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Whether you're just starting out as a photographer and want to pick up some extra work, or just like working for yourself, freelancing for as a newspaper photographer can help you gain experience and get your name out there. Unlike many careers, photography doesn't have specific licensing or formal education requirements. However, you can maximize your chances of getting a job by getting plenty of experience in photojournalism and applying with a wide variety of newspapers.
The Skills You Need
Newspaper photographers need a good eye for compelling shots, and this typically requires basic knowledge of current events. After all, you'll need to judge which photos are likely to capture the public's attention. You'll also need strong communication and interpersonal skills, since these skills enable you to communicate with editors, interact with the public and negotiate shots you might not otherwise get. Freelancers need good organization and time management skills as well, particularly when they don't have bosses looking over their shoulders. If you contract with several papers, you'll need to balance competing demands and protect against conflicts of interest.
Although there is no formal educational requirement to become a freelance newspaper photographer, you can enhance your skills and prospects with the right training. Photojournalism is a competitive field. Consider pursuing a degree in journalism with a concentration in photography or photojournalism. In addition to helping you learn what newspapers value most in their photos, pursuing a degree can also provide you with opportunities to build your portfolio and resume through school projects or by working for your school's newspaper. In addition, your professors might provide job recommendations, and many universities help place students into internships. Internships can help you gain access to newspaper contacts and jobs.
It's not sufficient to simply know how to take attractive pictures. The right equipment makes it easier to quickly capture images and to accurately convey the scene to the newspaper's readers. You'll need a high-quality camera and lenses that allow you to closely zoom, take panoramic shots and focus on specific elements of the scene. Portable lighting and a flash modifier can help you ensure your shots are properly lit, and an omnidirectional microphone can help you capture sound if you shoot video.
Building Your Portfolio
You need a portfolio that shows that you can capture clear shots that tell a story. If you want to work for a newspaper, this means you need to concentrate on journalistic photography. If you've already graduated from college, offer to shoot a nonprofit organization's events for free, or start a blog that provides images of local events. You may also be able to get an apprenticeship with a local photojournalist, and the photos you take under his or her supervision can help you build a portfolio. Pick the best shots to post on your online portfolio or to send along with your resume.
There are two paths to a freelance photojournalism career: submitting photos on speculation and getting accepted for a contract position. For the former role, you'll need to be willing to shoot local events that the newspaper isn't already covering, then quickly submit them to the newspaper in the hope that the images will be published. Submitting to several newspapers at once can maximize your chances, and timely submissions are key to getting published. If you want to work on a contract basis without having to submit images on speculation, you must apply for the position, usually by sending a resume and a portfolio directly to the paper.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks data on all civilian jobs. Although there is not a specific category for photojournalism, figures are provided for the more general category "photographers." The average hourly wage for a photographer is $20.56. The average annual wage is $42,770.
Your photojournalist salary depends on a variety of factors. Geographic location and employer play a role. You'll likely earn more as you build your professional reputation. The more photos you take and submit, the better your chances of selling enough to build a successful freelance career. Newspapers will be willing to pay more for unusual pictures, or pictures that capture an important event in a unique way.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.