Ten tips to improve your news photography from a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner

Larry Price spoke to Global Business Journalism Program students on April 21. (Photo by Gaelle Patricia Chekma)

Larry Price spoke to Global Business Journalism Program students on April 21. (Photo by Gaelle Patricia Chekma)

Every year, the Pulitzer Prizes celebrate some of the world’s best journalism. Just hours after the 2015 Pulitzer winners were announced, my Global Business Journalism Program was fortunate to play host to a two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for photography. Larry C. Price, a University of Texas graduate who won the Pulitzer while working for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Philadelphia Inquirer, dazzled my Multimedia Reporting and Data Journalism students with tales from his latest project, a multi-year investigation into the use of child labor in gold mining. His work — entitled “Tarnished” — was published in eBook form by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

Here are ten tips I culled from Larry’s lectures and the subsequent Q-and-A period. They are not a definitive list of “ten top tips.” They are just a collection of tips that I hope will be useful as you attempt to improve your photographic skills.

One of the many vivid photos from "Tarnished." This is from Larry Price's trip to a gold mining area of Burkina Faso.

One of the many vivid photos from “Tarnished.” This is from Larry Price’s trip to a gold mining area of Burkina Faso.

1. Always remember that you’re a storyteller.

Whatever publishing platform you’re on, and whatever visual medium you’re using, journalism is always about one thing. “It’s all about the stories,” Larry says. “Stories are as old as language. They’re everywhere. And journalism tells them.”

2. Look for something new — or a new take on an old image.

“Find something that hasn’t been done,” Larry says. “Or find a different spin on it.”

He says colleagues have sometimes discouraged him from shooting certain images, saying, “it’s been done.”

“My response is, ‘I haven’t done it,'” he says. “If somebody’s told the story, tell it differently.”

His example: a recent trip to Paris and a photo shoot at the Eiffel Tower.

The eBook "Tarnished" is available online from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

The eBook “Tarnished” is available online from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

3. Get up early. Stay late.

Larry doesn’t use artificial lighting. As a result, he is looking for the best natural light available. “If you want your multimedia productions to look good, shoot them early in the morning or a few minutes before sunset,” he says.

That means long days of work and short nights of sleep.

4. Get close.

Every photographer has her or his own signature. For Larry, it’s close-ups. “I love tight facial portraits,” he said. “Force yourself to get close.”

Another favorite subject for his close-ups: “Hands and feet. That’s what it’s all about.”

5. Get personal.

To make a subject comfortable with you — especially if you are going to shove your camera into their face — is to develop a personal relationship with them. “I spend a lot of time getting rapport established before I take out a camera,” Larry says. “I develop that rapport so it doesn’t get uncomfortable to your subject.”

Of course, you can’t always do this when news is breaking, but it can help improve your image if you have a bit of time to prepare.

6. Keep shooting.

“When I’m in the field, it’s constant activity,” Larry says. “Digital allows you to shoot, review, delete a lot.” Don’t let your guard down when you’re on duty: You never know when the next great photo opportunity might come. “You can’t ever relax,” he says. “It’s a never-ending cycle of feeling guilty.”

On his most recent trip to Burkina Faso, Larry returned with 37,000 frames. “I always have a lot of failures,” he notes. “I shoot a lot of pictures.”

7. Minimize your vertical shots.

Horizontal photographs work best on digital platforms, whether that’s a mobile device or a computer. And if you’re taking video, make sure it’s horizontal. “Never shoot vertical video,” warns Larry. “It’s useless. Half your space is wasted.” He rarely takes vertical stills, except for portraits. But he likes the square format popularized by Instagram. “Square is a very good portrait format — a little more artsy,” he says.

8. Stay natural.

Great photographers don’t cheat with editing programs that alter reality. “I don’t do a lot of Photoshop with my pictures,” he said. “I don’t exaggerate the colors or anything.”

9. Take good notes.

You need to have the spelling of names, correct ages and the locations of cities or villages. Larry always uses two notebooks. He also records the GPS coordinates of everything.

10. One old-fashioned photo composition rule.

“Don’t ever put people in the middle of the frame,” he says.

Matt Haldane has a front row seat for Larry Price's lecture at Tsinghua.

Matt Haldane has a front row seat for Larry Price’s lecture at Tsinghua.


Congratulations to 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner Lisa Falkenberg, who exposed injustice in Texas justice

Lisa Falkenberg gets a hug from Chron colleague Tony Freemantle after winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. (Photo by Steve Gonzales)

Lisa Falkenberg gets a hug from Chron colleague Tony Freemantle after winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. (Photo by Steve Gonzales)


What a thrilling way to start the day! On the morning I will host two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Larry Price in my Global Business Journalism classes at Tsinghua University, I wake up to news that my longtime Houston Chronicle colleague Lisa Falkenberg has won the 2015 Pulitzer for commentary.

Thoroughly deserved. Lisa’s compelling columns exposed deep injustices in the justice system. The scales of justice in Texas are weighted … and not in favor of the individual.

Many in Houston will note that this is the first Pulitzer Prize in the history of the Houston Chronicle. Yes, that is a historical footnote worth noting. But let’s not forget that this prize was given because Lisa described in a compelling and clear nature the deep, systemic flaws in the local criminal justice system. To honor Lisa, let’s have more than champagne. Let’s fix the perversions of justice that take place in Texas.

I can now say that I once covered an election from the cluttered cubicle of a Pulitzer Prize winner, when she was on maternity leave.

Have a great celebration with Mizanur and the family, Lisa. And let’s see if we can do something about the ills you exposed.


Experimenting with data visualization: Here are some interactive graphics I have developed

Teaching Data Journalism at Tsinghua. (Photo by Zhang Sihan)

Teaching Data Journalism at Tsinghua. (Photo by Zhang Sihan)

Data journalism has become an indispensable part of the news world. Every journalist who hopes to have a job in five or ten years will be required to have at least a basic understanding of spread sheets, data scraping, data cleaning, data visualization and coding.

As part of the new Data Journalism course I have created for the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University, I am experimenting with data visualization platforms. Here are a few examples. (If my WordPress blog platform will not allow you to open the embedded graphics, you can click on the links to take you to the pages where you can view them.)

I’d love to get your feedback … and some suggestions on platforms that could be useful for data viz projects.

THE VALUE OF THE U.S. DOLLAR OVER THE PAST DECADE PLOTTING AGAINST SIX INTERNATIONAL CURRENCIES

FROM SILK:

//currencies-vs-dollar.silk.co/s/embed/linechart/collection/currency-silk/numeric/china/numeric/switzerland/numeric/uk/numeric/japan/numeric/eu-euro/numeric/russia/order/asc/title/on/silk.co/slice/0/12
Data from currencies-vs-dollar.silk.co

FROM SILK:
http://goo.gl/JVSGLH

//currencies-vs-dollar.silk.co/s/embed/barchart/collection/currency-silk/numeric/uk/numeric/russia/numeric/eu-euro/numeric/japan/numeric/china/numeric/switzerland
Data from currencies-vs-dollar.silk.co

THE 2016 REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL FIELD: A SAMPLING OF AN UNFORMED CONTEST

FROM BAIDU VIZ PRODUCT:
http://tushuo.baidu.com/p.php?p=dta8dmpds8hkvksww