lives lie alongside heavy machinery and construction equipment.

Workers separated scrap metals from the other rubble in the condemned University Village complex.

Workers separated scrap metals from the other rubble in the condemned University Village complex.

A soccer ball covered with Valvoline’s logo rests curiously next to the remains of a downed tree. The residents’ mailboxes lie in a heap next to other metals, such as a sink from the Community Center and drained water heaters from residents’ apartments. A sign advertising a church service still hangs on the bulletin board next to a destroyed flight of stairs.

The picnic tables and barbecue pits are gone. Gone too are the rusted metal clothes lines and the bright textiles that used to hang on them. The volleyball net that once stretched between two trees in the middle of the complex has vanished.

No more do burqa-wearing mothers chat while their children romp adjacent the site’s playground. The facility’s daycare center is still littered with toys but the children who played with them are absent.

A bit of irony rounds out the drab scene. Near the entrance to the complex rests a doorframe devoid of surrounding walls with a sign that reads, “Please Keep Door Shut!”

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Shadows of the past, visions of the future

August 10, 2014 in Events by T.J. Thomson

Paper lanterns decorated to commemorate the 69th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki's bombing float in waters of Stephen's Lake on Aug. 9, 2014.

Paper lanterns decorated to commemorate the 69th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s bombing float in the waters of Stephen’s Lake on Aug. 9, 2014. Metadata: f/4.0; 1/50; ISO 25600; 105mm focal length

About three dozen figures slowly walked along the perimeter of Stephen’s Lake in a snaking line illuminated by the pale bluish light of several LED flashlights.

Five minutes later, the cool light offered by the flashlights was replaced with the warm hues of candlelight as Mark Haim launched hand-crafted lanterns into the lake’s inky black waters.

The lanterns bore peace signs, names of famous peace advocates, and depictions of sunny, war-free landscapes kissed by rainbows.

“It’s a memorial to all the other lives lost in war and the other senseless militarism we’ve engaged in,” an event organizer said before the ceremony. “Those lights are also lights of hope.”

The ceremony commemorated the lives lost by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 69 years ago.

Unwrapping the African headwrap’s history

August 6, 2014 in Events, Feature, Interactivity by T.J. Thomson

Yoruba people from across the country, including Juliet Ogungbade, gathered at American Legion Post 202 to celebrate the Egbe Omo Oduduwa mid-Missouri chapter's 15th anniversary on Aug. 2, 2014. Ogungbade wore a gele, a traditional Nigerian headdress, that is only worn to church and for special occasions, she said.

Yoruba people from across the country, including Juliet Ogungbade, gathered at American Legion Post 202 to celebrate the Egbe Omo Oduduwa mid-Missouri chapter’s 15th anniversary on Aug. 2, 2014. Metadata: f/20; 1/1600; ISO 1250; 70mm focal length

Doek, duku, dhuku, tukwi and shweshwe are all regional descriptors for the cloth scarf that adorns the head of African women. In Nigeria, the coverings are called gele, and can denote social status and background, based on the color and materials used in their construction.

Spun from cotton or hand-woven silk (aso-oke) the material can be transformed into ankara, damask or the metallic jacquard style.

The majority of the women at this year’s gathering of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa’s mid-Missouri chapter arrived already donning the wraps; however, a few, mostly younger women or girls, stepped out of their family’s vehicles with bare heads that were quickly covered once the women gathered inside.

Aisha Ibitoye, 10, underwent the process twice. Once before dinner and once after. She was one of the youths that participated in the children’s cultural performance and fashion show that followed dinner.

The gele is worn only to church and for special occasions, Juliet Ogungbade said.

From left, Cyrilla Ayoola, Moyo Ibitoye and Adenike Bashorun enjoy each other's company during a celebration of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa mid-Missouri chapter's 15th anniversary at American Legion Post 202 on Aug. 2, 2014.

From left, Cyrilla Ayoola, Moyo Ibitoye and Adenike Bashorun enjoy each other’s company during a celebration of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa mid-Missouri chapter’s 15th anniversary at American Legion Post 202 on Aug. 2, 2014.

