What’s the most important thing I’ve learned as a photojournalist?

It’s something which, on the surface, might seem to have nothing to do with taking pictures. But it’s got everything to do with making them.

It took me a while; years of academia, military service, and of course thousands of photographs. The answer was so simple, which made it such a relief.

HeloiseIt was apparent that it had little to do with classrooms or portfolios, contests or workshops. I realized that if there was no answer outside of me, then naturally what I was looking for had to come from within.

What was it? That good photojournalism is about people.

In order to tell stories, be it with a camera or a keyboard, it comes down to connecting with people. Telling these stories doesn’t simply inform the reader, it affirms for the subject that their story matters.

That’s been the focus of the column I’ve produced for the Abilene Reporter-News since 2011 called Big Country Journal.


The Big Country is the roughly 23-county area surrounding Abilene, it’s also my hunting ground. Characters are what I’m drawn to the most, folks you wouldn’t meet anywhere except West Texas.

Within this 100-mile radius, I find stories the old-fashioned way – by earning them. Sometimes that requires walking cold into a business or to an event, setting people at ease so they’ll open up. Often it also might mean someone in the community trusts my work enough to call me with an idea.

I perform double-duty on BCJ, photography and writing. Often I put it together in the passenger seat of my car, or at a café. I joke that Dairy Queen is my second office, but sometimes it is.

One of the most gratifying experiences is when a reader recognizes me and then expresses their thanks for for my column. Often they tell me I’ve made a difference in those small communities and that typically mine is the first thing they read in the morning.

Photography is a journey without end. It’s not just about looking carefully at the world about you, but also the way in which you perceive it.

The benefit of this self-discovery is reflected in the pictures one creates and in the difference they make in others’ lives.

Because that really is the most important thing that I’ve learned as a photojournalist. Make a difference, tell a story, show you care about it.

It’s always about people.