A Snapshot of Photograph Variety and Ethics


In his book, Photo Journalism, Kenneth Kobré talks about what makes a great photo. Two major points he discusses include use of visual variety, including overall/wide shots and close-ups. There are examples of these in NBC’s Week in Pictures for September 13-20. First, Kobré talks about using an overall shot to set the scene for the audience. This is seen in photo 2, “Spray on fence”. The protester standing on the wall is clearly the subject here, but the audience needs to see the rest of the protesters below and the torrent of water to understand this is part of a larger protest. Additionally, Kobré talks about close-ups – an example is photo 6, “scary situation” – Kobré says using a special lens to decrease depth of field allows for getting close-ups without having to get too close to the subject, by decreasing depth of field and thus blurring everything but the subject. In this photo, the raw emotion of the woman and her children stands out to the audience.

Kobré also talks about multi-layer images – images in which the photographer places the subject of the photo in the middle of the frame to include something related near the frame edge. This allows the audience to look at the subject and its relationship to the additional element. An example of such an image is photo 8, “resisting eviction”. The two people being evicted from their home, and the one swat officer closest to them, are all the subject of the photo, but the photographer also included two officers at the left edge of the frame. The inclusion of the other two officers highlights the isolation of the two people.

As Kobré discusses later in his book, framing a shot isn’t the only concern on the mind of a photographer – ethics is another concern. One such issue is covering tragedy – taking pictures as people cry over the death of a loved one at an accident or at a funeral is a very delicate task for photographers to carry out. While it may be important for the world to see the grief resulting from a tragedy, a photographer must exercise caution to make sure he/she does not cause additional grief to the relatives of the victims of a tragedy.

Another ethical concern relates to the graphic nature of some photographs, and whether certain graphic photographs should be published or witheld. One such case involves dead bodies – audiences are generally intolerant of seeing them in photos. In cases where editors choose to run pictures with dead bodies in them, they will usually place a warning before, so sensitive members of the audience may look away. One example is on the NBC’s Week in Pictures for September 6-13, photo 13. Before running such a picture, an editor must consider if a greater good is served by doing so – in the case of this picture, the greater good may be increased awareness of the importance of factory safety protocols.


  1. Good job, Chris. Excellent examples!

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