The primary role of the photojournalist is to be a visual storyteller. By photographing, editing, and presenting images, they tell a story in a way that no other media can. Some photojournalists will work for a local publication, while others will travel nationally or abroad, sometimes putting themselves in constantly changing or even dangerous situations. The subject matter can vary greatly, from local civic issues, national political races to social unrest in a foreign country. Many photojournalists are freelance photographers and sell their photos to various organizations around the world. The photographs serve the purpose of enhancing the story for the reader or viewer.
Photojournalists must be knowledgeable about the tools of the trade. They need to be able to use digital as well as print photography equipment, editing tools, and publication software. Because more than half of all photojournalists are self-employed, there is often no photo editor in the middle of the process. Therefore, a photojournalist must be able to set up the photo for top quality, edit it without changing the actual photograph or content, and upload it to the Internet for publication. Familiar with lighting, setting up for best exposure, and picture quality is critical for professional level photos. Timing is everything for a photojournalist, and they must have an eye for set up and the reflexes to grab that split-second opportunity.
Photojournalist Job Duties
The photojournalist is above all a story teller. Within that job description, the following duties can be expected:
- Take photographs or film video segments
- Process and print negatives or film
- Capture images in an authentic and ethical manner
- Write copy, captions or headlines to accompany photos
- Use image-editing software such as Photoshop to edit images
- Prepare audio to accompany video segments
- Pitch ideas and photographs to editorial staff
- Travel to photo shoot locations
- Edit photographs or video for publication specific to Internet
Photojournalism Educational Requirements
Most photojournalists will have a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism, with a minor in journalism or related subject. Photojournalism courses will focus not only on picture taking, but will include classes on Photoshop and other relevant software programs, journalism ethics and law, digital photography, and training in a variety of media. A journalism degree coupled with a photography program is another common approach. It’s essential that photojournalists have the ability to work across all platforms, including broadcast, print, online, and social media.
Photojournalists are able to enjoy a working environment that gets them out from behind a desk and into the world. While working conditions can be difficult, here’s what you can expect:
- Long and unstructured hours.
- On-call 24-7. Photojournalists must be ready to go when news breaks.
- Tight deadlines and multiple projects.
- Unusual working conditions—inclement weather, lack of facilities, sometimes dangerous situations.
- Working independently.
Employment for photojournalists is expected to grow at the same rate as most other occupations, which is roughly 12% by 2018. The growth of the Internet news audience is expected to create increased job demand for photojournalists who can work successfully in an online environment.
The Internet also makes it easier for Freelance photographers to market their photographs directly to the various news agencies. Freelance photographers need the skill to market their work and negotiate contracts. They should also be familiar with copyright laws to protect their portfolio.
The median annual salary for photojournalists in 2008 was $29,440.
Statistics source: bls.gov