I have been shooting lots of studio portraits but I would like to learn how to shoot portraits outdoors in a photo-journalistic style. Can you recommend any books or other resources to learn this style?


4 Answers 4


There's really only one key difference between typical portraiture and PJ-style portraiture: context.


  • Shoot close ups, where only the subject's face is in the frame
  • Use narrow selective DoF to isolate the subject from their surroundings.


  • Find natural subjects. If you want a picture of a doctor, find a doctor, don't find someone and dress them up as a doctor.
  • Shoot wide. I don't mean wide angle (although W/As are much better for portraiture than most forum photographers think). You must give the viewer context for your subject. Is it someone who works in a steel mill? I need to see the steel mill behind them. If it's a street vendor, I need to see that they're selling goods on the street, it can't be a picture of them against a blank wall with the title, "street vendor".
  • Make it sharp. Not only must the eyes be in focus, the entire face needs to be in focus as well as our supporting items/backgrounds.

Photojournalism, the awesome, documentary/humanist style of photography so many of us enjoy, is like most photography: much harder than it seems. You will often need to go back time and time again, make your subjects comfortable and happy to engage with you. I have a couple of PJ friends and they put in weeks, months or years shooting a series of pics. Some of the people they've had pose for them have literally spent months saying, "no" before finally saying, "I'd like you to take my picture".

  • \$\begingroup\$ If you're in a potentially volatile situation (demo/protest), I'd recommend using a zoom lens and get in as close as is safe. I sometimes use a 10-24 on my D200 and this enables me to be in the thick of things while still getting some decent pictures. \$\endgroup\$
    – peterg22
    Feb 5, 2012 at 18:21

The "father" of photojournalism and street photography is Henri Cartier-Bresson and the linked Wiki page I've provided leads to further information about him, his work, and his style. That's a starting point. Beyond that, there are numerous Flickr groups dedicated to the art and these will provide some inspiration, some guidance, and maybe even some instruction.

However, when it's all said and done, you learn by doing. Your camera is very likely digital, that gives you a massive edge over the past masters of the art when it comes to learning. For someone like Cartier-Bresson, film was the medium, the lessons of the street took much longer to learn and develop. You have digital, the feedback is in an instant and the incremental cost of a shot is basically zero. Use that to your advantage and experiment for your own style. What more do you need to know? You're probably your own best source. :)


This is one subject where you should start by examining the works of good photo-journalists. No amount of theory can substitute for that. Fortunately, by the very nature of photo-journalism, examples can be seen in most printed media(and the Internet).

A good place to start is the Best of Photojournalism site.
Here you will see some of the very best.

Another good resource is Great Photojournalism

And the New York Times is always a great resource. See their Lens blog

Then Google can turn up some great photos. Try this search

But all of this begs the question of what 'portraits in a photo-journalistic style' means. First off I would guess this means that the portrait shows more than the person. It is set in a context which supplies meaning to the portrait. Secondly I would guess that there is an underlying narrative which adds meaning to the portrait and a caption is often useful to clarify the narrative. Thirdly I would guess that the narrative and meaning are not anodyne, meek or mild. It will probably be, for example, striking, forceful, emotive, challenging or provocative.

I mention these points because it will be helpful to clarify your goals.


Right now CreativeLIVE is broadcasting the rewatch of day 1 of Bambi Cantrell's workshop. She related to photojournalistic style during the class.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That was a very interesting live broadcast, but your answer doesn't leave much for posterity. Perhaps you could provide some additional information for future reference? \$\endgroup\$
    – Sean
    Mar 19, 2011 at 19:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sean - you are right. The answer was indeed relevant only at the time of the posting. I have mentioned CreativeLIVE in several of my past answers and can be found by a search, or directly at the link I provided above. \$\endgroup\$
    – ysap
    Mar 22, 2011 at 18:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ To be honest, this is not much of an answer (not too informative, as Sean pointed out), but it WAS a leggit answer at the time, and I thought it is more than just a comment. \$\endgroup\$
    – ysap
    Mar 22, 2011 at 18:07

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