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Discover How to Become a Photojournalist

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Breaking into the field of photojournalism usually takes time and a lot of effort. It’s a competitive business, controlled by editors who are often over-worked and centers around what is widely considered a subjective product. In this post Photojournalist and photo editor at www.WeSay.com Jason Geil gives some tips on how to get into Photojournalism. Image by tochis

Focus on people

I always suggest to people trying to make a leap into the profession to shoot photos of people. The basis of photojournalism is the visual documentation of what is going on around us all. Nothing illustrates that more accurately than photographs of people doing the things people do. The recent floods in the Midwest highlighted this.

Countless photos of flood waters are all over the mainstream media wires and hundreds more are submitted to newspapers every day.

What sets the good photos apart from the ever-increasing stack of common photos, are the people and actions photographed. A photo of a person feverishly grabbing his belongings before his house floods, is almost certainly going to be a more gripping photo than the one of the flood water and nothing else. At least, that’s the case in the world of photojournalism. More information is derived form photos like these. Document the people affected by the news you are covering and you will be a step ahead of most other amateur photographers.


Submit photos

Turn your photographs in somewhere. I have never understood why some photographers treat their work like it’s a priceless piece of art that everyone is trying to steal. First of all, it isn’t. Secondly, it’s hard to get noticed in the field of journalism if your work is never seen by anyone. So give your work to someone in a position to publish it. www.WeSay.com is an excellent site for submitting photos you feel have some news value, whether its breaking news, weather, sports, local celebrities or just far-out. The site focuses on news photography from both mainstream media and amateur photographers and publish citizen photos on their homepage.

Or publish it yourself. As long as eyes are on your work, the odds of you making it in the field are better.

It’s easy to find the names of photo editors from local newspapers. Call them or email them and say, ‘I shot this photo today and I thought you might be interested’. If your photos are good enough, editors will notice.

Create a personal Web site. For less than $200 a year, you can have your own domain name. Post a few examples of your photojournalism and a link to how to contact you. Send that link to editors of newspapers in your area and ask them to consider you for future freelance opportunities. As a potential freelance photojournalist, you are essentially a business. And businesses need to advertise their product.

Keep at it

Stay persistent. Just because an editor doesn’t call or write you back, that doesn’t mean you didn’t make an impression. I have found the single most important trait most great journalists have is persistence. If you continue to contact editors and continue to search for good photographs, you will eventually make it into the business in some fashion.

When you’re out shooting photographs, get out of your car and walk. Meet people. Talk to them. Ask them questions. Most likely, you will be surprised how many unique story ideas you can come up with just by being curious. Having a unique story is a quick way to impress an editor.

Keep an eye on professional photojournalists. Watch how they go about their business and you may learn a few things. Even simple things, like how they carry a notebook and pen with them to write notes and names while on assignment, will give you an edge. Check the ego. They are professionals for a reason so you can learn plenty from modeling yourself after them.

Concentrate on writing good captions. A striking difference between amateur photographers and professional photographers is the pros have perfected the art of collecting information about their photographs. Who? What? When? Where? Accuracy is critical. If you can’t get the spelling of names right or the facts straight, and write them in a clear, concise and accurate caption, you will not make it very far in the business of photojournalism.

Get the right equipment

Let’s face it. If you want to be taken seriously in the field of photojournalism, you’re going to need to invest in some professional grade equipment. Sometimes that’s a tough fact to fathom for many aspiring photojournalists. Many people are surprised to hear the answer when they ask me how much my cameras and lenses cost. While the equipment doesn’t MAKE the photographer, inferior gear will set you back quite a bit. You don’t have to break the bank necessarily. Ask around to find out what the professionals shoot with, then try to find an older version. Camera swaps are great for finding deals and many photographic stores have “certified” used gear listed at discounted prices. The most basic outfit of gear should include at least a professional quality camera body, wide angle lens (17mm, f2.8) and a telephoto of some sort (70-200mm f2.8). Of course, a computer and other accessories are needed as well.