Raise a glass to CoMo nightlife

July 21, 2014 in Assignments by T.J. Thomson

Patrons at Roxy's bar and club in Columbia, Mo., partied into the night on Independence Day eve, 2014.

Patrons at Roxy’s bar and club in Columbia, Mo., partied into the night on Independence Day eve, 2014.
Metadata: f/5.6; 1/64; ISO 25600; 24mm focal length

While shooting the cover story for the latest installment of Vox magazine, I found myself immersed in four local scenes that contrasted yet complemented each other so well.

I was a stranger to each venue, yet, invariably, some patron who had engaged in the bar’s offerings a little too heavily would wander up to me and initiate conversation.

“My friend wants to meet you,” one curly-haired blond informed me. “Hide me! This guy won’t stop bothering me,” a mousy woman exclaimed. “Do you dance?” a tall brunette shyly asked.

A bustling crowd celebrated Fourth of July eve at Roxy's club and bar during one of its weekly bottomless cup nights.

A bustling crowd celebrated Fourth of July eve at Roxy’s club and bar during one of its bottomless cup nights.

Never mind that I juggled a carbon steel tripod, multiple camera bodies, some wireless strobes, and a gear-filled backpack. Photographers are used to multitasking, right?

With a line that stretched more than a block from East Broadway around the corner of North 10th Street, Roxy’s boasted the longest wait for the huddled masses that crowded impatiently along the sidewalk on the eve of America’s Independence Day.

I had to open the door to three of the four CoMo hangouts my editors had picked. Roxy’s simplified the process and left its door open but guarded with a cadre of muscled bouncers that sometimes brusquely, but efficiently, managed the club’s traffic flow.

“Careful with your sh*t, bro; there’s a lot of crazy people up there,” the bouncer thoughtfully remarked as I made my way up the poster-lined stairs to the second-floor party scene.

A patron ascends the stairs to Roxy's second-floor dance floor seconds before flipping me the bird, a favorite greeting among bar patrons, it seems.

A patron ascends the stairs to Roxy’s second-floor dance floor seconds before flipping me the bird,
a favorite greeting among bar patrons, it seems.

The scene that greeted me at the top of the stairs affected almost all my senses immediately. Plastic cups were everywhere, in hands, on tables, and on the floor. The cups’ contents filled stomachs, ignited dance floor bravery, and goaded a half-dozen females to rise above their friends — literally — by dancing on a raised stage at the far end of the club.

The soft and steady glow of the disc jockey’s twin laptops contrasted fiercely with the ever-changing rainbow-colored lightning storm that raged above the patrons’ heads. The music, though deafening, was well executed and left me tempted to snap my camera’s shutter to the beat of the latest Tiësto single.

Beyond the newly opened rooftop bar on top of the Broadway Hotel, Roxy's is the only upper-level club in Columbia, a feat that presents its own challenges for performing acts that have to lug their gear up the venue's steep back steps.

Beyond the newly opened rooftop bar on top of the Broadway Hotel, Roxy’s is the only upper-level club in Columbia, a feat that presents its own challenges for performing acts that have to lug their gear up the venue’s steep back steps.

I had wandered into the club three days before, for its “Geeks Who Drink” trivia night and was shocked at the difference. Frontman Chris Bruno’s band, “Buried,” a heavy-rock trio, played that night for a crowd as big as the band.

The lighter attendance allowed me to appreciate the little details of the club’s atmosphere, like its dark hardwood floors that were gorgeous, but invisible a few nights later when covered by a throng of sweaty partygoers.

The club’s owner, Jesse Garcia, recently outfitted the space with an upgraded fog machine, nicknamed “Smaug” as a nod to J.R.R. Tolkien’s famed fire-breathing dragon. As a cloud of smoke descended on the club and the laser lights reached the zenith of their frenzy, the club’s partygoers roared above the music and counted down the final few seconds before midnight.

Happy birthday, America.

Five essential photo types any visual package needs

July 6, 2014 in Assignments, Composition, Context, Interactivity, Separation by T.J. Thomson

You’ve just been tapped for your first media assignment. Congrats!

