These five tips for becoming a photojournalist (or a travel writer, truth be told) are inspired by the parable of the Tiger and Strawberries, and based on an article called “10 Tips for Selling Your Travel Writing.”
There is no way any article can teach you everything you need to know about how to become a photojournalist. I recommend Photojournalism: The Professionals’ Approach by Kenneth Kobre. He blends insightful interviews with professional photojournalists, practical experience, current equipment and camera technology, and high-impact photographs that show you what photojournalism is all about. The DVD features footage of working professional photojournalists handling on-the-job challenges. Kobre also offers information on new laws affecting photojournalists, new trends in multimedia to keep skills competitive, and a look back at some international history in the photography world.
These tips on how to become a photojournalist are best digested with a side of 5 Travel Writing Tips for Writers – especially if you’re inclined towards both photojournalism and writing as a career. First, though, here’s one of my all-time favorite parables. It’s about being in the moment, not worrying about your future, and letting go of the past.
The Parable of the Tiger and the Strawberries
A young photojournalist is being chased by a streak of tigers. They are big. They are mean. They are hungry. The photojournalist is exhausted and weighed down with her photography equipment – and it’s all she can do to run away from them.
She comes to a cliff at the edge of the jungle. She can hear the tigers crashing through the underbrush. The photojournalist knows there isn’t any way she can escape back the way she came, but luckily she sees a thick vine growing over the edge of the rock face cliff.
The photojournalist scampers down the vine, well out of the reach of the snarling pack of tigers.
Relieved, she keeps climbing down the vine…and then she looks downwards. Another streak of tigers is waiting below her, snarling and growling and leaping upwards towards her! The photojournalist stops, looks up, and sees the tigers peering over the edge.
A movement catches her eye and she sees a tiny grey mouse up on the craggy rock face above her. The tigers don’t see it; they are focused on the juicy photojournalist. She sees that the mouse is chewing on the vine that she is clinging to. She has only a few moments before she falls into the jaws of the tigers below.
Just then she notices a luscious patch of strawberries growing on the side of the cliff face, right next to her. They are quite possibly the plumpest, reddest and most gorgeous strawberries the world has ever seen. The photojournalist isn’t exactly hungry, but she figures she might as well spend her last few minutes tasting what this world has to offer. She reaches over, picks a strawberry, and bites into it. Juice drips down her chin and onto her shirt. It is the best strawberry she has ever eaten.
Accepting her fate, the photojournalist swings over and sits on the ledge and eats another strawberry. It’s just as good as the first one. She then sees a trail leading down the mountain, which she couldn’t see from her previous spot a few inches away. The trail leads her away from the pesky mouse and the hungry ambush of both sets of tigers. Freedom!
5 Tips on Becoming a Photojournalist
The Parable of the Tigers, the Strawberries, and the Photojournalist is one of my favorites because it’s about living in the moment. Acceptance, freedom, and surrender. No matter what faces you – whether you’re starting a career as a photojournalist or retiring from years of working as a social worker and finally ready to start your “real” life – your best life awaits if you live in the moment.
If you want to become a photojournalist, you need to find the balance between strategic hard work and surrender in the present moment. Enjoy every step in your journey into a photojournalism career, for these are the good old days.
Specialize in a niche of photojournalism
Where in the world was the photojournalist in the Parable of the Tigers and Strawberries? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you locate yourself in a specific niche of photojournalism. Many successful photojournalists combine general travel or photography assignments with a specialty in Africa, people, animals, fishing, or another subject.
Take a long term view of your career as a photojournalist
“When I was a newspaper travel editor I would get 30 or 40 submissions a day,” says Australian travel writer and editor Gareth Powell in The Portable Writer’s Conference. “Most were rubbish. In the end, as a means of self-defense, I had a list of 20 or 30 professional writers I knew I could depend on. They were paid reasonable money and delivered good stories.”
It takes years to become one of those professional photojournalists that travel editors depend on. That’s why I used the Parable of the Tiger and the Strawberries: to encourage you to enjoy every moment of the journey towards becoming a photojournalist! It will take time, so you need to savor this moment.
Always submit your best work
Reread the travel editor’s tip on how to become a photojournalist. Note that he said most of the submissions he received were garbage. Do you think the people pitching those travel photos and stories knew they were sending garbage? How will you avoid this pitfall? Take photojournalism courses, read books on how to become a photojournalist, learn how to run a freelance business, ask a professional photojournalist if she will mentor or coach you.
Avoid the obvious photojournalism markets
Of course you want to get your photos and/or stories published in National Geographic! But the most popular travel magazines and newspaper sections are overwhelmed with pitches, photos, manuscripts, and submissions from eager people just like you who want to become photojournalists.
Look through 2015 Photographer’s Market, and pitch the less popular, less well-known travel magazines, websites, and blogs.
Learn how to repackage your submissions
Don’t limit yourself to one type of story or set of photos per destination. Every trip you take is potential fodder for many different types of photography, targeted for different travel markets. That’s why the Photographer’s Market is so useful – it allows you to keep your hand in many tills.
What do you think about these tips on how to become a photojournalist? Comments welcome below! These same tips work for becoming a freelance writer, by the way 🙂