Poynter’s Language of the Image

Spending most of my Saturday editing photos for Ethos Magazine’s upcoming spring issue, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what makes a “great” image. Last week, I came across a blog post about the Language of the Image, a free online Poynter’s News University class about the quintessential visual elements that are a big component of photojournalism.

Sadly, this term is my last as photo editor at Ethos Mag and the final act of production has been a bit nostalgic for me. Thinking back to how I first instructed my staff of photographers, I started comparing it to the Language of the Image. The skill set of the magazine’s amateur photographer staff ranges from intermediate to seasoned pre-professionals so my instruction varies, but I always made sure to cover the basics.

Going into a photo assignment or shoot with an open mind is crucial, but knowing what you’re looking for and what you want out of the shoot (and having fun while doing it) are just as important. I always emphasized that a powerful and memorable photo isn’t just simply taken: there’s a lot of thought and many elements behind it.


Beautiful photos are great, but from photojournalistic perspective, photos that are both visually striking and can tell stories are the most ideal. According to Poynter, there are about 15 different photographic elements that enhance a photo and tell its story; and the more elements a photo has, the better it will tell its story sans-caption.

Humans tend to be more visually stimulated and a majority of them will pick up a magazine because something about it caught their eye; therefore, the more elements, attention to detail and passion behind a photo the better. Photos can either make or break a story, regardless of how well it’s written. The next time you look at a photo, really look at it and think about the story that its or the photographer is trying to tell.

My camera, aka. my partner in crime.


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