10 Tips for Photojournalism Students: How to Succeed Visually and Financially

By his own admission, Al Diaz shoots better than he speaks.  The award-winning photojournalist and Miami Herald staffer began his presentation at last weekend’s SPJ Region 3 Conference by admitting that while his oratorical skills may lack gusto he hoped the photos he planned to show and the stories behind them would resonate.

And they did. Diaz delivered a kick-butt talk with stirring images to boot. Below is a top 10 sampling of the wisdom and witticisms he shared last Saturday with j-students, profs., and advisers.

10 Steps to Succeed as a Photojournalist

1) When you wake up, consider yourself on assignment.

Shoot every day.  As Diaz put it, “Don’t just shoot for class.  Shoot for yourself.”  Early in the talk, Diaz mentioned with a smile that when people ask him when he stops shooting, his two-word answer: “I don’t.”  People laughed when he said it.  But I didn’t get the impression he was joking.

2) Develop your own style and vision, while also mastering the basics.

Take visual arts classes.  And visit museums to get a firsthand glimpse of how artists capture and present elements such as lighting, composition, and depth of field.

3) Embrace photojournalism as a business.

The days of surviving and thriving as simply a staff photographer at a single news outlet are over.  Set up multiple revenue streams that include editorial and commercial work such as wedding photography and holiday portraits.

4) Self-promote, humbly not arrogantly.

Set up a professional website featuring a portfolio of your work.  Be present and active on social media.  Blog within reason about assignments and photojournalism news of the day.

5) Retain the rights to your images.

Diaz repeatedly stressed the importance of copyrighting your work, along with keeping track of the whereabouts and use of your older, archived shots.

The message featured beneath images on his own site: “COPYRIGHT NOTICE All multimedia content, photographs, text, video, sound and music within aldiazphoto.photoshelter.com is copyright protected by Miami photojournalist Al Diaz and/or the stated publication and are presented for web browser viewing only. No images are within public domain. Nothing contained within this site may be reproduced, downloaded, stored, copied, manipulated or altered for broadcast or publication. Nothing may be redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium  without prior written permission from Al Diaz and/or the stated publication. Using any image as the base for another illustration or graphic content, including photography, is a violation of copyright and intellectual property laws.”

6) Enmesh yourself within the larger photography community.

He recommended joining the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), Editorial Photographers, the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) and Professional Photographers of America (PPA).

7) Don’t wait to be handed an assignment.

Develop, pitch, and undertake your own projects, for your employer and yourself.  Advantages: You get the chance to follow your passions and do work you’re excited about.  You can earn a rep as an independent thinker, someone with the foresight to simply be let loose on the waiting-to-be-photographed world.  You have the opportunity to stand out by building up a body of work that represents a particular style or content niche.  And you are motivated to stay visually sharp, always looking for the next potential project.

8) Learn and love video along with stills.

Become a multimedia whiz, adept at capturing, quickly stitching together, and presenting narrative slideshows, still-and-video mash-ups, and full-on video reports.  These presentation options also seem to be great for organizing and featuring your own work on your portfolio site.

9) Dress appropriately, depending on the assignment.

Don’t wear sandals and shorts to shoot a funeral.  Don’t wear a shirt and tie or super stilettos to shoot a construction site.  Think ahead about the type of scene you’ll be entering, the people within it, how long you will be on site, how much you will be moving around, and what the temperature will be.  Bottom line: Attempt to fit in while still projecting professionalism and ensuring comfort and ease of motion.

10) Never work for free.

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2 Responses to “10 Tips for Photojournalism Students: How to Succeed Visually and Financially”
  1. All ten of these points made are wonderful and give me an even larger desire to immerse myself in ALL aspects of reporting (photography, interviewing, writing, video, etc).

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