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Earlier this spring, in March, I accepted a photography internship at the local newspaper. I figured I would learn a few things in addition to getting my name out there and have more opportunities to build my portfolio. My professional aspirations are to one day give up the 9-5 gig and be a full-time freelance photographer, and this seemed like a logical step to meet that goal. What follows is a summary of what I've learned:

Photojournalism is not for the timid
I work for a small hometown newspaper, it's not USA Today or even the Cleveland Plains Dealer. There is one staff photographer, about 5 reporters, and misc. editing staff. That's it. But that doesn't change the fact that the news business is an around the clock operation. If you're considering an internship yourself, or a possible career in photojournalism, just know that you will receive calls at 2:00am. The news doesn't sleep.

Those 2:00am calls are usually fires, and most of the time, you are not going to get the shot. By the time you haul your half-dead carcass out of bed and get to the scene, the fire is already out. You know that when you get the phone call, but you have to go anyway. Most newspapers are under the gun when it comes to budget, so people work 40 hours and that's it. No overtime. But your schedule will be anything but consistent.

Schedules change, events get cancelled, and at times you feel like you've driven all over the map for a handful of shots. Some days are light, others are crazy as hell and downright exhausting. It's insanely fun though...most of the time.

Keep your creative vision at home
Well, that's not entirely true. However, photojournalism is different. It's raw and unbiased. There's little room for your personal interpretation of the events unfolding before your camera. People want to know the who/what/when/where in these types of photos. In our creative work, we often focus on the why.

In the beginning, it was difficult to make that distinction. Photojournalism is street photography at its highest levels. You want to be a fly on the wall and show events as they happened. You have to make readers feel like they were there.

That doesn't mean that you can't get interesting shots. It often depends on the assignment, because it's downright impossible to get very creative when photographing a public speaker for example. The most freedom you have is your use of angles and composition. Just because you must report things as they happen doesn't mean that you can't show them from a unique perspective.

I'll make you famous

Anyone who says that print is dead is a liar. Many ex film photographers and old schoolers have been predicting the end of photography for years, saying that digital will kill our industry. They claim that the masses want video and iPad apps, not still photography. They're wrong. They need to get out more often.

People love the attention. Almost everyone wants their picture in the paper, especially kids. I've had a few negative reactions from adults, but they are the rare exception. I don't count people who are on the wrong side of the law, because no one wants to have their picture taken while being led away in handcuffs.

At times, it can be difficult to get those required candid shots when someone sees a media pass around your neck. You almost have to be sneaky and slink around hoping that no one notices you. I often feel like the paparazzi, waiting to pounce on Brittney Spears as she walks by. It's not like that most of the time, but it does happen. It's both thrilling and underhanded at the same time. You feel like a tiger hunter, stalking your prey. The thrill of the hunt is pumping through your veins, but you can't help but feel a sense of remorse for the tiger.

A picture is worth 1,000 words
It's a proven fact that readers will look at photos before deciding to read the accompanying text. You have to put yourself in a different mindset to be able to complete photojournalism assignments. When you're out shooting for yourself, you may not have a plan. You may just be hoping to stumble across something interesting. This isn't like that at all.

We're given assignments. We know where and when (though the when can often vary), and often who we're supposed to photograph. And you have to get the shot. Let me say that again: you have to get the shot.

Awhile back, we had a weekly challenge called The Decisive Moment. This is an exercise in knowing when to press the shutter button. To capture the single moment that best summarizes what you're shooting. You're creating a headline. You're saying, I know you couldn't be there, so this is the best summary I can come up with for this event. It sounds difficult because it is. You can't control what's going on, you can't intervene. You can't say, "Hey, move to the left a little" or "look this way" or "your arm is blocking my shot". You have to wait for it.

There are missed opportunities. One of my best shots turned out to be out of focus, and that's infuriating because you can't recreate the moment. No do-overs. You have to have thick enough skin to shrug it off and capture something else.

The print
When it's all said and done, it's time to submit your work. After a hard day's work of running yourself ragged, getting sunburned and dehydrated, you have to prepare your work for print. I go home and do my post-processing because the paper I work for has outdated equipment and it drives me nuts working on a dark 600x800 monitor.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: newsprint sucks. It's the equivalent of printing your photo on a dirty shop rag.

All print media uses the CMYK color space. Typically, that's just a simple conversion that is a few clicks away. But preparing a photo for newsprint is something else completely. Just about anything 50% grey or more will appear black, even in a color print. Purple is very difficult to reproduce, and if your photo gets converted to black and white, God help you.

For awhile I couldn't figure it out, until I got smart and talked to the editor who then gave me the ICC print profile of their printing presses. Then I created a custom profile in Photoshop along with an automated Action to convert my photos. If you ever plan on submitting a photo to a newspaper, be sure to ask for this information!

I love this job
Is it all worth it? Absolutely. I would love to do this for a living. I get to meet interesting people, get in for free to cool events, and use my camera all day long. At times it can be boring or a huge pain in the ass, but every job is like that sometimes.

This experience has taught me a lot about composition. In photojournalism, you have to crop in tight. You have to be selective so that the viewer knows exactly what message you're conveying. As photographers, one of the most difficult tasks we have is showing the viewer exactly what we find interesting about what we're shooting.

I've also learned to get in there and mix it up. You can't have a bunch of distractions and background noise in your photo, otherwise the point gets lost. That means getting in close. These days, I get real close.

Most importantly, I've learned one of the most important lessons in photography: people make the best photographs. Landscape shots are pretty. Macro shots are interesting. But people are memorable. Those photos leave a lasting impression, and convey your message far better than anything else. The human condition is a powerful subject for any photograph.
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  1. Rick M's Avatar
    Thanks for sharing your experiences Anthony, not the glamour I envisioned! Sounds like a great experience to have under your belt.
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  2. Browncoat's Avatar
    No, certainly not glamorous! We shoot a lot of award presentations, speeches, and otherwise boring stuff. We do get to do fun events too from time to time, so you have to take the good with the bad.
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  3. Malsam's Avatar
    thks for sharing! Back in my old film shooting days, I was also considering picking up photography as a full time career. I was young and aspiring, and did ask around for a job similar to yours. Besides all those crazy schedules and work nature, what eventually stops me from going fulltime is the country I reside have limited press freedom + our pay are pathetic. I can easily get a job a few times higher paid than what I will get if I become a press photographer. Yes its more cool that way, doing what I wanted. But I guess eventually reality falls into me and now I'm seeing people sharing the experiences that I would have gone through if I would take a different path back then.
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