Wanted: Talented individual willing to risk life and limb to get the best
picture possible. That's pretty much the job description for successful
photojournalists. They need technical know-how and creativity, plus
they have to be daring. Great photographers are aggressive enough
to get the shot but are also sensitive to the subject.
Invest in good equipment, such as a high-end Nikon or Canon film or digital camera. You'll also need different lenses and flashes or other types of lighting gear.
Attend photography or journalism school. Develop your eye, improve your style and technique, and make contacts in the field. It's a good background whether you want to work for a community newspaper or travel the world as a freelance photographer.
Get an internship with a magazine or newspaper. This gives you real-life experience and gets you published, and it can turn into a full-time job. Some people have several internships before they find permanent work. See 161 Set Up an Internship.
Develop a portfolio that showcases your expertise with a wide range of subjects. It should include everything from one-shot car crashes to photo essays about people's lives. Most newspapers and magazines want to see published work, but a student portfolio may get you an internship or entry-level position. You'll work your way up from there.
Learn how to scan prints or download images from your camera, depending on whether you use a film or digital camera. Get training on image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop (adobe.com).
Know how to think on your feet. News events happen fast and can pack an emotional wallop. Your ability to stay calm and make quick decisions will greatly impact your success.
Go for the best story rather than settling for the easy shot. Just as a reporter would do, look for balanced reporting and seek out opposing viewpoints of the stories you cover.
Prepare yourself for physical and mental challenges. You'll carry heavy equipment in all kinds of conditions. You never know whether you'll cover a storm, a robbery or an accident. Some photojournalists work well even in dangerous (sometimes lifethreatening) situations and are assigned to cover wars, regional conflicts and other hot spots around the world.
Hold up under pressure and get your work in on time. News editors can get pretty touchy when they're on deadline.
Tips & Warnings
- After you gain experience, take a job as a photo editor or teach at a college. Photojournalism is demanding, and you may need a break after spending a long time in the field.
- Join the National Press Photographers Association (nppa.org) for seminars, networking and other professional opportunities.
- See 53 Organize Your Photos.
- Freelance photographers can submit work to stock photo agencies. These agencies sell customers the right to use your photos and pay you a commission.
- Salaried photographers earned a median income of $24,000 in 2002.
- The Associated Press (ap.org) offers a highly selective internship program for aspiring photographers.
- Pay attention to detail. Be sure you get your captions right, including names, dates and places. Editors hate to have to print corrections in the next day's paper.