Taking Photos in the Field


By Ray Leyesa

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

These words from Robert Capa, a Hungarian war photographer, photojournalist and co-founder of Magnum Photos, have been taught to photojournalism students for decades. But getting a closer shot does not mean using a long lens or the zoom functions of your camera. What Capa was saying was to physically get closer, be more involved and to some extent be intimate with your subjects.

Those lucky enough to work as humanitarians are close enough to the action to create images that will help inform the public of the often unnoticed life-saving work that goes on around the world 24.7. Those images need to be shared, first with the IOM media library and then through us with the world’s media.

In this regard, it is helpful that we remember some tips and guidelines that can help make a photograph good or potentially great.

The rule of thirds. The rule of thirds guideline proposes that a photograph can be divided into thirds making three columns, three rows, and nine sections in the images. The most important elements of the image are then placed on or near the imaginary lines and where the lines intersect. By following this compositional guideline, viewers will more naturally go to the intersecting points rather than the center of the image.


© IOM/Jonathan Perugia 2005

Focusing on faces. As human beings we show a variety of emotions. And by capturing the emotions on the faces of the people being assisted by the organization we manage to show the human condition. Emotions such as fear, happiness, sadness, reluctance, and uncertainty are elements that can make a good photograph and help tell their stories.

Avoiding blurry images. Our photos usually come out blurry due to unnecessary camera movement. The simplest solution is to keep your camera steady to avoid camera shake. For  purposes of documenting our work in the field, keeping subject in focus and avoiding blurry shots are always a good thing to remember.

Recognizing the mood. Mood is the feeling a photograph draws out from the viewers. Despair, isolation, and helplessness are only but a few of the moods that makes an interesting image.


© IOM/Brendan Bannon 2011

Focusing too much on logos. We understand the need for ‘visibility’ but showing people’s backs just for the sake of showing off logos is probably not the best way to have your photos selected for publication by print and broadcast media.

Capturing the moment. Clicking the shutter button at the right moment to record an unfolding event requires a bit of timing and patience. Eventually you will learn to anticipate these kinds of actions. But, even professional photographers with years of experience can miss the moment so don’t beat yourself up too much if you occasionally do so as well.


© IOM 2012

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Ray Leyesa is a communications specialist for IOM