Are you the friend that is constantly lamenting the misrepresentation of the transgender community in the media? Or maybe you are a news junkie, who can name all the political leaders of the Middle East? Perhaps you are less interested in policy, and more interested in the short man who runs your corner deli or the cute, hipster girl who makes your morning latte with a heart in it.
If this sounds like you, photojournalism may be something you are interested in pursuing. Photojournalism gives photographers the opportunity to visually tell stories. Sometimes, this can be via hard news, such as war photos or photographs of large world events. Other times, photojournalism can be executed through intimate portraiture of people in your neighborhood. In this article we will discuss a couple different ways that this career can be pursued.
Despite that photojournalism has some enticing perks (including the ability to travel and gain access to events or situations that other may not have), it can also be dangerous and incredibly stressful. The Wall Street Journal ranked photojournalist at 188/200 on the Best and Worst Jobs of 2013. They cite fast and hard deadlines as one of the largest stressors, and in the Information Age, with people receiving immediate news through blogs and social media outlets, this demand for immediacy is only increasing. This means that journalists (both photo-based ones and otherwise) are under pressure to generate content and break stories at this increasingly rapid speed. Another, perhaps more striking factor is that photojournalism can also be life-threatening, with 70 journalists killed in 2012 (1). It can also be psychologically tolling. Photojournalist Zoriah explains this on his blog, saying, “Take the most disturbing film or news footage you have ever seen and multiply it a few hundred times…then you may have the beginning of an idea of what it is like to see these things in real life” (2).
With the risks and stress factors in mind, photojournalism is still very rewarding for many photographers, and has the potential to bring about social change. In fact, in this article published shortly after the Wall Street Journal’s list it is noted that job satisfaction and desirability are not factors considered in the WSJ’s list. Many photojournalists, while potentially stressed and overworked, are satisfied with what they are doing. In fact Richard Avedon, who worked in the glamorous worlds of celebrity and fashion photography, used income generated by these projects to fund his documentary work.
There are many contemporary photojournalists whose work aspiring photojournalists should acquaint themselves with. One way to keep up to date is by following the award winners each year. Some of the large awards are The Pulitzer Prize, World Press Photo, Best of Photojournalism (NPPA), and Pictures of the Year International (3). Another is to simply read the paper and check the by lines of photos that grab their attention. There are some classic photojournalists whose work photographers of all genres should be familiar with, including Robert Frank, W. Eugene Smith, Robert Capa, Eddie Adams, Weegee, David Seymour, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Two of my personal lesser-known contemporary favorites are Darcy Padilla of San Francisco, and Clayton Patterson of New York’s Lower East Side.
An alternative approach to large newspapers and magazines (or perhaps an easier way to start out) is through blogging. Many photographers set up blogs to document their neighborhood and the people who live in it. With a plethora of self-publishing sites available free of charge (WordPress, Blogspot, Tumblr, etc.), taking photos and sharing them on a blog is a great way to begin to build a portfolio. One very successful example of this is photographer Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York or HONY, a blog that features photos of New Yorkers accompanied by a quote that the subject says as they are photographed. Although the word “photojournalism” immediately conjures ideas of news from distant islands or war-laden deserts, blogs like these prove that your immediate surroundings can be just as engaging.
See more: 9 Tips for Documentary Photography
As is always the case, the best advice is to shoot as much as possible. However another piece of advice for reporting in general is to simply pay attention. It is so easy to overlook the fliers tacked to the wall of your community center or subway station billboards, but these are the types of places where journalists find leads. Reading the paper instead of a novel, listening to the radio in place of a playlist, or even just striking up a conversation with a stranger can all be ways to find leads for potential stories. Although this probing may take some getting used to, there is an exhilarating rush described by many reporters when you finally make a connection and find a story.
While photojournalism is not an easy field to get into, and has many stress factors associated with it, the rewards outweigh the cons for many photographers, and if you are someone looking to incite social change through visual communication, photojournalism may be the niche for you.