We asked five experienced editorial photographers for their best behind-the-scenes tips on how to capture powerful, timeless images. Here’s their advice.
According to a 2018 survey from Gallup and Knight Foundation, more than eighty percent of Americans believe that the news media is critical and/or important to democracy. Two-thirds of the 19,000 respondents said they relied on television for their news, followed by internet news sources.
The media we consume helps shape our understanding of history, as well as directs our actions in the present. Editorial photos (online and in print) are as important as they’ve ever been. For emerging photojournalists, now is an exciting time to be covering events on a local, national, and global scale.
So, here’s how five experienced editorial photographers capture compelling, dynamic images of critical news moments, whether it’s a local protest or a presidential nominating convention.
1. Stay Up-to-Date on Local News
“If I don’t have a scheduled event to shoot, I’ll peruse The LA Times, The New York Times, and my local paper for ideas,” Los Angeles-based photographer Karl Sonnenberg tells us. “My wife is probably my greatest source because she’s a voracious reader.
“Think not only national news, but local, and get your shots up as quickly as you can. Even if you’re a little late to the game, many of the things you shoot will come up again months, even years, later. If you see something that would make a great shot, take it!”
2. Follow Several Media Outlets (and Other Photographers)
Following the news and getting alerts about the latest headlines is the best way to stay on top of what’s unfolding in your area. And, make sure you have multiple sources of information.
“The stories that I cover — be it either demonstrations or political leaders’ visits — are mostly news material. So, I find it is always essential to make sure I have an updated list, with media outlets that I follow, and plan accordingly,” Brussels-based photographer Alexandros Michailidis explains.
“Also, I recommend following the latest developments in the global photography industry. Follow photographers and artists who cover stories that are similar to the ones you want to cover. This can help you evolve and develop your eye more quickly.”
3. Arrive Early
“When shooting an event, always arrive earlier than you think you need to, and bring a sandwich or some sort of snack with you,” London-based photographer Sandor Szmutko advises. “There’s always something happening around us. You just need to be present and ready, with the camera in your hand. When I’m not shooting events, I’m browsing the internet in search of new happenings in my city — so I can get there right away.”
4. Talk to People
This tip comes to us from Cory Seamer, a photographer and blogger based in Brooklyn, New York. “When shooting at protests and rallies, if I see someone with a striking look, or a sign that captures the spirit of the moment, I’ll ask them to pose for a photo, in addition to getting some candid shots,” he tells us.
“Sometimes, the posed photos create a more intimate connection to the viewer or bring out more of an individual’s personality. Keep in mind: Many of the best people to shoot at a protest are the ones already looking to be seen and heard, so they are usually willing to oblige — especially if they know the images may be used by the media.”
5. Be Brave
“In my opinion, one of the main mistakes that photographers make is that they are scared to take pictures,” Szmutko adds. “But you need to remember, most of the time you’re in a public space or at a registered event, and you have every right to take photos, and there’s no need for you to be afraid.”
The photographer is quick to point out that being fearless doesn’t mean being disrespectful. It just means seizing the moment, while also respecting the rights of the people around you. “One of the main rules is never to offend anyone with your behavior,” he says. “Most of the time, following common sense is the right way to go.”
6. Be Selective
For an editorial photographer, there’s never a shortage of subjects to cover. However, London-based photographer Diana Vucane stresses the importance of choosing events wisely. “Find a good, trustworthy online source for upcoming events, rallies, and protests, and transfer those to your diary,” she suggests. “That way, when presented with other work opportunities, you can weigh out whether the event is significant enough to turn the other job down. Ask yourself, ‘Would the content and potential income of the event outweigh the benefits of the alternative commitment?’
“Have a scale in your mind for the importance of the event: Is it a one-off rally that has a very localized meaning, or an event that will remain topical — and keep selling — for a long time (like environmental issues)?
“This will help you prioritize and be more selective with what events you’re attending, as it can get overwhelming to have too much content. Some topics may run out of relevance by the time you’ve uploaded and keyworded your photos, especially if you mean to edit!
“Once you’re on location, try to be selective with what you shoot, as well. The fear of missing out can send you into a panic that gets you shooting everything. Try to get to a place where you only take a picture if it is at least as good or special or better than the best photo you’ve taken so far. It’s a good way to condition yourself to make choices on location and spare the overwhelming task of sorting wheat from chaff in Lightroom, or when submitting.”
7. Stay Objective
When covering sensitive subjects, it’s easy to get wrapped up in your own opinions and biases, but Michailidis warns against making quick judgments. “One of the most common mistakes I notice is when photographers cover an event or a demonstration with a lack of objectivity,” he tells us. “We have to make sure we stay objective throughout the process, setting aside our enthusiasm or other feelings.
“This is, of course, something that comes with time and experience. You learn how to be objective in the process of covering different kinds of events. As photographers, we are observers, not demonstrators. Remembering this helps us to see what’s going on more clearly, and to communicate it more effectively.”
8. Know Your Gear
When you’re covering an event, you need to be able to change your settings and navigate surprises in an instant. That means practicing and knowing your gear like the back of your hand. “You should go into any event with the knowledge of how to handle your own equipment, its capabilities, strong points, weak points, and — most of all — its limits,” Michailidis adds. “The same goes for ourselves. It is good to know our strengths and limits, as photographers.”
9. Turn on Burst Mode
“When there is a lot of action, burst mode is your friend,” Seamer tells us. “When there is a lot going on and things are moving quickly, I like to set my camera to shoot in bursts. Many times, when I could have gotten away with taking one or two shots to get a decent photo of the action, I have caught a split-second expression or reaction that I would have missed otherwise, had I not shot a burst.”
9. Pack Multiple Lenses
For various takes on the event, pack a few different lenses. Image by Cory Seamer.
“When I’m going to shoot a protest or other kinetic event, I like to have three lenses: a telephoto lens, a fast prime lens, and a wide-angle lens,” Seamer adds. “A telephoto lens can be very useful if you want to be far away from the action. I use my fast prime lens for lower light situations, or for when I want a shallow depth of field. I keep my wide angle with me to get a few overall shots of an event, or to include more context in my pictures.”
11. Look for the Unexpected
“One of my photography mentors gave me some sage advice,” Sonnenberg recalls. “When you’re out shooting an event, and all the cameras are pointed in the same direction, don’t forget to look behind you, because you could miss a great moment that all the forward-facing cameras are missing. Also, try to shoot from different angles — low, high, wide, close — don’t just shoot from eye level.”
12. Find Iconic Moments
“When I shoot protests, demonstrations, and similarly newsworthy events, I’m looking for two main types of shots,” Sonnenberg tells us. “One is interesting protester signs. These sell well, and they sell many times over. The second is the hardest, and that’s capturing a shot that grabs emotion — excitement, sadness, anger — whatever holds the truth.”
Top image by Diana Vucane.
Want more tips on creating impactful editorial content? Check these out.
The Art of Protest: A History of Resistance in DesignFrom Washington to Tokyo, Climate Change Protests In 201911 Rules All Successful Editorial Photographers FollowSix Photographers on How to Take Iconic Photos of ProtestsPhotographic Activism: Why These Artists Are on the Ground
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