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.
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.
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.
I continue today with another edition of Rick’s Rules, my lists of professional development suggestions for journalism students and veteran journalists alike.
TOP TEN TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE INTERVIEWING
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
There is no substitute for adequate preparation — and no excuse for “winging it” in an interview. You should become an expert on the interview subject and the subject matter. If you show that you know your stuff, you are more likely to gain the respect and confidence of the interviewee.
2. Choreograph the interview in advance.
Plan out what you hope to accomplish and the series of questions that will get you from Point A to Point Z. Also plan out what you will do if the interviewee tries to hijack the interview. (See below.)
A major mistake made by reporters is that they don’t pay attention to what the interviewee is saying; they just wait to ask the next question on their list. It’s very, very important to listen attentively. Your interview subject may tell you something that leads to a valuable new avenue of questioning.
4. Follow up.
Persistence usually pays off. If somebody tries to evade your question, try again. Depending on the situation, you can decide whether to rephrase the question or simply tell them that they haven’t answered the question. If your interview subject is evading the question, you want to let them know that you know that they aren’t answering.
5. Word your questions carefully.
You don’t want a “yes” or “no” answer, especially for audio or video. Ask a question in a manner designed to elicit a descriptive answer. It is embarrassing when you look at your notebook after an interview and you see that the answer you wrote down was “no” rather than “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
6. Know when to be the tiger and when to be the fox.
It’s important to gauge the personality of your interview subject and know when to be aggressive, when to be empathetic and when to admit your ignorance. Doing the right thing at the right time can pay off — big time. Doing the wrong thing can ruin an interview.
6. Don’t assume anything.
Ask Ms. Smith how to spell her name. It might be “Smythe.” Ask for job titles and spellings of home towns, spouses and employers’ names (if you are not certain). When possible, it’s good to double-check via a Google search to confirm on their personal or business web sites.
7. Know your subject material and don’t fake it.
You are supposed to be prepared. Remember that. But if you don’t know something, admit it. Don’t say that you’ve read a book — or a report, or an article — if you haven’t. If the interview subject believes you are fudging, it harms your credibility.
8. Don’t let the interview get hijacked.
When your interviewee says “that’s a good question, but the important point is….,” he or she is trying to change the subject and deliver a pre-packaged spin. Make sure to return as soon as possible to the questions you want to ask.
9. Don’t talk too much.
If you have a 15-minute interview, you want almost all of it to come from the mouth of your interview subject. Don’t go off on tangents or monologues. Don’t engage in too much chit chat before you get to your questions, unless you have plenty of time for the interview.
10. Appearances matter.
Look and sound professional. Don’t dress inappropriately or chew gum. Don’t smell of smoke or alcohol. It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many reporters mess up their interview before uttering their first word.