How Photography Caused the Toilet Paper Famine (Misleading Photojournalism)

published on July 20, 2020

Photography and photojournalism specifically have caused the toilet-paper famine that we're going through now and shaped the coronavirus and our response to it in many other ways let's take a close look at what that means first I want to thank our

Sponsor me we're sheltering at home and I know a lot of you are and that's a great time to learn something but YouTube is not a great place to learn stuff it's a great place to get tips but you can't develop skills we do have a

Lot of training material here and we're selling it for 50% off because I know a lot of you have also had at it your income we have of course stunning digital photography than r1 photography book in the world with over 20 hours of

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Otherwise do and Chelsea's autumn preset pack from last fall all of this stuff is 50% off so head to northrup photo and use the coupon code learn at home thanks first let's talk about the toilet-paper famine before we get into everything

Else this is the picture from February 28th really before the famine started just to validate that here's a chart of Google Trends showing people searching for the term toilet-paper February 28th is right about here way before this big

Spike that defined the toilet-paper famine any reasonable person looks at this photo and sees a crazy person loading a decade's worth of toilet paper into a shopping cart but if we look at the caption that accompanied the picture

In the news article we get a little more insight shoppers in a Costco store buy toilet paper of product in high demand after the Hawaii Department of Health on Wednesday advised residents they should stock up on a 14 day supply of food

Water and other necessities oh my god why are people being so ridiculous why are you buying so much toilet paper enhanced as I look at the image I can see she is buying one unit of toilet paper she's in a Costco and if you

Haven't been in one of these stores they sell stuff in bulk and this is one unit this is the smallest unit of toilet paper that she can buy so she's not being unreasonable at all here's a still from a video clip showing a woman

Loading a similar container of paper towels into her vehicle one was toilet paper one was paper towels what are those two things have in common they're literally the biggest items you can buy at the store they take

Up the most shelf space and if you're telling a story of how people are stocking up which do you think creates the more compelling image an image of somebody loading in a single can of chicken noodle soup or someone loading

In a massive human-sized roll of paper towels so if you were a photojournalist tasked with capturing images and video to accompany a story about stocking up which of those items might you show someone loading into their cart now

These images were released about February before this panic started but I believe many people saw these images and began to think oh my god these people are buying all the toilet paper all the

Paper towels these are things that I actually do need for the next month and I have some but if they're taking all of it what if I run out that would be a gross situation right so that made me feel like I needed to go out and buy

Some even though I didn't have any particular urgency then supported by this we started to see images of empty shelves like this one here the photographer shows completely empty shelves where all the toilet paper and

Paper towels would have been but again let's put ourselves in the shoe of a photojournalist and ask what's the best way to capture an image talking about how people are stocking up and emptying the shelves when I went to my grocery

Store I thought I'd get to the canned food aisle and everything would be empty because that's what I felt like I needed to stock up on and indeed maybe 2/3 of the cans were gone but there were still plenty of cans because after all a

Typical store shelf might have 400 cans of beans but when you go to the toilet paper aisle toilet paper and paper towels come in such big containers that if 3040 people were to each buy one unit of them the shelves look like this

At least until they can be restocked so it was a photojournalist you create a much more compelling image by choosing the most empty shelves which because of the way those items are packaged is always going to be paper towels and

Toilet paper so indeed I don't think there was ever initially greater demand for these items and if people hadn't chosen those items to show in their imagery there never would have been a famine this image also

Has some interesting compositional techniques used to really underscore the point that the shelves are empty and we'll come back to those in just a minute first I want to talk about how photojournalism has changed government

Policy around Florida's beaches last week we all saw the Spring Breakers enjoying the beaches and many of us who were at home and trying to do the right thing actually felt a little mad and indignant

Like those people were putting everybody else at risk by being on the beach those images caused citizens of Florida to put pressure on their own governor to close the beaches down and within a couple of days many maybe most beaches had indeed

Been shut down if those pictures had not created this sort of viral cycle that led back to putting pressure on the government I'm certain those beaches would not have been closed on their own and in this way we see very directly how

Photojournalism can impact the real world and impact the spreading of something like the corona virus now let's look into the truth of photojournalism by examining the stories of Los Angeles crowds packed California

