In the last couple of years, photojournalists have been laid off from large media companies. Along with this, did the quality of photos drop? A recent study has confirmed what many of us think is reasonable: laying off professional photojournalists leads to a loss in the quality of images. And it’s not only the loss of technical quality but so much more.
The research was conducted by Tara Mortensen of the University of South Carolina and Peter Gade of the University of Oklahoma. They analyzed almost 1,000 photos from the Times Herald-Record. They compared 488 professional photos placed in the newspaper and 409 photos taken by non-professionals.
The researchers chose Times Herald-Record for a reason. In 2013, this paper laid off all of the photojournalists. Within six months, the number of non-professional photos in the printed paper increased from 19% to 33%. In their study, Mortensen and Gade categorized the images on the following scale:
- Informational — photos that provide information, like a mug shot, but “lack emotion or creativity”
- Graphically appealing — photos that are “taken at angles or perspectives that make them aesthetically interesting”
- Emotionally appealing — photos that convey “the human element of subjects”
- Intimate — photos that achieve a “private connection with the viewer.”
The researchers explain that informational photos are the most commonly used, “routine” shots. On the other hand, the intimate photos are the most exceptional and used most rarely. According to the study, none of the non-professional photos were categorized as intimate, while over 82% were considered informational. With the professional photos, 1.8% of them were categorized as intimate, and under 50% as merely informational. Here is the full table:
There are some more differences between professional and non-professional photos. When it comes to depicting action and conflict, this was far more present in the professional images. Additionally, the professional images were more prominently placed in the Times Herald-Record than the non-professional photos, according to the study.
The differences definitely exist between professional and non-professional images, but the question is why? Why owning a smartphone and just being at the scene isn’t enough for compelling shots? American Press Institute writes that there could be more possible reasons. One is that professional photojournalists have a different approach to photography because of their training, and I would completely agree with this. Another potential reason is that the majority of non-professionals are local, so professionals get to photograph different events.
The entire study was published in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, if you want to read it further. But it has proven one important thing: photojournalism matters. And just like in any profession, you can’t do it well enough if you are not trained or don’t have certain experience. Shooting an image with a smartphone isn’t likely to replace a professional news photographer, and it doesn’t matter how great photos your phone makes. It’s about the experience, training and the approach to subject matter. I just hope newsrooms will understand it and appreciate their photo staff more.
[via American Press Institute]