Consider this a cheat sheet.
Last week’s podcast with KUSA-TV photojournalist Michael Driver was one of the most-downloaded Telling The Story podcasts to date.
But, as I noted then, Driver was almost too good a guest.
He offered so much advice in such a short period of time, and while we were recording the interview, I kept thinking I could better serve photojournalists — heck, better serve myself — by transcribing all of Driver’s terrific tidbits.
I always enjoy the discussion of journalism, and I have used this blog several times to focus specifically on photojournalism. Check out my spotlight on the best NPPA video stories from 2012 or my podcast with KDVR-TV photographer Anne Herbst. Great photojournalism is an art that often must be sustained and passed down by, not station managers or other journalists, but the artists themselves.
Here is a thorough collection of important advice from Driver, one of the top photojournalists in the country.
BEFORE YOU SHOOT:
Back-time your day: “You need to make sure you know how much time you’re going to have to do this stuff. Give yourself enough time to edit and do the story properly. You have to have a plan in place. If you go in like, ‘We’ll see what happens,’ you’re going to run out of time. We work in a business where deadlines are our enemy. You have to make sure you get everything you can in the quickest amount of time, and then give yourself enough time to work on it.”
Work with your reporter (if you have one): “We’re constantly communicating, constantly talking about what we’re going to do. Talk to your reporter. When you get out to a scene, you’re not going to know exactly what it is. It’s constantly talking about, ‘What elements do we need? What are the visuals we need to tell this story?'”
WHILE YOU SHOOT:
Look for extra moments, whenever you can: “In this business, it’s very independent. You have to take it upon yourself to say, ‘I’m gonna go out and gather these extra things to make this story extra special. I’m constantly, when I go out, looking for any extra added thing — those little moments you can just trickle through the story. Nobody’s gonna be over your shoulder saying, ‘Do that extra thing.’ You gotta take it upon yourself to go up to a man and say, ‘Hey, can I ask you a few questions? Can I throw a mic on you?'”
Anticipate! “As I get out on a scene, I’ll shoot something, but as I’m getting that shot, I’m looking around and figuring out where my next move is going to go. I think that’s key: while you’re doing one thing, you have to know where you’re going next.”
Remember the humanity in your subjects: “When you talk to people, you have to talk to them as a human being. You want that person to feel like you’re their friend. I won’t even roll half the time before I meet someone. I’ll make someone laugh, I’ll make someone like me, and then I’ll be like, ‘Can I throw a mic on you?’ You go out on a story, and you’re so nervous that you just hurry up and do it. But you gotta go out and find ways that make people feel comfortable.”
Hang back a bit: This goes along with the previous advice but in a more technical way. “I used to go up, throw a camera right in front of their face, and just start asking questions. But if you just hang back and throw a wireless [mic] on them, they’re gonna get comfortable. They’re going to forget that you’re there.”
Think like your audience: “When I go out and shoot, I try to shoot like a viewer at home. ‘What’s a shot I’d like to see? What’s a moment I’d want to see? What’s some sound I’d want to hear?’ If you put yourself in the viewer’s shoes and watch it as a viewer, you grasp that a little bit more.”
WHILE YOU EDIT:
Use your down time wisely: “Before the script is even handed to me, I’m starting to lay down some of my best video on a sequence, so I know it’s there. I’m already kind of visualizing the story and the flow of it already. I have some shots I know I’m going to use, and I am sure to tell my reporter, ‘We gotta incorporate this.'”
Mind your pacing: Driver called this his greatest improvement over the past year: “I felt every story had to be super-fast, with super-quick edits; otherwise the viewer would lose interest. I’ve learned over this past year to let the moments breathe. There are times when the viewer at home would like to just look at a shot. If it’s a ten-second shot with a great moment, it’s OK to leave it up.”
Watch your story while you’re editing it: “It’s go-with-the-flow. I go back a lot. I’ll lay down half the package, then go back and watch it from the get-go. ‘Is the flow going well? Is it dragging?'”
“Don’t be afraid to put your little thing on it”: “Go in and do your thing, and if it looks good, the reporter is not gonna be mad. They’re gonna be grateful that you did some things they didn’t expect you to do.”
Take the initiative at all costs: “You’ve got to have that drive. You’ve got to do things on your own time, not wait for people to show you stuff. [When I first started] I would go out and do the license plate drill, where I would go out and shoot a license plate from 15 different angles. That’s a good one; young journalists, go out and try that. Try new things. Some of them are going to work, and some of them aren’t.”
Improve with every story: “Everybody can get better. You’re only as good as your last story. Awards are great, but don’t ever let that be your mindset. Don’t go out and say, ‘I’m gonna shoot this story well because I want to win an award for it.’ Go out and shoot a story because you want it to be award-worthy.”
“Have a goal, and don’t forget about that goal”: “I stayed driven. I had goals. And I was like, ‘What do I need to do to achieve these goals and continue to progress?’ Do your own thing, develop like you want, and set yourself apart. Find your own style; have your own niche.”
Stay humble: “No matter what success you have, keep yourself humble. It’s so easy for people to do great things and then feel like they’re above everybody. You always have something to learn. You are never going to know everything.”
THE FINAL WORD, MICHAEL DRIVER-STYLE:
“Keep kicking butt and taking names.”
Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at email@example.com.