5 Snapshot Tips from a Master Photographer

by Don Genova


The digital age has made taking a photo almost as easy as taking a breath. We shoot from our phones, our tablets, our webcams, and yes, sometimes we even use an actual camera. But freelance journalists and photographers need to produce photos that sell, photos that stand out from the other 80 million photos that are posted every day to Instagram alone.

That’s where Vancouver-based Globe and Mail photographer John Lehmann comes in. On Nov. 21st, CMG Freelance sponsored a Master Class in “Visual Journalism” offered by The Tyee, featuring Lehmann, one of Canada’s top photojournalists.

Over the course of the day-long seminar, Lehmann showed photos from some of his most recent shoots, including three days spent with Justin Trudeau on the campaign trail, and an upcoming series on refugees stranded in Hong Kong, shot entirely on his iPhone.

After sharing some of his basic rules of photojournalism, Lehmann challenged students to edit the photos from two stories he worked on, paring down 700 photos from each session to a mere 14 that we would hypothetically send on to the photo editor at the Globe. It was a daunting task that took us a couple of hours, but one that Lehmann can usually do in ‘five or ten minutes’. Of course, they were his photos, and he already had a pretty good idea of what might become his ‘keepers’ when he started the editing process.

Here are 5 snapshots I took away from the experience:

  1. It doesn’t matter what kind of equipment you have, content is the key. Telling a good story with what your photo contains is even more important than the quality of the photo.
  1. Follow the Three C’s: Content, Composition, Creativity. Having the right Content is how you make a difference in your photos. How you Compose the photo can enhance the content. Your Creativity in composing the content will make it special.
  1. Facebook is probably where 90% of your social media traffic will come from. “You’re posting to a like-minded group of people, your friends,” says Lehmann. They will click through to your content whether it’s on your blog, Instagram, or whatever. He says Instagram is like Twitter for photographers, however. It’s a place to seek a wider audience, and people who might want to purchase your photography.
  1. Plan your shots! Lehmann showed photos from two assignments. One was from a shoot in New Orleans, where he arranged to meet his subject at sunset, and used some fill-in lighting from the headlights of his rental car. The other was a series where he used ballet dancers to help him tell the story of British Columbia, posing them in mines, on tree stumps and mountaintops. Or, Don’t plan your shots! Sometimes you just have to work with what you’re given and wait for the right moment, as he did while traveling with the future prime minister. “Don’t mess with politicians,” he says. “You never want to be accused of changing or shaping a story because of the way you posed them.”
  1. There are three stakeholders in photojournalism: The photographer, the subject, and your employer. To get the shot that your employer wants, you have to battle the discomfort and awkwardness of being close to your subject, who often doesn’t want to have their photo taken. Lehmann says, “you have to have some confidence to ‘invade their space’, but try to spend as much time with them as you can to put them at ease.”

He shared an early photo of him taking pictures, right in the middle of the standoff between police and a group of Mohawk protestors during the Oka Crisis in 1990.

Just in the short time spent in the Master Class I came to realize what an amazing career John Lehmann has already had, shooting thousands of newsworthy photos in BC and around the world. I think we all appreciated his willingness to share his passion for his profession and some solid advice.

Posted on November 27, 2015 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

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