Photojournalism along with reportage is a particular form of journalism (the collecting, editing, and presenting of news material for publication or broadcast) that creates images in order to tell a news story. It is now usually understood to refer only to still images, but in some cases the term also refers to video used in broadcast journalism. Photojournalism is distinguished from other close branches of photography (e.g., documentary photography, social documentary photography, street photography or celebrity photography) by complying with a rigid ethical framework which demands that the work is both honest and impartial whilst telling the story in strictly journalistic terms. Photojournalists create pictures that contribute to the news media.
Timeliness — the images have meaning in the context of a recently published record of events.
Objectivity — the situation implied by the images is a fair and accurate representation of the events they depict in both content and tone.
Narrative — the images combine with other news elements to make facts relatable to the viewer or reader on a cultural level.
Like a writer, a photojournalist is a reporter but he or she must often make decisions instantly and carry photographic equipment, often while exposed to significant obstacles (e.g., physical danger, weather, crowds).
Origins in war photography
The practice of illustrating news stories with photographs was made possible by printing and photography innovations that occurred in the mid 19th century. Although early illustrations had appeared in newspapers, such as an illustration of the funeral of Lord Horatio Nelson in The Times (1806), the first weekly illustrated newspaper was the Illustrated London News, first printed in 1842. The illustrations were printed with the use of engravings.
During the Crimean War, the ILN pioneered the birth of early photojournalism by printing pictures of the war that had been taken by Roger Fenton. Fenton was the first official war photographer and his work documenting the effects of the war on the troops, laid the groundwork for modern photojournalism. Other photographers of the war included William Simpson and Carol Szathmari. Similarly, the American Civil War photographs of Mathew Brady were engraved before publication in Harper's Weekly. Disaster, including train wrecks and city fires, were also a popular subject for illustrated newspapers in these early days.
The printing of images in newspapers remained an isolated occurrence in this period - photos were used to enhance the text rather than to act as a medium of information in its own right. This began to change with the work of one of the pioneers of photojournalism, John Thomson, in the late 1870s. In collaboration with the radical journalist Adolphe Smith, he began publishing a monthly magazine, Street Life in London, from 1876 to 1877. The project documented in photographs and text, the lives of the street people of London and established social documentary photography as a form of photojournalism. Instead of the images acting as a supplement to the text, he pioneered the use of printed photographs as the predominant medium for the imparting of information, successfully combining photography with the printed word.
On March 4, 1880, The Daily Graphic (New York) published the first halftone (rather than engraved) reproduction of a news photograph. In 1887, flash powder was invented, enabling journalists such as Jacob Riis to photograph informal subjects indoors, which led to the landmark work How the Other Half Lives. By 1897, it became possible to reproduce halftone photographs on printing presses running at full speed.
In France, agencies such as Rol, Branger and Chusseau-Flaviens (ca. 1880-1910) syndicated photographs from around the world to meet the need for timely new illustration. Despite these innovations, limitations remained, and many of the sensational newspaper and magazine stories in the period from 1897 to 1927 were illustrated with engravings. In 1921, the wirephoto made it possible to transmit pictures almost as quickly as news itself could travel.
The "Golden Age of Photojournalism" is often considered to be roughly the 1930s through the 1950s. It was made possible by the development of the commercial 35mm Leica camera in 1925, and the first flash bulbs between 1927 and 1930 that allowed the journalist true flexibility in taking pictures.
A new style of magazine and newspaper sprung up that used photography more than text to tell their stories. The (Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung was the first to pioneer the format of the illustrated news magazine. Beginning in 1901, it began to print photographs inside the magazine, a revolutionary innovation. In the successive decades, it was developed into the prototype of the modern news magazine.
It pioneered the photo-essay, had a specialised staff and production unit for pictures and maintained a photo library. It also introduced the use of candid photographs taken with the new smaller cameras.
The magazine sought out reporters who could tell a story using photographs, notably the pioneer sports photographer Martin Munkácsi, the first staff photographer, and Erich Salomon, one of the founders of photojournalism.
Other magazines included, Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung (Berlin), Vu (France), Life (USA), Look (USA), Picture Post (London)); and newspapers, The Daily Mirror (London) and The New York Daily News. Famous photographers of the era included Robert Capa, Romano Cagnoni, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White and W. Eugene Smith.
Henri Cartier-Bresson is held by some to be the father of modern photojournalism, although this appellation has been applied to various other photographers, such as Erich Salomon, whose candid pictures of political figures were novel in the 1930s.
