The Future of Photojournalism: Let’s Not Get Carried Away.

Yesterday I received a group e-mail from a producer friend of mine concerning the future of journalism in America, in which he referenced a recent discussion broadcast from American University centered around the same subject.

It was postulated that still photography can now be considered to be a thing of the past. Okay, now you have my attention. You can’t ignore the severe troubles that American newspapers are having, and likewise you can’t ignore or deny the fact that the internet is the primary cause of this. With the ease and speed that information is now available, it’s inevitable that the death knell is tolling for printed news as we now know it.

As a professional stills shooter, as well as a video shooter, I can say with confidence that the future of still photography is just as bright as ever. Even though the usefulness of video as a journalistic tool to the common citizen has indeed become vastly more convenient in recent years, with the emergence of smaller, cheaper video cameras, and more importantly, the creation and increase in popularity of free and simple avenues to get your media seen, such as the ubiquitous YouTube and many others, it does not mean that video is always applicable, needed, or desired in a reporting situation.

Video is great, don’t get me wrong. I welcome the spike in popularity of grassroots video journalism, and I hope more and more people take to the streets, if you will, to bring the truth of the world to others. I just don’t want them all throwing video clips at me. I don’t have the time or the desire to watch them all. When I fire up my iPhone to get my daily news — which is how I get my news now — I don’t want to watch a bunch of video clips. I usually peruse the USA Today headlines and quickly decide which stories I am interested in. I read them, check out the photos, and move on. Video in this application is usually superfluous. It’s a tool to bring information to people, just like still photos are, and they are each useful in their own ways.

Just because you can show video of a story doesn’t mean you should. If I can get the same information, with the same impact, from a still photo that tells the same story (and a good photojournalist can tell a story in a single photo, trust me — that’s what we’re trained to do) then that’s the way I want to get it. Depending on the content, a good still photo, in my opinion, will have more impact than a video clip.

“Depending on the content” is the key here. If I’m reading* a story about a refinery explosion and I have the option of seeing a still photo or a video clip of the thing going up, then yeah — I want to see video of that, you better believe it. Point: video. But let’s say I’m reading a story about a community cleanup effort, or maybe a story covering the rising unemployment rate. In this instance a good still photo will deliver much more impact than a video clip. Yes, I could watch video of people picking up trash, or standing in line at the unemployment office, but you know what? I don’t want to. In this case video is superfluous.

So, if the story warrants motion, please show it to me. If it doesn’t, I would like some nice stills please. The right tool for the right job. It saves me time while still making the appropriate impact.

The emergence of high-end SLRs that also record video has led a lot of people to assume that stills are dead because they’re on the video bandwagon thanks to these new, awesome, devices (I make use of the new Canon EOS 5D Mark II myself). Wait until the novelty wears off. When you’re on deadline and you have to get your story transmitted pronto, you’re not going to want to spend the extra time to injest, edit, and export video for the web if you don’t have to. It may be easier to capture, but you still have to edit.  If no extra impact is going to be realized from a video, then you should opt for some old-fashioned and still-delicious photos.

Personally, my favorite new thing is the still photo slideshow. It’s much easier to produce than a video piece, and it can usually deliver the same impact. All you need to do is take an MP3 recorder with you into the field, get some sound bites to compliment your story, and you’re good to go. Apps like Soundslides Plus are a dream. Just tell it where your folder of images is, and where the mp3 file is, and in seconds it spits out a Flash-based slideshow that you can upload to the web. This took me no time at all to make:

I wasn’t even there to shoot a story; I was just having a nice day out with my family and decided to whip out a slide show as long as I was there.

In conclusion, I am of the belief that stills and video should be placed into a competition with one another, but isntead used to compliment each other. Like I said earlier, the right tool for the right job, please.

What are your opinions?

* Yes, reading. No matter what, you will always start with reading. It’s still the fastest and most efficient way to begin your daily information gathering. Most of the photos and videos you ingest daily will come after a textual introduction.

Darren on Twitter:
follow @peakaction
follow @pressphotointl


Copyright (c) Darren Abate Photography. All rights reserved. Do not use without permission. Copyright infringement will be prosecuted.

editorial photographer in san antonio
editorial stock photos 


~ by peakaction on April 4, 2009.

3 Responses to “The Future of Photojournalism: Let’s Not Get Carried Away.”

  1. Darren,

    I just want to say that as a student photojournalist at SAC (The Ranger), I have felt the EXACT same way in regard to the use of video/stills in reporting the news or telling stories, that I can always expect people to want it faster (photo), easier (internet), and cheaper (free). If anything, I believe both mediums will only flourish on the online landscape. People want a video, you got it. Don’t have time? (most), “look! A Photo taken by the professional whose job to record history remains indispensable!” The world will ALWAYS need photography, to sum up the feature-film of an event or era into one, most easily assimilated piece of information available to humankind.

    Plus, I love the audio slide show! How much more effective can photography on the web get? A video piece combined with stills and audio reaches the height of story telling, although I believe photographs will remain the most important/used of the three.

  2. My name is Kirk Sides. I teach photojournalism at the University of Houston at Clear Lake and I shoot freelance for the Houston Chronicle. With regard to still photojournalism. It is and always will be the still image that sticks in your brain. Sure video is cool if, as you mention, there is a disaster of magnitude and you want to see the live action. But think of 9/11. How many iconic still images can you remember. There are many. The hanging of the flag, the twin towers with the black smoke billowing out. Now, think of a video clip. There may be a few but it is the still images that forever tells the tale. Thanks for your time. You might be interested in my blog. Stop by if you get a chance


  3. Interesting conversation. I am a member of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) and many of us are concerned about the future of still photography. Are moving images bound to dominate in electronic media? Is there something a still image does that a moving image cannot? What about this “stick in your brain” concept? Is that a real phenomenon? Can it be proved? Are stills bound to be the poor cousin of video? Let’s figure this out!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: