How Do You Earn Trust? A Photojournalist Tells His Story

by planetMitchLeave a Comment

A few weeks ago, in a recent planetMitch newsletter I talked about trust and how difficult it is to gain and maintain.

Bill Sparks was one of the many who wrote back and commented about my concerns.

His reply was so poignant and hits right to the core of what we often have to do as photographers/ filmmakers and story tellers. I asked if I could republish his words and gratefully he said yes. There's also a link to the published article.

Thanks Bill!


Hi Mitch

First of all, I think you have earned the trust of the many subscribers who are signed up for your site.
Well done.

Trust is highly important for me.
Right up there with honoring my word.

Part of what I do is to work as a photojournalist.
Earning trust and credibility with strangers is essential.
One has to have integrity.
I subscribe to the NPPA Code of Ethics in producing my work, as do many of my peers.
Fundamentally it means one does not influence the content in the moment, nor alter it in post.

I was recently asked to cover a memorial service for a teenage boy who had died in an accident.
His family had lived in the community for only about two years, but he had significantly impacted many people – about 175 turned out for a candle-light vigil.
I didn't know anyone there.
My function is to document grief, a private and deeply personal experience for most of us in our western society.
At these events I am subject to my own feelings of grief being triggered by those around me. They are not easy gatherings to photograph.

When I first arrive, people are quite withdrawn, within themselves.
I wait, I watch, I do not take pictures.
I notice a man who must be the wrestling team coach standing near a group of young boys wearing high school wrestling team t-shirts.
Ask him if he would like a photo of the team members near the signing board.
“No.” He somewhat gruffly replies, turning away.
OK, no problem. I move on.

After some time I crouch down near a memorial signing board for the young man, where teenage friends are signing messages.
I wait, I watch, I do not take pictures.
After some time I very quietly take a few images of two teenagers writing, tears in their eyes.
I wait until they are finished and have moved away. Then I respectfully approach them and ask for their names. They comply.
(Without accompanying names I cannot submit the images to the newspaper).
Two teenage boys sang during the ceremony. I quietly move in front of the gathering, take two images, and withdraw, conscious of being in front of others who need to see. Later one of the boys provides their names, the other is too distraught to speak.

I quietly photograph a young girl praying, tears in her eyes.
People are watching me.
After she has recovered, I approach her, show her the image in my camera, and ask her if she would be comfortable having that image appear in the newspaper.
She agrees.

At the end of the evening a young man was sitting on the curb, weeping.
Created an image of him in very low light without using a flash which would have been very disrupting. Asked his name and age. Gave his name and age as 17.
“I try to take care of some of these kids out here”, he says. “I know what it is like to have your mother throw you out of your home”.
I sit beside him quietly for a few moments, then ask him “Do you have a place now?”
“Yes”, he replies. He reaches out his hand and shakes mine for a long time.
“Thanks for asking”, he says.
I hand him my business card. Tell him he can contact me if he needs to.
Squeeze his shoulder and stand up to leave.

As I am packing up my camera, the wrestling coach, who had been observing me throughout the night, approaches me.
Shakes my hand with a firm grip and looks me in the eye.
“Thanks for coming”, he says.

Trust can be earned when it is not always given.

Warm regards,


Fantastic insights…

So I asked if we could publish the photos…


Hi Mitch
The paper which contracted me to photograph this event is a weekly paper.
Here is a link to the article in this week’s edition.
Editors select the images they want to run with a story, as a photographer I have no input… so it goes.

Warm regards,


Get the latest Deals on Camera Gear HERE.

(cover photo credit: snap from A Thousand Oaks Acorn Newspaper)

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