The picture story is a news or feature story that uses pictures rather than words as the main vehicle for presenting its information and ideas.
The picture story must be about topics that are inherently visual and that can satisfy the needs of the storyteller and the medium that is used. Picture stories are a standard and long-standing form for print, especially newspapers. Magazines such as Life and Look – which thrived in the mid 20th century – were made up mostly of picture stories.
Those magazines have either died or been greatly diminished, but the picture story is still a powerful medium. The we has given new life to the picture story and in some ways has made it an even more potent storytelling tool.
Photojournalists who want to develop picture stories should take into account the following considerations:
- Central idea. As with any story – text or picture – there should be a central idea that can be stated in one or two sentences. For the picture story, the central idea might be something like this: “This story shows what a farrier has to do to shoe a horse.” (For this example, see http://tnjn.com/2007/mar/01/local-farrier-brings-new-trick/.)
- Who. The people involved in a story are usually the most important elements of that story. The photojournalist should have a clear idea of who is involved in the story and what it will take to get good photographs of them. (Do you need to get permissions before shooting? Etc.) The photojournalist should also think about the relationships between the people involved in the story and be prepared to capture those relationships.
- Where. The location of a story is a most important consideration for the photojournalist. What are the visual settings? How can the three types of photos (see module 6.3 <link>) be taken? What kind of light is in this setting? Do you need permission to photograph in this place?
- Action and movement. What type of actions are involved in this story? The photojournalist must think about what, where and when the actions will be and which of them is important for conveying the story. Getting into position to photograph those actions constitutes good planning and good strategy on the part of the photographer.
- Expression and emotion. Is this a happy story or a sad one? Does this story contain determination, contentment or resignation? Is there excitement generated by this story? If any of these or other emotions are involved, how can they be photographed? The photojournalist tries to capture the major emotions of the story as he or she approaches the subject. The expressions of people in the story are the most common way of getting at these emotions, but they are not the only way. Movement and composition can also convey emotions.
- Order and sequence. This is a particularly important consideration for photo stories that appear on web sites. In there a natural order to the pictures that are being taken? If the story is about an event or process, the natural order might be chronological – from first to last. The subject of the story may dictate another order, however. This is something the photographer should have worked out before the pictures are taken.
Even with these considerations in mind, the photojournalist should always be ready for the surprise and the unexpected thing to happen and should always be ready to snap the shutter.
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