What kind of pictures will your editor be looking for? Here’s a quick cheatsheet that provides the basic parts of a photo package, why they’re important, and some tips on how to capture them:

Angie and Heath Immel unpack gear while their son, Ben, 13, doubles back to help his parents. About 25 people, including some Burmese refugees, gathered on the field behind Broadway Christian Church to hone their soccer skills during City of Hope's soccer camp on Saturday, July 5, 2014.

Angie and Heath Immel unpack gear while their son, Ben, 13, doubles back to help his parents. About 25 people, including some Burmese refugees, gathered on the field behind Broadway Christian Church to hone their soccer skills during City of Hope’s soccer camp on Saturday, July 5, 2014.

1. Scene-setters — These images put the place in context and show not only where they happen, but where the action is happening in relation to its broader environment. For example, if you’re shooting a sporting event, don’t just shoot the action on the field. Also get a photo or two of crowds streaming into the stadium, the traffic jam at the end of the match, or a wide shot from the top of the stands.

These images aren’t always the most pretty, but they give clues to how many people attended, what the weather was like, and provide a sense of scale to the event and its significance. Any contextual clues you can include, such as recognizable landmarks or artifacts that tip the viewer off to what the story’s about without having to read a single word, are always helpful.

These images are often, but not always, made during the beginning or ending of events. Always consider showing up early or staying late so you can capture the school bus as it pulls up to the gym, people as they enter a building for an event, or workers as they prep a site for an evening concert.

Ben Immel, 13, teases Juhad Belzer, 9, with a soccer ball while Heath Immel sets up a portable soccer net.

Ben Immel, 13, teases Juhad Belzer, 9, with a soccer ball while Heath Immel sets up a portable soccer net.

2. Interactions — These images likely form the cornerstone of documentary photography. They are what separates the casual observer from the trained photojournalist. Photo editors wince when they see people static in their environments. Interaction among multiple people is ideal, but not always required (or possible). Images where a subject is genuinely interacting in his or her environment, however, will always be stronger than those of a static individual staring straight at the camera.

These types of images are often the ones that invoke humor or some other form of emotional response. They are powerful and can be captured with any lens and at any stage of an event or process. Photo editors love when the unexpected is captured and preserved. Don’t just shoot the winning kick or the jubilation of victory; also lookout for the the agony of defeat and the somber sense of loss that the other side is experiencing.

Hla Yu, 18, of Myanmar balances a ball on his foot during a Saturday soccer camp behind Broadway Christian Church.

Hla Yu, 18, of Myanmar balances a ball on his foot during a Saturday soccer camp behind Broadway Christian Church.

3. Details — Perhaps my personal favorite, details are like the spices on top of a delectable pile of al dente noodles. They provide flavor and a range of expression that rewards the reader and provides a respite from the clutter and small elements often present in wide-angle images.

Think of them as “part of the whole” elements. A player lacing his shoes, a goalie’s mud-stained shorts, or a macro shot of a battered soccer ball all count as details.

These can be cliche on their own, however, so try to combine details with other tools in your arsenal for maximum effect. For a challenging example, try to capture interaction as a detail shot or capture peak action (such as the ball resting on the player’s toe) with a tight view for maximum visual effect.

Hla Yu, 18, of Myanmar, retrieves a stray ball during a soccer camp behind Broadway Christian Church.

Hla Yu, 18, of Myanmar, retrieves a stray ball during a soccer camp behind Broadway Christian Church.

4. Wide angles — To differentiate wide-angle shots from their scene-setting cousins, try using framing or layering for visual variety and to add some depth to your images.

By juxtaposing large and small or brightly colored and plain through creative framing or layering, you can achieve some nice contrasts and provide some visual variety that your editors will love.

Here’s the place to play with scale, patterns, or visual repetition. The wide-angle properties of your lens will often exaggerate these elements and enhance their visual panache.

Taw Taw, a refugee from Burma, now known as Myanmar, left, helps Moe Eh Poe, 7, during a kicking drill at a field behind the Broadway Christian Church on Saturday, July 5, 2014.

