Photojournalism is one of the most interesting fields of photography to work in because it’s unpredictable, erratic, and contains a degree of danger.
Alisdare Hickson - Journalist wearing a gas mask on Mansour Street
Photojournalism allows you to experience the world and put yourself out there. It's all about leaving the comforts of your studio in order to find a news story. If other genres of photography focus on you showing your own vision and creativity, then photojournalism is all about telling the story of others.
Photojournalism uses images to help tell a story and distribute information to the public, whether it be to support a written piece or to stand on its own as a photo story. Photojournalists often have an editorial background as unlike the other fields of photography, journalism has its own set of strict rules of conduct and ethics. Photojournalists are also often required to write captions and copy to provide context and a background to the photographs.
Newspapers, magazines, websites and blogs act as your main client, which are usually reached through various photo agencies.
Here are a few tips to help get you started in photojournalism:
Keep things relevant
The ‘4 Ws’ are important in journalism: Who, What, Where, Why?
Studio Incendo - Taiwan 2016 presidential election
Photographs should talk about what is current, relevant and of interest to the general public. Find subjects that matter, whether they are currently on the news, an issue being debated or an event that has a big consequence on the future.
Richard Lopez - Bernie Sanders Rally Stockton California
One practice that I like to do when covering certain events is to ask myself if my images are “newsworthy”. Your photographs should matter instantaneously and universally.
Edits should be minimal, in fact, learn to shoot with the aim of never having to drastically retouch a photo. Sometimes, especially in hard news, the turnaround time for editors is very short. Deadlines are tight, and they will have little or no time to fix a photograph before they have to go to press.
If you are editing your images for submission, stay away from fancy filters. Up the contrast, increase the sharpness, remove unnecessary elements and call it a day.
Keep things natural
Photojournalism is still journalism and because of that responsibility you have to be unbiased when taking photographs. Your images should show things as they really are and be honest and accurate. Never ever stage a situation, instead, let events unfold naturally.
Keep things accurate As editors are based in newsrooms and not at the scene, writing captions is an important part of a Photojournalist’s job so that others can have a clear understanding of what the photos depict. The cardinal rule of writing captions is the spell everything correctly and double check the facts. Captions must be clear, and direct, without dramatic flourishes - you are writing news not a novel. Keep your language simple and natural, use words that are commonly used by the publication you’re working for.
Sometimes, the simplest observations are the most powerful ones.
Lastly, remember to do your research and fact-check before submitting your captions. Photojournalism deals with real life, so it’s important to get all the dates, names, and places correctly because your reputation and your publication’s reputation will depend on it.
It’s important to be proactive about networking even if you don’t necessarily know what field of photography you want to work in yet. Most of my connections were made while I was studying or during internships. Volunteering for the school publication is a good start because it simulates actual photojournalism work while giving you a chance to hone your skills. Community and local publications also look for a lot of volunteer photography work that give you a chance to practice while putting your work out there.
Internships are also another good route to take, especially at newspapers and magazines, where you will be able to see the full workflow of photojournalists in action, from assignment to publication.
If you are looking into getting into photojournalism specifically, it’s a good idea to take courses in photojournalism that will expose you to the journalism side of the field. Taking short courses will also broaden your connections to professionals already working in the field.
If you are looking to get into one of the top agencies such as Getty, make sure your work is up to par before you send anything in. In order to do that, get lots of experience working locally, covering different kinds of events from breaking news to sports. Look through the kinds of images they accept to figure out what kind of work they’re looking for.
Getting experience isn’t only about refining your skills but it also helps you get used to the kind of work you will be doing- long and unpredictable hours, being able to make decisions on the go, and getting used to the often hectic shooting situations.
Get your online portfolio ready as well as professional references and tear sheets. Agencies like Getty usually prioritise submissions by breaking news events, content and interest so it’s good to capitalise on what’s going on around you.