A career as a press photographer would suit you if you have an interest in current affairs, a flair for the creative and the necessary technical ability...
Press photographers take photographs to record news, current events and lifestyle stories. Their aim is to capture the best images which document an event, tell a story or convey a message and support the printed word. The pictures are then reproduced in newspapers, magazines and increasingly, online. It's also known as editorial photography.
The role can develop into photojournalism. You'll need to demonstrate flair for investigating and telling a story, using both images and words to convey the message. Photojournalists often work for magazines rather than newspapers, and can work on a project over a long period of time.
Working as a press photographer, you could specialise in any number of areas, including:
Press photography requires a combination of intuition, creativity and technical skills, and you'll need to:
Working as a freelance press photographer, extra activities include:
The salary reflects the size of circulation of the paper and the experience and reputation of the photographer. Quality magazines may offer higher rates. Experienced photographers can earn a flat fee when commissioned to cover a specific event.
Negotiating a reasonable freelance fee is complex and it may be worth joining the NUJ, which offers guidance on rates and contracts; see the NUJ Freelance Fees Guide.
When calculating fees, remember to take into account overheads for equipment, which can be up to £100 per day. Freelance press journalists often sell images to picture libraries, or agencies whose daily rates vary from around £75 to £180.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
You need to be where the story is, so expect to work unsocial hours including evenings and weekends. For example, if sport's your specialism, you'll be required to attend evening and weekend fixtures. Time off in lieu is generally given.
If you're not sure about which career direction to take, a course will give you the chance to develop your own creative style while exploring different aspects of photography.
For candidates looking to go directly into press photography, a pre-entry qualification is not essential but can be advantageous, as it gives formal training and demonstrates motivation for the work.
A one-year, pre-entry course for press photographers and photojournalists, which provides intensive practical and theoretical training, including a range of work placements is run by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) at The Sheffield College.
This is currently the only pre-entry course available directly aimed at preparing people for a job in press photography, and is widely recognised within the industry. This course prepares trainees for the National Certificate Examination (NCE), the professional, senior qualification offered by the NCTJ. The NCE is due to be replaced with the National Qualification in Journalism (NQJ) for press photographers from 2015.
Although this area of work is open to all graduates and holders of a diploma, the following subjects may increase your chances:
For a full listing of all universities and colleges offering photo-imaging courses in the UK, see Creative Skillset: The Sector Skills Council for the Creative Industries, which includes courses accredited by the:
For more course ideas, search postgraduate courses in photography.
When applying for work, you'll need to show:
Competition is fierce. With many freelance photographers competing in the market place, you can expect to be up against a lot of experienced and talented candidates when applying for an in-house press photographer role. Being proactive and tenacious, networking and having a 'thick skin' are fundamental to breaking into this industry.
Pre-entry experience is essential, and developing the necessary technical skills and portfolio before approaching picture editors is vital. Work experience on a local paper can offer the opportunity of work shadowing and developing informal contacts, so contact them directly.
Try getting photographs published in local newspapers on a freelance basis. Freelance work may be followed by commissioned pieces or paid shifts.
It's a good idea to send some of your best pictures speculatively to picture editors and photo agencies, tailoring your selection to their style, following this up with a phone call. For more information, see work experience and internships.
Most press photographers work for one of the provincial daily or evening papers, one of the weeklies, or an agency where targeted, speculative applications can be effective.
Most commonly, press photographers are self-employed, working either entirely on their own or in a small business with other photographers. Clearly, photographic skills are crucial, but the ability to run a business is equally important. Find more information on self-employment.
As a freelance photographer you can also sell photographs to picture libraries or agencies; for a list see the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA). Draft invoices and licences to protect you work are provided by the Association of Photographers (AOP).
Look for job vacancies at:
For information on further sources see the News Media Association. Recruitment agencies rarely handle vacancies.
Training varies between newspapers. With some papers, new recruits start by shadowing experienced photographers before being given their own assignments in order to build their confidence. Papers may offer on-the-job or in-house training schemes.
More training options include:
Local photographic societies and clubs can provide information on photography courses and projects available within the community.
To progress your career, it's vital to keep up to date with advances in technology. Most photographers have the means to email, retouch and print images on the spot.
Photographers are spending more and more time on computers improving images for that perfect photograph. Digital photographic libraries can be easily created on the internet with easy-to-use software, enabling your work to be viewed and sold all over the world.
You may need training in video for work on newspaper and magazine websites. You may also be required to take courses in management and team leadership.
As well as improving your skills, you can develop your career as a press photographer in several ways, including:
There is a structured career path within local papers that you may choose to follow: from junior press photographer to senior press photographer, and through to chief photographer or ultimately picture editor.
It may not always be easy to move between different fields of photography. Once you've specialised in one area, you may find you're pigeonholed by clients.
There is an option to move into photojournalism, where the photographer takes on a certain amount of writing. However, generally speaking, photographers are unlikely to make the move from being a photographer to a journalist.