visual journalism

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Sourcing images: best practices and best sources

There's a whole universe of images out there, but you have to be mindful. (Courtesy of NASA.gov)

We consistently hear from the Argo-bloggers that the most difficult part of blogging is the visual component – telling your stories in pictures as well as words. It’s hard even before we get to the many legal and ethical pitfalls that most folks haven’t been trained on how to avoid. But we also know how incredibly valuable images are for storytelling, comprehension, punctuation, humor, delight and many, many other things. So each blogger has to figure out a strategy for acquiring and using images. Continue reading

Five good photography resources

Very few of our Argo editors have had any training in photography or photo editing. But I’m encouraging all of them to illustrate everything. Of course, I don’t harbor any illusions that on a full-time blogging schedule someone’s going to spontaneously evolve into the next Robert Frank or Laura Brunow Miner, but there are some key photographic basics that can make our sites look a lot nicer. Here are five resources – tips, tutorials, online courses, and more – to help you develop a better eye for photography:

  1. NewsU’s Language of the Image course: A free course that’s highly worth the hour of your time it’ll take to complete. It provides an intro to how to think about photography, how to visually process a scene or an image to find aesthetic greatness. If you’ve never heard of the “rule of thirds,” start with this.
  2. Jodie Coston’s Classroom: An in-depth series for budding photographers, taking you from the basics of composition to camera settings such as ISO and aperture.
  3. Lifehacker – Take better cameraphone photos: Despite the title, this post isn’t just about cameraphone photos. It features a good set of rules of thumb for on-the-fly photography, whatever your equipment might be.
  4. David Pogue’s Best Photography Tricks: There are two parts to this one – David Pogue’s excellent NY Times article with quick tips for amateur photographers and Lifehacker’s additional tips. Both are valuable to keep in mind.
  5. Digital Photography School’s Most Popular Tips & Tutorials: There’s a lot of good, specific advice here on some camera basics.

Dark secret of blogging #8: Illustrate everything.

Huffington Post screenshot.

Marinate, for a moment, in the glorious ugliness of the Huffington Post. I’d say that HuffPo’s been more successful than any other news site before it in adapting the sensibility of the tabloid newspaper to the Web. Drudge led the way here, but HuffPo has nearly perfected its imitation of the irresistible pull of those sensational supermarket scandal rags, screaming at you with their blaring, saucy headlines, daring you not to look.

A key element of HuffPo’s success is its use of images. Eyetracking research has consistently shown that people tend to fixate on faces as they scan content online and in print. So as you scroll down any HuffPo section front, you’ll find the page brimming with faces and other compelling images, tugging your attention away from the left-hand column of text towards the grab bag of stories on the right.

You’ll find this emphasis on imagery in most of the highest-trafficked corners of the Web, and it’s no coincidence. Knowing this, we built our Argo sites with a pretty aggressive emphasis on promoting quality visual journalism.

Lest you think a particular subject is too abstract or boring to be well-illustrated, consider the story of Roadguy. Roadguy was Jim Foti, a copy editor colleague of mine at the Minneapolis Star Tribune who spent months telling everyone on the Web staff (including me) that he wanted to start a blog. About Twin Cities transportation and infrastructure.

At the time, StarTribune.com suffered from a glut of blogs. Over the previous few years, you couldn’t sneeze without accidentally starting a Strib blog. Many of these blogs were poorly tended, as you might expect. So the last thing we were looking for was another idea for a blog. I mean, maybe a traffic blog could fly – traffic stories were a reliable source of, er, traffic for the site – but a blog about transportation and infrastructure? Eyes glazed over at the very thought.

A widely-ignored sign, courtesy of Roadguy.

Nonetheless, Jim’s persistence eventually won him a blog. And it turned out Jim had a vision. He’d illustrate the vagaries of Twin Cities transportation policy and infrastructure planning with a steady stream of cameraphone shots of the effects of those policies out in the real world. Regular features such as the Department of Widely-Ignored Signs (see photo at right) brought readers coming back again and again.

Transportation and infrastructure, imagined the right way, is actually a gold mine of terrific visuals. If you think your topic is tough to illustrate, consider the plight of Lifehacker, which has to routinely come up with images to enliven subjects like productivity-boosting and time management, or Mint, whose blog features an image alongside every single post on personal finance.

But even if you can visualize what types of visuals might suit a topic, you face a more daunting question – how do you acquire them? I’m working on writing up guidelines for the Argo-bloggers on how to acquire and use images, so more on that subject later.