Photojournalism or Portrait Photography: What’s the Difference?

Are you a photojournalistic or portrait photographer? What’s the difference and who cares

First let’s define photojournalism. Photojournalism tells a story in  photographs mainly of a current event, for example:

It seems like the rain will never stop and the prediction is for imminent flooding so you grab your camera and go to the nearest river where the flood will probably occur. Sure Bridge to Safety_4335 SSPenough, as per the weather person’s prognostication, the waters are rapidly rising and you start clicking the shutter. You get a great photo of that overabundant water supply but does it tell a story? Is it just a snapshot or a record of what is happening?

You wade in deeper (pun intended) and see someone floating down the river and the water rescue team is on site! Exciting! There’s a real live body out there in the raging current and a life is in the balance! Now you’re twitching with your camera at eye level and your trigger finger at the shutter button. Shotgun approach – click, click, click. You start to capture the event in a series of frames that you will edit when you’re back at your home office.

Sifting through the 100 or more images, there’s one that jumps out and grabs your attention. It’s the one just as the rescuer tosses the life-saving line towards the person rapidly floating by. This image has a special quality in that it creates tension and big questions in the mind of the viewer:

  • Will the line toss find a point close enough to the potential victim for him to catch it?
  • Will he actually catch it?
  • Did the line miss it’s mark?
  • Is there a possible second chance to throw the line again?
  • Was the person actually rescued and a tragedy avoided?

This image, of all the others, tells the most compelling story and as the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This is the photojournalistic image that gets published with your byline next to it.

IMG_8940 Margie Web

Your telephone rings. A voice out there asks,
“Do you do model portfolios?
“Of course! Our portfolios are the best, this side of the Monongahela River,” you reply, “I have appointment openings in my studio on Thursday and Friday in the afternoon. Which will work for you?”

You’ve just set up a time and place for a planned photo session over which you will have the most control. You’ll control the backgrounds, lighting and poses. You might include outdoor images as well as the studio venue. You might even have a hair stylist and makeup artist and wardrobe specialist on hand. Your job now is to show diversity in your client’s modeling talent. You still need to tell her story, and together, you’ll create a traditional event that yields expected results.

Photojournalism versus portrait photography. Both scenarios tell a story, but under quite different circumstances. Which type of photographer are you? Maybe you’re a specialist, or maybe you’re both. Who cares? Your clients and those who will see the great images you have created care.