About the Author: Jason Geil is the Photo Editor for www.WeSay.com. He worked as a staff photojournalist at the Cincinnati Post. As a freelance photojournalist, he has completed assignments for several national publications including USA Today, The New York Times, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Wall Street Journal, Getty Images and Rolling Stone magazine.

He is a three-time winner in the Ohio Associated Press competition, six-time Kentucky Press Association award winner and 10-time Cincinnati Society of Professional Journalists award winner.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Alanna

    Excellent article, very helpful.

  • http://www.newmediaphotographer.com Rosh

    Good information and ideas. It’s always good to hear from a photo editor for prospective.

    I’ve been a photojournalist for twenty years and teach the same at two universities.

    It’s an amazing field. I still get excited when I see my images published and I’ve had a lot of images published.

    One more piece of advice, I would add that it is important to create variety in the images you submit. Wide, medium and close up images as well as different techniques. But, as suggested by Jason, expression and emotion is always important.

    Build good relationships and always do what you say you are going to do. Never leave an editor hanging with empty space.

    and… need I say it. Be mindful of the contracts you sign.

    Rosh
    http://www.newmediaphotographer.com

  • http://www.frombrandon.com fromBrandon

    Wow, definitely enjoyed this article. I even enjoyed how you gave specific examples of what lenses you should have.

    “For less than $200 a year you can have your own domain name…” I would say that’s so true that you can do it with less than a $100. I mean, I’m hosting my photoblog on Blogger (free) and am just paying for the domain name (around $10.00 a year). You can make the online thing work for real cheap with real quality nowadays. Just gotta make sure you have quality pics to put on it.

    Thanks again for this article,

    Brandon
    http://www.frombrandon.com

  • http://jlbgibberish.blogspot.com/ Jayme Lynn Blaschke

    As a working journalist for close to two decades, I have to point out that photojournalism is not exactly the same animal as other forms of commercial photography. Whereas portrait or fine art photographers manipulate and arrange their subjects before, during and after the shoot (particularly with the stunning post-processing capabilities digital allows) there are serious–some would say draconian–restrictions on what a photojournalist can ethically do. Recently, a well-established photojournalist lost his job after digitally erasing a wayward foot from a shot of reporters covering a sporting event.

    Because of the ease which Photoshop and other software can manipulate and alter the perceived reality in photos, the pressure to preserve the integrity of the captured scene has increased rather than lessened. Something aspiring phototogs should very much keep in mind.

  • http://www.newmediaphotographer.com Rosh

    @Jayme,

    Excellent point.

    Rosh

  • Hong

    Do you need a model release form with photojournalism?

  • http://www.bugsyrocker.com/?comment bugsy

    One of my best friends (a profeissional photojournalist) said it best, something along the lines of…

    “Most people photograph nouns, but to be a photojournalist you must photograph verbs”

    maybe he got it from somewhere else, but it sticks in my head when i’m shooting.

  • http://www.outsource-website-development.com/ Mani

    If you are professional photographer then you should start selling your photos online, this is a best way to earn some money.
    what is the point in taking all the photos and keeping it in your laptop.
    http://www.outsource-website-development.com/

  • Cinnamon

    ~Excellent info! Thank you! :)

  • http://www.twitter.com/marydanielsen Mary Danielsen

    I love all this information. Thank you so much. I’ve been shooting photos for work for a few years with some good amateur equipment (with some luck) and have been teetering on upgrading to entry-level professional gear to help me improve and give me options.

    One of the other posters was right: it is much harder to shoot verbs than nouns. You can’t pose a verb and often you can’t even plan for it. You just have to be ready and know your gear.

    I know that’s where I need to stretch.

  • B. J. Lee

    Do you need a model release form with photojournalism?
    I was shooting some kids at a local skate board park and got hassled by a mom…the cops were called and they were a little upset…I said, if it is in public, it IS public.
    What is the real story on taking photos in public, of the public?

  • http://guymclaren.com Guy McLaren

    The local editors in my area think they are doing you a favour publishing your photos. They consider a byline payment enough.

  • http://tochismochis.blogspot.com/ Tochis

    Thank you for using my photo! Besides, a very interesting post.
    Best regards!

