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how to break into it

Hi guys
I hope this is ok to ask here as I understand this is a forum based for mostly professionals.

I’m an aspiring photojournalist (im 22) and am going to graduate college soon, in June, and have been having a difficult time,like most i feel, in trying to land a job or some sort of identifiable work to do as a photographer.

I’m experienced in doing weddings. I owned my own wedding photography biz for 3 years, I worked as a the photo editor for our school paper and interned for our local city paper. So im definately not new to photography I just know and feel I am ready for that next step.

I have applied to many many many newspaper internships, but many have not accepted me primarily because I have too little newspaper experience to begin with, haha. And Im not 100% interested in local journalism as I am more interested with internationally based humanitarian work.

I was hoping I can pick some brains here and ask for any advice on what I can do. I was thinking what I can do is talk to NGOs around and see if they were looking for any photography work, but coming from a small University town, my contact list is VERY short.

I really appreciate any help you can offer

And you can see my work at
(blog has some of my new projects)
and my portfolio

Deeba Yavrom

by Deeba Yavrom at 2009-12-31 08:00:00 UTC | Bookmark | | Report spam→

I wish I could offer you some words of wisdom and more than just good luck Deeba. Others will no doubt chime in on NGO’s and how to live very cheaply whilst working for them. At the risk of being flamed for appearing negative just as 2010 is about to break, you are going to need an awful lot of luck and hard work to do what you want to do.

Problem is over supply. There are many, many talented photographers chasing a smaller and smaller editorial market. The accountants on these publications have this sussed now-why pay loads when you can get photos of acceptable quality for less or even free?

The other problem you have already faced is the pigeon hole one. You are seen as a wedding photographer rather than an editorial one. Ironic when many editorial photographers are decamping into the wedding market to try and make a living that way.

OK-so practical advice…. don’t give up the weddings, ditch the music on that site, self-assign some newspaper type jobs and try your damnedest to get outstanding images from them. As for the NGO thing I’d say it doesn’t really matter what little town you are from. Look them up on the internet then pester them. Do it when you have something good to show them from your self-assigned projects. Find one that really interests you and expect to work very hard for very little personal reward.

I still think that if you are determined enough to succeed then you will, same as with anything in life. But you face a rocky road ahead so best of luck, head down and go for it :-)

Best wishes,


by JR, (John Watts-Robertson). | 31 Dec 2009 08:12 | rothwell, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
JR is totally right. It is an awful time to break into the world of photojournalism. And I think you are fooling yourself to think you can go directly into international work, whether for NGOs or for editorial outlets. Walk before you fly.

The people whom I have seen succeed as of late have kept their part-time “day” jobs and just worked and worked to build your portfolio, including doing jobs for local papers and NGOs (many local NGOs are doing important work which warrants documenting). Over time they got more and more editorial work and ultimately serious assignments or jobs.

And by all means finish your college education. To be a good photojournalist you need to know history, sociology, psychology, political science, arts, and much more. You can learn a lot of that on your own, it is true, but IMHO if you have the chance to finish at the university, then do it. The more you know of the world and the sooner, the better photojournalist you will be.

by [former member] | 31 Dec 2009 13:12 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
It’s a hard road ahead. Echoing others, I don’t want to be a source of “doom and gloom” in the waning hours of the year, but ‘10 just plain isn’t likely to be a whole lot better; if any at all.

The institutions that used to barely keep us afloat themselves are broke. They either disappear altogether, or take “free” wherever they can to save money. At the end of the day, that hurts all of us.

There are some theories out there, and you will find some photographers who are doing well, but for the most part the theories are untested and those doing well are few and far between.

It will be a monumental task to “break in,” and an even bigger one to “stay in.” Hang on, and good luck.

