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During a fire, earthquake, outbreak of war, famous death or notable celebration, a photojournalist will undoubtedly be on location capturing the scene on film. Photojournalists take pictures of newsworthy events, people and places for newspapers, magazines and new media outlets. They must be able to recognize a scene or event as important or unusual, and act quickly to capture it on film. They present their interpretation of journalism through the photographic medium.

Photojournalists often specialize in a specific area of journalism such as sports, entertainment, medicine, war, or late breaking news. The primary differences between these specialties lie in the subject matter, work locations, type of equipment used and the amount of training and precision required for design and composition. Most photojournalists work on a freelance basis and writing may also be part of an assignment. These days, magazines and newspapers are buying picture stories, which includes both the pictures and a written narrative to accompany.

Regardless of a photojournalists specialty area, they all use the same basic technical skills. They must concentrate on lighting, shutter speeds, camera settings, composition, apertures and developing. They either use traditional cameras with 35mm film or newer digital cameras that record images electronically. Nevertheless, many traditional photojournalists still value the integrity of the traditional and manual camera and feel that digital photography is not the same medium.

Most photojournalists send their film to laboratories for processing, as they rarely have time to develop film to meet deadlines. When a newspaper is going to print, the photograph has to be ready. Also, with constant advances in electronic technology, a photojournalist can develop and scan standard 35mm or other types of film, and use flatbed scanners and photo-finishing laboratories to produce computer-readable, digital images from film. After converting the film to a digital image, they can edit and electronically send images, making it easier and faster to shoot, develop, and transmit pictures from remote locations. For example, when taking pictures from a war zone, the chances of finding a photo developing store are very slim. This way, a photograph is sent digitally via laptop computer to a newspaper or magazine office.

Computers and specialized software also allow photojournalists to manipulate and enhance images to create a desired effect. Photojournalists combine an ability to find and record dramatic action with photographic talent. The job requires agility and may often be carried on in hazardous situations. A high level of observation and alertness is required in the field. With rapid advancements in digital technology, photojournalists must stay in touch with changing technology and computer software.
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  Interests and Skills  
Photojournalists must be passionate about their work and take pictures in an attempt to express strong messages. They must have great manual dexterity, be detail oriented and have a good sense of timing. Since a photographer's aim is to capture the perfect picture, they must also have good eyesight and color vision. Those who work with people must have great communications skills, be patient listeners and have the ability to put people at ease. If a photojournalist cannot make their subjects comfortable, then the picture may not be a true reflection of the person. Also, those working in foreign countries must be culturally sensitive to people who are not comfortable with cameras.

Successful photojournalists enjoy composing and arranging innovative pictures and working with cameras and in dark rooms. Since a scene or person can be photographed in a hundred different ways, it is up to the photojournalist to capture proper lighting, composition and other techniques to present that scene in the best, most imaginative way possible.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Consult with and discuss work with editors and other journalists
  • Study assignments to determine the locations and type of equipment needed
  • Rush to locations to take photographs of breaking stories
  • Determine picture composition, make technical adjustments to equipment
  • Adjust cameras for desired focus, exposure, composition and other settings
  • Choose lenses designed for close-up, medium range or distance photography
  • Select the type of film, filters and lighting equipment (i.e. electronic flashes, floodlights or reflectors)
  • Take numerous photographs and choose from the best
  • Take photographs for specific subjects such as health, sports or arts
  • May write stories for newspapers and magazines to go along with their photographs
  • May conduct interviews as part of research and carry out background research for photo stories
  • May use airbrush or manipulate other techniques to retouch negatives and prints
  • Photojournalists work both indoors and outdoors in a variety of conditions. Their work is usually hectic and stressful since they are under great pressure to meet deadlines. They often work long, irregular hours and may be expected to be at a certain location at a moment's notice. The scenes to be photographed are sometimes very unpleasant, such as crime and accident scenes. Similarly, covering wars, political uprisings, fires, floods, and similar disaster events can often be dangerous and less than ideal.
  • Actual working hours are irregular. When a photograph needs to be taken, the journalist must be there morning, noon and night. The work may require traveling to locations in order to cover stories. For some journalists, the travel can be international.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Photojournalists typically work for newspapers, magazines, journals, governments, advertising agencies, private consulting firms, television stations, radio stations and other publishers. Freelance photojournalists are self-employed and work only on contracts. They are constantly meeting new people and traveling to sometimes foreign and exotic places. A photojournalist's career may include anything from reporting from war zones and crime scenes to interviewing world leaders, celebrities and street people. Most tend to specialize in a particular area, once they are established.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Short-term freelance and contract work seems to be the way of the future. Since the photojournalism field is quite competitive, versatility is an important and often critical element in obtaining work. Many start out as assistants and learn the fundamentals about journalism, cameras, developing and printing. As you gain more experience, it helps to localize your talents in a particular area and create a unique style for yourself. The next step is becoming photography editors of magazines and newspapers.

Some photojournalists may decide to teach at a university or college in a journalism or photography program. Some may start a business or studio and focus on commercial photography. These days, it is important to learn as much as possible about digital cameras and related computer programs in order to move ahead with the speed of technology. Furthermore, with digital and computerized programs, photojournalists can learn how to manipulate their photos, add color and generally create works of art.

  Educational Paths  
Most photojournalists have a university degree or college diploma in journalism or a related field, such as photography or communications, however it is not 100 percent crucial in photojournalism. Newspapers, however, usually require some form of formal training at a minimum and a few years photojournalism experience just to get one's foot into the door. Some people get liberal arts degrees and then attend a one or two-year postsecondary college program focusing on photojournalism.

Photojournalists must possess a detailed knowledge of the geography, history, economy, politics, media law and social life of the communities and countries in which they work. Newspaper and magazine photojournalists can gain practical experience by working on high school and university publications or small rural weekly publications.

Most photographers start at small publications or broadcast stations. Large publications and stations hire few recent graduates; as a standard industry rule, they require all photographers to have at least several years of experience. Journalists suggest that photographers also work on their writing skills as a tool for success. It is also helpful to learn the latest computer software programs.

There are also many photojournalism scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships awarded to college journalism students by universities, newspapers, foundations, and professional organizations.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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