COVID-19 Brings News Challenges to Photojournalism


Photo credit: Courtesy of Zach Brien

Erin Haynes

With COVID-19 looming in the air, the world is zooming in on how communities are being impacted. Photojournalist Zach Brien, A’16’, believes there is no better time to show how ordinary people are living through an extraordinary time.

COVID-19 has pushed Brien to use his creativity and skills to tell a photographic story at a distance. But before he captures moments in the field, he is challenging his imagination as a photojournalism graduate student at Georgetown University.

“It’s been really hard. Grad school makes you change the way you think as a photographer. If you think you’re hot s—, it will put you in your place real quick,” said Brien.

Brien said the virus is a challenge because it limits how people function everyday, but his degree program is teaching him how to approach the social distancing obstacle creatively.

“I was shooting an ALS (a nervous system disease) rally outside of the White House, and I found myself struggling to practice social distancing because I was making conversation with people,” said Brien.

As a photographer, distancing is difficult because Brien said he loves being engaged with his subjects, and he never wants to “just take photos and leave without saying anything.’

“The best photography advice I got was from Loyola’s former photographer, Harold Baquet, and he told me to ‘just keep shooting.’ That has been my guiding light. I even got it tattooed on my leg,” said Brien.

Old habits die hard, but photojournalists around the word inspire Brien to keep work flowing because “everyone is telling the same story but just in different circumstances,” said Brien.

To find his subjects, Brien says he checks Twitter, local news outlets, or just goes exploring in his community, said Brien.

“Sometimes I might go out and shoot for four hours, didn’t make a single photo I liked, but I had my camera in my hand and thought about my shot,” said Brien.

The photo missions reveal how COVID-19 impacts social inequities, racial groups, and any industry with people, said Brien.

“This is not going to affect everyone in the same way, which means there are more ways to cover every event, happenings, and there are more ways to think about it,” said Brien.