what is a photojournalistic portrait?

in the field
in the field
in the field
in the field

There are many discussions about what photojournalism truly is. I recently heard someone use the term “photojournalistic portrait”. Perhaps a contradiction in terms.

The purist form of photojournalism typically would come from a non-commissioned work. If you are hired, then the subject typically knows you and knows why you are there. But more realistically, a good photographer should be able to get himself lost and behind the scenes to make the photojournalism happen.

Photojournalism is not when people are making a happy face and looking at the camera. It is also not staging people in candid-like photographs like holding hands walking down main street, etc..

People also confuse traditional and non traditional photography and whether it can be photojournalism. One might say that traditional is something that would be consistent with what has always been done. Like a full length bridal with a backdrop with the dress all fluffed out as the bride smiles for the camera while holding her flowers. Non-traditional would be more like the ‘trash the dress’ sessions that many are doing after the wedding. The bride is coaxed to do things in her dress that would never take place before the wedding. However, the outcome is unique. No one is as concerned about whether the dress stays clean or not. Trash the dress sessions still are not journalism. So neither traditional or non-traditional make photojournalism what it is.

Another quick thought: On occasion,  you run into a person who is camera aware, but knows exactly what to do without looking at the lens…exactly what is this? I  think it is at best actor photojournalism. Although the result is excellent, usable and well liked by most clients.

So what is photojournalism? If I go with a bride to a session, can any of the images be photo-journalistic? Some seem to be, but are they really? Many photographers claim to be photojournalists, but have multiple styles in their portfolio. For those who do not know which images are photojournalism and which are not photojournalism, the picture of photojournalism becomes rather fuzzy (pun intended). The images above of the bride in the field, definitely have a candid quality about them. She was having so much fun in that gown. Playing with the veil, twirling around, laughing. She did all of that without prompting. The whole time she knew (I think she knew) that I was pointing a camera at her. Perhaps she was lost in her happy thoughts about the marriage. No matter,  I think we could safely call the result very cool portraits.

I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that few photographers hired by the public, who need to make a living can be %100 pure photojournalists. The client often requires more than just the candid photojournalism. Sometimes the client says that they want photojournalism, but hand off a hefty list of must-have formal shots. We are out to please and out to make a living, so most would accommodate such requests.

The trend in SC (at least what I see) is a blend of all kinds of photography. From formals to bridal portraits, from photojournalism to staged cool shots utilizing the clients venue or something spectacular in the background.

The term photojournalism has become a buzz word that often refers to something it is not. Photojournalism can only happen when the subject is unaware that he or she is being photographed. Sometimes a photo-journalistic shot looks like it could have been set up, but based on the expressions it is clear it wasn’t. So photojournalism is cool compositions with people doing things without being aware of the camera.  Frankly, it takes a very experienced and trained eye to anticipate this kind of shot on purpose. Many occasionally will get a lucky shot because of time and chance (right place at right time), but never seem to reproduce that style consistently.

A common photojournalistic shot, that most are able to make happen is the wedding exit. You are standing there with a camera or two, and HERE they come and you shoot the bajeebees out of it hoping to get a cool shot. Staged candidness and everyone knows what will happen. So, is anticipation a factor in photojournalism? I think so. A war photojournalist knows there is a war going on, etc..

The image we have here in the clouds…what exactly is it? Not traditional. Not candid. I put her there. I suggested that she hold the dress. I didn’t ask her to look in that direction. She saw something and for a second forgot what we were doing and I popped the shutter (the 501 sounds like a pop when you release it).

The root definition of photojournalism is telling a story through photographs, just fyi (although this does not seem to encapsulate the contemporary definition).  I photographed Hank Haney once at Walnut Cove, and I was commissioned to make his portrait.  I photographed him as he was giving instruction to a group of executives (by the way he is Tigers Trainer). I never interacted with him, but I made his portrait for the clubhouse. Just because I didn’t pose or talk with him during the shoot doesn’t mean it is photojournalism. So to answer the question, it seems that portraits cannot be photojournalism 🙂 If you see it differently I welcome your perspective.

All of these images were made with a 503 or 501 hasselblad. All three images were made at real bridal sessions and used by the bride at the reception. Images and Article are (c) 2009 coxphotography.net. All rights reserved.andrea in the clouds

andrea in the clouds

2 thoughts on “what is a photojournalistic portrait?

  1. Just reading your essay on photojournalism. You write very well. I have created a WordPress account, but have not done anything with it. I have created a web page for my wife with Joomla. So much to learn, such little time. : )

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