Oh, and ditch the music on your site. It sucks, is annoying and lends nothing to the work.

by Will Seberger | 31 Dec 2009 20:12 | Tucson, Arizona, United States | | Report spam→
Don’t shy away from pursuing local photo work. You’re going to need at least 5 steady clients to keep a freelance business alive. Those can be from dailies, weeklies, monthlies, PR firms, corporations, maybe a number of small businesses with regular photo-needs, whatever…you’re far more likely to find 5 steadies from the Bay area than you are to find one steady client with regular work from the international development community.

by Mark Manger | 01 Jan 2010 01:01 | Denver, CO, United States | | Report spam→
Deeba-jan – if you’re up for some good news -

the posters above aren’t wrong about this dismal state of the newspaper industry, but you have a skill that’s currently far more valuable than any amount of “newspaper experience” – Farsi.

the future is even brighter if you can get your Pashto in gear.

Newspapers may be going off the cliff, but “humanitarian work” in Persian-speaking countries is a growth industry that’s going off the charts.

aidworkers.net and idealist.org might be worth checking out to get a sense of the NGO world – and while you’re still in college, get with the international relations, policy studies, conflict resolution, polisci programs – those are your future aidworkers, USAID and IMF types. They’ll be more useful to you than any contacts in the media world.

buro bahai, T

by teru kuwayama | 02 Jan 2010 06:01 (ed. Jan 3 2010) | Palo Alto, California, United States | | Report spam→
Hi Deeba and all who posted,

I want to thank Deeba for asking this question because its one that I have been wanting to ask, but I also haven’t been sure if it was appropriate to do so here on this forum. I’m actually in the same situation as you Deeba, except for I am a little older (28), have finished school, and am now out in the world with my photography business being sort of all over the place because I’m just trying to pick up any work I can. Since photography is all I do for work, I do shoot almost anything I can get paid for.

I also want to thank everyone who responded because this explains why I have been finding it so hard to get paid lately. Over this past year or so I’ve been trying to get editorial work that I can get paid for and its been really hard. I too, though, speak Farsi and I hadn’t thought of it as a valuable skill to get work. I will think more about this, but by all means, if you all have anything else to say about this, please do keep the advice coming.

Thank you all very much,

Alexis Evanoff

by Alexis Evanoff | 02 Jan 2010 09:01 | California, United States | | Report spam→
Hey Alexis,

Firstly good luck with your business in 2010. I took a quick peek at your abandoned building photos-an interesting project. Thought you might like to look at http://www.contaminationzone.com/ for a contrast.

Sorry I can’t offer any more advice to you and Deeba, but I hope Teru is right and that the Farsi will be an ace card for you both.

Best wishes,


by JR, (John Watts-Robertson). | 02 Jan 2010 09:01 | rothwell, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
i’m no pro full-time working photojournalist, but i for one believe that learning a foreign language goes a long way in a profession like photojournalism.. communication, one of the most important aspects, becomes so much easier. I can’t stress further on what Teru said. go for a non-PJ course, you’ll get a much more diverse skill set..

by Krishna Sriram | 02 Jan 2010 17:01 | Singapore, Singapore | | Report spam→
Here’s a piece of advice worth reading from Michael Kamber


by Karl Badohal | 03 Jan 2010 13:01 | Krakow, Poland | | Report spam→
http://www.lightstalkers.org/posts/advice_for_young_photographers is the link
Your right Karl-good advice on that post.

by JR, (John Watts-Robertson). | 03 Jan 2010 17:01 | rothwell, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Hey everyone,
thanks for the responses, im glad this is sort of turning into a mini-discussion because I feel like alot of us here have the same questions and personally speaking the information given has been invaluable for me.

As for me, I do think that grad school in PoliSci is the way to go (its what i was initially planning on anyways) and the education may very well help me get to where I want to be. I was considering J school, but It seems like most think that its not the best idea.

and good luck to all the other posters in my same position, at least we know were not alone :)
And time to work on my Pashto…and Mandarin (i wish :D)

And the music on my site…its will be gone asap

by Deeba Yavrom | 06 Jan 2010 08:01 (ed. Jan 6 2010) | Bay Area-West Coast, United States | | Report spam→
I don’t really think there is an “it” to break into. If breaking into “it” means having a steady income and string of interesting assignments, even the established photographers you are familiar with struggle. If you mean having some sort of career as a photographer, where people recognize your work, you get occasional assignments and a trickle of funds, and you are working on projects of your own design, then you have just described most of the people on Lightstalkers — but have they broken into “it”?

