(if you haven't already!) He's a veteran of the Community Volunteer team having previously looked after the photo-journalism galleries and is here to share insight into photo-journalism this week. Tim is in a fantastic position to give insight into photo-journalism and works as a picture editor for Reuters, the global wire agency. Having been there almost half a decade he has some words of wisdom to impart...
In general you'll see me using my staple for the past 5 years:
Nikon 14-24 f2.8 (i've used this less and less over time as i've come to the realisation that not all the time the mind-blowing lens warp can be beneficial, especially if the 24-70 can do the same job if I could move with available space)
Nikon 24-70 f2.8 (a dangerously beat up lens. Nikon Service Center has recently said that the lens has a COLONY of fungus
but cleaning it would pretty much cost about the same as buying a new second hand one, so i might just do the latter)
Nikon 70-200 f2.8 (one of my colleague's. I use it more often, but we share it when one's not using and the other needs it. I've used it on many occasions. High time to get one myself, but easier said than done)
SB-900 flash Hardly used. Most things can be done without the harsh use of flash.
I'm also armed with my trusty light MacBook Air on assignments for quick filing on the go. I also happen to own a Nikon 35mm f1.4 for times when i'm shooting weddings. Very handy. If I could go into the business, it'll be prime lenses all the way without a doubt.
Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed! Could you give us an outline of your work?
Photography has always played a very important role in my life after my diploma, having held onto that for a good 7 years. At the picture desk, photography takes a backseat as the editing and picture judgement comes into play, making decisions to crop, tone and contrast pictures, alongside captioning them for the clients to have adequate information to work with when they see the picture. As this is my full time job, it's game on from day 1 with no room for error.
On occasion, when the local photographer is on assignment elsewhere or on vacation, I step into that role and play my part in contributing as a photographer. This really helps me keep in touch with the field and helps to hone my skills on a regular basis. I really think I get the best of both worlds, being able to photograph and edit at the same time, something not a lot of people get to see; both sides of the picture (literally speaking!)
Outside of that, I shoot concerts when I can, and the odd wedding or two for friends (lately i've been shooting a lot more, because lately, a lot more of my friends are getting married!)
How did you discover Photo-journalism? Was it on DeviantArt?
I remember getting onto DeviantArt when I first started photography. I came in first wanting to pick up photomanipulation, HDR and as most amateurs start out, to get some recognition for the "pretty" flowers' pictures I took. When I enlisted shortly in the following months, I became a military photographer, which naturally exposed me to the world of photojournalism. It was from there that I started delving into the photojournalism genre on DA to get more out of what I was getting myself into.
How do you define Photo-journalism?
It has always been very clear to me. The unadulterated documentation of life in an unbiased, concise and accurate manner. It comes very close to street, but in street, most of the time, you're shooting with a very specific theme in mind (coincidental moments, puns, juxtaposition etc.) Not that Photo-journalism doesn't do that, but its focus is more on the documentation itself rather than the spontaneity of the moment.
How can someone get started with PJ photography? Is there a huge cost involved?
I remember writing a little something about this in my previous article! The short answer is actually YES, and the cost is actually NOTHING. These days with citizen journalism, your smart phone is your tool to news. In journalism of today, the most important thing is speed and timeliness. Unfortunately for many press agencies, if the citizen can be at the location faster than the photographer and can actually get the moment of things happening, there's a higher chance the agency could do what we call a "pick-up" of the picture and run with it, paying the citizen a mere token fee and quickly sending it out and getting much play for it. Costs the citizen nothing, costs the photographers almost everything.
However, to really be a photojournalist on the real field, in sports, concerts etc, where timeliness isn't as important as professionally done pictures, you do need the standard gear of at least one camera and a well covered spectrum of telephoto lenses. A good mid-range camera (D700) and decent range lenses (24-70 and 70-200) would be a great start. That would set you back at least $5-6,000 at the beginning.
Is there a big time commitment?
Oh absolutely. Photojournalism isn't just about going out and being happy-go-lucky with pictures. Just like how landscape photography consists of researching, scouting out the location, the best spots and doing trials before the actual thing, photojournalism is about research, knowing how to get to the place as quickly as possible, how to get out of the place as quickly as possible, knowing the inside people and how to shoot, what to shoot and when to shoot.
A very renown photojournalist in our agency, Damir Sagolj made a video on vimeo on 7 photojournalism tips that I follow myself. I think it'll be VERY rich in information.
What does the location that you are in offer you with regards to photojournalism photography?
