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How to Start Your Career in Photojournalism

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Photojournalism is one of the most rewarding genres of photography.
It’s not easy to make a career out of it but if you really want it, it’s definitely possible.
Here are some important tips on how to become a photojournalist.

What Is Photojournalism

First thing you need to know is what photojournalism means. A photojournalist tells news stories through images. Your job is to bring those stories to the people.
You’ll inform them on local or global events and it’s all about delivering as quickly as possible. Photojournalism can be both entertaining and informative.
Figurines of a journalist taking a photograph of a television personality
What makes it different from other genres is that a photojournalist has to capture reality as well as possible. It has to follow a set of ethical rules.
Being honest and impartial is key if you want to do the job.

History

Back in the 70s, photojournalists were highly regarded by newspapers and magazines. They were specialists in their field. Every media company or newspaper had an army of staff photographers but those days are over.
The birth of the internet meant that editors stopped sending off photographers. Instead, they used the internet to find someone who was already in the place of the intended story.
Does that mean photojournalism is dead? No, but it takes a lot more hard work to make it a career today.

How to Become a Photojournalist

Before you start, it’s important to find out what genre of photography you want to do. Photojournalism is not easy so you have to be sure when you want to take the step.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes to find out. It took me years to find out what genre of photography I loved after I graduated from college as a photographer.
I started with publicity and ended up doing documentary and travel journalism, which is what I love to do.

Boats on the edge of the water in India - how to get started in photojournalism
My first real assignment took me to Africa. © Joris Hermans

It’s very important to find out what path you want to take because you have to focus. If you want to build a career as a photojournalist, you have to specialise in the field.
A mistake many beginning photographers make is to do a little bit of everything. That makes it very difficult to get better and, more importantly, to get noticed.
If you want to become a photojournalist, you have to be a photojournalist before you even get your first job.

1. Build a Website to Get Your Work Noticed

Build a website to start your photojournalism career. Your computer and internet will be your office. Your website is how editors will find you.
Make it look good. Pick a clean design that makes your photos stand out.

A screenshot of a photographers website homepage photojournalism tips
Make sure your website is all about showing photos.

2. Only Showcase the Best of Your Photos on Your Website

Don’t upload dozens or hundreds of photos when you’re starting out.
Sometimes, I hear beginning photographers say they have hundreds of photos. They want to show all those images on their website. That’s a big mistake.
Editors are looking for the best photojournalists in a pool of thousands. It’s important that you show then only your absolute top shots or projects.
Show twenty of your best photos. That’s better than showing hundreds of good or mediocre photos. Quality over quantity.

3. Learn Other Skills to Stand Out When Applying for Photojournalism Jobs

Photography and photojournalism are very competitive these days. If you want to reel in those exciting photojournalism jobs, it’s not a bad idea to learn some other skills.

An overhead shot of a laptop, coffee and a person looking at photos
© Pixabay

A lot of photojournalists write or shoot video too. Master another skill and you’ll be much more appealing to editors or media companies.
They can hire one person to do several jobs. A photography career is more than taking photos.

4. How to Get Yourself Noticed

Once you have a great looking portfolio website, it’s time to take action. A mistake beginning photographers make is to sit and wait until they get noticed.
Your work might be excellent but if no one knows you exist, they won’t contact you.
Here are some important actions you should take if you want to become a photojournalist:

Make Your Own Photojournalism Stories

Don’t wait for editors or magazines to call you. Use every bit of free time to look for your own stories. Get out there and take photos.
First, you’ll build a good portfolio. You’ll get better at photography faster if you keep shooting. Even if you don’t have an assignment, the best way to improve your photos is by taking lots of them.
And second, you can pitch those stories to editors. They might decide to publish the story and pay for it. At the same time, they get to know you as someone who takes action.
At some point, I had a lot of free time and decided to make a story of the street I lived on. It started out as something to keep busy.
Soon, it became one of my most important projects that won a photojournalism award.

A portrait of a woman in a wheelchair outdoors
A shot from my personal project ‘Grey Summer Garden’. © Joris Hermans

Great stories are everywhere. You don’t have to travel halfway around the world or spend a lot of money to find them.

Talk to People and Other Photojournalists

Talk to people about what you’re doing. In real life or on the internet. It will help you to get your name and work out there.
Use social media to connect with other photographers, magazines, and editors.
With so many photographers out there, it’s important that people find you and your work.

Use Criticism to Your Advantage

The internet is a great place to get feedback on your photojournalistic work. Use all comments and criticism to your advantage.
Look at the work of other photographers and listen to what they have to say. Use everything you hear and see to make your photography better.

Pitch Your Work

Submit your work everywhere you can. Find websites, magazines or companies that might like your work and send it to them. It’s another way to get your name and work out there.
Awards are another great way to get exposure. Find photo contests that fit your work and enter your best photos.
Carefully selecting your photos for competitions also helps you to look critically at your own work. That’s a very important skill for photographers.

5. Photojournalism Is a Long Game – Don’t Give Up Early

And the most important thing: Don’t give up! It might take some time to build up a great portfolio and get your name out there. A lot of photographers give up too early.
Building a career as a photographer or photojournalist takes a lot of hard work.
If you want to find photojournalism jobs, it’s important to take as many photos as you can to get better at it. And to give it time.
It won’t happen overnight, but if you keep these tips in mind, you’re one step closer.

Journalism equipment laid out on a wooden table
© Pixabay

Conclusion

Photojournalism is definitely not an easy career. If you set your mind on it and your photography is great, you’ll make it.
The internet has changed a lot for photojournalists so it’s important to take advantage of it. Only the ones who are creative and persistent will build a photojournalism career.
Try to stand out and don’t just wait for it to happen. Take action.
We have a great post on documentary vs. photojournalism to check out next!

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