From Academic Kids

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Sports photojournalists at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Photojournalism is a particular form of journalism (i.e., the collecting, editing, and presenting of news material for publication or broadcast) that creates images in order to tell a news story. It is now usually understood to refer only to still images, and to refer largely to serious news stories. Photojournalism is distinguished from other close branches of photography (such as documentary photography, street photography or celebrity photography) by the qualities of:

  • Timeliness - the images have meaning in the context of a published chronological record of events.
  • Objectivity - the situation implied by the images is a fair and accurate representation of the events they depict.
  • Narrative - the images combine with other news elements, to inform and give insight to the viewer or reader.

Unlike a reporter, who may gather information while far from the subject or after an event occurs, the photojournalist must make decisions instantly and carry a camera under the same circumstances as those involved in the subject (fire, war, rioting) - often while being exposed to the same risks.

Photojournalism as a descriptive term often implies the use of a certain bluntness of style or approach to image-making - one would not call a normal wedding photographer a 'photojournalist', even though they cover a timely event and their images may be published in the press.

A similar and related term is reportage.



Photojournalism has been a major element of newspaper and magazine reporting since the early twentieth century, although its historic origins have been traced to mid 19th century European battlefield photography by British press reporters in the Crimean War. Its use was greatly spurred by the development of the commercial 35mm Leica camera.

The invention of the term "photojournalism" is commonly attributed to Cliff Edom (1907–1991), who taught at the University of Missouri School of Journalism for twenty-nine years. Edom establish the first photojournalism workshop there in 1946. Some attribute the word, instead, to the then Dean of the School of Journalism, Frank L. Mott.

The Golden Age

In the "golden age" of photojournalism (1930s-1950s), some magazines (Picture Post (London), Paris Match (Paris), Life (USA), Sports Illustrated (USA)) and newspapers (The Daily Mirror (London), The Daily Graphic (New York)) built their huge readerships and reputations largely on their use of photography, and photographers such as Robert Capa, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White, W. Eugene Smith became well-known names.

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In Migrant Mother Dorothea Lange produced the seminal image of the Great Depression. The FSA also employed several other photo journalists to document the depression.

Farm Security Administration

From 1935 to 1942, the Farm Security Administration and its predecessor the Resettlement Administration were part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, and were designed to address agricultural problems and rural poverty associated with the Great Depression. A special photographic section of the agency, headed by Roy Stryker, was intended merely to provide public relations for its programs, but instead produced what some consider one of the greatest collections ( of documentary photographs ever created in the USA. If such documentary photography can be called 'photojournalism' remains debatable, since the FSA photographers had much more time & resources to create their work than would usually be the case. They also had a wider brief.

World War II

World War II brought a tremendous increase in the supply and demand for quality photojournalism. In its latter stages, the war also stimulated the supply of new faster & smaller cameras from Japan to Europe and the USA.


In 1947, two years after World War 2 ended, the Magnum Photos photographic agency was founded by four photographers: Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, and David Seymour. Magnum differed from other agencies in that it was a co-operative (all members of the agency were also partial owners). Magnum is still a highly respected photo-agency to this day and membership is extremely selective. There is a review process once a year during which portfolios from applicants are viewed by all current members. From there, the few who are invited to join must withstand a several year probationary period before (with a vote every year by full members to see if the probationary members recent photo work is up to par)they can be considered full members. Many probationary members are asked to leave after one or two years. Some of the most famous contemporary magnum photographers have left the agency for various reasons either to be independents or to begin their own agencies (Jim Nachtway is a founding member of the VII photo agency. Sebastio Salgado founded Amazonia Images). Magnum Photos has more or less been experiencing financial troubles for the last 40 years.

Acceptance by the art world

Since the late 1970s, photojournalism and documentary photography have increasingly been accorded a place in art galleries alongside art photography. Luc Delahaye, Chin-Chi Chiang, both Magnum photographer to name a few among many exhibit in galleries regularly.

Professional Organizations

The National Press Photographers Association ( (NPPA) was the first national organization for newspaper photographers; it was founded in 1946 in the USA, and has approximately 10,000 members. Others around the world include:

News organisations and journalism training schools run many different awards for photojournalists. Since 1968, Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded for the following categories of photojournalism: 'Feature Photography', 'Spot News Photography' and 'Capture the Moment'.

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Photographers crowd around a starlette at the Cannes Film Festival.

Ethical and Legal Considerations

Photojournalism works within the same ethical approaches to objectivity that are applied by other journalists. What to shoot, how to frame and how to edit are constant considerations. Often, ethical conflicts can be mitigated or enhanced by the actions of a sub-editor or picture editor, who takes control of the images once they have been delivered to the news organisation. The photojournalist often has no say as to how images are ultimately used.

The emergence of digital photography offers whole new realms of opportunity for the manipulation, reproduction, and transmission of images. It has inevitably complicated many of the ethical issues involved.

The U.S. National Press Photographers Association, and other professional organizations, maintain a Code of Ethics ( to address what are thought to be the proper approaches to these issues.

Major ethical considerations are often enscribed - with more or less success - into law. The law on photography often varies greatly from nation to nation. The legal situation is further complicated when one considers that photojournalism made in one country will often be published in many other countries.

The Impact of New Technologies

Smaller, lighter cameras greatly enhanced the role of the photojournalist. Since the 1960s, motor-drives, electronic flash, auto-focus, better lenses and other camera enhancements have made their jobs easier. New digital cameras means that photojournalists are no longer limited by the length of a roll of film, as 1000s of images can be stored on a single microdrive or flash card.

Content remains the most important element of photojournalism, but the ability to extend deadlines and compress the process of gathering and editing that content has changed greatly. As recently as fifteen years ago, it took nearly thirty minutes to scan and transmit a single color photograph from a remote location to the news office for printing. Now, equipped with a digital camera, a mobile phone and a laptop computer, the print photojournalist can send a high quality image in seconds, only minutes after an event occurs. Video phones and portable satellite links increasingly allow for the mobile transmission of images from almost any point on the earth.

There is some concern amongst news-photographers that photojournalism as a profession as it is known today may change to the degree that it is unrecognizable as image capturing technology naturally progresses. There is also concern that less and less print publications are commissioning serious photojournalism on timely issues.

Some Notable Photojournalists

Further reading

  • Susan C. Zavoina & John H. Davidson, Digital Photojournalism (Allyn & Bacon, 2002). ISBN 0205332404

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