There’s nothing stopping you. Work on the things you want to work on, find a way to pay for them (day job, marriage, wedding photography, lottery tickets, etc.), and keep moving forward.

Is a magazine editor going to visit your site, marvel at you work, and send you off on a huge assignment? Probably not, but if you make the right contacts, find interesting subjects, do good work, and are patient, you can move around in “it.”

by [former member] | 06 Jan 2010 17:01 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
Hi Deeba,
Your work shows a lot of talent and you already have a good sense of intimacy and art. What you need, I think, is to grow your photojournalism portfolio by first looking local and let the international stuff come later.
A good story is universal and the skills that will get you there are grown in your own backyard. Your style looks prime for long-term project work. You may feel you have little to say in a small town but there are stories there. You can see it with pictures you already have in your portfolio. Photojournalism is more than newspapers, and while they’re a great place to start, there is more to life than being a newspaper photographer and even ‘news’ photography.
If you look at many successful photojournalists making an impact out there their work often transcends the newspaper paradigm or rather what it has become.
And once you’ve exhausted every story in your district start taking short trips out to interesting places away from home.
One thing also about your website is that I could not find where you are located, only when I looked back here on ls. You should add that information to your site, it will help if people know where you’re located to get assignments.
When you have a stronger photojournalism portfolio, then apply again, and go get some on the spot training at a paper, you’ll be adding to skills you’ve already started developing.
Another avenue you could also try are arts development projects/ artist residencies. I’ve found in the past few years that there are many more opportunities for travel/ self-development through arts funding than in traditional media. The art industry has in many ways surpassed the media in providing a platform for meaningful social engagement.
You will need more skills to survive in the current and future journalism landscape than just photography, so make strides to developing other skills in new media, writing, video. Make your own path.

by Nadine Hutton | 06 Jan 2010 17:01 | Johannesburg, South Africa | | Report spam→
Hi Deeba,
I agree with Nadine about your talents. Your photos capturing human emotions in various age groups demonstrate important talents that will help you in photojournalism.

Having tried more than one thing in my life and observing someone who are skilled in more than one technique, I would not diversify your skills too wide. Writing is a good skill, however, and will not have to be changed whatever new media will come and go, so it is a good skill to polish along with photography.

by Tomoko Yamamoto | 06 Jan 2010 18:01 | Vienna, Austria | | Report spam→
JR, thanks for the link to the Michael Kamber post, that was a good read. Also, thank you for the link to the Contamination Zone website, but the images I had in the gallery were actually a photo essay of a recently abandoned home in La Jolla, California due to the financial pressure down here. I probably should have, but have not worked up the guts to send it to a local paper around here. I usually shoot entertainment editorial.

by Alexis Evanoff | 07 Jan 2010 08:01 | Southern California, United States | | Report spam→
No problem Alexis-although it was actually Karl Badohal who thought of that one,(I just corrected the link).
As for working up the guts to make that phone call-just do it!
I’ll tell you a funny story now-when I was 15yrs old I photographed a burning building in the village where I lived. I developed the black and white negs in my mom and dad’s bathroom,(were they pleased I was also using it as a darkroom!), then showed everybody the results.

My Grandmother suggested I get them to the local paper, but I was too scared to-so she did it for me.
That photo appeared on the front of ‘The Alcester Chronicle’ and instead of joining the RAF as had been planned, I became a photographer.

