I’ve been asked on many occasions, “What’s the difference between shooting news, features and photo essays”, I’ll try to explain how I see it. When you shoot news, it’s normally “On the fly” grabbing the shot as best you can, knowin that when and if it gets in the paper, you will probably only have the one image to illustrate the story. This is of course what Henri Cartier–Bresson meant when he coined the term “The Single Decisive Moment” in fact he went as far as to say “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event”. I would never argue against that, but….. Cartier-Bresson started working at a time when photography was still developing, and he came from a background of drawing and painting, not as an alternative point of view, from a background of the moving image.
Many psychologists believe that still images are more powerful than movies, because the brain has more time to observe and process what is going on and inwardly digest the information and a group of good images have the power of the still, but the depth of information of a movie. I think a good feature can be described as the quintessential distillation of the event. Photo essays can go even further, combined with good captions and other text, the photographer can do real photojournalism and tell a story in the greatest possible depth. Features where I thought I might end up with five or six good frames have ended up as books and exhibitions that really tell the story.
One of my favourite styles of feature is travel. These days sadly, this genre has largely been spoiled by the encroachment of stage managed PR trips I used to have a contract with IPC Magazines, which involved me finding trvel subjects fit for exploration in a 4×4, organising the trip and going off and shooting the story. This has taken me to the middle of the Sahara to shoot sunrise over the dunes at 4:00 AM and through rivers in the Dordogne to photograph ancient troglodyte settlements. These can be amonst the most rewarding assignments.