What was your first job as a photojournalist?
After I graduated from college, I had no job. I didn't know how to get a PJ job or stringer gigs. I had been Editor of an independent student newspaper. Before that, I was a news editor, PJ and reporter.Aside from the likes/dislikes test you described on your blog, what was the most important influence on your decision to become a photographer?
I could write, shoot, edit, layout pages, operate a process camera (for a printing press) and I had a few photo and writing awards. I could process B&W film in my car. I also had my own fully-operational, archival B&W lab at home. However, I didn't know anything about the biz.
So, I pulled out the phonebook and started calling every newspaper, magazine, wire service and book publisher within seven counties of Dallas. I combed through the classified ads and NPPA job bank.
I simply wanted work as a PJ. I wouldn't settle for less.
I was lucky with one of the first calls. The Richardson News happened to have a reporter whose son was also a photographer from my university. She hooked me up with the Editor.
I showed my prints and collegiate clips and got my first freelance assignment to shoot the cover of a weekend guide (even small papers had them then). I got paid $25 for the shoot and $5 for each image they ran. They also reimbursed my film.
It eventually turned into a full-time job five months later, but those were some mighty lean five months. I worked any camera job I could find. One gig paid a whopping $10 per published shot plus expenses (printed in my own darkroom on deadline).
However, I refused to give up. With each new client, my work was seen by other publishers. I also kept knocking on doors. By October, I had enough clients to drop the low-paying gigs. The higher-paying gigs kept me busy enough to continue shooting.
By November, I was earning enough to survive, but I worked 20-hour days each day of the week. So, a low-paying staff job with insurance and a chance at any days off looked like heaven.
The test was it.What was your first major accomplishment as a photographer?
I had a good job as a corporate collector for General Electric Capital at the time. I was earning more money in 1990 without a degree than I do now. So, it didn't matter which degree I got.
If you haven't guessed, I like competition. That's what hooked me with journalism. It's fiercely competitive. Even in college, my classmates were trying to be better than other colleges and professionals. So, I was hooked.
As mentioned above, not starving to death. :-)Do you have a most memorable photograph? What was it/why?
The first really significant (pro) event was the Moore, Okla. tornado. The town was completely flattened by the biggest tornado in recorded history. Although it was my day off, I covered it because I wanted to let our readers know how to best help those affected.
I borrowed a dependable car and spent the day shooting and talking to folks. Access was difficult. I talked to anyone who would give me time. I drove back the same night, caught two hours sleep and pulled together two pages of stories, sidebars and photos.
Our community stepped up and sent the items the residents requested. Instead of blankets and old clothes, a semi-trailer full of tools, lumber, chainsaws, work gloves, generators and medicine (including tetanus shots) was collected and sent to Moore. I could tell my work paid off and people were going to get what they actually needed to start rebuilding.
There were a few times when I was crying or laughing too hard to press the shutter release. A few images have won awards. Those are memorable because they allowed my work some recognition.What do you feel is the most rewarding aspect of your job/are you happy with your decision to become a photojournalist?
The ones I tend to think are my best are those which create some domino effect to get help for deserving people in need.
I don't have one image that meets all three criteria. So, I'd say this image is memorable because it got help flowing to Hurricane Katrina victims. This image (1st image ) is memorable because it's become the face of Hurricane Rita. Texans rolled up their sleeves and got to work rebuilding after the hurricane. They were damaged, but determined.
Obviously, I like to help people. Sometimes we help after unexpected disasters. Sometimes we simply let readers know what's happening around town so their dates don't become disasters. :-)Could you describe a normal day as a PJ?
I'm satisfied with my decision to be a PJ. The personal cost has been high, but I'd pay the price again. I have no regrets.
I've been at all three levels of this biz. Each has its own stresses and chaos. I feel most comfortable in my current job because there's an editorial cushion (other shooters and wire photos). Meanwhile, it's the top daily newspaper in its circulation class in one of the most competitive states.Has digital photography altered/changed your photography style?
I'm the mid-shift (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.). This means I might cover a morning or night shift for other shooters if needed. For this example, we'll say this is regularly-scheduled shift:
Wake up, get coffee.
8:30 - 10 a.m.
Answer urgent e-mails. Get more coffee. Check the newspaper's Web site and possibly browse other local and national news to have an idea what's happening and develop some back-up plans if news is slow. Get more coffee.