  • http://www.awesomefarm.com Tony

    Pretty good article. I have been a professional photojournalist for a little less than a year now, and these are all accurate statements. Gear is essential, and it can definitely set you apart from the rest. Also, don’t be afraid to get in and ask questions, don’t be afraid to be the 400 pound gorilla in the room if you have to. At the same time, know when to be the ninja photog. Names are also a big thing that my editors always make sure to ask for. Super important!

  • B. J. Lee

    Hong asked, I asked, Could someone respond to this question?
    THANKS IN ADVANCE…

    B. J. Lee Says:
    Do you need a model release form with photojournalism?
    I was shooting some kids at a local skate board park and got hassled by a mom…the cops were called and they were a little upset…I said, if it is in public, it IS public.
    What is the real story on taking photos in public, of the public?
    Hong Says:
    Do you need a model release form with photojournalism?

  • http://www.awesomefarm.com Tony

    No, you don’t need a model release for photo journalism. If they’re in a public place its public and you can take photos. . Usually if you identify yourself as a photog for..whatever newspaper.. they go Oh, okay, and kind of back off. But I’m pretty sure the rule is if you’re in public, then you’re fair game.

  • http://www.awesomefarm.com Tony

    Also, it seems I am finding a lot on the ‘net about using it to sell something. It’s okay to take these photos as long as you aren’t trying to sell or endorse a perticular thing with it:
    http://www.kantor.com/blog/2005/12/legal-rights-of-photographers/
    Check out that link, there is a pdf on the bottom of the page that has some tips. Also try a google search for “photographer’s legal rights”

  • B. J. Lee

    Wow! Thanks Tony…I will hit the link that you noted…
    I tried the Google search and got a wiki page…Nice to hear it from a pro….
    BJ
    Sigma-SD9

  • http://www.thebaldchemist.com The Baldchemist

    nice article. thanks. sometimes in an effort to make the perfect picture, over use of “the Shop” destroys the very essence,feel and atmosphere of a good “moment” picture.
    It is almost impossible to have perfect settings for every occasion, or even the “right” lens.
    Just be there and shoot all the angles. Make the picture interesting with real action even if there is blur or slight under/overexposure. It doesn’t matter.
    I think we all fed up with seeing long exposure waterfalls and streams photoshopped to death.
    F8 125sec AND BE THERE. Cheers The Baldchemist

  • B.J. Lww

    F8 125 AND BE THERE
    Sounds like a tee-shirt to me…

  • http://www.ericsbinaryworld.com Eric Mesa

    awesome tips. What about how to know where to be?

  • Al

    I am a serious amateur photographer with a good friend who has been a professional photojournalist for 30 years. He told me some time ago that, while it may be legal, taking pictures of kids, without explicit permission is a most definite “no no” in this day and age. As a news photographer he wasn’t referring to kids in newsworthy situations when you are a pro, but to day to day situations like–cute kids playing in the sandbox–stuff.

    Al

  • http://www.eclick.co.za Delme

    Great article, and some sound advice, thanks for sharing

  • darkie0655

    how do you get a press pass?

  • http://www.gtvone.com Sime

    You go shoot for free, for ages, build up your folio, meet people, hand out business cards, email everyone related to the event you’re after and cross your fingers – tightly. Or, do a degree, get a job with Getty and get handed them… (I chose option one) Sime

  • beckey lake

    i have to do a photo essay for my broadcastign and fil admission and im still confused as to what types of stories are appropriate if you sould include that somewhere on your website that would be very helpful.
    thanks.

  • http://www.CTRLSPC.ca Sharif Sharifi

    Excellent write up, like most photography oriented professions, it sounds like photojournalism is one of the most difficult to get into!

  • Carson

    Thank you! I am very interested in becoming a photojournalist and these are very helpful tips.

  • http://www.joomla-extensions.org joomla extensions

    This is definitely a topic thats close to me so Im happy that you wrote about it.

