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Telling Better Stories with Photojournalist Jilson Tiu


An innocent childhood hobby that propelled him into an industry he never knew was his calling, meet photojournalist, Jilson Tiu (@Jilson.tiu). Get to know Philippines-based Jilson in this interview as he shares his experiences and gives his take on documentary photography, tips to incorporating emotional impact in his images and the gear that he trusts.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, ƒ/8, ISO 640, 1/200, 35mm
Greenpeace series


1. Can you give us a short introduction about yourself, touching on your background and your photography journey up to this point?

I’m a freelance photographer and photojournalist based in the Philippines. I started photography back when I was a kid. It was when instant film camera was still in use during the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I was just documenting daily lives for fun and didn’t realise I was doing street photography from the start.

My first camera was a Canon 400D before upgrading to a Canon 550D when I was in college. It wasn’t until I moved to a national newspaper before upgrading again to a Canon 60D. Then a year after, I reached for a full frame camera, which was the Canon 6D. I produced a lot of defining pictures with My Canon 6D and up until now, I keep that camera as a trophy and symbol of hard work.

My last DSLR was the Canon 5D Mark IV and it has been through some gruelling experiences with me. I have also used it for my shoot with National Geographic, which was my dream from the start. 

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF50mm f/1.4 SM, ƒ/1.4, ISO 8000, 1/250, 50mm


2. Documentary photography can be defined in different ways, but in your own words, what is documentary photography for you?

Documentary Photography is one of the aspects of photography that defines a particular topic and story with minimal words. It documents the very essence of the person, place, or thing into one piece of art taken from real life. It digs deeper and refines the story into the purest form told by the photographer’s perspective. It can take some time learning this because patience is one of the key skills you need for achieving a good photo story.


3. What are the key factors required for telling better stories through photography?

You need to focus on your topic with a one-track mind. Research and patience are vital when considering what to photograph, how to photograph, and a third factor, the lighting that’ll determine the mood of the photograph. You need to observe how light and contrast reacts to the story to drive your audience towards the mood and vibe you want to show. This will help the audience better digest the story.

Canon EOS 6D, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, ƒ/2.8, ISO 5000, 1/640, 35mm

4. How do you incorporate an emotional impact on still images, and what are the top tips in executing such a shot?

It needs to touch the hearts of the viewer and be relatable to almost anyone who sees it. Like news, it is relatable and offers value to the audience, resulting in having an emotional impact. You also need to be observant and alert as life unfolds in front of you; you’ll miss the moment if you don’t. 

Canon EOS 6D, EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, ƒ/4, ISO 2000, 1/13, 16mm
Transit series


5. Do you do any preparation before setting out for an assignment? What is your process?

I research as I plan the days I’m shooting. I will also think about the lens that will best fit for each specific story, and knowing the sun’s angle if there’s a certain place I’m shooting. I also prepare logistics and contacting fixers and people who will guide me around the site I’m visiting. I book drivers and cars and the mould the flow of the day around whether the subject is available or not. All of these are essential, especially if you’re on an assignment for a big story. However, most of the time, I will adapt to the things that come because not everything will go as planned when covering a story, especially if it’s news.

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, TAMRON SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 A025, ƒ/10, ISO 320, 1/500, 70mm


6. Having the correct gear is essential to all kinds of photography. What are some camera and lens features/attributes that you look out for?

I always look for the two combos; wide and telephoto. It is super versatile in all types of photography, and everything should be in f2.8 in case it gets dark. If I’m shooting the night sky or am in extremely dark situations, I pack in a 1.4 prime lens. Also, I am always in search of light gear to help me go further in my travels.


7. What are the must-haves in your photography bag?

Nowadays, I always carry an RF 70-200mm 2.8 lens because of the pandemic, but I also love the image compression of the 200 and the low aperture of 2.8. Also, I carry an RF 15-35 lens and use it to show more if I don’t have enough space to back down. For accessories, I take an umbrella, lens, hood and extra cards and batteries.

Canon EOS 6D, EF70-200mm f/4 IS USM, ƒ/4, ISO 5000, 1/100, 100mm
Transit series


8. Finally, any advice you’d give to budding photographers starting in photojournalism?

Focus on the craft, not on money or fame. You have to love photography and apply its principles in everyday life to better yourself. Fame and money is a bonus once you have refined your craft. Start slowly at your own pace; get what you need and not what you want. You will learn a few more tricks and get more creative if you have limited equipment and gear. But always remember, no photo is worth your life!

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