Taw Taw, a refugee from Burma, now known as Myanmar, left, helps Moe Eh Poe, 7, during a kicking drill at a field behind the Broadway Christian Church on Saturday, July 5, 2014.

5. Cohesive shots — I was paired with a reporter for this story who chose to focus on the several refugees who attended the soccer camp. I made some nice images of other camp attendees, but, because they weren’t cohesive with the accompanying text piece, they were booted.

Editing can be one of the most frustrating and also gratifying parts of the publication process. Editors don’t always choose your best photos; they choose the photos that best tell the story.

Thus, make sure to coordinate your efforts with your assigned reporter (if you have one) or make sure you know what story you want to tell if you’re crafting both words and visuals yourself.

Other tips:

With all your images, regardless of their “type,” strive for simplicity. Be aggressively aware of treetops, phone lines, and other intruding features of the landscape and guard against composing with them jutting out of or awkwardly behind your subjects.

Have fun and take (calculated) risks. With any luck and a good editor, you’ll have your own photo page in no time.

When precision pays off

July 5, 2014 in Assignments, Composition, Context by T.J. Thomson

Framed by Mizzou's Jesse Hall dome, fireworks explode above Columbia, Mo., during its annual "Fire in the Sky" Independence Day celebration on July 4, 2014.

Framed by Mizzou’s Jesse Hall dome, fireworks explode above Columbia, Mo., during its annual “Fire in the Sky” Independence Day celebration on July 4, 2014. Metadata: f/16; 4.0; ISO 100; 146mm focal length

“Have you ever photographed fireworks before?” my editor asked earlier this week. “Just casually, but never on assignment,” I replied.

I would have never made this picture on my own. The uncertainty was too great.

When I first learned that I was assigned to cover the city’s fireworks display, my first instinct was to get over-the-shoulder shots of people as they watched the colorful explosions light up the night sky. I would have positioned myself in the heart of downtown, perhaps next to a crowd at one of the city’s many parking garages or parks, and waited in view of the launching location for the show to begin.

My editor, Greg Kendall-Ball, though, had a different instincts.

He scouted out possible locations earlier in the week and determined that the show would be visible from more than a mile away, at the top of the University of Missouri’s Virginia Avenue Parking garage. We couldn’t see the launch site, but Greg calmly explained while setting up his tripod that the fireworks would be launched to the right of Jesse Hall’s dome. The dome not only provided a nice framing element, but it also added much-needed context to the scene to differentiate it from the thousands of other displays occurring across the nation.

His research and scouting paid off. Whether due to the wind or by design, the fireworks started off more to the right of the dome, but eventually filled in and nicely occupied the negative space surrounding the building.

Greg maintains a certain kind of precision in his workflow that differs from my own. I’m detail-oriented about results, but am less concerned with the process of how they are realized. Greg, in contrast, carefully attends to each facet of the his workflow’s process. For example, he meticulously measured, cut out, and taped a piece of cardboard so he could use it to block the excess light trails during his long exposures so that only the bursts and not the extraneous trails were visible. He also plotted the GPS coordinates of intended locations and the launch site to ensure we had a direct line of site to the show.

If I were on my own, I would have probably relied on a safe, line-of-site approach that ensured I could achieve an unobstructed view of the show, albeit, at a loss of some visual panache. With adequate preparation and research, however, I’ve learned from Greg that I can take more calculated risks while increasing the storytelling power of my images.

Kelsey Bruce walks under a U.S. Flag near Flat Branch Park during Columbia's Independence Day festivities on Friday, July 4, 2014. Rejoice Church distributed free glow sticks to the crowd.

Kelsey Bruce walks under a U.S. Flag near Flat Branch Park during Columbia’s Independence Day festivities on Friday, July 4, 2014. Rejoice Church distributed free glow sticks to the crowd.

It took about a half hour of lying on my back in the middle of (thankfully closed) street to capture this image.

