Effective Photojournalism

Jennifer Duncan
Hamilton High School

Hamilton, Ohio

Rationale for Unit
Photography for the Big Blue Bulletin has become a last-minute priority for our staff. They rely on mug shots rather than action shots; they frequently publish dark, unclear images. The students often use photos as space fillers with no true purpose. Photos rarely depict the emotion or tone of their related stories. Until this year, the news staff did not own its own digital camera, but borrowed one from the school’s technology coordinator. Photos were usually captured during the school day, when the camera was available; however, the reported events had usually passed when the opportunity to take pictures actually occurred. The staff, as a whole, needs more experience with a camera to develop an eye for good photographs with stronger connections to their stories. Some students are familiar with cropping and sizing photos with PhotoShop, but most students are inexperienced with the computer program and its multiple functions.

General Unit Objectives

  • Students will be able to determine what makes a quality photo.
  • Students will be able to take and edit appropriate photos that relate to their assigned articles.
  • Students will be able to select good pictures for their publication.


Activity 1

  • Have students view several photos from professional news publications, magazines, and other publications. Encourage students to make inferences regarding subject matter related to the pictures. As a class, discuss some of the positive and negative qualities of each picture.
  • Show students (good and bad) examples of disturbance/framing, proximity, point of view, lighting, focus, and placement of subjects. Explain the rule of thirds and forming triangles with subjects.

Activity 2

  • Part 1
    • Assign students a list of photos that they will be responsible for capturing. Students will be responsible for their own cameras. If they don’t have a cell phone, they can purchase a disposable camera for $5 at a discount store. Some suggested photo shots may include: an inanimate object, a group of three or more people, subjects from a crowd of people, a sporting event, a child, a senior citizen, a landscape, and a series of three related pictures that work to tell a story. Students will have several days to complete this phase of the project. The pictures should make use of good perspective and lighting and utilizing the rule of thirds, disturbance, and good proximity.
  • Part 2
    • Once students return to school with their developed photographs, they will begin compiling a portfolio to display their work. Students will label their photos with the appropriate criteria.
  • Part 3
    • Students will need the series of three related photos they took for the first step of this activity. Demonstrate PhotoShop techniques to change images to black and white. Show students how to crop and resize pictures. Have the students practice altering the brightness and contrast in their series pictures.
    • Students will scan their photos and practice the work with PhotoShop. They should utilize the PhotoShop tools to crop photos appropriately and correct the brightness and contrast. Students will be responsible for organizing their three picture series on an 8.5 x 11″ page in a logical sequence with visual appeal.
    • Students should include at least a paragraph of text to accompany the page layout. This writing will serve as background to the event covered in the photographs.


Photo Practice Portfolio Score Sheet

Photo subject Quality
Inanimate object _____/10
3+ people _____/10
Crowd/audience _____/10
Sporting event _____/10
Child _____/10
Senior citizen _____/10
Landscape _____/10
Series-layout, writing, photo editing _____/10
Total _____/100

Photos will be examined for their display of elements discussed in class. Because no standard set of guidelines could be used to evaluate all pictures, assessment is somewhat subjective. Most pictures will have a stronger effect with good lighting and contrast; pictures should fill the frame and demonstrate disturbance and the rule of thirds. Pictures should depict emotion, and each should tell a story through its image.

Similarly, the photo series should depict three aspects (chronological, topical, spatial) to a story. Consideration will also be given to the layout of the page and its literary component.

Recommended Readings and Sources

  • Babb, Judy, et al. “Introduction to Journalism.” Evanston: McDougal Littell, 2001.
  • Darling, Dennis Carlyle. “Chameleon With Camera.” Wimberly: Dorsoduro, 1989.
  • Petersen, Bryan. “People in Focus: How To Photograph Anyone,” Anywhere. New York: AMPHOTO, 1993.