Soldier Tony Vaccaro is also recognized as one of the pre-eminent photographers of World War II. His images taken with the modest Argus C3 captured horrific moments in war, similar to Capa's soldier being shot. Capa himself was on Omaha Beach on D-Day and captured pivotal images of the conflict on that occasion. Vaccaro is also known for having developed his own images in soldier's helmets, and using chemicals found in the ruins of a camera store in 1944.
Until the 1980s, most large newspapers were printed with turn-of-the-century "letterpress" technology using easily smudged oil-based ink, off-white, low-quality "newsprint" paper, and coarse engraving screens. While letterpresses produced legible text, the photoengraving dots that formed pictures often bled or smeared and became fuzzy and indistinct. In this way, even when newspapers used photographs well — a good crop, a respectable size — murky reproduction often left readers re-reading the caption to see what the photo was all about. The Wall Street Journal adopted stippled hedcuts in 1979 to publish portraits and avoid the limitations of letterpress printing. Not until the 1980s had a majority of newspapers switched to "offset" presses that reproduce photos with fidelity on better, whiter paper.
By contrast Life, one of America's most popular weekly magazines from 1936 through the early 1970s, was filled with photographs reproduced beautifully on oversize 11×14-inch pages, using fine engraving screens, high-quality inks, and glossy paper. Life often published a United Press International (UPI) or Associated Press (AP) photo that had been first reproduced in newspapers, but the quality magazine version appeared to be a different photo altogether. In large part because their pictures were clear enough to be appreciated, and because their name always appeared with their work, magazine photographers achieved near-celebrity status. Life became a standard by which the public judged photography, and many of today's photo books celebrate "photojournalism" as if it had been the exclusive province of near-celebrity magazine photographers.
Many photographic magazines celebrated the human spirit during the Second World War and when the war ended there was an optimistic period in the USA and Europe of unbridled consumerism and a general belief that things could only get better. The magazines celebrated humanism and the sense that anything was possible. Even if they showed poverty and hunger it was with an underlying message that by exposing it to public scrutiny things would improve.
In 1947 a few famous photographers founded the international photographic cooperative Magnum Photos. In 1989 Corbis Corporation and in 1993 Getty Images were founded. These powerful image libraries sell the rights to photographs and other still images.
The Golden Age of Photojournalism ended in the 1970s when many photo-magazines ceased publication. They found that they could not compete with other media for advertising revenue to sustain their large circulations and high costs. Still, those magazines taught journalism much about the photographic essay and the power of the still images.
However, since the late 1970s, photojournalism and documentary photography have increasingly been accorded a place in art galleries alongside fine art photography. Luc Delahaye, Manuel Rivera-Ortiz and the members of VII Photo Agency are among many who regularly exhibit in galleries and museums.
The Danish Union of Press Photographers (Pressefotografforbundet) was the first national organization for newspaper photographers in the world. It was founded in 1912 in Copenhagen, Denmark by six press photographers. Today it has over 800 members.
The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) was founded in 1946 in the U.S., and has about 10,000 members. Others around the world include the British Press Photographers Association (BPPA) founded in 1984, then relaunched in 2003, and now has around 450 members. Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (1989), Northern Ireland Press Photographers Association (2000), Pressfotografernas Klubb (Sweden, 1930), and PK — Pressefotografenes Klubb (Norway).
News organizations and journalism schools run many different awards for photojournalists. Since 1968, Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded for the following categories of photojournalism: 'Feature Photography', 'Spot News Photography'. Other awards are World Press Photo, Best of Photojournalism, and Pictures of the Year as well as the UK based The Press Photographer's Year.
Ethical and legal considerations
Photojournalism works within the same ethical approaches to objectivity that are applied by other journalists. What to shoot, how to frame and how to edit are constant considerations. Photographing news for an assignment is one of the most ethical problems photographers face. Photojournalists have a moral responsibility to decide what pictures to take, what picture to stage, and what pictures to show the public. For example, photographs of violence and tragedy are prevalent in American journalism because as an understated rule of thumb, that "if it bleeds, it reads". The public is attracted to gruesome photographs and dramatic stories. A lot of controversy arises when deciding which photographs are too violent to show the public.
Photographs of the dead or injured arise controversy because more often than not, the name of person depicted in the photograph is not given in the caption. The family of the person is often not informed of the photograph until they see it published. The photograph of the street execution of a suspected Viet Cong soldier during the Vietnam War provoked a lot of interest because it captured the exact moment of death. The family of the victim was also not informed that the picture would run publicly.
Other issues involving photojournalism include the right to privacy and the compensation of the news subject. Especially regarding pictures of violence, photojournalists face the ethical dilemma of whether or not to publish images of the victims. The victim's right to privacy is sometimes not addressed or the picture is printed without their knowledge or consent. The compensation of the subject is another issue. Subjects often want to be paid in order for the picture to be published, especially if the picture is of a controversial subject.
