Photojournalism – Not what you think

By Chiang Chee Keat

Striving in the 21st century, media practitioners especially photojournalists play a vital role in making sure the public receives the right and accurate message through a mixture of visuals and words. One has to know that visuals such as photographs and words should complement each other. Although there is a saying, a photograph is worth a thousand words; however, without a good caption or cutline, the photograph will have no meaning. It is always sad that the public thinks that photojournalism is a laid-back job and needs only to deal with photograph-taking. This is a false perception whereby a photojournalist’s job is more than that.



Take for example a photojournalist assigned to an evacuated town to capture the aftermath of a catastrophe such as an earthquake. A photograph of a calendar captured in a victim’s house can be very meaningful. It tells the date when the earthquake struck the place and that victims were forced to flee for their lives, thus leaving their homes behind. This photograph will need words to describe and explain the incident. In this case, a caption – not just an ordinary caption, a good caption. Without good caption to comprehend the photograph, it will be just a plain photography of a calendar.

Besides, the work of photojournalists is not as simple as taking photographs and writing captions. This is because they always find themselves caught in an ethical dilemma during assignments. When accidents happen, aid should be provided first before taking photographs. This is always a major issue faced by photojournalists. For instance, the famous photojournalist Kevin Carter, a Pulitzer Prize recipient for feature photography, depicting Sudan’s famine in the year of 1993, caught himself in a situation on whether he should provide assistance or take photographs. He chose the latter and he captured the photograph of a vulture preying on a hungry kid and he suffered from his decision as many criticised his actions. Three months after he received the Pulitzer Prize, he committed suicide as a result of depression.

All the above make the work as the lecturer for the course of photojournalism interesting yet challenging. The first and foremost is to change the perception of students towards photojournalism. Therefore, during classes, students are exposed to how photojournalists work. They are taught real case studies that happen in Malaysia and overseas. This is also to prepare them with what is coming ahead if they were to venture into photojournalism.

Developing good photography skills is the next thing to look into. It is essential that the students are taught with the proper techniques in handling a digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR). Thus, learning how to deal with shutter-speed, aperture and ISO in tutorial classes is inevitable. The teaching of basic composition, lighting and close-up also helps students to capture good news photographs. Only after that, students are given the chance to practise their skills through a series of outings.

Lastly, learning to write good captions is important. In this segment, students are taught on how to write good captions for photographs. For this, students in the class are given ample exercises in writing a good caption. They are also taught the dos and don’ts when writing captions. As the result, they can write better captions rather than just stating what is already obvious to the readers.


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