In sunny Singapore, there's very little to shoot in terms of the rough and tough aspects of photojournalism. There's no war, no conflict and no regularly happening riots. That being said, we've had and i've been thankful to have covered some major events happening in the year, such as the Singapore Fashion week, the passing of our first prime minister and the recent SEA Games. It's really all up to looking forward to what you can expose yourself to in the field where you are.
What are the challenges and rewards of shooting?
Working as a picture editor, I come across a lot of photographers that I respect struggle with many things. It took me a long time to understand that, coming from the perspective of a picture editor sitting in the comfort of my chair to realise the amount of crap they go through, until I had to go for assignments myself and experience their point of view.
Here's some of the things that I've seen for my very eyes that pose as a great challenge when shooting in the field:
Competition. I need to file this, and I need to file this NOW. Or my competitors from the rival agencies will get their pictures out on the wire first before me, getting more play and me losing my point in even shooting in the first place. For many contract shooters, this can be the difference in paycheck as some of them are paid by the amount of pictures that they file to the wire and the amount of play they get in newspapers and magazines as compared to some who are paid for the assignment itself.
No time. I'm rushing from this event, to the next. If i don't file this now, I won't be able to file it until 3 hours later when it's all over and unneeded.
I need to think of perfect captions. If I don't get it right, the guys at the editing desk will give me hell for it and I have to do it all over again, which wastes time!
Are my gears intact? Did anyone steal my gear?
My computer has only xxx% amount of life, can't stay long to chat and figure if the pictures are good or not. Send them in, no questions, I'm logging out and checking in again later.
Did I get any amazing pictures that could be highlighted around the world?
I've been shooting all day since 5am til 2am, I'm beat, but I still need to file pictures.
But with all the challenges that a photojournalist faces, and I'm sure I missed out some, because I'm not full-time working as one, there are great rewards:
Got my picture in the top 24hour news in the online galleries! Lots of play!
My picture became a talking point about this issue!
I beat my competitors!
I got a fresher angle than someone else!
Is there a particular shot that you feel shines above the rest? Was it difficult to achieve?
This was one of my more recently done pictures at the SEA Games. I know that in-camera multiple exposures are a common practice in many places, but knowing when to use it is so important. I had thought to try it at high jump, but some situations just don't turn out the same way you picture it to be.
On this occasion, it was difficult to achieve as I had barely any experience in this area, and it was my first time shooting fencing as well. It took many tries and a lot of patience to get exactly what I wanted, but when I got it, it was really worth it.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Be humble, make connections, don't be afraid to approach the big guy in the industry and shake their hands, introduce yourself. They might just take care of you and help you get to places where you don't have access and that might really bring you to a new level. Being humble and open to learning always brings favour.
Are there any deviants or groups that you would suggest could inspire someone to be a photojournalist?
I don't at present seeing how I just got back to dA not too long ago! But always start by looking at pictures of the photojournalists that create series and stories in the genres that you love and imitating their style of how they shoot before creating your own.
Is there anything about photojournalism Photography that you don't like or enjoy? It's a really thankless job. People find photojournalists intrusive. People make life difficult for "that guy trying to take pictures of everything", even at the SEA Games, you get volunteers who "do their jobs" but don't think how it's making life difficult for the PJs to get to where they need to be and get their job done. And nobody thanks you for getting the pictures and documenting the moment down for eternity. It's also painful when you really have to do your job on the ethical line. A house just burned down, the owners are crying, you're there, you want to sympathise with them, but you have to take their picture of them crying. So many ethical thoughts in your head, but you've got a job to do. Unfortunately, the ones doing their jobs become the villains for being "insensitive and intrusive" to the situation, a fine line that many people on both sides find so difficult to come to terms with.
A really personal example was when I once found out that an apartment in the condominium I was staying in was on fire. A huge number of things raced through my mind as I rushed out with my camera to document it. Later I offered these pictures to the local paper since I was shooting it in my own personal context and not representing anyone else.
It was true. The whole apartment was burning down. Good thing it was confined to just that apartment. Even the fire department had come and they were going to put it out. These were the easy pictures. You'd say "Yea that's easy." But look, the story is never complete until you cover all angles. I saw the victims of the fire. They were cowering in the corner (alive, but very shaken) and being consoled by many people. As a human, I went to console them, but as a photographer, I needed to cover the angle. As soon as I assured them that they would be ok, they huddled together and cried.
Now, you tell me whether you would have taken this picture or decide not to out of sympathy and respecting their privacy. It was a simple picture, but among the crowd gathered and their obvious trauma, there was a job that needed to be done, and I as the photojournalist had to do it. My question to you, the reader is: If you want to do photojournalism, can you take the harder path of walking the grey line of ethics to tell the story people need to see and hear?