Cellphones with cameras bring snapshot photos into view every day. But, I doubt communication improves. What story does a photo of a dinner plate tell Facebook viewers? You had to be there to know.
At the Missouri Photo Workshop in Boonville, 39 photographers came to learn to communicate with their cameras. The week-long MU learning taught far more than pictures.
Photography changed so much in 71 years in the life of the workshop. Cameras changed. Photo distribution changed. Storytelling changed.
Now the workshop name should say “photojournalism” instead of “photo.” In my introductory talk I told that photojournalism means pictures AND words.
We used to think photos told stories. A myth survives: “A photo is worth a thousand words.” Photos done right are powerful. It’s astounding how efficient photos convey impact and details. But every photo raises more questions than it answers. Without added words, photos can mislead. We bring our own ideas to each photo.
Words clarify and expand meanings. Words improve visuals. Every photograph deserves at least a few words.
In photojournalism there should be at least a couple of lines of text with each photo to answer questions. They’re called “captions.”
Basic questions captions answer: Who, What, When, Where and maybe Why. These are basics of a news story. Another question to be told in the attached story is “How.” That’s a tough one, not answered in few words.
At the workshop, there’s more to learn. It’s about story telling. A series of photos tell powerful stories. That’s the main assignment for the week. Find a situation to be told in 10 or 12 photos.
The main mandate for the week: “No posed pictures.” This aims to keep photos true to the scene with no outside influence. This takes watching, waiting and learning before snapping the shutter. Photos must be true.
If the rules of the workshop were followed by all Facebook photographers, there’d be fewer pictures for us to see. Selfies by their nature are “posed,” not “decisive moments.” What a change in impact.
Every family snapshot maker can improve photo documents of kinfolk. Try it. It’s not sneaky; it’s unobtrusive and honest documents.
After a week, photographers go away changed, if they paid attention.
Over time photographers attending the workshop changed dramatically. In olden days it attracted press photographers. They were sent by newspapers to improve their story-telling photos. Now few newspapers pay photographers to leave work for a week. Mostly, these are young photographers still seeking jobs or active freelancers.
They come skilled in photo mechanics. They outrank me coping with digital cameras and computers. My transition was slow. But, they lack story-telling skills. They’re raised seeing Twitter and Facebook images. Most of all, they need concise writing skills of journalism.
Here’s where family snapshot recorders can benefit. Learn to add words to all photo shows. Cover basic questions raised by your photos. Who are these people? Confirm what they seem to do.
Add words to digital formats. Add words to every page of family albums. Include names and dates to help next generations learn family history.
Here’s a huge skill that improves story telling. Cull the take. Don’t show all that you shoot. Show only your best story-telling photo.
With digital camera, you can shoot hundreds of images in one event. Do not show all. If you shoot three photos, one will be better than the other two. Use your best one.
Editing made workshoppers sweat. They are limited to making 400 frames for the week. They squealed at that rule. But, limiting photos makes editing down to a 12-photo story much easier.
Your viewers will thank you, if you edit.
Cliff Edom, MU professor, started teaching photojournalism, the first in the nation. He created the name. His ideas continue to grow and be taught today, an amazing legacy to uphold. Our workshop teachers come from top U.S. media. They donate their skills.
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