© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

The 3 I’s of Good Photojournalism, Part 2- Impact

In the first part of this entry,  The 3 I’s of Good Photojournalism: News Value, I explained the 5 qualities of news and how they relate to journalistic photographs and how I touched on the 3 qualities of a good news photograph and how it really boils down to 3: Impact, Immediacy, and Intimacy.

Impact:  noun |ˈimˌpakt| the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another   
• the effect or influence of one person, thing, or action, on another.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Flames explode behind a home Tuesday afternoon Apr. 15, 2008, in the Ranch at Roaring Fork along Highway 82 in Carbondale, Colo.

For the most part, Impact plays an important role in that it immediately draws you into the photograph using the “wow” factor.

In daily photojournalism such as newspapers, impact is the factor that is inherent in the photos which are picked by editors to run large on the front page. Really, who wants to see a boring photo on the front page?

It’s the capturing of an important, emotionally charged moment that makes the viewer feel something in the photograph. This can relate to the size of the event, or a well captured image of a small event. Or a nice feature with great facial expressions.

For instance. If there’s a large building that’s burning with flames coming out the window, the impact of the photo is inherent upon the size of the event. Larger events create larger impact.

I once argued this point in one of my advanced photojournalism class at Western Kentucky University. The larger the event, the more impact the photos have. With the smaller events, the better photographers will produce the photos which have more impact.

For example, you have a large wildfire that’s taking out homes in its path. The sheer enormity of the fire dictates the impact of the photographs. Most people will get a decent photo out of it just because it is so huge.

However, a trained photojournalist will find their way to the center of the action with smaller news stories, thereby capturing even more dramatic photographs. It’s seeking out the details, the “smaller” images which tell the story as much, if not louder than, as the big flames.

An example is coverage of sever storms that ripped through Kentucky and Tennessee in January of 1999. The night before I went to the scene of house that was crushed by a tree felled by strong winds. I shot the image below.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Sherril Smith (cq), comforts Kathy McKee of Bowling Green, Ky., after her home was destroyed by a tree when fierce winds toppled it during severe storms on Saturday night January 16, 1999.

The next morning, very early I might add, my friend Bill Goodwin, III, called and said a major tornado hit Jackson, Tenn. Although it was a 4 hour drive and I still had classes to attend, I jumped in my VW Rabbit picked him up and headed down there.

What we ran into was humbling. The town was hit in its center by an EF4 tornado that flattened block upon block. The National Guard and Sherrif’s office blocked access to town. We managed to talk our way through the police lines by signing a waiver of liability.

The destruction was complete on many levels. Whole homes gone. People left with nothing. Eight confirmed dead.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Meredith Dorris of Memphis,Tenn., sits on the remains of her grandmothers porch in Jackson, Tenn., after a tornado ripped through the area killing 8 people on Sunday evening January 18, 1999. Her grandmother, 80-year-old Lura Bell Dorris, was killed in the storm.

As I kept a sharp eye out and photographed the destruction, I noticed a woman sitting on a pile of rubble. I watched as she picked up a picture, look at it, put it in a box.

I shot several frames of this. Then I walked up to her to ask for here name. Meredith Dorris. Her grandmother lived at the house. She died during the night time fury.

A small house fire may result in nothing but smoke. Again, if one has a good nose for news, and executes patience, one is able to find the image with the most impact that tells the story best.

Being tenacious is key to capturing good photographs. I’ve been to scenes which other photographers showed up and due to diligence and tenacity, captured images they missed. I’ve also been the one scratching my head looking at their photos the next day saying “Where’d they find that?” It works both ways.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Enid, Okla., firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians resuscitate Jerry Barnes after he was pulled from his trailer at 2728 N.Washington after it had caught fire.

A good example of this is when I went to a house fire while working for the Enid (Okla.) News & Eagle. The trailer was fairly burned out and after 10 minutes, I heard from a neighbor that a man living there usually sleeps during the day and when she told the fire chief, they searched the remains and found homeowner Jerry Barnes still in his bed, alive, but badly burned.

The resulting images had more impact than photos of the firemen dousing the mobile home with water.  The photos of Jerry Barnes being given CPR told more of a story, and drew more reader reaction.

Several months later, he wanted meet both the writer and I to thank us for the coverage. I wrote in an earlier blog about meeting him: Don’t Underestimate the Value of Your Work.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Bowling Green, Ky., fire fighters battle a blaze on Boatlanding Road. Though this fire produced large flames and destroyed most of the unoccupied building, after a day or so, the fire was mostly forgotten. An example of low impact.

One very important point to mention is that when you begin to document the plight of individuals involved, your photos begin to gain a tremendous amount of impact. Photos of burning homes only go so far. It’s when you begin to focus on the individuals affected or are involved, you begin the journey of becoming a true photojournalist.

But be mindful of the hardships your subject may be going through. Remember, it’s not about your ego or getting the best shot ever, it’s about telling a story which may help the individuals involved.

Take a minute, study the scene, discover your story, aim your lens at the those involved or affected, and see how the impact of your images increases.

Coming up in Part 3: Immediacy:
and soon to follow is Part 4: Intimacy:

Thank you for stopping by and reading. All comments are appreciated.

Paul Conrad

Pablo Conrad Photography

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  1. A lot of us don’t think of ourselves as photojournalists, but your comments on “impact” apply to photographers of all stripes. We select our shots because the subject matter in some way impacts us and we want to capture that impact and convey it to our viewers.

    Sage advice, Pablo. Looking forward to the other two Is.


    1. Thanks for stopping by Bronson.

      You definitely can use this as a tool with weddings and portraits to add that “POW” factor.

      Have a great day


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