Today I took “Language of the Image,” a free online course offered by Poynter. I had no idea their was so much free help on this website to further my knowledge in the field of journalism.

I decided to do the Language of Image course to help with my photojournalism skills.

The experience was very rewarding. This course taught me different photo types to use along with different approaches and unique elements. All to make a photograph be a strong part of a story.

The page opened up with a quote that read, “Photojournalists are the eyes of the reader. It is their job to visually report on events as they happen in their community.”

This was a great opening quote into what I would be learning throughout this course.

The course classified photos into 3 categories:

  1. Informational: Informational photos do a great job of identifying a person, place, or event. These types of photos are only conducted to hold identification value.
  2. Passive: Passive photos show people  situations in which their main purpose is to have their photo taken for publication. Since this could cause limitations, it is essential that the photographer looks for the best possible environmental portrait.
  3. Active: Active photos show real people involved in real events in real time. This type of photo allows photographers to produce story-telling images that can inform, and cause emotion the viewer. Active photos also let the photographer run wild with his/her creativity. It is important to look outside the box and capture the essence of a situation or some ones personality in an active photo.

Next the course identified individual elements. Most of the terms were straightforward, such as emotion, surprise and quality of light.

However, some interesting ones I found to learn were that of rule of thirds and juxtaposition. These two applied in way I have never pondered over. That being said, I enjoyed being able to put a picture to the definition. Since these two were new to my vocabulary I liked being able to have a hands on task of clicking through the element. Looking at example after example.

After identifying the elements it was time to look at a photographs with multiple elements. Most photos combined several elements to enhance their story-telling capabilities. This adds strength to the photo as it engages in several different elements.

Here are examples of a photo using multiple elements.


This photo is from an article in The Examiner that shows a strong emotion, quality of light and juxtaposition to produce a powerful image of a fire truck by a burning house. After looking further into its details I began to become emotionally connected to this image. The juxtaposition of fire truck meets fire holds irony in the picture. The quality of light emphasizes the time of day, and it has a lot of natural lighting. 


This image was found on and does a great job of  incorporating many elements. It has quality of light as it waits for the perfect and almost luminous late afternoon lighting. I also notice the layering, and the rule of third. 

As you can see, I have already learned so much using merely one of Poynter’s courses. As some of them continue to be free to the public, I am willing to pay for the education I have learned in just an hour and look into other courses available. This online course taught me not only basic techniques and vocabulary but also how to put those techniques together with real life examples. I suggest taking full advantage of the classes or any other Poynter News University’s courses.