Photojournalism: How to Connect with Subjects and Master the Craft

Perhaps more than any other photography genre, photojournalism is about telling stories. Photojournalists often tell hopeful tales of great human triumphs, long-awaited reunions, and love, but they are often also tasked with telling the hard stories that no one really wants to hear—the ones about sex slaves and slums and struggling amputees. Whatever the story, photojournalists have to masterfully communicate emotion to the viewer or the viewer won’t be able to connect.

In the following video, photojournalist Deanne Fitzmaurice discusses her methods for connecting with subjects and cultivating the drive and passion necessary to thrive and stand out in such a competitive field. During the interview, Fitzmaurice offers five bits of advice related to the goal of becoming a master photojournalist:

1. Make human connections.

Above all else, most photojournalists strive to help viewers to emotionally connect with pressing issues that are difficult to engage with if they’re not immediately relevant in viewers’ everyday lives. To someone who has never lost a loved one to cancer or experienced it themselves, hearing about cancer would probably not be enough to provoke that individual to join the fight against cancer. But a skillful photograph of someone battling cancer with teary loved ones looking on just might move them to act.

“When I pick up a camera, what I want to do, most of the time, is to make a human connection with my subject,” said Fitzmaurice. “I want to humanize the issue.”

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Immediately after looking at this image, the viewer wants to understand this boy’s struggles.

2. Earn your subject’s trust.

Photojournalism is concerned with reality—real events, real interactions, and above all, real emotions. As with any portrait or wedding shoot, the importance of capturing subjects’ true expressions and emotions is paramount. Without that, the images captured would have less impact and even risk appearing cliché. To avoid that, always make sure to forge relationships and build trust with your subjects before you ever pick up your camera.

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Fitzmaurice wanted to put a face to the growing epidemic of U.S. soldiers returning injured from war, so she earned the trust of this man, who let her into his life.

3. Have a plan, but be willing to let things change.

Experienced photographers know that, while nothing ever goes according to plan, it is important to have an ideal plan for a photo shoot mapped out before you begin shooting—and even before you arrive on site. This type of plan would include envisioned shots and all related elements, such as composition and lighting. Flexible plans can be springboards for creativity and can help you to keep your basic goals for the shoot in mind if you do have to switch gears.

“I think it’s important to have a general plan, but you have to be willing to let things change because [things] never go exactly like you expect [them] to go… you have to have a loose plan and just see what happens.”

mud cowboy ranch rancher cows cattle horse herding country

Shooting through a muddy truck window might have been Fitzmaurice’s original plan for this image, but if it wasn’t, her flexibility left her open to noticing this unique viewpoint.

4. Network with the pros.

As in most career fields, sometimes success in photography depends upon who you know and, more importantly, who sees your work. Fitzmaurice recommends making networking through workshops, seminars, and other means of communication a priority as you build your photojournalism career.

deanne fitzmaurice celebrity media press barber shop haircut

Networking can open doors for unique shoots and projects that will build your career.

5. Be passionate and driven.

Becoming a master photojournalist is remarkably difficult, but Fitzmaurice has confidence that anyone with enough passion and motivation can get there. Learn all that you can; devour photography blogs and videos, take online courses, attend workshops and seminars, network with pros, and practice making photographs every day.

branding brand branded ceremony ritual tradition

True passion will drive you to make photographs every day, unto the goal of creating masterful images like this one.

“It is difficult to break in[to the industry], but if you’ve got this underlying passion and drive, you can do it,” Fitzmaurice said. “[Photography] has to become you. It has to be a part of you. You [have to] wake up in the morning and say… ‘I want to be a pro. This is what I’m going to do every day.'”

At the start of her career, Deanne Fitzmaurice worked as a staff photographer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Throughout her career thus far, she has contributed to many honored publications such as National Geographic, Time, and Sports Illustrated, and has completed commercial work for NBC, Microsoft, and Adobe, among others. She was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2005.

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