Thursday, October 27, 2011

A photojournalist's portrait studio is...everywhere

To overcome her fear of photographing strangers, Amy took a deep breath and began chatting with her subject, the owner of an optometrist store. "It's amazing how fast you can complete these assignments once you find your subject and overcome your fears," she said. Read her story about her portrait assignment experience on her blog:

   When my students were told they were going to shoot portraits for their next assignment, they probably imagined using a studio, where hot lights and background paper are standard equipment. It’s natural to link portraits to this controlled environment because that’s where many families and high school seniors often go for their portraiture sessions.
  Portraits are also a part of a photojournalist’s daily agenda, but instead of subjects coming to a studio, we go to them. This is called environmental portraiture because we, the photojournalists, capture the personalities of our subjects in their natural environment, whether that be in their homes, businesses, schools, sporting venues, etc.
  Shooting portraits is not easy. There are many factors to consider, like light and background, but the most important element is that the photo tell their stories. Who are they? Why are we taking their photos for the newspaper? What's their environment like?
  Students have a hard time with shooting portraits because it can seem so...intimate. To shoot a good portrait, you have to get to know the person a little bit in a short amount of time. Social people don't have a problem with people photography, but shy people do. Serious scholastic photojournalists who are in their junior and senior years accept this. However, community college commercial photography students, like those in this Intro to Photojournalism course, are just wrapping their brains around the "getting to know your subject" concept. They're used to shooting things like trees, stuff in their apartments, old buildings and their kids.
  I'm trying to coax them out of their comfort zones, to find people they don't know with interesting hobbies or jobs, but it's not easy. Some did, some didn't.
  Because of this dilemma, I've decided to add a new instructional block next semester on how to find stories on campus. This will force them to cover their own community, which is Owens. That way, the students will feel a connection to their stories, which will be available to our school online newspaper, the Owens Outlook: I guess the lesson learned for me is you can't expect a baby to walk without first teaching her how to make those first steps.
  I encourage you to visit each student's blog. I have faith they will all eventually stray from their own backyards, but at this point, I know they trying hard to stand on their own two feet, and that's what counts.

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