The 3 I’s of Good Photojournalism, Part 4: Intimacy

In Part 1, I discussed the 5 values of news and how they relate to good news photography. With this I gave an introduction on the 3 I’s of Good Photojournalism..

In Part 2: Impact, the stronger the impact of a photograph, the stronger it creates a reaction to the viewer. Or as some like to call it: The “pow” effect.

In Part 3: Immediacy: I covered how as time goes on, the effect the photograph has becomes less and less.

Now in this part, Part 4, I cover the last, yet most important, attribute: Intimacy.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

As Aspen fire fighter Craig Melville, left, and others hold tight, a bear cub screams Saturday afternoon Sept. 8, 2007, on the Hyman Avenue Mall in Aspen.

The strongest attribute a good journalistic photograph can have is its ability to draw you in, create an emotion, and makes you think. It involves the viewer. It shows a side of the subject that the viewer would experience if they personally knew them.

This is Intimacy.

Intimacy |ˈintəməsē| noun ( pl. -cies) close familiarity or friendship; closeness of observation or knowledge of a subject

The viewer feels a closeness to the subject in the photograph. They feel the emotions the subject feels and it brings about an experience of familiarity. The viewer experiences what the subject is experiencing. They have a reaction to the photograph.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Ana Weidie of Pearlington, Miss., explains what happened to her 200-year-old Levee Street home Friday afternoon September 30, 2005, after it was flooded by a nearly 30 foot storm surge from Hurricane Katrina August 29th

That reaction could be positive or negative. Either way, the photograph creates a reaction.

Intimacy does not mean getting close with a wide-angle lens. Although this can be an effective tool in certain circumstances, it is not always best. It requires a deep knowledge of your subject, a strong familiarity with the subject of your story, and a relentless pursuit of that story.

Whether covering a breaking news event, or working on a personal long-term project, bringing intimacy into your photographs will elevate the photograph to a level that will leave the viewer wanting more.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Anti-riot police form a defensive line against a growing crowd of aggressive demonstrators Monday morning Aug. 26, 2008, in Civic Center Park in downtown Denver, Colo., during the 208 Democratic National Convention.

Attempting to get intimacy into a breaking news photographs requires tenacity, quick instinctual reflexes, and knowledge of your gear far above the average shooter. A quick eye is paramount in shooting breaking news. Moments are fleeting, and without paying close attention, even a great photojournalist will miss that one important moment which tells the story. You must have instinct and think on your feet rather quickly.

Every incident is unique. The good breaking news photographer knows how to quickly read the scene and identify the story telling moment. They take time to observe the scene, ask questions, and watch the individuals like a director views his stage play.

Armed with this knowledge, they decide which lenses to use, the angles to shoot from, and who the main subjects should be. And this they do in a matter of seconds using solely their instinct.

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With kids playing about her feet, Hilary Furey of Pearlington, Miss., does her laundry in what's left of her front yard in October, 2005, one month after Hurricane Katrina.

Photojournalists working on long-term projects are able to capture very intimate photographs of their subjects. They are able to capture storytelling moments.

As they work on the project, they begin to peel layers off their subjects. Their images begin to show a deeper level of intimacy. The barrier between the photographer and subject is broken down and that strong sense of intimacy prevails in the photographs. You, the viewer, get to know the person, or persons, in the essay.

In Todd Heisler’s Pulitzer Prize winning essay Final Salute, you feel the closeness that the photographer had with his subjects. Heisler and writer Jim Sheeler spent a year working on the essay of U.S. Marines at Buckley Air Force Base near Denver whose job it was to notify families of the death of their loved ones.  Both Heisler and Sheeler won Pulitzers for their efforts.

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

"This is so much fun," yells Amarose Gamache, 81, right as he Winifred "Winnie" Elliott, 87, react to the wind in their hair while riding in a 1934 Ford Model T on Castle Creek Road in Aspen, Colo.

There are various techniques to help get intimacy in your photographs: lens choice, compositions, light, depth of field, and how physically close you are.


© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Two Aspen High School freshmen react as they dissect a sheep's brain during biology class.

Using a telephoto brings you close to your subject. It also allows you to use less depth of field to make your subject stand out. But don’t just use a telephoto to bring far subjects closer, use it to get in tight to your close subjects.

A wide-angle isn’t just for those vistas in the Rocky Mountains, they’re also for shooting photographs of people. When you get close with your wide-angle, you make your subject stand out from the background. It gives them dominance. It’s a technique not for the timid.


© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Sitting in total darkness is nothing new to Mary Louise Thomas of Bowling Green, Ky. She suffers from cataracts, Multiple Sclerosis, and lives with chronic pain. She says she uses marijuana to help her tolerate the light and it helps ease the pain. She is currently on probation and cannot use the illegal drug or she risks jail. "I would embrace death if not for my son Trey. It would put an end to all this pain," she said.

Creative use of light helps make your subject stand out. It adds a mood and intimacy to your photograph by directing the viewer to the main subject.

Good lighting can add depth and dimension to you photograph. Study the light to see how you can use it to accentuate the mood of your photograph and add that extra dimension of intimacy.

Depth of field:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Pondering his next move, Lada Vrany, 87, of Aspen, Colo., sits on his bed in his home of over 50 years. He describes how he feels about Pitkin County evicting him and his tenants off the property he's lived on for nearly 50 years and says he likens himself to the Native Americans in the 1800s. "I feel like the Indians when the (U.S.) Cavalry came and kicked them off their land," the former construction company owner said, "what do I do now and where do I go and how can I move all my stuff in 30 days?"

By using a shallow depth of field, you make your subject pop out from the background and foreground. This works with both telephoto and wide-angle lenses but is more pronounced telephoto lenses.

Remember, today’s new lenses are sharp throughout their aperture range. They are as sharp at f/2.8 as they are at f/8. Use this to make your subject pop from the background.

But, don’t go too shallow and blur any necessary information that will add to the story.

Various compositional techniques can be used to bring intimacy into your photographs. One of the strongest is:

–  Dominant foreground with a contributing background.

Study the works of James Nachtwey, W. Eugene Smith, Robert Capa, and others. These top rated photojournalist use this technique with great efficiency.

Getting close to your subject brings the viewer into the photo and allows them to experience what the photographer experienced.

Move in:

© Paul Conrad/Pablo Conrad Photography

Central Hardin High School sophomore Alison Cooke collapses in despair while the Union County High School team celebrates after winning the Kentucky State 5A Girl's Basketball championship.

Robert Capa once said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” This is not only true for war photography, but I believe it is more so when documenting the lives of everyday people.

Your viewer can sense whether or not you were timid when photographing your subjects. The view gets a more distant feel when you shoot from farther away. When you are close to your subject, either physically or emotionally, that is transferred to your photographs.

I do believe that using longer lenses more intrusive than the wider angles. When you are close with your camera taking photographs, your subject sees you and become more comfortable with your presence. The knows what you are doing. When you are shooting from further away, it’s fair to say the subject feels more intimidated.

That is why so many long-term projects have that feeling of intimacy. The photographer has built a bond between them and their subjects with the camera. Their subjects have become comfortable with the camera.

But it’s not just the subject, the photographer must be comfortable with both their camera and photographing those moments.

In a previous post, Breaking Barriers, I discuss ways to help you overcome being timid while doing street photography. These same basic principles apply.

To help you better, look through some of the great works in photojournalism and identify the 3 I’s I have discussed.

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

Paul Conrad

Pablo Conrad Photography

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