  • Nick

    Looks like WikiHow coppied this article word for word http://www.wikihow.com/Break-Into-Photojournalism

  • Beezy

    What I get when I go to wesay.com…

    “Web Page UnavailableWe’re sorry, the web page you are trying to reach is unavailable.
    Please contact the website administrator.
    We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Some older comments

  • joomla extensions

    October 3, 2011 09:04 pm

    This is definitely a topic thats close to me so Im happy that you wrote about it.

  • Carson

    April 24, 2011 04:17 pm

    Thank you! I am very interested in becoming a photojournalist and these are very helpful tips.

  • Sharif Sharifi

    March 28, 2011 07:22 am

    Excellent write up, like most photography oriented professions, it sounds like photojournalism is one of the most difficult to get into!

  • beckey lake

    February 13, 2011 10:12 am

    i have to do a photo essay for my broadcastign and fil admission and im still confused as to what types of stories are appropriate if you sould include that somewhere on your website that would be very helpful.
    thanks.

  • Sime

    July 14, 2009 06:28 pm

    You go shoot for free, for ages, build up your folio, meet people, hand out business cards, email everyone related to the event you're after and cross your fingers - tightly. Or, do a degree, get a job with Getty and get handed them... (I chose option one) Sime

  • darkie0655

    July 14, 2009 04:38 pm

    how do you get a press pass?

  • Delme

    April 23, 2009 04:30 am

    Great article, and some sound advice, thanks for sharing

  • Al

    April 18, 2009 04:15 pm

    I am a serious amateur photographer with a good friend who has been a professional photojournalist for 30 years. He told me some time ago that, while it may be legal, taking pictures of kids, without explicit permission is a most definite "no no" in this day and age. As a news photographer he wasn't referring to kids in newsworthy situations when you are a pro, but to day to day situations like--cute kids playing in the sandbox--stuff.

    Al

  • Eric Mesa

    April 18, 2009 01:46 am

    awesome tips. What about how to know where to be?

  • B.J. Lww

    November 8, 2008 12:05 am

    F8 125 AND BE THERE
    Sounds like a tee-shirt to me...

  • The Baldchemist

    November 7, 2008 04:49 pm

    nice article. thanks. sometimes in an effort to make the perfect picture, over use of "the Shop" destroys the very essence,feel and atmosphere of a good "moment" picture.
    It is almost impossible to have perfect settings for every occasion, or even the "right" lens.
    Just be there and shoot all the angles. Make the picture interesting with real action even if there is blur or slight under/overexposure. It doesn't matter.
    I think we all fed up with seeing long exposure waterfalls and streams photoshopped to death.
    F8 125sec AND BE THERE. Cheers The Baldchemist

  • B. J. Lee

    October 28, 2008 12:13 pm

    Wow! Thanks Tony...I will hit the link that you noted...
    I tried the Google search and got a wiki page...Nice to hear it from a pro....
    BJ
    Sigma-SD9

  • Tony

    October 28, 2008 09:46 am

    Also, it seems I am finding a lot on the 'net about using it to sell something. It's okay to take these photos as long as you aren't trying to sell or endorse a perticular thing with it:
    http://www.kantor.com/blog/2005/12/legal-rights-of-photographers/
    Check out that link, there is a pdf on the bottom of the page that has some tips. Also try a google search for "photographer's legal rights"

  • Tony

    October 28, 2008 09:40 am

    No, you don't need a model release for photo journalism. If they're in a public place its public and you can take photos. . Usually if you identify yourself as a photog for..whatever newspaper.. they go Oh, okay, and kind of back off. But I'm pretty sure the rule is if you're in public, then you're fair game.

  • B. J. Lee

    October 27, 2008 12:15 am

    Hong asked, I asked, Could someone respond to this question?
    THANKS IN ADVANCE...

    B. J. Lee Says:
    Do you need a model release form with photojournalism?
    I was shooting some kids at a local skate board park and got hassled by a mom…the cops were called and they were a little upset…I said, if it is in public, it IS public.
    What is the real story on taking photos in public, of the public?
    Hong Says:
    Do you need a model release form with photojournalism?

