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Practical information for the photojournalist

Photojournalism and all Photography (when done well) is a very complex thing, there are many factors involved that will affect the final image. Photographing in an emotionally and psychologically charged situation can be very difficult at best and downright dangerous in some situations. Photojournalism requires a Zen-like discipline of concentration and the ability to divide your attention between the real space and time around you and the more abstract space and time through the camera lens. How is this achieved? … I really couldn’t tell you, it truly is a Zen thing; however… what I can tell you is this:

The Necessary Equipment for the Photojournalist:

Numbered Illustration of Camera Gear You need exactly what you need, nothing less will do, anything more is just s**t that gets in the way.

1. Photographers vest. I have found that most every vest made for photographers are inadequate for these reasons: the waist is too low so anything you put in the lower pockets will bang on your thighs when you walk (or run), they are also built too light. The vest I use is a tactical vest I found in a military surplus shop.

2. Main Camera. Fitted with a standard zoom lens (28~70 f/2.8) I will generally shoot in aperture priority in order to control depth of field and prefer to focus manually (I have had a split screen fitted to aid in this) because the camera’s auto focus relies on framing and not what I’m “focused” on.

3. Second Camera. Fitted with telephoto zoom (80~200 f/2.8) When shooting with a long zoom I will generally use shutter priority and set the speed at twice the mid point of the focal length and the ISO to 800~1000 in order to reduce camera shake. However in circumstances where things could be happening rapidly, I will shoot in programmed automatic on both cameras with an ISO of 800 using the cameras spot metering.

4. Wide Zoom Lens. 17~35 mm f/2.8. Useful indoors and in situations where it is not possible to step back to take the shot.

5. High Speed Lens. 50 mm f/1.4. For photographing in very low light shooting

6. Back up Camera body. Because if something is going to break it’s usually the body (aside from the occasional malfunction I have snapped lens mounting rings clean off of the body).

7. Camera Straps. Here again I have found straps made for photographers to be lacking for photojournalists. I use notebook computer case straps (leather Targus Case) This is a very durable strap with a wide curved shoulder pad (in this case neck pad). These straps allow for more adjustment, are by far better suited to carry and distribute the weight of professional camera bodies and lenses also the heavy duty swivel clips keep tangling to a minimum. Even considering the cost of the notebook case (about $100) this is in my opinion a hot deal because it’s a top of the line camera strap that comes with a free leather brief case.

Other Pictured Items:
Compact flash cards, I will only use professional high speed CF cards and carry enough to shoot a minimum of 200 images per hour even on brief assignments I will have 10 2gb SanDisk Extreme IIIs on me.
Attached to the vest and camera straps are small zippered CF card cases. I have one vest pocket dedicated to storing finished cards (used to be 35mm film cans… Harder to loose than CF cards but harder to load on the run as well).

I will also pack enough extra camera batteries to shoot twice as much and twice as long as I actually expect (this has proved to be a saving factor on many assignments.

Some important shooting tips:

Always shoot with both eyes open. This could possibly save you from walking off of a cliff.  It will help keep you oriented in space and time, and can reduce the temporary tunnel vision effect that comes from focusing on a reflex mirror that is only 10 or 20 mm away.

Practice using the controls on the camera. More often than not, you will not have time to stop, look , think and make adjustments, this must become as automatic as breathing. I also strongly recommend that the cameras you use are identical for this same reason.

Showing the motion. When shooting action I will very often “drag the shutter” slightly to show a little motion blur, this takes practice… even a better term for it is this takes training like an athlete. I will walk and shoot moving objects (like cars joggers etc.) just to keep sharp and in practice. Being able to follow and shoot a moving subject is skill that must be honed to an edge.

Some notes I collected along the way:

Carry Identification: The more the better, Passport, Drivers License and Press Credentials even If you are freelance get some (any) news outlet to issue you credentials, this can save you major nightmares. If you do get into a bind without them…try telling your interrogators you are Canadian, this could help Canadians are rarely imprisoned and tortured (I’m kidding…Ay?).

Clearly Identify Yourself. I wear large white lettering that says “PRESS” on the back of my black photographers vest. It is surprising how much a camera looks like a gun, doing this could keep you from being shot by mistake… on the other hand I suppose it could make you a better target… if nothing else it may keep you from being run over by a truck in the dark.
And… If someone. offers you a flack vest… Take it and put it on.


About the Author:
Daniel Colegrove has been a professional photographer for over 25 years. He is active in Copyright, First Amendment and many other ethics and social issues on a national and local level.

Original Article Copyright © 2007 Daniel Colegrove All Rights Reserved