Beaches despite shelter-in-place order and here we have an accompanying image that shows the beach absolutely packed on the other hand a handful of visitors walk on a largely deserted Santa Monica beach these are both in LA they're both

Beaches and they're both released about the same time one says the beach is completely packed and the other shows are completely empty me not a Californian how am I supposed to know what's actually going down over there I

Don't know if you people are being responsible or you're being crazy the truth is probably gonna be something in between because photojournalism tends to select those images at the more extreme ends after all it's more interesting if

A photo is extreme than if somebody says almost everybody has left the beach but there's still quite a few people around it's 40 percent less no you want to hear it's 0% or it's a hundred percent you don't want to hear 40 percent right the

Photo journalists were able to tell perhaps an exaggerated story by using location timing and compositional techniques and whether you're a photojournalist or not these are important to understand if you create

Images that tell a story and nowadays everybody is a storyteller even landscape photographers let's look at this image of the crowded beach first though location obviously as a photographer you would choose a spot

Where you were going to have the most traffic possible and you would pick your timing for when it was going to be busiest you wouldn't want to pick an empty spot of the beach at 7 am unless maybe you were telling a story of how

The beach was actually empty the composition is where it gets really interesting here the photographer chose a telephoto lens the telephoto lens compresses the foreground and the background background

Subjects appear to be close to foreground subjects Chelsea and I made a whole tutorial about this so let's watch that segment now we're gonna be talking about how to use force perspective in your photos I'll take a couple of steps

Back so I'm usually taller than Chelsea but I took a couple of steps back and now we're about the same size you can also change how you control perspective by changing your focal length and your distance from your subject so Tony and I

Are in the same exact spots but we had Justin get a more wide angle lens and move closer to us so now even though Tony's in the same spot he looks much smaller if you want to pull faraway subjects even closer use a telephoto

Lens just zoom in the more you zoom the closer they'll get I'm still at the same distance to Chelsea we just had our cameraman Justin back up even farther and use a super telephoto lens thus the people in this image could have easily

Had more than 6 feet between them as you're supposed to but it's impossible to tell when everybody is crammed into a frame like that the angle of the camera almost completely eliminates negative space which helps to make us feel more

Claustrophobic and makes it feel like everything is more busy you can see almost all of the sky is completely cropped out the photographer angled the camera down so that only a sliver of the horizon existed to give us a frame of

Reference but they could have easily angled it up and gotten low and filled the frame with the sky and maybe only one or two people but by using this technique they were able to fill like 85% of the frame with just people's body

And different types of clutter trustus with the image that was attempting to show that the beach indeed was not busy at all the photographer obviously chose a less busy spot the photographer put distance

Between themselves and the subjects most importantly though the photographer chose a wide-angle lens the wide-angle lens introduces forced perspective making subjects close to the camera appear very

Big and subjects far away from the camera appear very small in this image we can see quite a few people but they take up a very small percentage of the frame we can tell it's a wide-angle lens from the way the path here disappears

Into the horizon and the way the Sun is really really small my guess this is probably like a 16 18 millimeter lens on a full-frame camera by providing so much negative space in the frame it feels like everything is deserted but drop me

Or any experienced photographer into a beach with a moderate number of people and I can tell a visual story of the beach being crowded or a visual story of the beach being empty by using these different techniques let's talk about LA

Traffic I'm seeing a lot of information saying that LA has no traffic whatsoever and I've been in LA so much that that would be really shocking cuz all the traffic sucks images like this are circulating the caption says the 110

Harbor Freeway in downtown Los Angeles is largely traffic free on March 22nd is this actually true I don't know I knew when I saw the image I thought I can't trust that at all because the photojournalist could be using various

Types of trickery to tell a story that might not be 100% true first like the last beach shot they chose a spot with a lot of negative space here the road is surrounded by trees and kind of openness and they're positioning themselves above

The middle of the road to maximize the amount of empty road that we see it's a moderately wide-angle lens which means that the distant subjects like the cars have become very very small consuming a very tiny portion of the frame but on

This photo I believe timing was the key element you see traffic moves in wolf pack's people in cars tend to group together and even in higher traffic days there's dense spots and fairly empty spots you

