Capturing emotion in your photos

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They say a picture says a thousand words. And that is ultimately the challenge with photojournalism: finding a picture that can tell the story before the audience even reads the article. Thus, capturing the true emotion behind a photo is an essential part of telling the story, according to two-time SNPA Photo contest winner, Stephen Thornton. He is a former photographer for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock.

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Deadline for entries is this Saturday - June 24

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"One of my great college professors said it this way, 'Don't show me what somebody does, but show me how somebody feels about what they do.' That's kind of my mantra," Thornton said.  "I don't want to show people building a garden, I want to show how people feel building the garden. I want to try to convey their thoughts and emotion, their mental drive about their project. I want to show that visually."

But finding the emotion that conveys the true depths of a story is not always easy. One of the greatest obstacles photojournalists face is creating photos that don't look posed. The key to avoiding that and creating a natural feel lies in making sure that the subject is able to feel comfortable.

"At some point they'll trust you to be in the room, and long enough to where they forget that you're there," Thornton said. "That's always a magical moment for me: when I realize that nobody is attending to the big city newspaper photographer anymore, but they're just going on about their life."

Thornton said equipment can play a role in the relationship between the subject and the photographer, and it can intimidate people. Because of this, Thornton tries to limit himself to equipment that fits into a small waist pack so he doesn't have to worry about his equipment making a lot of noise when he is in the room. Thornton also said he never uses a tripod; he prefers to use a monopod, which lets him move around quickly.

In deciding which photos to enter in previous SNPA contests, Thornton said he didn't make the final decision by himself.  Instead, he noted how vital other people's opinions were in the submission process.

With one set of entries, he said he sat down with five people, and found that he was the only one who liked a certain picture. The other four were all picking a different picture. "At some point, I have to let go of my connection to a given frame," he said.  Thornton said photographers' opinions about their own photos are "often tainted by other factors that the public has no knowledge of, making me blind to the best picture."

Considering how competitive the journalism industry has become in today's world, many believe that it takes more than just skill to make it as a photojournalist. If anyone can take a nice photo with an iPhone or some other sort of technology, then what is it that makes someone a photojournalist?

Thornton said it takes "patience, curiosity and compassion." He said curiosity  helps photojournalists find interesting stories. Patience and compassion, he said, help to "build relationships over time with your community and your co-workers." Thornton said he has also grown as a photojournalist by viewing both award-winning photos, as well as photos that don't win awards. There's a lot to be learned form both.

Enter the SNPA Photo/Video Contest. Deadline for entries is June 24.

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