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Thursday, April 14, 2011


I was a student journalist in high school and learned from attending school board meetings and reading the subsequent write-ups in the local paper that it's not just the photos that are "posed" in most news stories.

Later, I worked for a locally owned newspaper (one of the few left in the U.S.) and then one owned by Gannett.

It was worse than I thought!

I must disagree, at least with the "we was cheated!" focus of this post.

I have worked on and off for a few years in journalism, which often requires doing my own photography too. Let me tell you, an un-posed shot is almost always boring or actually untrue to the actual story. I speak of ordinary stories like the school shopping story -- obviously this doesn't apply to pix of battles, accidents, crimes in progress and that sort of stuff.

In the book "The Last Unicorn," a spell is put on a caged unicorn, normally invisible, so that circus visitors can actually see her. Is this a cheat? X-ray astronomy's photos are digitally altered so we can see galaxies that would be dim smudges or invisible otherwise.

The job of journalists and photographers is to grasp a truth and then make it available to the viewers and readers. What they do cannot be done without "message management" of some sort. If it is not attempted, if facts and snapshots are thrown in willy-nilly, unfiltered and randomply arranged, the misleading will happen anyway.

Is there room in here to mislead and lie? Oh hell yes. No help for it, I'm afraid.


Noni, yes. I think that sometimes the misrepresentation better represents the subject of a story than a boring photo. But as you suggest, that can turn to misleading with nefarious intent, such as a Fox news video from a large rally presented as if it is video from a much smaller rally, clearly done with the intent to pretend that an event had much more support than it did.

At the most benign (and obvious) level, let's say a construction ground-breaking, a group of politicians posed with shovels about to dig in may produce the best image to represent the ceremonial event.

I hate posed shots. THo I wish you'd post the picture of your family and the back to school story!

I think people's tastes in pictures have changed, and people don't like posed pictures any more. ALso, with digital photography, if you are actually on the scene, there is no excuse for saying you can't get a representative shot without posing. Just shoot 400 shots in rapid succession, then pick out whichever one or two capture some aspect of the event.

As an amateur, I routinely photograph local events in my town where the local newspapers are taking pictures. They generally have far better equipment than I do, and make a big production about setting up shots, etc. but I get pictures that are just as good as the ones they print. Not because I am any good at photography, but because with digital cameras you can take so many shots that one of them is bound to be good! Even a dumb clod of an amateur like me can do okay some of the time with all the autofocus, image stabilization, low light capabilities etc of modern gear. Idiot proof, too!

It's interesting actually that when most "real" news takes place nowadays, we rely on videos and photos taken by amateurs and stringers. Because the major news networks and journalistic empires won't pay real photographers and journalists to actually report on the news as much as they used to. The paid professionals are just talking heads, who read scripts . Most of the tsunami pix, for example, were taken by people in the midst of it.

I'm not knocking the great skill of the pros, but it's analagous to what's happening to all of us who write: no one will pay for it. Hence amateur blogs and photography.

I was doing a bio for a fundraiser employee, celebrating the 20 years she had supported the organization. I wanted a real good portrait, and she and I tried for an hour or so, but she stiffened up every time and looked like a wax model in most of the shots, when she didn't look actively censorious.

I finally got the shots I wanted when I told her to relax for a bit, because I had to kramitz the farbles before I could continue the shoot. While she watched me "fiddling," I got several great shots with expressions of interest and amusement.

I'm so glad to get those shots, but they're natural only because of the artifice.


I did an on camera tv news slot once w my kids discussing safety (over a decade ago)of 'new' airbags in cars. That was the most staged setting ever! my kids grew weary of the crew saying, "ok one more time, into the car, buckle up and act serious". Dozens of takes! talk abt staged. Then the reporter read MY notes as her script, she knew nothing of the stats, etc. was very eye opening indeed.

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