Better photos for better stories

By Karen Hess

Guest Blogger

We know it when we see it: a beautifully composed, striking photo. But how can we define good photography, and more importantly, what guidelines can storytellers follow to help ensure high quality images in our multimedia pieces?

News vs. feature

The type of story you are doing can dictate the type of photos to include. In chapter four of Photojournalism: The Professionals’ Approach, Kenneth Kobre tells us that news and features can be differentiated like this: a news story is about a famous person, important event, or a tragic outcome. A feature story on the other hand is a slice of life story.

The right subject

Feature stories enable us more freedom in choosing the subject of our photos. Kobre suggests finding children acting as adults, animals acting as people, and the unexpected (someone doing something really surprising). Kobre goes on to state that a great photo “evokes a reaction in the viewer.”


Good composition creates the visual interest needed to elicit that emotional reaction. Some great tips to achieve this include:


Digital Photography School offers some great suggestions for taking unique portraits, including one of my favorites: altering the perspective of a photo (avoiding taking a photo at eye level and trying out unusual angles).

Audio slideshows

Tying these carefully thought out photos into an audio slideshow adds another element of difficulty. Photos need to be arranged well to tell a compelling story with a beginning, middle, and end. Audio must also drive the story and should be created first with photos added later.

Audio Journalism has put together a great Dos and Don’ts list for audio slideshows. Here are a few of their suggestions:

  • Tie together the audio and visuals (but don’t be redundant, per AIM chapter 7)
  • Use background sound
  • Keep it under three or four minutes

The Multimedia Journalist offers their own suggestions:

  • Open with natural sound, not a voice
  • Pay extra close attention to the first ten seconds
  • Play around with the structure, maybe switching the beginning and the end

Some great examples of strong audio slideshows can be found in the 1 in 8 Million series by the New York Times. My personal favorite is Christian Hubert: The Bridge Bicyclist. Although the story is somewhat weakened by our lack of understanding why Hubert insists on riding his bike, the photos display many rules of good composition and work together to tell a story that has a clear beginning, middle, and end in under two minutes.

How do you ensure you take good photos? What rules of composition do you follow?

Karen Hess is a MA professional-track journalism student in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication. 

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