So take your feature and suggest running it to the local papers. Try and get some payment for it, even if it’s just a token amount to cover your expenses, and tell them it’s part of a personal project on the recession and it’s effects, and that you will be shooting more on the subject. You can then ask them if there is anything they would like you to shoot for them. Chances are most will say thanks, but no thanks or sorry, but we can’t pay. Don’t give up though-move along to the next prospect and keep trying. Good luck!

by JR, (John Watts-Robertson). | 07 Jan 2010 09:01 | rothwell, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Steve McCurry offers such advice:


by [former member] | 07 Jan 2010 16:01 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
Something to bear in mind about getting into the international humanitarian photo industry is that, increasingly, organisations are hiring photographers from the countries where the documentation is to happen ie. hiring a Kenyan photographer for work in Kenya, rather than assigning a photographer from London or NY.

Clearly this is also an economic consideration, but more importantly, humanitarian / developmental organisations are building a greater consciousness around the ethics and power of representation. Hiring local photographers helps break down the stereotype of ‘othering’ that could be charged against a foreign photographer from the West documenting issues in the majority world.

From a social development point of view, hiring local photographers also promotes development of local photographers and empowers image-makers to create representations that challenge the hegemonic Western view of the developing world in mainstream media. So to speak, using local photographers gives the majority world a voice and a right to be in charge of their own representations.

Sure, local photographers are usually in a different class than the people being documented, but they hold a lifetime of knowledge about the society they are working in. Foreign photographers are said to be more able to be objective, but surely the claim of objectivity and ‘one truth’ is no longer upheld as an achievable goal in journalism; social constructivism widely acknowledges that there is no single truth. I’ve heard justifications from both sides of the fence as to why a local or a foreign photographer should be used, and the debate could go on and on…

I am an African of the paler variety and over the last 20 years, I’ve spent about a year and a half working outside of Sub-Saharan Africa. My personal reality is that despite being very widely traveled and experienced in Africa, I have lost assignment opportunities to local photographers, although I can still make a living. The upside of this is that it means development of local photographers is happening – if one works in the development sector, this is a good thing and means that development and empowerment goals are being met.

In order to survive as a non-indigenous documentary photographer, I think one needs reflexivity, to address issues that crop up in cross-cultural representation; and a desire to engage with fellow (local) photographers to stimulate skills growth; and yes, it does mean giving up assignments to local photographers.

I think some of the most useful advice has come from Teru. Understanding the cultures of the places you document is a big step forward; speaking the language is fantastic. And if you could place yourself in a space where you do more that just ‘take’ and do a little ‘giving’ to the local photography industry, you’ll go far in the social development sector. As Teru suggests your networking with future aid workers while at college will help. Getting some development theory under your belt would also be a plus.

If you’re keen to work in the Persian-speaking humanitarian world, how about starting a project now, with Persian-speakers in your community? There must be something you could document about their experiences in the US that could lay the seeds for future work in the Persian-speaking world. Newspapers are no longer commissioning documentary work but the development sector sure is. You’ll need something to show assigning editors in the development sector that is relevant to the communities they are working in; to show your sensitivity and cultural understanding; and to gain trust in representation.

by Christine Nesbitt Hills | 14 Jan 2010 14:01 (ed. Jan 14 2010) | | Report spam→
Thanks to everyone who has offered advice here, it is greatly appreciated and very helpful. I am in the same boat as Deeba, and in a cruel way it is reassuring to know that i’m not the only one having difficulty.

For those having similar difficulties, I have had luck relying on my non-photographic background in getting photography assignments, ironically enough. Having majored in Political Science and Economics, I have been hired by NGOs with the understanding that I work as a photographer, in addition to any further work needed by the NGO. These have been my only photo-journalish experiences, and I am not sure how it affects my ‘objectivity’ in the journalistic sense, but I do think it has the benefit of giving me a comprehensive view of the subjects I have documented.

I am also not sure how I would translate these experiences into a career in photo-journalism, as understood strictly in newspaper/press-agency terms, except in terms of a portfolio.

Thanks again to everyone.

by Sean Hallisey | 21 Jan 2010 21:01 | Boston, Massachusetts, United States | | Report spam→
To be perfectly blunt, painfully blunt: if you have to ask, you already have a problem.

