Photojournalist Joe Mahoney has been telling stories with pictures for decades, but it’s only been fairly recently that he’s begun producing audio slide shows for the Richmond Times Dispatch. During a training session for graduate students in Virginia Commonwealth University’s multimedia journalism program, Mahoney shared some of what he’s learned about taking good photos, gathering sound and telling powerful visual stories.
When he first arrives at a shoot, Mahoney says he usually begins by assessing his location before he starts taking pictures.
“Walk around; look through your camera lens to see what the scene looks like from as many different angles as you can,” Mahoney says.
According to Mahoney, it’s not unusual for him to take 200-300 photos when he’s on a shoot. He looks through them all in a kind of rough edit and then selects 15-20 that he thinks might be good enough for a slide show.
“A picture story is like any other, it needs a beginning, middle and end. Your first photo has to be something that grabs you,” Mahoney says.
For audio, Mahoney tends to rely on the people he’s shooting and the natural sounds at the scene rather than scripted narration. He says he usually spends a couple of minutes simply recording the ambient sound on location while he’s looking for the people he will interview for his story.
For example, when Mahoney was covering a wedding involving a bride and groom of Indian heritage, he knew he wanted to get a couple minutes worth of the wedding music to use as a second track on his story. Mahoney says he arrived before the ceremony to interview the groom, but he had to make adjustments to get his second interview.
“Once the ceremony was over, the party got pretty noisy with kids running all over the place and loud music playing. I ended up pulling the priest aside and interviewing him in the men’s room,” Mahoney said with a laugh.
Mahoney says you can’t underestimate the importance of good audio, so you have to be aware of background noise and anything else that might interfere with the quality of your sound.
“It doesn’t matter how good your pictures are, if your sound is lousy, your story will be lousy,” Mahoney says.
Check out one of Mahoney’s most recent slide shows to see what he’s been working on.