Adventures Abroad

Adventures Abroad
Machu Picchu

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Photojournalism: David Burnett

Have you ever thought about combining photography and journalism together? Well, David Burnett has been a photojournalist for over 35 years. He has worked as a freelancer for National Geographic, Time, and Life. A National Geographic representative said, "he is known as someone who can-no matter how challenging the assignment-return with the picture."

Burnett's photo featured in National Geographic's photo contest

What does Burnett have to say about photojournalism?
1) Why did you become a photojournalist?  What inspired you?  How did you do it?

"Once I joined the high school yearbook staff, I was bitten by the bug. From the time I saw my first picture develop in the tray.. the magic of the white paper slowly emerging with greys and blacks to make  a real photographic image, there was nothing else I wanted to do. I loved the idea of sharing something I had seen, and letting others be able to share that moment. At first it was just pictures of the French Club and the cheerleaders in school but eventually that became something more universal and (hopefully) marketable. I was working for a little weekly paper by Senior year of high school. It didnt pay much but I felt I wanted to pursue it, and I just never stopped trying to find clients who might be the right place for me to share my images."

2) What's most gratifying about your work?

"There is something gratifying when you connect with a picture. It's fun to watch others react to your own work, because that is what counts. It's less important for me that I love my work, than that it be accepted in publishing, and eventually perhaps art circles, as something important.  I want my pictures to tell a story, and I want that story told to as many people as possible."

3) What are some personal characteristics a photojournalist should possess?

"You need to be single minded, tough, ready to pursue the difficult; empathetic, and able to understand the needs and feelings of your subjects.  And able to operate on few hours sleep, with nothing but a candy bar to keep you going.  The energy comes from the picture taking and the excitement of being able to see the world. Curiosity: own it."

4) What advice can you give me that would best help me understand the career of photojournalism?

"Work hard, prepare not to receive any accolades or atta boys. Enjoy seeing your work produced, and if lucky, published.  Take joy in the making of the images."

Well, what about photography should you know?

1) What should I know about photography?
"Study the great photogs of our time.. start with August Sander, Martin Chiambi, and shoot right through the 20th century... KNOW good photographs, and why they are good.. Cartier-Bresson (who shot with the simplest LEICA, nothing 'auto' about it), Gene Smith, Leonard McCombe (LIFE), Grey Villet (LIFE), Bill Eppridge (LIFE), Salgado... the list goes on and on.. but only good can come from your paying attention to what has been done by those who went before you. Just because you can see your work instantly on the back of a digi cam doesnt mean youre special... but take your inspiration where you can, and never stop looking for good images.. both by others, and those that happen in front of your own eyes."
2) How do you climb to the top?
"The biggest thing about our business is ... Good Photography. In the end, your pictures, for better or worse, will determine whether or not you are going to be successful.  You need a business plan, you need to understand that you have to STAY in business to REMAIN in business, and that by doing things such as guarding the ownership of your images (copyright), you retain the rights to resale important pictures over the course of your life.  Giving up that copyright means you give up the chance to re-license those pictures down the road." 

A special thanks to David Burnett for taking the time to answer a few important questions.

For more information on David Burnett visit National Geographic or

1 comment:

  1. Excellent content, Katarina. I wish most blogs had such interesting interviews.