If you want to be a photojournalist, there is only one way. Shoot.

If it isn’t your life, if you don’t sleep with a camera round your neck… you get the picture. There is no secret, no magic word, no special handshake.
Any true real-life photojournalist looks half dead, eyes sunken from bad food, bad water, little sleep and far too many nightmares of images that seem impossible to believe, smells of things you’ll never manage to purge from your mind.

I shoot war, things most nice people don’t know actually happen. If you have to ask, you already have a problem.

Blunt, but true.

by George “Funky’ Brown | 22 Jan 2010 03:01 | 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry R, Iraq | | Report spam→
Of course, being a photojournalist also means having to put up with swaggering macho bull in the field who take pictures, shoot people and generally model themselves on Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now.

Photojournalism isn’t a prison sentence. (though sometimes you may feel like you’re about to be shanked for a picture in a wolf pack/media circus situation.) You know you can actually have a life?

Many nice people are currently living in that nightmare called war, photojournalists are not warrior poets. If you can’t ask questions, you already have a problem. (That’s the ‘journalist’ part at the end of the ‘photo’ part)

by Nadine Hutton | 22 Jan 2010 09:01 | Johannesburg, South Africa | | Report spam→
Well said George “Funky” Brown! There are good guys and bad guys in every industry; learn from both, what makes them good or bad, and take any feedback as constructive. One of the sayings we had in the army was ’There’s never such a thing as a bad question’. If it’s a stupid question, then fine, you’ll look stupid; but rather look stupid than end up in a bad situation wishing you’d asked that question to help you get out of a bad mess!

Surround yourself with good people you can learn from, from any industry and be their ‘go to guy’ for photography. Build the portfolio by shooting (‘if you’re not shooting, you’re not learning’) and keep plugging away. A lot of it is luck, but the best people make their own luck!

by Andy Barnham | 24 Jan 2010 19:01 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Thanks for the repsonses guys,
To George, I definitely see you’re point. I dont think im inherently wrong in asking…I mean we live in a sort of socially connected world that I am lucky and privileged enough TOO ask, but I do see where you are coming from.
Its all about how bad you want it i guess. Either way im just looking for stories and really developing my ‘eye’ in PJ work, more than ever.

by Deeba Yavrom | 28 Jan 2010 05:01 | Bay Area-West Coast, United States | | Report spam→

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Deeba Yavrom, Deeba Yavrom
Bay Area West Coast , United States
JR, (John Watts-Robertson)., Photographer JR, (John Watts-Robertson).
Rothwell , United Kingdom
Will Seberger, Photojournalist Will Seberger
(Freelance Visual Journalist)
Tucson, Arizona , United States ( TUS )
Mark Manger, Photographer Mark Manger
Istanbul , Turkey
teru kuwayama, I/O teru kuwayama
New York , United States
Alexis Evanoff, Photographer Alexis Evanoff
(Have Camera, Will Travel)
[undisclosed location].
Krishna Sriram, Documentary Photographer Krishna Sriram
Documentary Photographer
(Documentary Photographer)
Berlin , Germany ( TXL )
Karl Badohal, photographer Karl Badohal
Krakow , Poland ( KRK )
Nadine Hutton, Photojournalist/Filmmaker Nadine Hutton
(Telling South Africa's stories)
Johannesburg , South Africa
Tomoko Yamamoto, Multimedia Artist Tomoko Yamamoto
Multimedia Artist
Vienna , Austria
Christine Nesbitt Hills, photographer/videographer Christine Nesbitt Hills
[undisclosed location].
Sean Hallisey, Sean Hallisey
Panama City , Panama
George “Funky’ Brown, Photographer George “Funky’ Brown
1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment At Patrol Base Murray , Iraq
Andy Barnham,  Freelance photographer Andy Barnham
Freelance photographer
(carpe D.M.- grab your boots)
London , United Kingdom


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