Is the importance of photojournalism something you think about?
Dating back to the 19th century, photojournalism truly revolutionized the way we received news stories.
Designed to educate and inform citizens through a series of compelling photos, photojournalism continues to be a critical form of journalism today.
In this guide, I’ll explain everything you need to know about photojournalism in 2023.
Table of Contents
What is Photojournalism?
There are dozens of formal definitions for photojournalism, but in its simplest form, photojournalism is the act of collecting, organizing, and distributing information and news.
As opposed to verbose written reports, photojournalism tells a news story almost entirely through photographs as a kind of documentary photography.
It’s the amazing portraits of refugees you see in publications such as National Geographic or the poignant images depicting racial segregation in a photo essay in LIFE magazine.
While images are traditionally used in articles to help elevate the story, photojournalism relies on the power of images almost exclusively.
This allows the viewer to consume and interpret a story based entirely on photographs vs. being persuaded by written narratives.
I’m sure we can all agree that photojournalism is profoundly important, but how did it originate and evolve? Let’s dig into the history of photojournalism.
A brief history of Photojournalism
- Mid-19th century: Photojournalism emerges alongside photography.
- Late 19th to early 20th century: Advancements in technology and printing facilitate the growth of photojournalism.
- Influential photojournalists like Mathew Brady (Civil War era), Lewis Hine (early 20th century), and Robert Capa (World War II) capture significant events and social issues.
- 1947: Magnum Photos, a renowned photo agency, is founded, expanding the reach of photojournalism.
- Present: Photojournalists continue to document global events using traditional and digital platforms, preserving history, raising awareness, and fostering empathy.
Photojournalism has a rich history of documenting history, generating knowledge, and cultivating compassion and continues to successfully do so thanks to organizations such as the British Press Photographers Association.
What are the main types of photojournalism?
There are several branches of photojournalism, but some of the main types include the following categories:
Spot news: Spot news photography is a type of visual journalism that covers abrupt, unplanned events the public needs to be made aware of — think car accidents, plane crashes, or school lockdowns.
Sports: This one’s obvious! Sports journalism historically covers important sporting events that could involve everything from the Olympics or major sports in developed countries to kids playing baseball in third-world counties.
Feature: Feature photography is a type of visual journalism that’s a little more lighthearted and is designed to entertain. You might see a feature showcasing a day in the life of an actor, comedian, or world-renowned chef.
General news: This is probably the first branch you think of when imagining photojournalism. Breaking news and hard news fall under this category, which may include photos of national conferences, current protests, and more.
While this list covers the basic kinds of photojournalism, you can learn more about the vast array of items that fall under the photojournalism umbrella in this article by iSchoolConnect.
What is the importance of photojournalism in society?
Visual journalism plays a pivotal role in society. Whether capturing critical world events like the Black Lives Matter protests or the harrowing violence of the American Civil War, photojournalism sometimes serves as a wake-up call to those of us living comfortably in our own bubbles.
For example, hundreds of photojournalists captured the multitude of ways the COVID-19 pandemic affected the world and changed our lives forever.
While many of us were fortunate enough to continue day-to-day life with social distancing and mask-wearing, others weren’t so lucky.
The immunocompromised and elderly naturally suffered major health problems when exposed to the virus some never even knew they were carrying.
With just a glance at this NPR article full of sobering images captured by legendary photojournalist, Alan Hawkes, you’ll learn the importance of digital photojournalism in society.
Intended to encourage the unvaccinated to get vaccinated, Hawkes leveraged poignant digital photography highlighting patients, nurses, and family members deep in the trenches of life-or-death reality during the height of the pandemic.
What are the benefits of photojournalism?
By providing a photographic essay showcasing important events, visual journalism enlightens both those who are well-versed in global events and those looking to get educated.
Let’s discuss more benefits a professional photojournalist could provide:
- Photojournalism brings an emotional element to breaking newspaper stories you might only see scrolling social media or during a commercial break on TV.
- Photojournalism enhances the art of storytelling and is an essential public service, as noted by the National Press Photographers Association.
- Ideally, photojournalism features a wide range of different demographics and locations, enabling journalists to be inclusive.
What constitutes ‘good’ photojournalism?
Did you know photojournalism could have ethical issues involved?
Good visual journalism embodies a code of ethics that’s represented in every high quality image.
According to the National Press Photographers Association, there are several ethical codes related to the subject and location, and general laws, to be mindful of when producing visual journalism.
Be sure to check out our section on the ethics of photo reportage towards the end of this article!
What Do You Do as a Photojournalist?
As a photojournalist, you’re responsible for capturing candid images that represent vital news stories.
Whether you’re featuring world events, sports events, or street photography, there are specific skills and experience levels that are such an important part of storytelling, so let’s dive into just a few required skills below.
What skills are needed to be a photojournalist?
- Journalism: This one’s obvious! You’ll need to abide by an important code of ethics to ensure swift, accurate news stories.
- Photography and photo editing: You’ll need to be proficient in photography, the latest printing and photography innovations, and image capturing technology — this means shutter speed, auto focus, film roll length, photo editing software, and more.
- Research: You’ll also need to be well-researched on the subjects you’re featuring and the background of events related to them.
- Legal: While you won’t be respected to know the ins and outs of every law, you will need to be familiar with copyright laws to avoid legal problems.
What is the difference between a photojournalist and a journalist?
The main difference between visual journalism and journalism is the content itself.
How many years does it take to become a photojournalist?
This depends, but typically about 4-5 years. Some get their degree in journalism or visual communications and immediately land a job in photojournalism, while others join a national organization for help.
