‘Ascent’ visual journalism exhibition highlights students’ journeys

After 12 weeks of honing their technical production skills, including white balance, ISO, shutter speed, aperture, focal length, stabilisation, aesthetics, editing, and file organisation and management, the work of QUT visual journalism students was displayed in multiple venues.

The work, including environmental portraits, sports photography and news images depicting the people, places, and interactions around Brisbane, is the result of a semester-long visual journalism unit offered in the QUT School of Communication.

“This class has lit a spark in me that I forgot was there, and has made me eager to learn about photography again,” Bachelor of Creative Industries student Mahlee D’Castro said.

“The tutorials gave me amazing in-depth knowledge of how to use my camera again, and this time… I actually remember what each setting is used for and how to utilise them to get a certain effect in my photos. The teachings of thinking of visual journalism as a sentence structure has allowed me to tell a true story through my photos and communicate news to the public.

“I’m really glad that this was one of my subjects before I graduate, it has really left me with the skills I’ll need to succeed.”

The students create staples of the visual journalism canon—environmental portraits, sports photography, news imagery, and a capstone photo story that visually illustrates a narrative in six to twelve images.

The results of the students’ labours are curated together in an exhibition titled, Ascent, displayed in libraries on both of QUT’s Kelvin Grove and Gardens Point campuses.


The exhibition was also on display throughout various times in the Creative Industries Precinct at Building Z9, Kelvin Grove. 

As a first-year unit, the exhibition reflects for many students the beginning of a journey both at uni and within the journalism study area.

“I went into the visual journalism unit with not much awareness of what the unit really entailed but over the semester I have learnt the technical skills, importance of strong captions and how they can change and strengthen a photographic series, all whilst heavily focusing on the depiction and documentary of newsworthy stories,” Bachelor of Creative Industries student Alexandra Reilly said.

“The individual assignments were manageable with weekly timeframes but proved to still challenge and push me to improve both my captioning and photographic skills.”

Ascent visual journalism exhibition at QUT

Photo by Dr T.J. Thomson

The class occurs within a global environment where more than 3 billion images a day are made and a majority of these (80 percent or more) are created on smartphones or tablets. With the democratisation of media production and distribution propelled by technological convergence, media professionals are asking themselves how they can differentiate themselves in a sea of visuals and what their role should be in the media production and distribution process.

These are also questions we are addressing in this first-year visual journalism unit.

The semester starts off with students interviewing and documenting their classmates using smartphones or tablets and, in week two, starting the process of approaching and interacting with strangers by making mugshots of 10 people that are visually tied together through a theme or motif.

For the remainder of the semester, students start working with professional equipment and learning about all the decisions—such as shutter speed, white balance, ISO sensitivity—their smartphones usually make for them automatically.

They learn about different focal lengths, aperture values, principles of journalism and aesthetics, light, file organisation and management, and image editing and presentation.

They also learn about media law and ethics and how they can differentiate themselves as professionals through knowledge of and application of these principles.

Redlands development manager Nicholas Somerville looks out at Toondah Harbour, the proposed site for a controversial residential and retail development in the Redlands. While the project threatens several bird species and has other environmental repercussions, Somerville says that it is financially the only way to redevelop the ferry terminal which many residents believe needs to be upgraded. Photo by Eliza Woods.

“Throughout this semester QUT’s Visual Journalism course has allowed me to develop my story telling skills via images,” Bachelor of Media and Communication student Katy Bedford said. “It has taught me to consider how certain visual aesthetics paired with appropriate camera settings can take a photo to the next level and can allow me to convey both story and emotion.”

CJB102: Visual Journalism is part of the new Bachelor Communication degree that the QUT School of Communication launched in 2019. The school offers five study areas: digital media, entertainment industries, journalism, professional communication, and advertising and public relations.

The School and its Digital Media Research Centre are currently ranked first in Australia and 16th globally within the communications and media studies area, according to the 2019 QS World University rankings.