1 – Get closer: If photojournalism has one maxim or guiding proverb, it’s Robert Capa’s statement that, “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Don’t stand off on the periphery of your story and shoot a few tentative frames. Editors call this kind of photo an intimidation shot because they see it so often from beginning photographers. Get into the story you’re shooting. Really work the scene. Shoot from a high or low angle. Use a wide-angle lens and shoot a lot.
2 – Think story: A good photo tells a complete story. Like the opening of a written article, a news photo presents both subject and context. Are you taking a picture of a person? In your photo you might include some environmental information about that person relevant to your story — home, job, hang-out — give the viewers a sense of who your subject is. Are you photographing a sign, storefront or object? Be sure and show the broader surroundings to provide viewers with a context to better understand the image’s significance.
3 – Work the layers: Photographers often think of a photo in terms of two or three (sometimes more) distinct graphic layers or dimensions: foreground, middle-ground, and background. A trained photographer will use each layer to make a photograph work in a narrative way, as mentioned above, or on a graphic level, as presented below. Make a two-dimensional image work as three dimensions by using each layer to advance a specific element of your story or simply to make an image that is more visually interesting.
4 – Think on a graphic level: In addition to telling a good narrative story, good photos work on a graphic level, almost like an abstract painting. Photo editors like photos that are composed to be eye-catching. To be sure, a good subject or story is an important part of a compelling photograph, but photos also convey a message or a tone on a graphic level. Graphic photos are visually stimulating. Think patterns. Think light. Think about how relationships between colors and shapes work to convey an idea. Think declining perspective. Think angle of view.
5 – Look for peak action: Good news photo is about human drama. Human behaviors and facial expressions convey this drama, both the overstated and the intimate. Look for the most visually dramatic moments in your story and catch them in your frame. Henri Cartier-Bresson called this the decisive moment. An animated or expressive subject is always more interesting to look at.