7 Tips for an Aspiring Photojournalist

7 Tips for an Aspiring Photojournalist

What does it take to become a photojournalist? Here are some helpful pointers on how to take photos worth a thousand words. 

While photojournalism does share some theoretical, practical, and aesthetic similarities with other photography disciplines, one key difference sets it apart—newsworthiness. Photojournalism is a particular discipline of photography (and journalism) that employs images in order to tell a news story.

What makes a photo newsworthy mainly depends on whether the image embodies timeliness, objectivity, and narrative.

  • Do your images have relevance in today’s news, thus, making them timely?
  • Does your photography depict a fair and accurate representation of the events they depict (in both tone and content), making them objective?
  • Do your images tell an interesting story—or rather, narrative?
Minneapolis protester runs through street of fire with American flag
Image via Julio Cortez/AP/Shutterstock.

Every photojournalist asks themselves these questions when determining whether the images they have captured are, in fact, newsworthy. A photojournalistic work aims to capture an event as it unfolds at any given moment, that will interest the broad public.

These photos are not staged. In fact, many photojournalists consider stage-managed shots presented as candid to be unethical. Rather, they depict the everyday lives of people and the many facets of their daily activities as they occur.

Man hugs his girlfriend in the aftermath of the Kentucky tornados in 2021
Image via Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/Shutterstock.

As an aspiring photojournalist, you might be wondering where to start. Aside from having an acute understanding of photography—including how your camera works and how to compose a shot—photojournalists must also perform the duties of a journalist. We’ll go over some of the basics to get you started.

But first, let’s go over some of the career paths you can pursue as an aspiring photojournalist.

A woman photographer holds a camera in her hands in outdoor park
Image via Zapylaiev Kostiantyn.

How to Start a Photojournalism Career A staff photographer works for a specific publication, whether it’s a full-time or part-time job. A freelance or stringer photographer is someone who shoots for multiple publications. A number of publications may request photo assignments over a specific period of time, so freelancers typically have a roster of clients they work with.

One of the most common employers of photojournalists are wire services, such as Reuters and Associated Press, and stock sites such as Shutterstock. News outlets will often subscribe to wire services and stock sites to access newsworthy photos when they can’t send their own reporters to cover an event.

1. Get Outside and Take Photos

Time behind the lens is essential to hone your skills as a photojournalist. Practice taking photos that tell a story. Take your camera out with you wherever you go and document the world around you. Give yourself photo assignments and challenge yourself to tell a story using only a series of photos.

Images via Oleksandr Polonskyi, Flora Photography Co, and Graeme J Baty.

2. Attend Newsworthy Events

To capture newsworthy photos means attending newsworthy events. Staying informed, observant, and in-the-know about the latest news and events in your area can help you plan to be in the right place at the right time.

Perhaps there are talks of an upcoming protest? A parade? Or a town hall meeting where emotions will likely run high? Consider events that will evoke a strong emotional response to capture more compelling journalistic photos.

Images via Peter Foley/UPI/Shutterstock, Yaroslav Sabitov/Shutterstock, Kuncoro Widyo Rumpoko/Pacific Press/Shutterstock, and THOMAS SAMSON/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock.

3. Consider the Five Ws

Don’t forsake the journalist aspect of photojournalism. Photojournalists aren’t just professional photographers—they’re reporters, too. It’s important for photojournalists to also consider the Five Ws—the who, what, where, when, and why behind every photo you take. For example:

Who is the photo about?

What happened?

When did it take place?

Where did it take place?

Why did it happen?

Asking the Five Ws enables you to tell a more complete story about the subject you’re capturing behind the lens. They also enable you to know as much about your subject(s) as possible, in order to create more meaningful images.

Female journalist interviews soldier during conflict
Image via Little Pig Studio.

4. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

There are several fields of photojournalism. It pays to be flexible and ready to cover a broad range of events and happenings that are outside of your comfort zone. This includes news, sports, politics, and current events.

You just never know when news will happen, or when an editor will send you out to cover a story or beat you’re unfamiliar with. If you normally cover community events, don’t pigeonhole yourself and let that stop you from covering politics.

People, including photographers, like familiarity. We feel most comfortable shooting in familiar environments, or with people with whom we are comfortable. When we force ourselves to step out of this comfort zone, we tend to pay more attention to our subject(s) and setting, and capture the image more organically.

Images via Robert F Bukaty/AP/Shutterstock, Gregory Bull/AP/Shutterstock, Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/Shutterstock, Brynn Anderson/AP/Shutterstock, and Charlie Riedel/AP/Shutterstock.

5. Expect the Unexpected

As a photojournalist, you’ll likely encounter breaking news stories that require you to drop everything to capture an unplanned incident as it occurs.

You will not know where or when the next breaking news story will take place (making it harder to plan for), so it’s better to expect the unexpected. Professional photojournalists act differently from other people. If there’s an emergency, they run towards it, camera in hand. If there’s a conflict, they’re off to the side documenting it.

Running towards chaos at a moment’s notice is part of the job. Wearing a comfortable pair of running shoes and having your photography gear packed and ready to go is a must.

Most of the time, there’s no way to predict a breaking news event, but sometimes you can anticipate it. Perhaps tensions have been running high surrounding the controversial demolition of a historic building?

Again, stay informed on the happenings in your local area so you can anticipate a newsworthy event. Twitter is your best resource for staying up-to-date on breaking news as it happens.

Images via a katz, ChameleonsEye, and Seth Wenig/AP/Shutterstock.

6. Stay Organized

As a photojournalist, it’s essential to keep your photos organized. Keep track of when you took the photos and label them accordingly. Ensure the metadata is correct and provides specific details pertaining to each of your photos. This information often includes the date the photo was created, the byline, file name, content, themes, and more. Photo metadata makes it easier to search and find your photos within a large photosystem.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is a good tool when it comes to organizing and sorting through thousands of images. It’s also important to note that many publications have specific rules for how photo submissions are formatted and named. When submitting to a publication, ensure your images adhere to their conventions.

Image via David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock and Christina Desitriviantie.

7. Build a Strong Portfolio

To appeal to editors and publications, build a strong portfolio featuring a wide array of examples of your best work. Choose photos that best represent your talent and edit them using editing software. You can use this portfolio to demonstrate your body of work to publications that could potentially hire you as a freelancer or part-time.

Seek out entry-level photojournalist positions or internships to build on your experience and gain invaluable on-the-job experience.

Make sure to edit down the images to the final selection. Picking the best photos out of hundreds can be a cumbersome task. Ask yourself if the photo you’re looking at makes you feel something. If the photo doesn’t lead to a reaction, don’t use it, unless it’s recording a crucial visual element in the story.

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