Another major issue of photojournalism is photo manipulation – what degree is acceptable? Some pictures are simply manipulated for color enhancement, whereas others are manipulated to the extent where people are edited in or out of the picture. War photography has always been a genre of photojournalism that is frequently staged. Due to the bulkiness and types of cameras present during past wars in history, it was rare when a photograph could capture a spontaneous news event. Subjects were carefully composed and staged in order to capture better images. Another ethical issue is false or misleading captioning. The 2006 Lebanon War photographs controversies is a notable example of some of these issue, and see photo manipulation: use in journalism for other examples.
The emergence of digital photography offers whole new realms of opportunity for the manipulation, reproduction, and transmission of images. It has inevitably complicated many of the ethical issues involved.
Often, ethical conflicts can be mitigated or enhanced by the actions of a sub-editor or picture editor, who takes control of the images once they have been delivered to the news organization. The photojournalist often has no control as to how images are ultimately used.
The United States National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) is a professional society that acknowledges concern for the public's right to freedom in searching for truth in a photograph and the public's right to be informed about the events that occur in the world. Since the same ethical approaches are applied to photojournalism as to other journalism forms, photographs should illustrate news in an object manner to keep the public accurately informed. The following are the Code of Ethics that the members of NPPA follow:
- The practice of photojournalism, both as a science and art, is worthy of the very best thought and effort of those who enter into it as a profession.
- Photojournalism affords an opportunity to serve the public that is equaled by few other vocations and all members of the profession should strive by example and influence to maintain high standards of ethical conduct free of mercenary considerations of any kind.
- It is the individual responsibility of every photojournalist at all times to strive for pictures that report truthfully, honestly and objectively.
- Business promotion in its many forms is essential, but untrue statements of any nature are not worthy of a professional photojournalist and we severely condemn any such practice.
- It is our duty to encourage and assist all members of our profession, individually and collectively, so that the quality of photojournalism may constantly be raised to higher standards.
- It is the duty of every photojournalist to work to preserve all freedom-of-the-press rights recognized by law and to work to protect and expand freedom-of-access to all sources of news and visual information.
- Our standards of business dealings, ambitions and relations shall have in them a note of sympathy for our common humanity and shall always require us to take into consideration our highest duties as members of society.
- In every situation in our business life, in every responsibility that comes before us, our chief thought shall be to fulfill that responsibility and discharge that duty so that when each of us is finished we shall have endeavored to lift the level of human ideals and achievement higher than we found it.
- No Code of Ethics can prejudge every situation, thus common sense and good judgment are required in applying ethical principles.
- Laws regarding photography can vary significantly from nation to nation. The legal situation is further complicated when one considers that photojournalism made in one country will often be published in many other countries.
The impact of new technologies
Smaller, lighter cameras greatly enhanced the role of the photojournalist. Since the 1960s, motor drives, electronic flash, auto-focus, better lenses and other camera enhancements have made picture taking easier. New digital cameras free photojournalists from the limitation of film roll length, as thousands of images can be stored on a single memory card.
Content remains the most important element of photojournalism, but the ability to extend deadlines with rapid gathering and editing of images has brought significant changes. As recently as 15 years ago, nearly 30 minutes were needed to scan and transmit a single color photograph from a remote location to a news office for printing. Now, equipped with a digital camera, a mobile phone and a laptop computer, a photojournalist can send a high-quality image in minutes, even seconds after an event occurs. Camera phones and portable satellite links increasingly allow for the mobile transmission of images from almost any point on the earth.
There is some concern by news photographers that the profession of photojournalism as it is known today could change to such a degree that it is unrecognizable as image-capturing technology naturally progresses. Citizen journalism and the increase in user contribution and submission of amateur photos to news sites is becoming more widespread. As early as the Crimean War in the mid-19th century, photographers were using the novel technology of the box camera to record images of British soldiers in the field. However, the widespread use of cameras as a way of reporting news did not come until the advent of smaller, more portable cameras that used the enlargeable film negative to record images. The introduction of the 35 mm Leica camera in the 1930s made it possible for photographers to move with the action, taking shots of events as they were unfolding.
The age of the citizen journalist and the attainment of news photos from amateur bystanders have contributed to the art of photojournalism. Paul Levinson attributes this shift to the Kodak camera, one of the first cheap and accessible photo technologies that "put a piece of visual reality into every person's potential grasp." The empowered news audience with the advent of the Internet sparked the creation of blogs, podcasts and online news, independent of the traditional outlets, and "for the first time in our history, the news increasingly is produced by companies outside journalism". Dan Chung, a former photojournalist for The Guardian and Reuters, believes that professional photojournalists will have to adapt to video to make a living.