Photo sharing is one of the ways social media has changed our world. Flickr, Instagram, Facebook or even personal blogs give people an opportunity to share their lives and experiences with their friends and with complete strangers.
However, this has had both positive and negative effects on professional journalists. In the past, everyone wasn't walking around with a camera in their pockets. We took our cameras to special events like trips, weddings and graduations or we took photos of our families at home.
Today when breaking news happens there's more likely to be a citizen journalist with a camera phone on the scene rather than a professional photographer. The photos may be grainy and poorly lit, but they tell the story and that's what's important.
When the Stanley Cup riots happened there was one photo that caught the attention of people world-wide. It seemed to be a photo of a couple "making out" in the road while the riot police both surrounded and ignored them (though, of course, they weren't really making out). It was taken by a professional photographer, Rich Lam.
But, there was also a video posted online of the couple being knocked down and a policeman looking as though he was about to hit them with a baton before he turned and ran away. This video was taken on a phone by someone standing on top of a car park. If it weren't for "citizen journalists," it never would have become part of the story.
Professional journalists can offer quality, but they can't be everywhere at once. However, one thing journalists can do is take the time to document the information in the photos. One could spend hours looking at great photos online, but often the information given is minimal. This can be a little frustrating. Journalists are trained to explain everything. A photo of kids playing in a backyard pool might have been taken because there was a heat wave that day. The fact that there was a heat wave will always be attached to that photo and when people see it, they'll remember that heat wave, if they were in the same region. This takes the photo out of the realm of a random image and puts it into the context of our lives.
If you want to be a professional reporter, learn to describe what it is you're photographing. Attach the names, dates, places and reasons why you took the image. You may be able to sell your image or include it in a portfolio.