All good journalism requires editing – and that includes pictures.
Editing is a vital part of the photojournalism process, and anyone who takes or works with pictures must know some of the basic principles and procedures. These include selection, cropping, enhancing and sizing.
Many factors go into an editor’s or photojournalist’s decision to use a photograph, and there are no definitive guidelines governing their selection. Two major purposes of publishing photographs are to capture the attention of the reader and to illustrate and supplement the editorial content.
At the beginning of the process of selection the first purpose (capturing the attention of the reader) will most likely be the major consideration. What kinds of photos do people look at? The following are some photographic elements editors consider in the selection process.
- Drama. It is the pictures that tell a story that are most likely to be chosen by an editor for publication. Pictures that have high dramatic quality are those in which readers can clearly tell what is happening; in fact, there may be several things happening, as in an accident scene with someone standing nearby with an anguished expression.
- Emotion. Like dramatic pictures, those with emotional qualities often tell a story. Yet they may also be the type that do not contain highly dramatic or story-telling qualities but rather evoke some emotion in the mind of the viewer. An old journalistic proverb says that readers will always look at pictures of children and animals. These are the kinds of pictures that make the readers feel something.
- Action. Editors and readers are most likely to be drawn to pictures with some action or movement in them. Pictures suggesting movement will be seen and studied by readers more readily than still-life pictures. Even though a photograph by itself cannot move, if its content indicates movement, it can serve as an extremely good attention-capturing device for the editor to use.
- Artistic or technical quality. Here we are talking about the good photograph, the one that has sharp, clear focus and good framing or that presents a subject in an unusual or pleasing manner. This kind of picture often appears in newspapers, especially with the change of seasons.
- Bizarre or unusual subjects. A picture of something unusual, something not likely to be seen by readers in their everyday lives, makes a good candidate for publication. Unusual subjects may stem from the day’s news events, such as a fire or wreck, or they may be simply something a photographer has happened upon or heard about, such as a twelve-pound tomato or an old man’s wizened expression.
- Prominence. Like the news value of the same name, prominence is a quality editors often consider in selecting pictures. Pictures of famous people are always likely candidates for publication, even when they do not contain any of the qualities mentioned above. Readers will look at pictures of famous people, and editors will use such pictures for precisely that reason.
A good picture editor must have a “feel” for spotting the good photograph, one that will capture the attention of the reader, illustrate the editorial content and enhance the overall quality of the publication.
Cropping means taking out parts of a picture. It has two purposes: eliminating unnecessary parts of a picture and emphasizing or enhancing parts of a picture.
Eliminating unnecessary parts of a picture. Some elements of a picture may simply be unnecessary to the subject and purpose of the photograph, and they should be eliminated. Often these parts are not only wasteful but also distracting. An editor must use the space in the paper efficiently, and proper cropping of a photograph is one way to do this. Good, tight cropping of pictures is just as important as editing to eliminate unnecessary parts of a story.
Emphasizing or enhancing parts of a picture. One photograph may contain many pictures within it. A good picture editor must have an eye for these pictures within pictures and must be able to see and choose the picture that best fits the intended purpose. Cropping is a way of bringing out the particular picture the editor wants to use, of emphasizing the part of the picture that readers should notice. A picture that seems ordinary at first glance may be made dramatic by good cropping.
Photographs often need some adjustments or enhancements. Photo editing software allows photojournalists to change the brightness, enhance the color or even increase the sharpness of a picture. Photo editors should learn to use these with two principles in mind:
1. It’s better to do too little to a picture than too much.
2. The basic subject matter of the picture should never be changed.
Sizing and scaling
Scaling is the process of changing the size of a picture area by enlarging or reducing it while keeping the proportions of the original. Once an editor has selected and cropped a photograph for use in a publication, chances are the picture will not be the exact size needed. Enlargement or reduction will probably be needed to make the picture fit the standard column widths of the publication. When that reduction or enlargement is made, the editor will have to find out how deep the reproduction of the picture will be.
An editor may also have to change the resolution of the picture or the dpi (dots per inch), especially if the picture is going to be put on a web site. The best dpi for web pictures is 72.
The concept of proportionality must be understood by those who work with the scaling process. For our purposes, proportionality means that the width and depth of a picture must stay in the same proportion to each other whether the picture is enlarged or reduced. Let’s say a cropped picture is two inches wide and four inches deep — that the depth is twice the width. Given these dimensions, it does not matter how much the picture is enlarged or reduced; the depth will always be twice the width. The proportion must remain the same. The only way it can be changed is to re-crop the picture.
Here’s a very short video tutorial on resizing your photo in Photoshop. While the instructions are specific to Photoshop, the general principles and the specific steps are the same in most other photo editing programs:
Sign-up for Jim's newsletter
Jim Stovall has a newsletter he uses to get in touch with those who like what he writes. Subscribers get advanced notice of publications, free downloads and a variety of information about what he is working on. He would love to have you on the list, so sign up today.