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Tuesday, 21 February 2012






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When pictures cry out the news

When pictures cry out the news - Head Line

A religious rite

Today we focus on newspapers, magazines and online publications, looking at how they can use pictures to tell the news. Equally important are other types of graphics and the captions to pictures. It has often been said throughout time that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Any picture may be worth a thousand words, but only a few rare photographs tell more than a thousand words. They tell a powerful story, a story poignant enough to change the world and galvanize each of us. Over and over again there have been pictures that have got the world's attention with their poignancy, humour or a touch of romanticism. These are rare frozen moments in time that were published by various journals internationally.

Most print media use a combination of words and pictures to convey the news, but some only use words. If you have ever seen a newspaper with no pictures, you will observe that it is pretty unattractive. Obviously you are not enamoured to read it. It looks as though it will be dull and hard work, and readers are therefore put off. Without a complementary graphic a story is also limited in its ability to tell the news accurately.

A newspaper cover

When we talk about 'pictures,' we usually refer to photographs. But there are other kinds of pictures, too. Good sketches, paintings and other graphics also work well as news pictures.

There are three primary reasons why newspapers need news pictures. One is to brighten the page and make it more attractive. A page without a picture is just a slab of jaded grey text. It looks boring, hard on the eye and many people will not bother to read what is written on it.

That would actually be sad if some of those stories are well researched and well written, but it is true. The readers who pay money for a newspaper expect their job to be made easy for them. They expect the news to have been sorted out into big stories and little stories, in order of merit. They expect them not only to be written clearly but also to be presented in a manner which is easy to read.

Newspapers without pictures do not make the news easy on the reader's eye. They make life hard for the reader. If that is the case the newspaper's journalists are not doing their job properly. We are all aware that news is something which is new, unusual, interesting, significant and about people.

It is obvious that all these facets concerning people can be communicated by pictures as well as by words. Not all stories however, are ideally suited for pictures. Some could be conveyed more easily in words than in pictures, while other stories may be told with one picture more easily and more clearly than in many words.

A public utility opening ceremony

We reiterate that the hackneyed 'one picture worth a thousand words' phrase is true. But then we are only talking about the kind of story which is suitable to be told by a picture and again, only if it is an exceptionally good and touching picture. But what actually can be considered a good news picture?

Pictures can sometimes tell the news just by themselves, with a caption to say who the people are and where the event had taken place. At other times, the picture may go with a story to team up with the words. In either case a news picture must always leave the reader knowing more than he did before. It must, above all, convey information.

Only a very gifted writer can use words in a way which lets the reader visualise exactly what a scene is like. Not every journalist can write as well as that. A picture can let the reader see what a person, or a place, or a building or an event looks like. In the days before television newspaper photographs were the only way that most people were able to observe what an event looked like. They were also the only way that people were able to know what their own leaders looked like.

What makes a strong and compelling news picture? A strong news picture has to be about the news. That is it has to be something which is new, unusual, interesting significant and about people. To that degree, it is no different from a news story. However, news pictures also need three other basic qualities:

To the photographer, an everyday picture assignment may seem a dull and dreary job. It may just seem like yet another public utility opening ceremony, a school function, a gift presentation for a retiree or a religious rite. To the people involved in the story, though, each of these is a big event - the culmination of months of organising or fund-raising, the fruit of years of study or the end of a lifetime's service. It is the news photographer's job to feel the same excitement which the people involved in the story feel, and to convey as much of that exhilaration through the picture to the readers. If the people being photographed look alive and involved in the subject of the photograph, then the photograph will have life. For instance a photograph of a man behind a desk tells us hardly anything, and no newspaper should ever publish such a picture. Some people sitting behind desks are business tycoons, running companies which produce bottled water. (GdR)

They should be photographed in the factory surrounded by the product they bottle. Other behind desks may be principals running schools. They should be photographed in the school grounds, surrounded by students.

A school function

Yes, people sit behind desks for many reasons, and it is the reason which matters, not the desk. Also, it has to be a very unusual desk for the picture to have any interest for the reader. A desk with a phone and some papers on it is very boring.

News pictures should always try to capture this context, the person's occupation, or the reason they deserve to be in the news. If a schoolteacher is in the news because they have won a painting competition, then the relevant context would be the painting. A photograph of them teaching would not provide the correct context.

However, a photograph of the teacher painting surrounded by the students, might be the complete news picture. In the case on the right, the man is an editor, so show him doing something special to his job. Every news picture must earn its space on the page. That means that it must tell the story clearly, without needing people to read the story first in order to understand what the picture is all about. In other words, every news picture must have meaning.

It would not be possible to give a complete list of types of news picture, any more than it is possible to give a complete list of types of people. People come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and characters. So do news pictures.

Some news pictures might fit into more than one category. A portrait of a person may well be humorous for example and there will always be good photographers who can produce good pictures which book authors cannot fit into any category at all. That is what makes journalism so interesting.

In summary all newspapers should use pictures. They make pages more attractive. They must tell the news more clearly to let readers know what people, places and things look like. Good news pictures need three qualities: To look alive and exciting. To have a relevant context. To be meaningful. If you have got this far through the article you must certainly have read the 1000 something words. Hope you get the picture as well!

(GdR) [email protected]


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