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Paul Taggart, whose work has appeared in publications such the New York Times and National Geographic, has photographed dozens of photo essays—from stories of civil unrest in faraway lands to a kid's first camping trip. Here, he discusses the key concepts behind great photojournalism: the types of photos that make up a photo essay, the research and planning that goes into shooting one, and the art of sequencing the final shots in a way that tells the story. He also talks about the prospects for storytellers in the Internet age, and shows examples of photo essays that he has shot for major magazines and for his own personal projects.
One element of being a photographer, is you've gotta have lots of this stuff, you gotta have cameras. And a lot of gear, and a lot of people, that's their segway into photography, is getting really obsessed with the technical side of it. And getting really obsessed with the newest lens, or the newest camera body, or the newest tripod or the newest flash. And I gotta say, it just doesn't interest me at all (LAUGH). I'll get a camera and it'll work and I'll just run with it. And when it doesn't work, and you know, this one right now doesn't, this is like really rough to zoom and it you know, makes my life hell.
But I know that it'll work and I know the kind of images I get out of it. And the thing that I always tell people is, they're hammers. They're tools, that's what we use them for. And, they're not precious items, you can see mine is a little beat up. It's got tape on it, it's broken um, (LAUGH) but as long as it works and it shoots and I've got something that's going to record light. And I've got a lens in front of it that's going to do what I need it to do, you make pictures, and you tell stories with them. And yeah well, you know, I love looking at B and H or whoever, and checking out the newest gear. And Leicas are really cool looking, but at the end of the day, the thing I never want to hear from an aspiring photographer or student is like. I couldn't do that because I couldn't afford this lens or this camera, whatever.
Because I was shooting in my first war zone with a camera that, you know, was not very good. I was borrowing equipment and all this. So, you know, the equipment should never be hindering the process. Also, as far as gear I'm also a total geek and I get geeky about gadgets and stuff like that. And I, I do definitely have like a workflow as far as like when I'm packing my bag and I'm getting ready to head out. for me personally, I don't like carrying bags into the field, I like to just have, I do like to work with two cameras. I'm fortunate enough now that I can afford two cameras, and I don't like switching lenses in the field if I don't have to. Because I just want to know my camera and grab it and shoot. And so what I do, and this is pretty common for photojournalists, is I have two camera bodies.
they should be identical, mine aren't identical. And have one on each shoulder, and I'll have a wide zoom and I'll have a longer zoom. So for me its a 17 to 35 and an 80 to 200. And just based on the weight on the shoulder, I automatically know which one it is, and I do a little swing, and I pull it up, and I shoot. And I do a little swing on the other one, and I pull it up, and I shoot. And you know, it's, it's part of the process now is I don't really think about it. You just kind of, you just kind of go make pictures. that said, I mean, the one thing I'll say for, for aspiring photographers or people that are just learning, is very early on. When I was I don't know teenager working you know at a local newspaper. I wasn't shooting, I was a copy clerk, but I really wanted to be a photographer. Is I just, I did learn the process and the technical stuff. and really became a nerd about it.
And, you know, you can do that in like two weeks. There's not, there's not much to taking a picture. You've got, if you look at this thing, we've got, focus, I've got a zoom on this one, sometimes you don't even need a zoom. But basically you have focus, you've got your shutter speed. You've got your aperture, you've got your film speed, like that's it. Like, all the cameras are going to have those, they might call them different things, like maybe it's Gain, instead of ISO, or something. But you essentially have like three or four elements and that's it. And you learn those, and you lock it into your brain, how they work, and then you never think about it again. Because when I'm out there in the field, I'm not sitting there going, oh, am I at five, six or two, eight dadada, you just do it. And, for me, that's one reason while I'll hold on, even though there's better cameras out nowadays.
I don't want to switch cameras because motor memory kicks in. And so for me, like, when I want to, when I'm, let's say I'm outside in a bright situation and I walk through a door into in the interior and it's dark. My thumb knows like if I spin the little wheel on the back of my camera it's only going to take so many clicks, and that's going to get me into the interior space. I'm not thinking, oh well shooting at F11, now I'm at two eight, like that thought had happened I don't know, eight years ago. And now I just know and (SOUND) it happens. seo you just get to know your equipment, and, make some great pictures, but at the end of the day, I'll say it again. It's a hammer, it's a tool.
Don't don't treat it preciously. Go use it.
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