  • Tony

    October 26, 2008 04:34 pm

    Pretty good article. I have been a professional photojournalist for a little less than a year now, and these are all accurate statements. Gear is essential, and it can definitely set you apart from the rest. Also, don't be afraid to get in and ask questions, don't be afraid to be the 400 pound gorilla in the room if you have to. At the same time, know when to be the ninja photog. Names are also a big thing that my editors always make sure to ask for. Super important!

  • Tochis

    October 24, 2008 06:55 am

    Thank you for using my photo! Besides, a very interesting post.
    Best regards!

  • Guy McLaren

    October 24, 2008 03:06 am

    The local editors in my area think they are doing you a favour publishing your photos. They consider a byline payment enough.

  • B. J. Lee

    October 22, 2008 05:13 am

    Do you need a model release form with photojournalism?
    I was shooting some kids at a local skate board park and got hassled by a mom...the cops were called and they were a little upset...I said, if it is in public, it IS public.
    What is the real story on taking photos in public, of the public?

  • Mary Danielsen

    October 19, 2008 02:07 pm

    I love all this information. Thank you so much. I've been shooting photos for work for a few years with some good amateur equipment (with some luck) and have been teetering on upgrading to entry-level professional gear to help me improve and give me options.

    One of the other posters was right: it is much harder to shoot verbs than nouns. You can't pose a verb and often you can't even plan for it. You just have to be ready and know your gear.

    I know that's where I need to stretch.

  • Cinnamon

    October 19, 2008 05:59 am

    ~Excellent info! Thank you! :)

  • Mani

    October 18, 2008 11:07 pm

    If you are professional photographer then you should start selling your photos online, this is a best way to earn some money.
    what is the point in taking all the photos and keeping it in your laptop.
    http://www.outsource-website-development.com/

  • bugsy

    October 18, 2008 03:43 pm

    One of my best friends (a profeissional photojournalist) said it best, something along the lines of...

    "Most people photograph nouns, but to be a photojournalist you must photograph verbs"

    maybe he got it from somewhere else, but it sticks in my head when i'm shooting.

  • Hong

    October 18, 2008 12:05 pm

    Do you need a model release form with photojournalism?

  • Rosh

    October 18, 2008 03:34 am

    @Jayme,

    Excellent point.

    Rosh

  • Jayme Lynn Blaschke

    October 18, 2008 03:29 am

    As a working journalist for close to two decades, I have to point out that photojournalism is not exactly the same animal as other forms of commercial photography. Whereas portrait or fine art photographers manipulate and arrange their subjects before, during and after the shoot (particularly with the stunning post-processing capabilities digital allows) there are serious--some would say draconian--restrictions on what a photojournalist can ethically do. Recently, a well-established photojournalist lost his job after digitally erasing a wayward foot from a shot of reporters covering a sporting event.

    Because of the ease which Photoshop and other software can manipulate and alter the perceived reality in photos, the pressure to preserve the integrity of the captured scene has increased rather than lessened. Something aspiring phototogs should very much keep in mind.

  • fromBrandon

    October 18, 2008 01:56 am

    Wow, definitely enjoyed this article. I even enjoyed how you gave specific examples of what lenses you should have.

    "For less than $200 a year you can have your own domain name..." I would say that's so true that you can do it with less than a $100. I mean, I'm hosting my photoblog on Blogger (free) and am just paying for the domain name (around $10.00 a year). You can make the online thing work for real cheap with real quality nowadays. Just gotta make sure you have quality pics to put on it.

    Thanks again for this article,

    Brandon
    http://www.frombrandon.com

  • Rosh

    October 18, 2008 01:36 am

    Good information and ideas. It's always good to hear from a photo editor for prospective.

    I've been a photojournalist for twenty years and teach the same at two universities.

    It's an amazing field. I still get excited when I see my images published and I've had a lot of images published.

    One more piece of advice, I would add that it is important to create variety in the images you submit. Wide, medium and close up images as well as different techniques. But, as suggested by Jason, expression and emotion is always important.

    Build good relationships and always do what you say you are going to do. Never leave an editor hanging with empty space.

    and... need I say it. Be mindful of the contracts you sign.

    Rosh
    http://www.newmediaphotographer.com

  • Alanna

    October 18, 2008 01:26 am

    Excellent article, very helpful.

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