Skip to content

JO513 Photo 2

Spring 2021


Peter Smith, Master Lecturer        
cell: 617 548-0109

Zoom Office Hours:   
Mon. 1 – 2:15 pm
Tues. 11 am – noon
Wed. 1 – 2:15 pm

“Each day as the earth revolves towards sunrise, members of a select human species awaken to observe the world with three eyes instead of two.  They are the photojournalists of the world, men and women who write the visual biography of humankind on earth.”     John Morris

Photojournalism is a demanding, competitive profession.  Advances in photo technology have leveled the playing field, but the best photojournalists always seem to succeed in capturing images that have both immediate and lasting value, connecting readers and the world-at-large to their local communities.  Although modern cameras enable everyone to take pictures, the best photojournalists stay ahead of the pack.  Having a camera doesn’t make you a photographer any more than flossing makes you a dentist.

The purpose of this course is to acquaint students with the necessary tools to enter the profession of visual journalism and to succeed.  It will be hard work, but no more demanding than the field itself.  It should also be fun.  I have never known a photographer who decided on this career for a reason other than the pursuit of interesting experiences.  At this point it is expected students will have mastered the basics of photography, and are familiar with the requirements of photojournalism.  This course offers the opportunity to learn photojournalism on a professional level.

Your photos should be clean, graphic and easy to read. Dodging and burning are okay, but stay within the rules. Blacks can be snappy but should maintain detail. Crop wisely and use the original aspect ratio. 

We will discuss safety guidelines for each assignment.


Week One, January 26
Class Intro – review syllabus, software and hardware recommendations. You’ll need an external hard drive (SD). Deliver assignment to Smugmug. I’ll send you an upload link to your own Smugmug folder.
Assignment 1:  Shoot feature moments from various angles/distances/focal lengths, upload five images.
Bring cutline info to class for caption writing lab.

Feature Ideas:  Look for a moments of human interest in your neighborhood, on the BU campus or wherever you live.   Photograph interesting moments of people in a public setting. 

Review best practices for keeping safe when working in the field.
Review Tyler Hicks’ Amazon Photo Essay. Review captions.

Week Two, February 2
Caption writing, lecture and lab
Rough Draft of Assignment 1 is due today.
Review future class assignments. 
Create a spreadsheet of visual story ideas.
This week:  Set up an Adobe Portfolio for this class.

Week Three, February 9
Due: Assignment 1 Features, final edit.
No pigeons, squirrels or ducks, and no photos of friends, roommates or relatives.  Photograph interesting moments of life at events, on the T, on campus or within your community. We are living through a historic period of a global pandemic that is very visual.  Write strong captions that explain who is in the photo, when and where it is shot, and what the historical, cultural or news context is connected to that moment. (10 points)

Week Four, February 23
Due: Assignment 2, Portrait, editorial style. Shoot a variety of situations and camera angles. Use storytelling backgrounds and careful composition. (10 points)

Week Five, March 2
Due: Assignment 3, Neighborhood. 
Shoot portraits of shop owners and residents. Talk to people. Photograph artists and bakers and barbers. Photograph features of life on the street. Photograph people working. Shoot scene-setters, use backgrounds well, tell a story with your pictures. Look for overviews – shoot from up high and from down low. Talk to people, engage. Tell them why you are there and what you are looking for – a picture story of their unique neighborhood! (10 points)

homework: prepare pitch for a photo package. What is the visual element of your subject? Who is the main character? What are the issues? Do you have access? Who cares about this story? – who is your audience and what’s new about your story? What’s your interest in the subject? 

Week Six, March 9
Due: Photo Package 1 (10 points)
homework: prepare pitch. 

Week Seven, March 16 
Due: Photo Package 2 (10 points)
homework: prepare pitch. 

Week Eight, March 23
Due: Photo Package 3 (10 points)
Due: Pitch Photo Essay in class.

