At a time when the print industry is fighting to survive and anyone with a digital camera can call themselves a photographer, veteran photojournalist Konstantin Zavrazhin offers this survival guide for those interested in becoming pros.
Zavrazhin, a photojournalist and reporter for over 20 years, has been published in Paris Match, National Geographic, Focus, Russian Reporter and many others. He currently works at newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.
Zavrashin, a straight shooter if ever there was one, says that aspiring photographers should know the reality of the business.
Here is his survival guide:
1. Discard the notion that photojournalism will become your main source of income. Magazine offices are already filled with neophyte photographers prepared to shoot for a small fee – just for fun.
2. Don't buy the newest model of professional camera, unless you plan to shoot sports. Don't listen to snobs who say that you need to buy the most expensive lens. A good set for a beginner is the Canon EOS 5 mark2 and a pair of inexpensive lenses, such as a 17-40 and 70-200 4.0. Be careful buying a secondhand camera – you might run into perfect-looking but heavily-worn equipment from a wedding photographer.
3. Google the name of a trainer before you pay for his or her photojournalism master class. There are many places calling themselves "Photography School" or "Photo Academy.” Not long ago, Moscow photographers in a closed Facebook group discussed the announcement of one of those schools. It turns out that the course on how to behave in war zones was taught by a hairstyle and food catalog photographer.
4. You don't have to travel to the Middle East or North Africa to find a story. It's hard to compete with aces from AP or Reuters. You can sell your story to the media only if you can outdo them. The days are over when an unknown freelance photographer could spend a couple of weeks in a war zone and then expense his travel plus charge for his pictures.
Nowadays, such lone wolves have to compete against successful photo agencies dubbed “McDonald's photography.” Most publications receive photos from agencies for a fixed rate. Staff reporters are equipped with satellite high-speed Internet phones, support from headquarters, money for transportation, local fixers and translators. Not to mention life and health insurance.
5. Don't start out by going to places filled with photo-bloggers. For example, street demonstrations are filled with these bloggers, professional cameras hanging from their necks, assuming that looking like a photojournalist will keep them from getting arrested. Yes, they are at the epicenter of events, but no one will be interested in these photos except their social network friends. Photo stories are best shot when there are no other photographers – that might be next door.
6. If you have a story ready to sell do not post it for free on a blog or on social networks. After the story is out on the Internet, editors' interest will quickly fade. Who wants a "secondhand" story? But there are exceptions.
7. Don't waste your time becoming a staff photo editor at a shabby newspaper hoping to win a World Press Photo award and becoming a star. Get out there yourself and shoot.
This story first appeared in IJNet's Russian edition