EDITOR’S NOTE: Shawn Poynter served as graphics editor of the Daily Yonder for the past six years and worked for our publishing organization, the Center for Rural Strategies, since 2003. (Learn more in his “Viewfinder” interview.)  We asked Shawn to pull out some of his favorite photos from the past 15 years or so and tell us a bit about them. We’ll run these photos and short articles as an occasional series. Shawn is returning to fulltime professional photography, and you will see his work in the Daily Yonder from time to time when he shoots rural-related topics. You can keep in touch with Shawn and see more of his work on his website.


One of the hardest parts of editorial photography, for me, is finding an effective establishing shot. This is often called an overall or scene-setter. It’s a picture that gives the viewer a quick-read idea of where the story is taking place. Maybe it’s a shot, taken on a hill, that shows a town’s main street or a picture of a row of homes typical of that area. It sets a backdrop on which the story takes place.

As important as these shots are, difficulty is relaying the information in a way that doesn’t also put the view to sleep. You can only shoot a house so many ways, right?

This picture fell into my lap while on assignment in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, for the New York Times in 2007. I was sent there to illustrate a story about two brothers in the NFL, Julius and Thomas Jones, who played football for Powell Valley High School. I photographed their trophies and awards in the school, portraits of their parents, the coal mine where their father worked for many years, and, finally, football practice.

There was a moment at practice when I turned from the action on the field and saw three players taking a break. The players were framed by the blue shed siding, setting them apart from the surrounding mountains, and there were wisps of fog past the tree line. It was both informational and visually interesting. I knew I had found my establishing shot.

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