Can see the traffic seems to be moving away and it's close to the fries inand very small but those same cars moments before would have been directly in the foreground directly under the camera filling up that road if you'd shot this

20 seconds before it would look like a pretty busy day on the highway I didn't wanted to ask myself like how much traffic is there actually is there any way to find an unbiased photo of traffic and I thought just traffic webcams I can

Just look this up and so this morning like 7:00 am California time I just grabbed stills from several different webcams and this is what traffic actually looks like so you can see the image here isn't telling a wholly

Truthful story the roads indeed are not nearly that empty but it's telling a more interesting story and thus it's the image that the editors are likely to pick and the image that's more likely to get shared this image of New York's

Times Square exhibits a lot of the same techniques for showing an empty space people want to say oh my god everything shut down so Times Square is just a ghost town now I don't trust photojournalist enough to know whether

It is or not and from looking at this image I can see they've employed several different techniques to exaggerate the emptiness of it first they chose a spot in the middle of the road and the road of course is the only place that is

Clear and would produce low detail in an image you wouldn't want to be for example right next to one of the big signs because that would be visually cluttered and wouldn't support that feeling of emptiness only the road would

They also employed timing and that they had to wait for a moment when there was no traffic I have looked up webcams of Times Square and traffic is still flowing through it people are still walking through it just there's not very

Many but nonetheless the photographer definitely couldn't have stepped there at a random time where there probably would have been a taxi or something going past once again they used force perspective in a wide-angle camera you

Can see people on the sidewalk here but because it's a wide-angle camera they are so small on the frame that you wouldn't notice it and you know less you looked really closely most of what we see is just 20 30 feet of road in front

Of the photographer and indeed even on a busy day at Times Square if you were to step in front of the crosswalk and wait for traffic to clear out you could take a very similar image to this and then tell a story

About it being not that busy if you wanted to on the other hand if you wanted to say hey people are still going to Times Square isn't that ridiculous you could walk up to the group of people there use a telephoto lens show them in

The foreground the signs in the background and it would indeed seem like it was busy with foot traffic another similar shot of Grand Central Station again the frame is filled with mostly empty floor walls and ceiling a

Wide-angle camera with the lens pointed up fills the frame with what would always be empty there's nobody on the walls and a ceiling but 80% of the frame is walls and ceiling here we do see a few people on the floor the photographer

Could have positioned themselves in front of those people but no they chose an empty spot I'm confident Grand Central Terminal is actually very very quiet the point I wanted to make is that photojournalist

Is using compositional techniques timing and location to underscore that story and perhaps exaggerate it a little bit so let's circle back to this photo of the shelves we see again a wide-angle lens used to employ forced perspective

To make foreground subjects appear dis portion Utley large compared to background subjects and in the foreground here we have empty shelves but if we look down just 15 feet or so what do we see we see a bunch of toilet

Paper the shelves are not actually empty this person is buying toilet paper even this photojournalist couldn't find a completely empty shelf to photograph they just found an almost empty shelf the real famine here is they can't pick

The good toilet paper there's anything like my grocery store the only thing that's left is like the single ply Scott toilet paper if they had stepped ten feet forward and put that wide-angle lens up against the remaining toilet

Paper it would look like there's plenty of toilet paper at the stores take your time and the weird cycle is people then wouldn't have felt the urge to go shopping and we wouldn't have had any problem

Here's my project for you really look at the images you take in think about the story the photographer is trying to tell and ask yourself whether it's true or false whether it's precise or exaggerated break down that fourth wall

Once you start looking at images like a photographer you can never go back to being just a consumer photo journalistic images become more like a based on a true story type of movie where you look at anything some of this is true some of

This is exaggerated some of this is completely false and a little bit of cynicism can be really healthy it can help you develop a more accurate and real view of the world around you let me take a second and thank our sponsor to

Me don't forget you can buy all of our stuff 50% off for a limited time while we're sheltering at home so head to Northrop dot photo use the coupon code learn at home and get half off our books video training presets or even t-shirts

Thanks and the comments down below I'd love to hear what you think of the images you're seeing how many of them are accurate and how many of them are misleading what are good examples of photojournalism and what are some bad

Examples of photojournalism thanks and everybody say stay healthy okay bye

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