Week Nine, March 30
Photo Essay, shoot 1 – ten photos

Week Ten, April 6
Photo Essay, shoot 2 – ten photos

Week Eleven, April 13
Due: Photo Essay, shoot 3 – ten photos

Week Twelve, April 20
Open lab to finish photo essay edit

Week Thirteen, April 27 
Due: photo essay – 10 photos (30 points)
Due: Adobe Portfolio

By the end of the course students will be expected to have achieved specific goals and acquired defined skill sets, including:

  • The ability to take a set of photographs of a subject or event that will communicate the essence of that subject matter to the viewer of the photographs.
  • The ability to edit a collection of photos into a package with an effective and coherent story line.
  • The ability to write publication quality captions and provide written reporting to complement photo stories in order to deliver a complete editorial product to viewers.
  • The ability to generate a variety of ideas for publication quality photo stories, reflecting diversity of subject matter.
  • Knowledge of professional practices and ethics in photojournalism.
  • The ability to articulate criticism of photographs and photo stories in order to contribute to their improvement.
  • The ability to manage workflow in order to adhere to strict weekly deadlines.
  • Mastery of photographic skills utilizing digital photo equipment including a full range of lenses and lighting options.
  • Consistent use of advanced photographic techniques including lighting, motion, depth of field, and effective composition to achieve the maximum quality of images.
  • Competence in digital processing of images in order to provide photographs that achieve publication quality in color balance, exposure, sharpness, and resolution.
  • Basic knowledge of business practices and opportunities in the professional field of photojournalism.

Throughout the term, you will be working on picture stories: not just pictures, but stories.  Each week, you must pitch at least two  story ideas in class that are well thought out and fully developed, with information about how you would approach producing that story.  I will serve as your “editor”, and will require you to sell me on your ideas in the same way you would need to convince a web site or publication editor to give you space for your story.  Each week you will produce one finished story that must include 5 selected images, with well-written captions and/or a story block.  Complete, informative, well-written captions are an absolute requirement; photos without written information are of no use in the wider world.  Photos and words must work together, as if you are producing a photo package for the internet or a full-page photo essay in a newspaper or magazine. 

These include proper color balance, exposure, and sharpness in the images; and accurate, comprehensive information in the written component.

You are encouraged to explore multi-media presentations for weekly assignments and final projects, although this is not a course requirement.  The primary goal of this course is to learn how to inform people through your photo coverage.  The partnership of photographs and other media is explored extensively in other classes.

To get you started, I will give you several story ideas.  If you wish, you can choose from among these until you have generated ideas of your own. I can assist with story ideas should you need help.  These are standard assignments of the kind you would expect during the course of work at a publication or online news outlet.

  1. WORK.  Find a subject who is engaged in an interesting, unusual profession.  Follow that person as long as it takes to tell the story of who they are and what they do, and convey it in your photos.
  2.  NEWS EVENT.  Find an event that can yield a picture story.  Remember that your job is to connect your readers/viewers to that event.  Stay away from routine events unless they can be made interesting.
  3. SPORTS EVENT.  Cover a sports event, but don’t just shoot action.  Look for storytelling moments.  Quite often the best photos are reaction shots from players, coaches, and fans.
  4. GROUP ACTIVITY.  Examples include production of a play, a dance troupe in rehearsal and performance, students making a film.
  5. PERSONAL PROFILE.  Spend time with a person you do not know well, telling the story of his or her life.  Subjects could include a person with an unusual lifestyle or set of relationships, or someone facing special challenges.

Occasionally the entire class will be assigned to cover one topic or event, in much the same way the staff of a publication works.  The goal will be to provide comprehensive coverage and to experience working as a team.  In the past these projects have included the Boston Marathon, the New Hampshire presidential primary, election night, the Head of the Charles rowing regatta, and others.

From your weekly assignments generate one for an ongoing project that will yield either a 10 picture photo essay or a multimedia package, due at the end of the term.  You will need to get going on this early. You should take the opportunity to produce a piece of work you would be proud to have in your portfolio.

