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Have you ever wanted to take photographs for a magazine or newspaper? Maybe you’ve even dreamed of writing for a newspaper. When you combine these two activities, you have photojournalism. In fact, the article you’re reading is an example of just that.

Some periodicals hire a photographer to take pictures only for them. Others contract out work to photographers who aren’t on the staff. Still others purchase photos from stock agencies, businesses that keep files of different photos and sell them for the photographers. If you’re interested in becoming a photojournalist, you’ll have to decide where your niche is. But I’ll give you a hint: you’ll get more work if you can write well, and more work means more money.

If you like working on your own time without worrying about deadlines or schedules, you may want to send your photos to a stock agency. You can let their agents do the marketing for you while you go out to take more shots. Cool, right? But remember this: stock agencies don’t work for free. They usually take a healthy cut of the money you’re paid when your photo is used in a publication. However, they do hunt down buyers for you, or–at the minimum–they put your photo on display for others to see. This marketing would cost you time and money if you were to do it yourself. Plus, there’s one other detail you should know about working with a stock agency: you’ve got to be a good enough photographer for an agency to take you on as a client. That means you must continue to send them a regular supply of excellent (not just good) photos.

If you prefer to send your work directly to magazines for publication on speculation (in the hope that they might purchase your photos), then you should do a lot of homework. Write to the magazines you like to request their guidelines. You need to find out how and when the editors want to receive photos. It would be a good idea for you to look over a few issues of your target magazine to get an idea of what they use. (You don’t always have to buy the magazine. A library is a good place to visit now and then!) The secret is to send the editors what they want when they want it. Marketing photographs isn’t as easy as you may have thought, and there’s plenty of good competition out there.

Another possible market you can investigate that would be closer to home is your local newspaper. Small newspapers often take shots and/or stories from local photographers or writers. Again, if you can think up a good brief story item to go with your photos, your chances of having them published may improve. Whether you have any chance at all depends on the editors of the individual publication.

Your school newspaper may be an easier market for you to enter. If you can get a photo or two published, then you’ve begun your clipsheet, a collection of all your published items. Keep a file where you can show the items you’ve published to potential employers you’ll encounter later. You can also mention them when you’re attempting to convince a publication to publish your work.

There are a number of tricks to becoming a good photojournalist. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for good photo opportunities that may be happening in your town, such as visiting celebrities or special events. Nixon and Regan are the only two presidents I have in my photo collection, but I also have shots of David Copperfield, John Travolta, cowboy movie star Rory Calhoun, and newsman Charles Karault. You may not know who some of these people are, but they were–or are–personalities. I captured some of my photos by careful planning. For others, I just happened to have a camera handy at the right time. The lesson to be learned here is this: keep your camera with you as much as possible. You never know when an opportunity of a lifetime will fall in your lap.

However, when you carry your camera around with you, take care to keep it secure from weather and thieves. Recently, someone smashed a window in my car to steal my cell phone. It was in a small camera bag I was using because it was a convenient way to carry my phone. I should have known better than to leave a camera bag where it could be seen, since some people can’t resist that much temptation. Also, if you’re going to leave your equipment in a car, remember to place your camera and film in a Styrofoam cooler to protect them from the heat.

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Take a look at the photos I’ve included here to see how they work to illustrate this article. Figure one represents the kind of shot you might catch if you have your camera handy at the right time. I just happened to be nearby in my hometown when an old high school that was being used for the Board of Education burned. Although the fire department was across the street, the firefighters couldn’t save the building.

Figure two is an example of social commentary and could be used in several kinds of publications. The image shows how pollution caused by a business has killed trees in the area. I could also have shot an image of trash on the ground in a public place to call attention to pollution.

Figure three was a planned image of a boat that had a startlingly ironic destiny. The boat was in an offshore race and was sporting what was, at the time, a new safety innovation–a covered cockpit. However, shortly after this photo was taken, the boat overturned, and the innovation that was supposed to be a safety device trapped the operators inside. All three of them drowned. You never know what might happen when you’re covering an event.

Figure four is an action shot of a greasy pole climb and fun at a fair. You can find great photo opportunities like this in most communities. An image like this could go into your school newspaper or annual (yearbook). Remember that if a person in your shot is recognizable, you should get a signed release from that person before using the picture.

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Figure Five is of a potter and his hands. This type of shot would work well with a magazine article or newspaper article on arts and crafts. Many places have craft shows where you can get shots of craftsmen plying their trade.

If you study hard in English and writing classes, you’ll learn techniques that will help you greatly when you’re working on an article. A poorly written article will gather nothing but rejections–even if your photos are good. A well-written article will go a long way toward helping you get your photos published. On the other hand, good photographs will also enhance an article. If you’re good at both writing and photography, you’re on your way!

Remember to save any article you’ve successfully had published for your clipsheet, and then keep your clipsheet ready to show. Many publishers will want to take a look at your successes, if you have them. Don’t try to make up a story about how you did have a clipsheet, but the dog ate it. It won’t work. Publishers can tell when they see your work if it matches what you say you’ve done. Finally, you can’t get anything published unless you try. So, get out there, observe, take shots, and have the courage to put them with stories and send them out. Maybe we’ll “read all about it” one day!

By Willis T. Bird

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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