Photojournalist Scott Strazzante showed students that visual variety is the key to successfully telling a story with images.

He told students during a visit to CMU that a photograph needs various elements that people can look at. He said to pay attention to composition, lighting, a moment and color.

“You want to create it like a piece of music with high notes and low notes,” Strazzante said.

Strazzante works for t​he Chicago Tribune and visited campus as part of the Hearst Visiting Professionals program.

Photojournalism wasn’t where his education started out, though. He was studying business so he could take over his father’s tire company. In his junior year of college, he saw the work of Chicago Tribune photographer Paul Gero, and that show inspired him to pursue photography.

“I was self-taught,” Strazzante said. “I would study others’ work. I would study where my eye would go.”

When he started out, he said he was deathly afraid of people and rejection. He said he would shoot photos from behind trees to avoid having to talk anyone.

“I’m still a shy, timid person,” Strazzante said. “But, I think you can use that to your advantage.”

He told students to shoot from different angles, especially down low, because that makes people feel less intimidated. He also urged them to interact with their subjects.

“It’s a two-way street,” Strazzante said. “People think their lives are boring. Just ask to spend time with them.”

He explained how people think they need to stage moments when he is there to photograph them.

“Sometimes you have to work through their need to show off for you,” Strazzante said. “Then they will become more natural.”

One of the stories he shared with students was one he started working on 19 years ago. He followed Jean and Harlow Cagwin and captured life on their farm. After the Cagwins’ home was demolished and the farm gave way to a subdivision, Strazzante continued to follow the story. He began covering another couple, Amanda and Ed Grabenhofer, who lived in the subdivision, and he started to find similarities in the two sets of images.

“It was almost like editing a story with a Rubik’s Cube,” he said.

His story ended up being featured in National Geographic. He created a video, and he also is working on a book.

Strazzante told students it doesn’t really matter if you use the best camera or an iPhone to shoot your photographs.

“A camera is just a tool,” he said. “It is how you see the world that is what makes you unique.”

He thinks photography is great because you can go out, take pictures, and keep taking them over and over again. He said it’s not like brain surgery where you have to get it right the first time.

“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” Strazzante said.