I was talking with a new photographer yesterday and she asked the question: “How do I get published.”
What she was actually asking was how to do I actually make a living shooting photographs?
Here’s the easy answer:
Shoot lots of images. I’m doing weddings and engagement shots (see photo right) as a second shooter for a friend who wants to get into wedding photography. I get to shoot a lot of photos this way.
The best news is you don’t need a lot of stuff. A top-end DX-format DSLR (7D or D-300) and a f/1.8 or better f/1.4 35mm lens is a good start. Any old flash will do if you shoot on manual and it can bounce its light. (Always buy the biggest flash you can afford. You can never have too much light.)
If you’re young and eager get a police scanner or a police scanner app for your smart phone and go chase ambulances. Not the best way to get published but it works and will give you something to do.
Better still volunteer to do some shooting around your town.
Talk to your business improvement association and shoot their special events. Send a photo to your local newspaper immediately after the event with a cutline listing people’s name and ages (left to right) and two lines about what the event was and who to contact for more information. End by saying “Photo courtesy of your name.” Don’t ask for permission first (The editor will likely say no.) just do it.
Work or volunteer for the United Way in your community. If there’s a provincial or federal election, get to the top candidates early and see if you can become their personal photographer. (You can only work for one so pick the one likely to win regardless of your personal political affiliation. BTW these folks will have a budget you can draw on if you work this right.)
Find other special events to shoot. Hand out your professional quality business cards to everyone. Pin them on bulletin boards in coffee shops. Advertise on Craigslist and Kijiji.
Create a professional looking web or blog site for your photos or get a SmugMug or similar gallery. DO NOT publish photos of your cat or vacation shots here. Do that on Flickr.
Finally don’t wait for anyone to give you permission to shoot anything anywhere (on public property) by anyone (including cops*). And more importantly don’t wait until some academic “accredits” you. Accreditation in journalism or photojournalism is IMHO a rip-off designed to fleece you out of a lot of money to provide you with something absolutely worthless.
When I was an editor I was always on the lookout for great talent. I had little to no interest in your resume and less if you had graduated from a school of journalism. What I wanted to see was your last story or photo shoot regardless of what it was about and whether or not you got paid for it. If your stuff looked promising I give you an assignment. If we liked what you did, you got paid for it. If we didn’t, we didn’t call you again.
Anyone who has a camera in their hands can be a photojournalist. The trick is they have to show some promise. Most don’t. (Same thing for writers. All you need is a pencil which is accessible to everyone on the planet. The issue is what do you write with it.)
BTW if you’re better than just promising, send your stuff to the photo editor of the publication of your choice. Keep sending them stuff until they call you.
If you’re really good then create assignments for yourself and publish them in your own online gallery. Try to get space to exhibit prints in local coffee shops. Take advantage of any photography festivals in your region.
Don’t give up. Everyone who gave up never got a job in journalism. I wasn’t the best shooter. I wasn’t an artist with a camera. I didn’t have the best equipment. But I persisted. I didn’t give up. I kept shooting. And, for the most part, I’ve been in journalism and photography now for over 40 years.
I’ve not regretted a moment of it 🙂
* Small town cops (Think of the G20 protests in Toronto. Much of the problems with policing was due to the use of poorly trained regional police officers who came to the big city ready to enforce the law!) will think they can prevent you from taking in photographs.
In Ontario, they can’t. There’s nothing in Canada’s Criminal Code (yet) that prevents you from taking photographs of anything in a public place. (Be careful in Quebec where the law is based on the Napoleonic Code and there you can be sued if your photo holds someone up to unreasonable ridicule.)
Back to Ontario, you can’t publish photos of juveniles under arrest if it could identify them although you can and should shoot photos at the scene of an incident and get the law straight later.
People arrested under the Mental Health Act are similarly protected however nobody on the scene is likely to tell you anything at the time so again shoot first and investigate later.
Finally if cops persist in obstructing you then buy a cheap 70-300mm zoom and stay away from the cops. Avoid confrontation.
If the situation worsens, complain to the chief of police. (After being pushed around once too often I threaded to publish a photo of an officer as he grabbed me and roughed me up at the scene of a break-and-enter. Of course I didn’t have the authority to do that but the police superintendent I complained to didn’t know that and the situation was resolved with an apology and promise of more professional cooperation. Relations with the police actually improved for the most part.)