Getting Started in Photojournalism

Considering everyone who owns a smartphone can take a picture that can be published on the front page of the New York Times, it’s not difficult to see why many view photojournalism as a commodity. But what differentiates that person who happens to have a camera at the right moment from a photojournalist?

Photojournalism is not just about being there at the right moment. It is a serious profession not just because it tells a story, but the whole process feels like a miracle. It captures the greatest moments that aren’t crafted slowly, but rather material and disappear quickly. While you may not always be present for the big moments, you can develop skills ensure that you’ll be ready for anything. Below are a few tips to get you started.

Getting Started in Photojournalism

1. Planning

Like many things in life, the most important thing as a photojournalist is preparation and planning. It’s likely that you won’t be looking in the right place or have the right equipment if you don’t know what to expect. Remember that photojournalist is more about unexpected moments that happen at planned events than capturing unexpected events.

Whether you are working on a publication or not, it’s important set yourself assignments and plan for them accordingly. Does the next event in your town have potential photojournalistic relevance? If yes, you should assign yourself the responsibility of attending that event and capturing the key participants. Keep your eye out for individuals who are likely to provide you with the most interesting opportunities.

2. Anticipation and timing

Most things in photojournalism come down to waiting. This is, however, not enough. You need to be able to recognize the right moment. And if it does pass you by, don’t start kicking the dirt. Great moments often happen twice, as you will soon find out on assignment. If you are there to capture the subsequent moment, you can rest assured that the shot will be golden. The visual details will give you clues as to what’s relevant to viewers. Experience will teach you to get the shot you need, even when you miss the shot you wanted.

3. Choosing the subject and focusing

Any single event is a multitude of stories and what you focus on defines where you think the real story is. will you focus on the place and people, or the cause and effect? Is what you are paying attention to the same thing as what other people are paying attention to? Your subject should be whatever connects you the most.

Your target viewers won’t be able to see the subject clearly if it is out of focus. It’s important to remember that focus is an essential tool that one can use to draw attention to the most relevant elements of the story. New photojournalists find it easy to use the widest range of focus available. They forget that narrow depth of field can prove valuable if one knows how the aperture affects imagery.

4. It’s okay to imitate others

While being a copycat isn’t always recommended, it’s okay to keep an eye for professionals as they work. Watch how more experienced photojournalists work and you may end up learning a trick or two. Simple things like the notebooks and pens or how they address people while on assignment will go a long way towards improving your skills. They are professionals for a reason, so don’t afraid to learn what it is and incorporate it in your work. Follow their published work on their websites or newspapers they work for. Doing this on a regular basis will teach you a whole lot.

5. Get your own website

Registering your own domain name and launching a website is quite cheap. And with the whole world going digital, having your own photography website doesn’t hurt. It is a good way to expose your work to the world. Simply post a few of your shots and a contact link. Make sure that newspaper editors in the area have that link and let them know they can contact you for freelance work. As a photojournalist, you are a business that potential clients need to know about.

If getting a website isn’t an option, you can always post your work on websites that display the work of amateur photographers. The idea is to give your work as much online presence as possible, thus giving you an added advantage over other photojournalists.

6. Exposure

As previously stated, photojournalist is about artistic expression and telling a story in a photo. Looking at the artistic possibilities every scene presents is always tempting and this can frustrate someone who’s trying to report what’s happening accurately. Viewers expect reality and shooting in RAW mode makes achieving that easier.

Your camera needs to be set correctly for the exposure required to capture the light correctly. This should be done when you first arrive at the scene. The last thing you need is missing a critical shot just because you are busy fiddling with the exposure meter. You don’t the camera using automatic exposure as it averages the lighting and obscures important details. Take control of your camera and pre-set it with manual settings that are needed to capture the moment when it happens.

7. Cropping

There are times when you won’t be able to line up the image in such a way that the composition guides the viewer to what you really want them to see. You will need to crop the image around the important subject to achieve the above goal. Using a high resolution camera allows you to crop images extensively in software after you have shot them.

However, it is important to understand that cropping is the only legitimate adjustment you can make to pictures as a photojournalist. More sophisticated editing and retouching of images isn’t advisable since it makes them look unauthentic. This has landed photojournalists in scandals that almost ended their careers so don’t make that mistake. Always remember that photojournalism is about reporting reality and respect the trust viewers have in you.

8. Rights

It is important to know and respect the rights of the people you photograph. Many celebrities, emergency workers, criminals and politicians have given up their right to privacy as far as photojournalism is concerned. And while that is the case, it’s important to exercise caution when photographing the ordinary citizens.

Be careful where you take your photographs. It will be easier to argue about the right of privacy if you are in a public event or place. The same isn’t true if inside a prison, hospital or private property. It’s always good to carry model releases because you never know when you will need them.

Photojournalism isn’t something that should be taken lightly. The messages and stories you tell through photography can go a long way towards changing people’s lives. And while it may be a tough field to break, always remember that persistence is key. You will learn new things every day and the stories you tell will magical, not always in a good way. And whether you are an amateur or an experienced photojournalist, it’s important that you approach the profession with the respect it deserves.


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