Do photojournalists make good money?
As is the case in any field, you won’t necessarily make great money in an entry-level visual journalism role. However, with experience and passion, you can work your way up the ladder and snag a role with reputable publications that pay well.
Do photojournalists have to write?
Although images are the main method of storytelling in photojournalism, captions are critical.
You’ll want to be adept at writing concise captions that enhance your image.
What is a Photojournalistic Photography Style? 21 Examples
As noted earlier in the article, there are tons of photography styles that fall under the visual journalism umbrella in real life and art galleries.
I’ll jump into some themes and styles below.
1. Religious representations
A big part of photojournalism involves spotlighting different races, religions, and cultures, which makes this portrait by Shibram2 a wonderful example of visual journalism.
2. Racial issues
Black Lives Matter protests are a huge example of visual journalism, as exemplified in this in-action rally shot by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona.
Feminist rallies are another stellar example of digital photojournalism that illustrate the gender inequality that’s present around the globe, captured beautifully by Roya Ann Miller.
4. Climate Strikes
Capturing signage from protests will always show visual journalism perfectly, as proven in this image of a climate strike taken by Markus Spiske.
5. Celebrities Out and About
This style of photojournalism combines artistic events with celebrities living their lives, like this shot of Sean Oko Lennon at Fashion Night Out NYC by Paul La Rosa.
6. Indigenous Culture
Again, any image centered on culture will likely be an excellent example of visual journalism, as indicated in this shot of an indigenous local maker in Colombia taken by Roxanne Desgagnés.
7. Major Sports
Major sports also classify as photojournalism, which is executed perfectly in this incredible group shot of France’s International Athletics Meeting by Nicolas Hoizey.
8. Music Icons
A photographic essay that spotlights someone in the public eye, such as a singer with an upcoming album release, is also a great example of visual journalism — as shown in this example of celebrity photography with Beyoncé on the cover of Vogue taken by Emily Bauman.
9. Children in Rural Areas
Another excellent example of photojournalism centers on subjects in rural or lower-income areas. This allows middle-class citizens to see what a simpler life looks like, which is captured beautifully in this shot of children on a playground in Himachal Pradesh by Siddhant Soni.
Highlighting those with disabilities is another top example of visual journalism, which allows us to see challenges we couldn’t even begin to imagine — as illustrated in this image in Hong Kong from Red John.
11. Labor Issues
Labor issues in the form of unfavorable working conditions or even just cultural pride in humble work environments for local makers is another leading example of photojournalism, as shown in this photo by Pham Yen.
Poverty is another critical branch of visual journalism.
Whether showing homeless people on urban streets or an impoverished family in rural California, it’s a prominent theme in the best photographic essays.
Take this photo below from the New York Public Library as an example, which is actually from a well-known collection showcasing farm laborers by Dorothea Lange.
13. Influencer Culture
Another modern example of photojournalism focuses on social media and influencer culture. Many appreciate the behind-the-scenes element influencers share whether posting as a local foodie or a fashion icon, as represented in this picture by Eaters Collective.
Pollution of any kind will always be a solid example of photojournalism. This photo by Ahmer Kalam showing the visible smoke affecting New York’s air from Canadian wildfire fires is incredibly moving.
Photojournalism has strong roots in war coverage. This photo by Yurii Khomitskyi encouraging Ukrainians to never give up is an empowering image of visual journalism.
You should also read about these famous war photographers who documented conflict from the frontlines.
Schools tend to be an excellent setting for photojournalism, and what’s more relevant in today’s world than high school students wearing masks to school or small children wearing them while learning? Shown here in this photo by Kelly Sikkema.
17. Public breastfeeding
While many may think of political events when it comes to photojournalism, pivotal everyday moments in life count too.
Take breastfeeding for example! Some women are shamed into not doing this totally natural act in public, which is why I love this shot from Dave Clubb showing his wife breastfeeding their baby.
18. Mass transit
Because we can be surrounded by so many walks of life within public transportation, mass transit is another wonderful example of photojournalism, as shown in this photo by JC Gellidon.
19. High-risk Workers
High-risk labor is another great, though a possibly unexpected, form of photojournalism. Perfectly illustrating the careful balance of life and death with everyday work, Nuno Silva captures commercial window cleaners.
20. Risky Work Meets Entertainment
As we know, entertainment and sports can also fall under the photojournalism umbrella. And the cool thing about this image from Komorebi Photo is that it combines the risky world of racecar driving with the entertainment element that includes a large audience of spectators.
21. World Leaders
We couldn’t end this list of examples without discussing world leaders! This shot of former US President Barack Obama from History in HD during his presidency is an equally simple and strong example of photojournalism.
What are the Ethical Rules of Photojournalism?
Good photojournalism aims to treat subjects with dignity and respect with content that’s comprehensive, accurate, and free from manipulations or other camera enhancements.
Followers of good photojournalism also ensure other journalists are treated with respect and have access to the same news story they do.
To learn more about the ethics of photojournalism, visit the NPPA’s website.
What are the Guidelines for Captioning in Photojournalism?
Typically, captions for photojournalism are structured as complete sentences.
As detailed in NPR’s style guide, all captions should be closely examined for accuracy and typos and should cover the subject, the location, the event, the background, and why it’s significant.
And while different publications adhere to different style guides, let’s continue using NPR as an example. As opposed to commas, NPR captions will have parentheses to show who’s in the photo — e.g., Local restaurant owner Sean Husk (left) and his wife step outside for fresh air.
In short, remember to always check which style guide the company or publication you’re working for uses before captioning!