Great Masters Exclusive: Arko Datta
On the occasion of our thirteenth anniversary in 2010, 13 great masters drew from a lifetime of experience to give you over 150 carefully selected tips on photography and ways of seeing. They debated the idea of ‘the perfect moment’ and share their personal practices. In this edition, Great Master Arko Datta shares his tips for better photography.
Credibility is of Essence
It is said that seeing is believing. The willingness of the viewer to easily believe a photograph makes photojournalism very powerful. Never lose or play with the trust of the viewer. Credibility is the biggest asset of a photojournalist.
Never Set Anything Up
It may give you a more dramatic image, but refrain from setting up any picture.
Capture the Actual Scene
Do not move or exclude anything that is important to the story. It is important to avoid these practices in Photoshop and also while shooting the image itself!
Learn to be Objective
A photojournalist must report an event or a situation, without mixing his personal opinions or beliefs. Let the viewer take a stand once he sees the picture.
Style is Not Everything
Shooting stylised ‘arty’ pictures is only a shortcut. A disturbing trend I have seen lately is that many photographers use their strong sense of aesthetics to escape the hard work of looking for stories. Style and composition are tools in telling stories, but they are not an end in themselves. Of course, it is interesting to play around with these tools, but it cannot be the only thing in photojournalism.
Photojournalism is often about showing the harsh realities of life. You need to constantly ask yourself what you are saying and why you are saying it.
Plan Your Trips and Assignments
Behind any worthwhile photojournalistic work, there is a lot of meticulous planning involved. You need to do your homework with respect to the assignment itself—the logistics, the travel plans, safety, equipment, and getting the required access to people and places. Such back-end work is integral to doing an effective photo story, whether you are a hobbyist or a pro.
You Need the Passion
Take up photojournalism only if you love it. It is a grueling life and only one’s passion to be a photojournalist can overcome that. Remember that you may need to sacrifice quite a bit, especially your personal life.
Look Out for New Stories
Photography is nothing but fine art. Photojournalism, on the other hand, is that and much more. It is a way of life. You need to constantly look out for relevant stories.
You Need Years of Hard Work
You may shoot a lovely picture today, but eventually, photography is not about a single day of inspiration or a momentary flash of genius. You need to maintain and sustain the efforts and results; and this requires years of resolve, dedication and hard work.
Talent Does Not Matter Much
Frankly, I believe that talent is an overrated concept. You can cultivate your skills. Anyway, talent is not of much use without the other ingredients— hard work, keeping oneself focused and staying motivated.
Develop a Mix of Qualities
There are talented photographers, there are hard-working photographers, there are smart thinkers and there are photographers who are great in getting access. However, it is rare to find someone who possesses all these qualities.
My Interpretation of the Moment
Every story is made up of different element and when all these elements come together in one frame—that is the idea of the moment. In order to capture this moment, you have to be alert and conscious of your surroundings.
Arko Datta is a renowned photojournalist, who has covered stories in conflict regions like Iraq, Afghanistan and Kashmir, and has also documented the devastation of the tsunami in 2005 for which he was awarded the World Press Photo of the Year 2004.