Photojournalism Part 2: The Details & Ethics of Photojournalism

Updated: Feb 12

We’ve been talking about the different pieces that go into building your yearbook, and have recently been discussing photojournalism. In part one we covered what photojournalism is, what it isn’t, and what the process looks like, and now we’ll be delivering part two. So, if you missed part one, I’d encourage you to go back and read it, then come back and read part two.


Let’s jump right back in.


Your photos should typically focus on the faces of people – highlight their emotion, which will primarily be gathered by facial expressions (although body language works as well).

Now, to the details of photojournalism. Your photos should typically focus on the faces of people – highlight their emotion, which will primarily be gathered by facial expressions (although body language works as well). Take photos of people in action, of people doing things, and avoid taking pictures of people shaking hands or handing out awards – these photos are pretty boring, so if you can capture photos that are a little livelier then you’ll be set. You could, for example, capture the face of the person whose award has just been announced. Additionally, know what your central subject is, and make sure they’re always in focus. For example, if you’re taking photos of people stranded because of a terrible rainstorm, the focus of your camera lens should be the people, not on the rain. However, if you’re focusing on how horrible the rainstorm was, then your camera lens will be focusing on the water, and the stranded people should be a little out of focus.


So, the event’s over, you’ve gone home, you’ve pulled out your laptop, and you’ve downloaded all of your pictures – now what?

So, the event’s over, you’ve gone home, you’ve pulled out your laptop, and you’ve downloaded all of your pictures – now what? Well, here are some recommendations for editing and culling your pictures. First, look at each image quickly at full screen size, and assess each for any technical faults. Is the image out of focus? Is the composition obviously wonky? Did you take a picture of the inside of the lens cap? Did you take a picture of your shoe? Is it completely blown out white, or completely dark? If a picture is totally unusable, delete it.



Browse the images and color code them, with a flag for good pictures and a flag for bad pictures.

Second, scroll through the remaining images in Adobe Lightroom or some other photo catalog program. Browse the images and color code them, with a flag for good pictures and a flag for bad pictures. Images you like, for example, could be flagged green. Images you don’t like could then be flagged red, and images in the middle of the spectrum could be flagged yellow. Lightroom and many other catalog programs give you the ability to flag pictures, so these are worth using. Now, a red flagged image doesn’t mean that it’s totally unusable, since you’ve gotten rid of the unusable ones already – it just means that it’s not as sharp as it could be, that it has some composition issues or technical problems. Now, there are some images that get flagged yellow, or don’t get flagged at all – these are typically images that are just “meh,” not bad enough to get a red flag but not good enough to get a green flag. So then the ones that are left, the ones that you really like, are flagged green.



Don’t delete anything else yet – let the photos rest. If you can give them a week or so between the time you shoot them and the time you decide which to use, do that.

Third, don’t delete anything else yet – let the photos rest. If you can give them a week or so between the time you shoot them and the time you decide which to use, do that. Let some time go by without looking at them. Immediately following a shoot, you may be emotionally caught up, for better or worse, in your images you just took or in the event you just attended. If the shoot went well, you may have the feeling that your images are great, that you have dozens and dozens of good shots to work with, even though this may not be entirely true. And if the shoot went poorly, you’ll feel like all of them stink, when in fact they may not. The solution is to give your images some space and pull back for a few days – don’t look at them, don’t edit them, put them out of sight, and give yourself some emotional distance. Then, after the emotion and the memory of the event has faded for you, go back and look at the pictures so that all you have is not the memory of the event, but the pictures themselves. You’ll be surprised – pictures you thought were tremendous (because the event was tremendous and you had a great time) may not be as great as you remember them being, and the pictures you thought were awful (because the lighting was terrible, you had trouble with the camera, the people were uncooperative, etc.) may be much better than you thought they were. Now, if you’re shooting an event on Saturday night and your editor says they want your best photos on their desk on Monday morning, then you don’t have this option.


Consider how your images will be used. At this point, dive back into your collection and consider your original assignment. How many pictures can be used? Which picture(s) do the best job of telling the story?

Fourth, consider how your images will be used. At this point, dive back into your collection and consider your original assignment. How many pictures can be used? Which picture(s) do the best job of telling the story? Remember, it’s all about the story – you may have a perfect shot, but a pretty picture that doesn’t reveal the story doesn’t do any good in photojournalism. Additionally, in assessing your pictures, use the same methods as when you took the pictures: Does the picture display emotion? Does it display truthfulness? Does it display visual variety? Does it display continuity? Don’t dump 100 pictures on your editor’s desk and say “Okay, I’m done, you choose!” You were the person there at the event, so that makes you the storyteller, unless of course your editor is a workaholic who wants to do everything themselves.


First, don’t be a pawn of someone else’s storytelling – that’s called propaganda. This could be seen through staging or posing, either by authorities or by the subjects themselves.

Now, the last thing we want to talk about today is the ethics of photojournalism. This is really important. It’s even more important than it ever has been before, because now photo editing software is easily accessible. First, don’t be a pawn of someone else’s storytelling – that’s called propaganda. This could be seen through staging or posing, either by authorities or by the subjects themselves. There was recently a photojournalist who shot at a protest in Eastern Europe, and he said it was the oddest thing, because he realized that the lighting was perfect and that everything was so colorful – but then he noticed that there were huge lights making each shot perfect, and there were boxes stacked on either the side of the street so that photographers could perch on them and get the perfect angle. And he realized that this wasn’t photojournalism, this was theater. The man said that the photojournalists would take pictures of the protestors, the protestors would see the images that came out and not like them, and so they would go back home, dress the part, and come back out and redo it. On one night a few of the protestors had children and babies with them, with those pictures being released – and the next night, almost every protestor had a child with them. It was so staged and fake, and this photojournalist was caught in the middle of it. As an ethical photojournalist, tell the truth. Don’t set up shots – your photos must be believed in order to carry any weight. If, for example, you miss the shot you wanted in art class, come back the next day and try again, because once you cross the line of faking photos, your credibility will vanish.


Another vitally important part of photojournalistic ethics is accuracy. What this means is that what’s in the frame actually happened – as a photojournalist, you are ethically bound to not change the story.

Another vitally important part of photojournalistic ethics is accuracy. What this means is that what’s in the frame actually happened – as a photojournalist, you are ethically bound to not change the story. Now, you may want to lighten the shadows a little bit or sharpen the image for clarity, but don’t change the essence of what you capture in the photo. The British magazine “The Economist” got in trouble for this some time ago – there was an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and there was a shot taken of President Obama standing on the shoreline, looking out towards the drilling rig, leaning down so he could hear the woman beside him. On the other side of this woman was another man, an oil worker of some sort. It’s a decent news picture. However, when “The Economist” ran the picture on their cover, they cropped out the man who was standing on the other side of the woman, took Photoshop, and edited the woman out of the picture, so what it looked like was President Obama standing on the shoreline with his hands on his hips, his head slightly bowed, facing the Gulf of Mexico. It was a very dramatic picture, but it was a lie. It’s important to recognize that journalism is not the same as marketing, especially when it comes to photography. Your job is to be a journalist, so tell the truth and don’t set up “candid” shots – what is in the frame is what happened, so don’t manipulate the picture to make a better story.


That’s all on photojournalism for now – we hope that this has been helpful. If you would like a part three from us, let us know!

Dr. John Tuttle, Curriculum specialist & lecturer


Dr. John Tuttle holds an M.A. in Philosophy of Religion and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Biola University, where for ten years he was Director of Student Communications, and where he has also been adjunct faculty for several years in the “great books” program.

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