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  • Writer's picturerachel leintz

in defense of photojournalism

This past Sunday, I was really lucky to be able to attend my dear friend Amber’s wedding (more images to come soon!). She is one of my sweetest, dearest friends, and while I knew it was a small, intimate affair, I wanted her to have some fabulous photographic memories to cherish, so I brought my gear along.

This was an unusual shoot for me. My husband was there and so was my little cyclone of a two year old! So while wearing the mommy, wife, photographer hat all at the same time was different, some things weren’t.

Since it was a family affair, there wasn’t another staging area to move the guests into after the ceremony. So while I snapped some pictures of the adorable newly weds, so did all their friends and family. IPhones were everywhere, so were a few point and shoot digital cameras.

Later that night, my husband and I were relaxing on the couch, sipping some wine, when he asked me a question that really sparked the inspiration for this blog post:

“Is it always like that at weddings? With a bunch of people standing around, trying to take pictures with their phones while you are trying to work? Man, that would drive me nuts!”

The answer to the question is yes and no. Usually, I can kind of herd guests away from the shooting area while I take the formal shots. But that’s not always the case. And yes, at a modern wedding there are always “photogs” snapping away. It doesn’t bother me. Well, it only bothers me (and I only address it) if one or both of the following happen:

1. They take the couple’s focus off of my camera and my shots start to get disconnected (each subject is looking in a different direction). That’s a deal breaker : ) and I usually shoo the lookie-loos away at that point.

2. The well-meaning guests decide to bring big external flash units and blast away when I’m shooting. This has only happened once, so I don’t usually have to deal with it.

Amber, during the last part of this Sunday’s wedding, leaned over to me and said, “I know they are all snapping away, but I told them yours would all be way better.”

This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard this. I’ve had my brides ask me, shyly, after the wedding: “Is it ok if my sister posts a few shots on Facebook? We don’t want to steal your thunder, but yours will be so much better anyway . . .” And I always tell them sure, go right ahead!

Because Amber is right. Mine are better and they will always be better than the snapshots taken at a wedding. In trying to put into words why this is the case, here’s what I’ve come up with. It’s because I know what real photojournalism is. And, I understand composition.

I’ve been looking at several sites lately for accreditation and membership options and on them, I’ve been reading a lot about professional photographers getting quite miffed about the inappropriate use of the term “photojournalistic” or “photojournalism.” At first, I was a bit confused. How could you misuse that term? But now I’m realizing that misinterpretation of that word is what my husband, Amber, and a lot of pro photographers are talking about.

Photojournalism doesn’t mean you just point your camera at a subject and snap away, hoping you magically luck into an amazing shot. That’s not how it’s done. Yes, it means capturing spontaneous moments to tell the story of the day, but that doesn’t mean you get to turn your brain off. A photojournalist still has to think about all the rules of photography that separate professionals from the average Joe in possession of a camera. More so, actually, than portrait photographers if you want my opinion.

Because these moments are happening so fast, you have to really have your artistic eye trained and your photographic-“sciencey” part of your brain turned on. How will the design rule of thirds contribute to this shot? What lens choice do you need to manage depth of field? What angle do you need to shoot to control background clutter? Did the natural lighting change? If so, how are you going to compensate? And that’s just a small sampling of the questions that should be going through your mind if you are truly a photojournalistic wedding photographer.

Sadly, the misuse of this term isn’t just limited to the amateurs out there. A good friend of mine, who is a fabulous wedding planner, recently commiserated with me over a truly bad shoot last week. She showed me a gallery from the wedding and I agreed! Her dismay was warranted. I won’t name the photographer here, but the shots he took were bad. Bad because you could tell he wasn’t thinking about what he was shooting. Yep, he had a good expensive full-frame camera. Yep, a good telephoto lens. But that was it. The backgrounds were cluttered, the lighting choices were abysmal and it made my friend say “Geez! C’mon! I could have taken these with my iPhone!”

So a request for this #weddingwednesday:

If you want to be a professional photographer, do it! Learn your craft. Understand what tools you need to tell the story you’re trying to tell. Practice. Realize you won't always get it right, but when you don’t, figure out why it happened. And please, don’t think you can hide lack of knowledge behind the poor, misunderstood “photojournalism” word. It’s really a technique that is hard to pull off. And if you are one of the professionals that can pull it off, let’s defend it. Let’s hold our standards high and really prove why professional photographers are still important in this day and age. Even if we are surrounded by iPhones at every single shoot :)

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