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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.