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What is Photojournalism?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Photojournalism is a branch of journalism characterized by the use of images to tell a story. The images in a piece may be accompanied by explanatory text or shown independently, with the images themselves narrating the events they depict. Photojournalists can be found working all over the world, from the halls of the White House to the steppes of Asia, and they deal with a broad assortment of situations on a daily basis. Many major newspapers have photojournalists on staff, and others rely on photographs included in a press pool by freelance photojournalists.

People have been using images to depict events for centuries, from rock paintings to engravings in major newspapers. The first big event to be captured in photography was the Crimean War, establishing the groundwork for the professional field. Initially, photographs were often used to accompany text stories to provide some variation and visual interest, but over time, images began to be used more exclusively to narrate stories in the media.

The field is distinct from that of documentary photography. Although both involve taking photographs which are objective, honest, and informative, photojournalism involves photographing specific events, while documentary photography focuses on ongoing situations. A photographer who follows traditional farmers in rural England is a documentary photographer, but one who takes pictures of the aftermath of a suicide bombing for publication in the news is a photojournalist.

Both film and digital cameras, along with video cameras, can be used. The equipment tends to be state of the art, with many photojournalists seeking out lightweight, rugged equipment so that they are not hindered by the tools of their trade. Getting the perfect picture can also involve a fair amount of danger, as it involves being present on the front lines of an event. At the Queen of England's garden party, this may not be terribly risky, but photographers who work in war zones and in periods of civil unrest face significant risks.

Some people pursue a career in photojournalism with self-taught skills, usually in combination with a series of internships at newspapers and press organizations. It is also possible to receive an education in this field at a college or university. A degree can increase a young journalist's chances of being accepted for an internship and further training, but it is not required. This career is best suited for active people who enjoy being out in the world and are willing to take risks.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon963136 — On Jul 28, 2014

I think it is not dangerous but the way you use and unethical altering may cause it to be dangerous.

By anon318701 — On Feb 08, 2013

This helps a lot with a project I'm doing. I'm actually considering becoming a photojournalist myself. Thanks!

By jlmk — On Feb 13, 2011

One thing to keep in mind if you decide to go into this field, is photojournalism ethics. One ethical issue is the altering of pictures, something you probably don't want to do. Some people have been known to alter pictures that are used to report news. It can be said that this isn't ethical, because it can alter the way the story is represented. If you're using pictures to report the news, you still want to stick with the truth.

By upnorth31 — On Feb 10, 2011

Not all photojournalism is dangerous. I have always wanted to go into wedding photojournalism. I love photography and I love weddings, so a combination of the two just makes sense.

I would love to be able to take pictures that tell the story of a couple's wedding -- one of the most important days in their life. Now, those are important pictures.

By elizabeth2 — On Feb 07, 2011

A photojournalism career sounds very exciting! It would be so thrilling to be right there as news is happening. Of course, it does sound like it can be dangerous at times, but that's half of the fun! I know it might sound kind of crazy, but that's why not every job is for every person. To me, as a person who loves photography and adventure, it sounds perfect.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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