People regrettably afforded me a generous buffer zone and generally wouldn’t walk within five feet of where I laid sprawled on the concrete. Some volunteers at a nearby booth were distributing free glow sticks, however, so I shifted my position and capitalized on the foot traffic generated there. This strategy finally rewarded me with a young woman who passed through the frame after receiving two glow sticks.

When learning by doing loses its effectiveness

June 21, 2014 in Assignments, Cropping, Editing by T.J. Thomson

Jim Scott, of Springfield, Ill., left, and Gene Hall, of St. Louis, warm up prior to the 1500-meter Race Walk during the 2014 Missouri State Senior Games at Walton Stadium on June 20, 2014.

Jim Scott, of Springfield, Ill., left, and Gene Hall, of St. Louis, warm up prior to the 1500-meter Race Walk during the 2014 Missouri State Senior Games at Walton Stadium on June 20, 2014.

Learning by doing is often touted as the best way to gain familiarity with a skill or process. While this might hold true when gaining fundamental knowledge, for more advanced training, though, sometimes watching is best.

This past semester working at the Missourian has exposed me to a drastically different workflow where my creative input ends largely when I press the shutter. The publication’s team of editors make the final call on what is published and take care of editing and toning.

I initially blanched at the prospect of having others edit my work, but have grown to appreciate the process. An editor’s perspective, experience, and aesthetic likely differs from yours and frequently reveals new ways of thinking, interpreting, and presenting.

For example, up to this point, I’d been rather ardently bound to maintaining the native aspect ratio of images as I produce them in my camera. I’ve seen too many photographers shoot sloppy material, thinking they can always crop later to improve composition. Working at the Missourian, though, has taught me that no aspect ratio is sacred. Some photos, I’ve learned, even if well composed, can still be improved by cropping.

Take the lead photo in this post, for example. The expansive Missouri sky is beautiful, but, as my intent was photojournalism and not landscape photography, I could make do with less sky.

The other side of editing that I’ve appreciated experiencing is examining a photographer’s output and recognizing that the “best” images aren’t always those that are selected.

Ginger Mulanax keeps time during the 1500-meter Race Walk, part of the 2014 Missouri State Senior Games at Walton Stadium, which took place on June 20, 2014.

Ginger Mulanax keeps time during the 1500-meter Race Walk, part of the 2014 Missouri State Senior Games at Walton Stadium, which took place on June 20, 2014.

This closeup view of the contestants being timed is a rich and easy read, but it wasn’t published. You can only feature so many detail shots in a photo package, and one of the editors decided that a shot of a contestant putting on his running shoes was more integral than the shot of the race watch.

I used to think of images as single, disconnected elements. Now, however, I consider them as parts of a whole. Details are complemented by wide angle establishing shots, and a package isn’t complete with only one and not the other.

Whether you want to work at a media outlet or not, ask someone to edit your work and keep an open mind to how you can better your skills from their experience.

Rejecting mixed disability standards

June 19, 2014 in Analysis, Context, Ethics by T.J. Thomson

A patient at the Missouri Psychiatric Center watches pedestrians walk by on the street below his room. 44 of the center's 57 inpatient beds are designated for adults.

A patient at the Missouri Psychiatric Center watches pedestrians walk by on the street below his room. 44 of the center’s 57 inpatient beds are designated for adults. Metadata: f/8; 1/1600; ISO 1250; 200mm focal length

My mind was whirling yesterday after making a picture of a patient at the Missouri Psychiatric Center. Who was he? What was his story? How long had he been there? Could he leave? Was he forced to wear his distinctive orange outfit?

Within an hour or two, I had posted the image on my Instagram feed, albeit without any caption information.

The context of this image was certainly important. Without a caption, the man could be anyone standing there for any purpose. A caption not only brings clarity, but also introduces a wealth of associations and judgments.

I wanted to blog about these thoughts last night and discuss the ethics of posting the image. Legally, I was covered, but ethically, it was more complicated. A couple having sex in front of their open window, for example, had chosen to expose themselves and deserved any resulting consequences their exhibitionism incurred. This man’s situation was potentially different, though. Was he committed through fault of his own?

I didn’t know the answer last night, but today, I’ve determined that it doesn’t matter.

