Photojournalist of the Year Richard Pohle warns that smartphones are 'devastating' the industry

Smartphones are “devastating” the photography industry, Press Gazette Photojournalist of the Year Richard Pohle has warned.

The Times photographer told Press Gazette: “I’m especially keen to dismiss the myth that ‘it’s just a photograph, anyone can do it’. They really can’t.”

Talking about the importance of photojournalism he says: “People always remember the images more than the words on the news.

“Think about the shots of 9/11 ­– they will be seared into your mind. You can have fun with pictures too, your eye needs to be drawn to it on the page. The picture is sometimes the reason why someone picks up the paper.”

Picking up his British Journalism Awards prize at Stationers’ Hall earlier this month, Pohle warned editors that cameraphones can’t replace professional photographers.

He said: “I do have a smartphone, but I only use it for taking pictures of my daughter swinging from a tree somewhere.

“If the situation warranted it, I would take a picture on a phone, all the while cursing I didn’t have my kit with me.”

He adds: “Smartphones also helped to open the world to photography, but it’s such a threat for photographers, it's devastating my industry.”

Despite 20 years experience working for The Times and Reuters, Pohle says he still gets nervous working big events.

“Getting the photo [of Prince George] was the most never-wracking moment of 2013. I had been there for days, and by the time [the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with Prince George] came out, I’d been standing on a stepladder for hours and everything had started to ache.

“I kept thinking I was going to screw it up. You always walk away thinking it was rubbish.”

With some newspaper keen to merge the roles of reporter and photographer, Pohle says it remains important to draw a line between the two jobs.

 “The reporters have a lot to think about without worrying about getting the right image. After getting the interviews, the quotes, the facts, the last thing the reporter wants to think about is taking a picture.”

 He notes the “scary” example of the Chicago Sun Times, which recently fired its entire photography team, instead sending reporters on photography courses.

 “It’s outrageous to think that taking photos on an iPhone are the same as the work of some of the really talented people that I work with.”

 The impact of the internet on photojournalism has Pohle in two minds; he loves it and loathes it simultaneously.

“It should be a way of promoting photography,” he says.

“People like looking at pictures and videos and the internet gives the opportunity to showcase more of these. But today copyright poses a big problem. People put your content up on their websites without any thought; it’s out of control.”

Pohle says the most memorable photo he had published in 2013 was taken four years earlier. “I found out soon after Lee Rigby’s murder that when I was with his unit in Afghanistan in 2009, I had taken photos of him while on patrol in Helmand. 

 “I looked through them, talked to my picture editor and the MoD confirmed it was him. The Times went big on it, and it was such a coincidence that I had those photos.”

Pohle most impressed the British Journalism Awards judges with his shot of soldiers crouching to the ground as a helicopter blew dust into the air, taken in the middle of a desert in Afghanistan.

He said: “The soldiers were searching the surrounding villages for bomb-making facilities, and as the helicopter came to move them on, I captured a whirlwind of dust, stones and mayhem.

 “I was actually blown over just after it was taken, by the next helicopter.  I could feel the stones hitting my armour and helmet. But like a good journalist, I got up and dusted myself off again. It was worth it.”

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