Photojournalism is an exciting field of photography that’s been around almost as long as photography itself. But, what exactly is photojournalism?

This guide takes an in-depth look at the definition of photojournalism, explains the best gear for photojournalism, and gives you some tips to help you get started in a career as a photojournalist.

Photo by LT Chan from Pexels

What is photojournalism? defines photojournalism as “news photography, whether or not for primarily pictorial media, publications, or stories.” But it is so much more than that basic definition. Photojournalism is photography that tells a news story.

The ethics of journalism apply — meaning the photos should never be edited or manipulated and they should always be honest and impartial in their intent.

Think of a photojournalist as a reporter, but they use their photographs to tell the story rather than the written word or a video. They travel often and many times get to witness history firsthand. Photojournalists cover a wide range of topics from local news to international events.

Different topics covered by photojournalists:

  • Politics;
  • Sports;
  • Events;
  • Breaking news;
  • Famous people;
  • International news;
  • And more.

What’s the difference between photojournalism and documentary photography?

Photojournalism is similar to documentary photography in that the purpose is to capture reality and inform the viewer about current events. The main difference, however, is the amount of time that’s required to complete the job.

Documentary photographers often work on their projects over many days, weeks, or even years. On the contrary, a photojournalist will often have mere moments to get their photo into the hands of the media that’s hired them to shoot it. Their goal is often to be the very first to print an image.

Sports photography

What is the best camera for photojournalism?

Your smartphone, a DSLR, or even a point-and-shoot will work for photojournalism. However, if you’re serious about becoming a paid professional, you’ll need to invest in a camera.

One that will provide you with options when it comes to manual settings, the ability to change lenses, and produce file sizes large enough to be printed. Also, look for a camera that has built-in wi-fi connectivity so you can quickly transfer your images in the field.

What is the best lens for photojournalism?

When it comes to photojournalism, you’ll need to be prepared for anything. So, it’s a good idea to have a wide range of focal lengths at your disposal. At the very least, carry a zoom lens and a wide-angle lens so you can capture all the action, near and far.

photojournalism at a protest
Photo by Rosivan Morais from Pexels

What makes a good photojournalist?

As more people carry smartphones and have cameras in hand at all times, the need for photojournalists is growing slimmer. Even so, it’s not impossible to find a career in the field if you’re interested. There will always be a need for good photojournalists because they have skills that just anyone with their smartphone doesn’t possess.

And, no, it’s not the ability to shoot properly exposed and composed images (though that is important!). Photojournalists are cool under pressure. They have the ability to remain invisible in the middle of a scene. They always act with integrity. And, they don’t inject their personal opinions into their work. 

How to become a photojournalist?

If you want a career in photojournalism, the first thing to do is master taking photos of events. Practice your skills locally at sporting events, fairs, or other community gatherings until you get extremely comfortable shooting in a public setting.

Imagine you’re shooting with the purpose of putting the images together with a news story about the event. Study newspaper and magazine photos to see what kind of images they use.

Next, pitch a publication and see if they’d be interested in publishing any of your work. They might pay you, or you might offer to let them publish it for free so you can use it in your photography portfolio.

That’s up to you. Then, keep pitching. Be prepared for rejection — every “no” gets you closer to a “yes.” Eventually, you’ll have a portfolio full of clips.

animal rights
Photo by International Fund for Animal Welfare from Pexels

5 things to know if you’re considering a career as a photojournalist

  1. Know your gear like the back of your hand. Perhaps more important than any other kind of photography, it’s of utmost importance that you know how to use your camera. There’s no time in the field to fiddle with settings. Know your camera and know how to use it to its fullest potential.
  2. Have your own personal style. If you want to get noticed, your work should stand out in the crowd. These days, everyone has a camera in their pocket, so make sure your pictures are the ones that get printed.
  3. Be business-minded. If you want a successful career in photojournalism, you’ll need to be as good at business as you are at photography. This is especially true if you’re freelancing. That means mastering marketing, bookkeeping, budgeting, negotiating contracts, and being a professional.
  4. Protect yourself and your work. Always keep your safety in mind, especially if you’re traveling with expensive equipment or shooting in dangerous situations. Always backup your work. Keep yourself and your gear covered with insurance.
  5. The majority of your time will be spent on things other than taking photos. Surprise! The job of a photojournalist isn’t always as glamorous as it seems. Very little time is actually spent shooting. Most of it is spent on things like editing photos, pitching to get work, researching, getting access to places, marketing yourself, updating your website, chasing payments, and more.

Final thoughts

While the field of photojournalism has changed drastically from its early days, there will always be stories to tell — and always a need for photojournalists.

If you’ve got a business sense combined with determination, passion, and photographic skill, photojournalism may just be the perfect career for you.