Issue Reporting Picture Story
I volunteered at POYi reading captions for the Issue Reporting Picture Story, so after being there several hours I started to get the hang of what the judges were looking for.
At the beginning of judging, I noticed a few key factors that usually determined whether a story stayed in or out.
The submissions with only a few photos were kicked out at the very beginning.
The stories with strong connections between the compilation of photos stayed in.
Most stories shared a common theme or issue, but if the theme or issue could not be clearly identified, the story was out.
Some photo submissions didn’t tell a story at all; rather, they looked like a random compilation of the photographer’s favorite pictures. These did not survive long, either.
Some photo stories really sparked discussion amongst the panel of judges…
In one story about a family hit hard by the effects of the recent recession, the entire panel of judges ended up changing their mind after one judge pointed out an important detail. Everyone loved the story at first, but this judge said she felt it was missing something. She made her case that a few of the photos were repetitive. For example, there were three children included in the story, but one child had more photos than the others for no reason at all. This possibly unintentional use of repetition unfortunately cost the photographer a chance of winning. A greater point the judge made was that the story of the recession was no different than she had already seen in the past. Many photographers cover the recession, and while this specific photographer seemed to have a great deal of access to the subject’s personal life, the photographer’s photos were not unique enough. The one judge also said she would have liked to see more photos outside the home or at least in a different location than the motel the family was living in, perhaps of the mother looking for work or the family grocery shopping. Through this discussion, I learned the importance of balance of photos and the importance of approaching a story from multiple angles. I understand that these things require time and creativity; time getting to know the subject and time planning out the direction of the story, and creativity to figure out ways to photograph the story in a new way.
First-place-winner, Craig Walker, and his incredible access to the story especially impressed the judges. They said over an over again, “you can tell the photographer spent a lot of time with the subject.” It was clear that his subject – a war veteran with PTSD – trusted Walker, allowing him to see a side of him that most people, even his closest family, may not completely recognize. These emotionally charged photos revealed the darkness in the veteran’s life. In only twelve photos, I felt I was provided with significant insight into the pain and anxiety this veteran goes through on a daily basis.
Again, for the second place winner, the judges saw that the photographer had a great deal of access into the famine story – capturing the life and death of those experiencing hunger. They pointed out that while it is a horrible story, the photography was stunning. In a dark situation, the photographer made the photos appealing by bringing out bright colors in the landscape and clothing. There are hundreds of photo stories about hunger and famine, but the judges said this one was different. The images did not make them cringe with pity and disgust, rather – each photo was beautifully composed and illustrated the loving connections among the people. The image that really stood out to one of the judges was one showing a pink folder of some refugee camp personnel standing above a child’s corpse wrapped up in a cloak. He said anyone could have taken this photo – it was so simple – but he will never forget this striking image that is so commonly seen by those at the African refugee camp.
The story that won an award of excellence also focused on the recent recession. The judges liked how each photo portraying a different person, group or situation was well composed and could have stood alone, but together they created a well-rounded look into the effects of America’s economic hardships. This was a type of story I would like to see myself photograph; instead of focusing on one individual or situation, I’d be interested in taking an issue that affects the larger population and showing it’s effects by highlighting several individual’s personal stories.
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After seeing what it takes to put together a great picture story, I actually started second guessing my dreams of doing documentaries. At least in this point of my life, I’m not entirely comfortable following around a subject in their most personal moments and for long periods of time – I feel as though I am invading their space. I greatly admire those photographers who have the patience and will to get such private access to people’s lives, I just need to feel confident in my own photography skills before I can reach that level. I also learned that as a photographer, you have to take chances and experiment with the camera angles. If I’m photographing people, I could focus just on their feet or zoom in on their eyes, or let the setting tell the story and keep the subject in a shadow. Great photos are not accidents and require more than good luck.