Continuing the importance of photos in newspapers, we should endeavor to improve our photos and newspapers by using more photographs in the pages and this will help improve the credibility and success of the papers.
In Sierra Leone freelance and professional photographers are not common, so we the reporters have to take up our cameras and do the job. Most of the photographs we take can show our inexperience, but the continued use of the camera will improve our skills.
News photography is a craft that many freelance photographers overlook all over the world as their interest is in photography of art form. It is because of this trend that most of us reporters are picking up the camera especially in the advent of digital cameras. The best newspaper photographers and photojournalists combine the art of photography with the storytelling abilities of a reporter.
If we have to improve our photos, every photo we take should tell a story with action and movement. Newspaper photographs should serve to tell a new element of the story through action. This means that each news photo should have an element of action; simply asking a person to pose for a shot doesn’t tell a story in the world of photojournalism. There must be an element of action or movement in every photograph, something must be happening in every frame.
Also we should take photographs for potential news stories. In the developed world, newspaper photographers are out and about in the community to a degree that is impossible for reporters and editorial staff. But in Sierra Leone the editor only rely on us the reporters to get the photos and in getting the photos, we should endeavor to get good photos that would tell part of the story.
Any incidents going on whether it’s a road work’s project or arguments between two people are potential news stories as something big can pop out. This is why the professional photojournalist and the paparazzi can beat us to the photo news.
We should learn to capture photographs of everyday life as it is a significant portion of the photographs that appear in a newspaper that are unassigned. These are photos that the photographer generates on his or her own. Photo ideas are everywhere. Life is filled with the ordinary and we need to capture that as a photojournalist; make it interesting.
Let us always look around us and we will see dozens of potentially compelling photographs that tell the story of life within a community – two dogs playing, a man walking with his dog, children selling on the streets, a police questioning a taxi driver etc. This is all part of life and it’s these human interest photographs that distinguish the true photojournalist from a reporter with a camera.
Another very important point we should consider in photojournalism is we should not learn to tamper with photos to tell a different story. It is unethical and wrong to do it. The photos we take should stand the same at all times as they tarnish the image of newspapers.
Couple of months ago, a reporter working for Daqing Evening News in China doctored two photographs he had taken and turned them into a composite of Tibetan antelopes crossing near a bridge on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway as a train passes. He submitted his work in a news photograph competition held by CCTV, the national TV network, and won a prize.
Despite the initial failure at detection, it was detected later that it was a doctored photograph, the Daqing Evening News later fired the photographer and the editor-in-chief of the newspaper also resigned. The Railway construction company also sued him for damages as they were criticized for endangering the lives of the antelopes by constructing the bridge in that area.
Most people in China supported the paper’s decision, but we must also recognize the fact that the scandal has sent out a clear warning. It is not the first time the media has come across doctored or staged photographs. Also Two years ago in my investigation, the World Press Photo awarded a third prize to a photograph in China entitled Wedding during SARS. It featured a newly-wed couple crossing a street in Wuhan in their wedding outfits, and each wearing a mask.
Soon after the news of the award reached China, the groom in the photograph took the photographer to court. He revealed that it was a staged wedding and he and the young woman in the photograph were actually models. The popularity of the photograph had done him much harm as he was in fact planning to get married.
A lecturer in my University once told me that few years ago when he was in active journalism, he received several photographs from a freelance photographer depicting how a major Siberian tiger-breeding center in Harbin was thriving with dozens of the felines roaming on a snow-covered field. He submitted the pictures for use, he said the newspaper photographer picked them up to be fakes as no two tigers are the same, but in some of the photos they were.
This has been happening across the world and even in Sierra Leone. It is totally unacceptable in the confines of journalism ethics as it can destroy someone’s credibility in just hours. We should always be vigilant against fakes, and double-check for doctored news photographs.
To explore the use of photographs in newspapers especially on the front page, and subsequent interpretation of these images by readers, a semiotic analysis of examples would provide a useful insight. However, it is necessary to set the scene of the subject matter under scrutiny. First of all we should understand what is a photograph; which is a picture produced through the chemical action of light on light sensitive film. It is a medium of recording reality that is iconic as well as indexical.
Although a photograph resembles or imitates something, making it iconic, it achieves this through the use of light from the subject, therefore making it less arbitrary and indexical. In other words the signifier is directly linked to the signified, be it physically or casually. This indexical property of photographs leads observers to make a judgment that a photo is an objective medium of record as there is a smaller difference between the signifier and the signified.
However, a photograph is a representation of a particular moment and situation in time. Barthes expressed his view that a newspaper photograph is, an object that has been worked on, chosen, composed, constructed, and treated according to professional, aesthetic or ideological norms which are so many factors of connotation.
There are many decisions taken by the photographer such as; focusing, lighting, angle that produce various representations, and readings, of the same moment creating different connotations. From the choices made from the paradigm sets of these signifiers, and the syntagmatic relationship between them, it is possible to decode and compare the front-page photographs from examples of newspapers.
However, although a semiotic analysis can determine the meanings connoted by a photograph, and the codes that achieve this, it cannot determine the reader’s interpretation of the text in a social context. It can only serve as an insight to the conventions that different newspapers employ and the responses that are attached to the codes at work within them.
Some newspapers in Sierra Leone prefer using small pictures on their front page others prefer full size. But the bottom line is that the picture is used to help tell the story and we should strive to continue in that trend as beautiful pictures with actions give the readers the enthusiasm to buy the paper.
During the elections in 2007, the picture of President Ernest Koroma in the billboard at Cotton Tree and Eastern Police, were the very best as every second you’ll see pedestrians standing in front of the board smiling and making positive comments of the beauty of the image. This is the essence of good photos in action.
Good pictures tell a lot and have a better impression on viewers and if we endeavor to produce good pictures in our respective newspapers then the beauty and sales of the paper will improve. As we try to make use of pictures we should stop the unethical practice of doctoring the picture to give another meaning.
Let us work within the confines of ethics and improve our photojournalistic skills even though we are not trained professionals, but constant practice will help us to produce better photos with meaning and understanding for the public consumption.
Below is an example of a doctored photograph of President Barack Obama during the elections campaign in America.
By Austin Thomas in China