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Freelancing for your Local Newspaper–Tips to Get you Started

Photojournalism is one of the most challenging, exciting types of photography. As a result, it is also the most competitive fields to break in to.

So what do you need to start?

Reliable Transportation

This should be obvious, but it’s intentionally high in this list. All the skills and the best gear in the world without the ability to get on scene is pointless.

Decent Photography Gear

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I consider these minimum requirements.

  • 2 DSLR bodies is a minimum requirement. Though you may use one, the other is your backup. (at least 8 megapixels)
  • a wide angle, a telephoto, a fast 50mm lens, and at least one flash. As to the exact focal lengths, that would depend a lot on what you plan to shoot. Sports shooters need upwards of 300 mm, sometimes even longer lenses depending on the sport.
  • a good number of memory cards. If all you’re shooting is jpegs, then you might be able to get away with 4 to 6 4GB memory cards. They’re cheap compared to the past, so don’t sweat it. Exactly how many is hard depends on what you’re shooting. Again sports shooters will require more of this as well.
  • a laptop with a WiFi card. The platform Mac or Windows doesn’t matter. Just like for your camera, Nikon or Canon, it’s just a tool.
  • **optional Mobile broadband card for laptop**
  • Photoshop Elements is a minimum, the full version is nice but unnecessary. Most of the time, all you have time for is saving your jpegs to the newspaper’s specs, attaching captions and then transmitting it to the paper via the internet by either an FTP client or emailing.
  • cellphone for communicating with editors at the paper.
  • Optional but not vital is a police scanner. I don’t advocate running off and chasing fire trucks and ambulances but sometimes being at the right place a the right time with a camera is all it takes. Ask bystander George Holiday when he shot the video of Rodney King.

One of my former colleagues at the newspaper was a UPS deliveryman. He always had his cameras with him and a scanner. He would “happen” on fires and other breaking news and over time built enough credibility and trust to become a stringer/freelancer and eventually land a job as a staff photographer.

Writing, Reporting Ability

Writing and reporting go hand-in-hand. You may not need to write a full blown news story, but you do need to be able to write accurate descriptive captions. So proper grammar and ability to gather accurate caption information like names and ages is very important.

If you consistently provide wrong information and the newspaper has to print a correction each time, they won’t be calling you back.

Good knowledge of current Events and Sports

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If you’re looking to shoot sports, then good all round knowledge of a variety of sports is important. Since popularity of different sports are very regional, I’ll leave it to you to figure that out. Obviously expect to know Australian Rules football and cricket if you’re Down Under, baseball, hockey and American Football if you’re in the US and etc.

In sports expect to know quite a bit about all types of sports even if you’ve never played it.

If you’re covering a tennis match, for instance, do you know how the players change sides on the tie-breaker? And how do they score the game? If you don’t understand how the game is scored, how do you know when the last point of the match is coming up.

Keeping up with news is especially important. When big names come through your community and you’re on top of it, this is a great way to get your foot in the door.

The newspaper may or may not have the personnel to cover everything so your contribution may be welcome. Even if they don’t use your pictures, you’ve made first contact.

Realize these are highly simplified tips. It takes years of hard work and dedication to get into the business and there are college degrees offered in photojournalism.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how to get your foot in the door at a newspaper.”

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Peter Phun
Peter Phun

was a staff photographer at a daily newspaper in Southern California. After 2 decades, he left to freelance and to spend more time with his family.
These days, he teaches photography at Riverside City College, builds websites, is Mr. Mom to his 2 kids, butler and cook to his wife. His does editorial work, documents weddings and special events as well as portraiture.
He also writes a blog on digital photography which he uses to supplement his photography instruction.
He is active in the local Macintosh user group. He serves as the webmaster for the group MUGSIE (Macintosh Users Group Serving the Inland Empire).

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