I’ve photographed people in wheelchairs, with canes, crutches, and other physical ailments and posted their images without a second thought. Why, then, is mental illness different? Because, as my father suggested while speaking with me earlier today from his kitchen in Colorado, we place a greater social stigma on mental illness than on physical disability.

I knew then that I should publish the photo. By refraining, I was contributing to a negative and harmful stigma that mental illness was somehow less deserving of dignity, expression, or depiction than any other disability.

When we recognize differences and treat other people differently because of them, we marginalize, oppress, and build stereotypes that our future generations inherit. Regardless of his circumstances or why he stared crestfallen at a bustling street from behind a pane of thick glass, he is a human being and deserves equal treatment.

Developing your visual voice

June 14, 2014 in Feedback by T.J. Thomson

Without adequate context, a picture becomes a stock representation of countless stories rather than one unique one.

Without adequate context, a picture becomes a stock representation of countless stories rather than one unique one.

I’ve called myself a photojournalist for a few years now. The title is inscribed on my business cards and included in the signature of my emails, yet, what we do defines us more than how we label ourselves.

Halfway through my graduate coursework as a photojournalism student at the Missouri School of Journalism, I realized I was more photographer than photojournalist.

I conformed to the cornerstones of photojournalism — asking unknown individuals bits of their private lives for caption information, avoiding consciously manipulating scenes or the individuals in them, and always striving to include people in my images, but I found out that my definition of photojournalism lacked an important element.

Storytelling.

“A lot of your work looks like stock photography,” The Missourian‘s Director of Photography, Brian Kratzer, told me earlier this month.

Sadly, it was true.

I’d been so focused on composition, separation, and light, that I let the narrative quality of my images slide.

Take the image at the top of this post, for example. I shot it on a feature hunt my first week at The Missourian. What details does the image reveal?

Without a caption (a potential crutch on which photographers can over-rely), aspiring photojournalists need to ask themselves “does the image tell a story, reveal adequate context, and inform the viewer about the person depicted and what is important to them?”

In the image above, the casual observer likely won’t know that Townsend Hall houses part of the University of Missouri’s College of Education or even that it was shot on the Mizzou campus.

What does the woman pictured do? Is she a student? A teacher? What motivates her? She is more of an abstract art element than a functional character in this image. The image is essentially “stock” and could be taken by any passerby.

Missouri High School Rodeo queen competitors Jessy Maddux, 17, of Richland, left, and Macy Randolph, 17, of Jefferson City, enter the judging area on Wednesday, June 11, 2014. The competition took place at the Central Missouri Events Center.

Missouri High School Rodeo queen competitors Jessy Maddux, 17, of Richland, left, and Macy Randolph, 17, of Jefferson City, enter the judging area on Wednesday, June 11, 2014. The competition took place at the Central Missouri Events Center.

Proper photojournalism, I think, focuses more on action rather than reaction.

Attending a rodeo queen competition and focusing on the contestants reciting their prepared speeches is reaction. Any attendee can take that image without much thought or effort.

A bull rider changes his clothes on June 13, 2014, after the 2014 Missouri High School Rodeo at the Central Missouri Events Center. Three bull riders competed this year.

A bull rider changes his clothes on June 13, 2014, after the 2014 Missouri High School Rodeo at the Central Missouri Events Center. Three bull riders competed this year.

Action, in contrast, puts the photographer in charge of the scene and intentionally employs framing and layering to tell a story.

Missouri High School Rodeo queen competitor Jessy Maddux, 17, of Richland, Mo., warms up her horse, Peppy, before displaying her horsemanship skills for the judges on Wednesday, June 11, 2014. The competition took place at the Central Missouri Events Center.

Missouri High School Rodeo queen competitor Jessy Maddux, 17, of Richland, Mo., warms up her horse, Peppy, before displaying her horsemanship skills for the judges on Wednesday, June 11, 2014. The competition took place at the Central Missouri Events Center.

When acting rather than reacting, the photographer recognizes the elements that are important to telling a story and consciously includes them for narrative effect.