Is Photography only Journalism?

March 13, 2018

There are so many genres of photography that one can not possibly learn in a lifetime. But when we take up photography as a study, the one genre which is focused on the most is journalistic work or photojournalism (at least, that’s how things were 15 or so years ago when I began studying photography professionally.) As a result, most newcomers develop a rather narrow understanding of the art and a misconception about what makes a great shot.

Be it Steve McCurry’s Afghan girl or other timeless photos such as Tank Man, The Hindenburg Disaster, Earthrise, or the iconic portraits of Che Guevara or Winston Churchill, all of these photos belong to the same genre, that is journalism. There are a few that may be more artistic in nature such as the famous Dali Atomicus. Most beginners and you wouldn’t be shocked to know that even experienced photographers believe those images to be the epitome of photographic work in the history of the world. There is no doubt that these images are timeless, but if we don’t know what made these images significant in human history, we would only be allowing ourselves to be brainwashed…. which we are by the way.

The DNA of a Timeless “Journalistic” Image

Did you notice the word “journalistic” in the title above? I did so because the list of things you will read below only applies to images that belong in the realm of journalism. Now here is a collection of Time’s 100 most influential images of all time (it’s a wonderful effort by Time and I strongly urge you to spend some time on this website and learn more about those famous photos that you might have seen many times in years.)

What has made these images significant is one or more of the following:

– A story that brought the truth from behind enemy lines


The Terror of War. Nick Ut, 1972

– A story that exposed humanity’s darkest and most evil side


Pillars of Creation. NASA, 1995

– A story that showed humanity’s best achievements


Guerillero Heroico. Alberto Korda, 1960

– A story that depicted human courage against evil and became a timeless symbol of resistance against corrupt regimes


Starving Child and Vulture. Kevin Carter, 1993

– A story that captured human suffering

– A story that uncovered an old mystery or uncovered a conspiracy
– A story that paved the way for positive change


JFK Assassination, frame 313. Abraham Zapruder, 1963

– A story that literally shocked the world


So the common denominator in these timeless photos is a “story”. Without a story and a context, these iconic images lose their meaning and significance and become nothing more than a snapshot. If you read the story of any of these 100 images, you will come to the conclusion that their significance in history is due to the story they captured, or the message they conveyed at that moment in time which shook the world and left humanity in awe and set in motion a movement for change in many cases. Telling a story with the help of images is a prerequisite for journalism, so it’s only mandatory for photographers who work for the press. For the majority of photographers, this requirement is not applicable. And instead of a story or a moment, the focal point of a photo can be anything such as the form of a building, texture of a wall, color of a liquid,¬†reflections, etc. The possibilities are limitless. But in order to capture images that stand out, one must be well-versed in design and composition principles.¬†


So next time someone tells you photography is about capturing a moment or story, just politely answer that it’s not. In truth, it’s a much wider creative medium that can be used to serve a variety of purposes. That’s why we have so many genres of photography like fine art, abstract, fashion, real estate, landscape, advertising/commercial, macro/micro, Astrophotography, etc. Afterall, it’s only a medium of creative expression, similar to other disciplines¬†such as illustration, film, CGI/animation, acting, music, etc.


Hi, I am Hammad Iqbal, a professional photographer based in Doha. Welcome to the "HI Blog" where I share tutorials, tips and techniques about shooting and post-processing images using Lightroom and Photoshop. Follow my updates by subscribing to my newsletter and discover with me the art of photography and post-processing!

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