Class structure and subject matter will vary in response to student interests.  Therefore, you will not have a rigid schedule of classes for the term.  However, the “standard” class will start with a presentation and discussion on contemporary and historic figures photojournalists and documentary photographers. Students will pitch photo story ideas followed by a critique session of your weekly assignments.  These critiques are among the most important opportunities in the course.  Therefore, it is imperative that photo stories are ready for presentation at the start of every class.  The learning experience in this course is a collaborative effort.  You will learn not only from your own successes and mistakes, but also from the experiences of others in the class. All students need to offer opinions and to share their ideas.  Please engage.  The sooner you learn to articulate your ideas and opinions, the more you will grow as a photographer.

There will be at least one 10 minute break in every Zoom session to pour a cup of tea or catch up with the rest of the world.

Classes may include guest lectures by working photographers in different arenas of photojournalism.  These presentations will be tailored to the needs and interests of the class. In the past, visiting speakers have come from the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Associated Press, and independent photographers who work for a variety of news organizations, publications, and clients. 

REQUIRED READING –, daily. Also follow a number of other divergent news sources like PBS, NPR, as well as other online news sites. Be informed.

RECOMMENDED TEXTS:  These books are not required course reading, but I urge you to read them if you are serious about your work in photography.

Photojournalism – The Professionals’ Approach: Seventh Edition, Kenneth Kobre

ISBN 978-0-7506-8593-1

Truth Needs No Ally, Howard Chapnick  ISBN 0-8262-0955-6

Get The Picture, John Morris  ISBN 0-679-45258-3

Grades will be based on quality of work and ideas, and on effort shown. It is not expected that everyone’s talent level will be equal, but full effort and commitment are required at all times.  We will critique student work as a group in class, participation is mandatory.  You must treat the due dates of your photo stories as you would an assignment deadline.  Photo stories are due at the beginning of class each week, and late work will not be accepted without a very compelling reason.  Each weekly photo story submitted will have equal weight, but the final project will be the equivalent of three weekly stories.

Captions must be accurate and complete = 20% of assignment and final project grade.

Photos must be sharp, well toned and cropped; show variety of angles, distance, focal length and situation = 40% of image grade for assignments and final project. All images must tell a story, or contribute to visual narrative = 40%

Portfolio must show well-edited images, show diversity, and be of high quality.
All work must be completed with high industry standards and ethics.
Engagement: Active in sharing ideas and critiques. 

GPA conversion

A: 4.0
A-: 3.7
B : 3.0
B-: 2.7
C : 2.0
C-: 1.7
D : 1.0
F : 0.0

Percentage based Grade Scale
A : 93-100
A-: 90-92.99
B: 83-86.99
B-: 80-82.99
C: 73-76.99
C-: 70-72.99
D: 60-69.99
F: 0-59.99

Weights and dates
Assignment 1 rough, Due. Feb.2, no points
Assignment 1, Due Feb. 9, 10 points
Feb.16 no class
Assignment 2, Due Feb. 23, 10 points
Assignment 3, Due Mar. 2, 10 points
Assignment 4, Due Mar. 9, 10 points
Assignment 5, Due Mar. 16, 10 points
Assignment 6, Due Mar. 23, 10 points
Photo essay shoot one, Mar. 30, no points
Photo essay shoot two, April 6, no points
Photo essay shoot three, April 13, no points
April 20 open lab to edit final project
Photo Essay, Due: April 27, 30 points
Portfolio and engagement , April 27, 10 points

Boston University Policy Statements

Sexual Misconduct 
Boston University is committed to fostering a safe, productive learning environment. Title IX and our school policy prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, which regards sexual misconduct – including harassment, domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. We understand that sexual violence can undermine students’ academic success and we encourage students who have experienced some form of sexual misconduct to talk to someone about their experience, so they can get the support they need. Confidential support anacademic advocacy resources can be found with the Center for Sexual Assault Response & Prevention (SARP) at

Equal Opportunity
BU has strict guidelines on classroom behavior and practices when it comes to treatment of students and guests on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, mental or physical disability, genetic information, military service, national origin, or due to marital, parental, or veteran status. Discrimination for any of these reasons is prohibited. Please refer to the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Policy for more details.

Diversity in the Classroom
Please alert me to anything related to preferred pronouns, preferred name or nickname, or any extenuating circumstances or trigger warnings (personal, medical,etc.) that might affect your classroom experience via our pre-class survey. I want to make sure you have the most positive experience in the classroom as possible.Boston University’s founders opened its doors to all students without regard to religion, race, or gender. Building and sustaining a vibrant community of scholars, students, and staff remains essential to our mission of contributing to, and preparing students to thrive in, an increasingly interconnected world. We strive to create environments for learning, working, and living that are enriched by racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. We seek to cultivate an atmosphere of respect for individual differences in life experience, sexual orientation, and religious belief, and we aspire to be free of intellectual parochialism, barriers to access, and ethnocentrism. 

Success in a competitive, global milieu depends upon our ongoing commitment to welcome and engage the wisdom, creativity, and aspirations of all peoples. The excellence we seek emerges from the contributions and talents of every member of the Boston University community. 

This course encourages open discussion and respectful debate, as students are expected to hold a variety of beliefs and attitudes, particularly with regard to communication. At times, we may cover topics that you are uncomfortable with, or lectures may include information that cause you to feel uneasy. Such controversial topics will only be discussed if they hold academic merit. However, discussion and debate will at all times be respectful and appreciative of others. If this is found to not be the case, or if statements are made that are decisively determined to not be respectful, appropriate action will be taken. 

Hate speech will not be tolerated under any circumstances, and any instances of hate speech (either online or in-person) will result in the maximum allowable punishment, up to and including the potential for federal-level investigation and prosecution.

Social Climate
Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eatevery day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the Dean of Students for support. Furthermore, please notify the professor if you are comfortable doing so. This will enable them to provide any resources they may possess. Also, it is not unusual for students to feel stress, and about 15% of students experience depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. We are here to help you find the resources to help you get through this stressful time. 
If work shown in this class, professional or student-generated, offends you in any way, please mention it in class or talk to us privately about it so that we can all learn from each other. This is not to say we will ever restrict freedom of speech or water down an aggressive or edgy idea, but we want to discuss anything that someone deems troublesome or offensive. 

Finally, there are many resources available to students. COM has a 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee as well as a DEI student group and Facebook group. All are welcome. 

Disability and Access Services
If you are a student with a disability or believe you might have a disability that requires accommodations, please contact the Office of Disability and Access Services(DAS) at 617-353-3658 to coordinate any reasonable accommodation requests. DAS is located at 25 Buick Street, on the third floor.

Student Athletics
All student-athletes should be provided with a sheet from Student-Athlete Support Services regarding absences throughout the semester. These sheets should be handed in as soon as possible to avoid potential conflicts and so arrangements can be made to provide for missed lecture notes, classwork, or discussion.

Recording of Classes
Due to the majority of classes being offered in the Learn from Anywhere format, students should expect that each class session will be recorded. It is important to note that recordings on Zoom may capture the chat during the class, including private chats. If you have questions or concerns regarding recording of this class, please see your professor. Note also that recording devices are prohibited in the classroom except with the instructor’s permission.

Academic Code of Conduct
All BU students are bound by the Academic Conduct Code. Please review to ensure you are acting responsibly and ethically in regard to your academics. There may be changes here due to the nature of the pandemic, so please read everything very carefully. Students must be familiar with college handbook and have a full understanding of expected code and conduct. The academic code of conduct is fully explained at:

Regarding Group Work:
Each student involved in group work is potentially responsible for all work turned in by the group. If a student knows or has evidence of academic misconduct within a group, the student should address it with his or her group or professor prior to submitting the assignment.