10 - 11 a.m.
Prepare for work, commute to work.
Care to guess what I do first at work?
Yup, get more coffee. Pick up assignments. Handle any immediate-need paperwork issues at the office. Check my work e-mail and finalize any plans for the day's shoots. Often, assignments are "pending" based upon some other action. These must be resolved to either be dropped or assigned.
Then, the day becomes unpredictable. If everyone behaves themselves, I'll have two or three assignments. I shoot them, turn them out, do my archive work and go home.
If someone happens to kill someone else or something explodes, the day becomes a little more stressful. Other days are completely dead, and I must find images.
This is when the morning time on the Net helps. If I know what's happening, I can find a local angle for national stories. I also keep a second blog of upcoming and regularly-scheduled events to get ideas for instant filler images.
Lately, I've been too busy to update my other blog. Consequently, my options are severely limited. Hopefully I'll get a chance to update it soon.
If something goes crazy, I must shoot it and immediately turn it out (tone, caption, transmit) for the Web and Page 1 layout. If it's a quiet day, I can shoot all my assignments and turn them out before the 9:30 deadline.
If I'm close to the deadline or travel is distant, I'll transmit from location. If I have time, I'll do it in the office.
On any given day, I can be up to 400 miles away from the office. If I'm going more than this distance, I'll typically have at least one day's warning, Then, I have the option to stay overnight in the other location.
Once I've finished my day, I come home and talk with my wife - if she's still awake. If not, I'll get some food (I eat once each day). Then - you guessed it - get coffee and check my e-mails.
If I make it home by 10 p.m., I watch "The Daily Show." After Jon Stewart, I'll prepare the night's blog entry and have some mind candy (play solitaire or Dynomite) for about 30 minutes. Then, I work on longer blog entries, answer complicated e-mails, update my other blog (locate and include future events), surf other sites for inspiration and info, research story ideas and try to learn something new each day.
When I can't see the computer clearly or the sun rises, I'll crash for a few hours and start all over again. I'm older now, so I try to sleep at least four hours each night. When I was younger, I tried to sleep at least two hours. In college, I would go from Sunday to Wednesday morning without sleep each week. I'd sleep two hours on Thursday and Friday. I'd crash hard on the weekends.
I do freelance assignments as well. I schedule them for my days off, take vacation days or try to work both into work days. I work on art and stock photo projects on days off.
Not really. I tend to shoot with less depth-of-field because I never know if there's trash on the CCD. I like to shoot at f/16, but it's not worth risking the consequence if I don't need to do so.Do you believe that photography can be considered a form of art?
Yes. Although the same tools are used, the end results and the underlying businesses aren't the same. When I'm a PJ, I wear my PJ hat and shoot PJ images. When I'm an "artist," I shoot differently.Do you travel a lot?
This doesn't mean they aren't one-in-the-same. It only means I prefer to create extremely complex images as my "art." I've won art competitions with my news images, and I've won news competitions (illustration) with my art.
Not at my first job. Since then, I've averaged around 200 miles of travel per day for the last seven years. Many days, I only go 30 or 50 miles. Other days I could go 800 miles round trip for a shoot.How long have you been interested in photography?
A few times each year I'll need to stay in another city. But, I love my wife dearly, and I'd like to see her every few days if I can. Some shooters can literally be in foreign countries every day of the year if that's their desire (and shooting/logistical ability).
When I was in the Army, I learned how valuable images were to me. Soldiers can't keep much. So, we keep small items. I valued photos I'd get from home. These kept me up-to-date with changes.What advice would you give a high school student who is interested in pursuing photography, PJ specifically, as a career?
I'd send them point-and-shoot prints of my life as well.
However, I never had a decent camera until after I decided to become a PJ. I didn't know what I needed when I started down this road. I signed up for a class, read the syllabus and went to a pawn shop to get the most for the least. I was lucky and found what I needed to get started.
Smile a lot and learn to love light.
I'm saying this because the advice below is not as happy.
This is a really cool job, but it comes with a heavy burden. Many PJs have one or more ex-spouses. Many lose all their friends. Many have financial problems their entire career. Some die.
Don't settle for anything less than the best from yourself. Research your competition and become better than them. This is a highly competitive field. If you aren't ready for this reality, you're not going to make it. There's no lack of talented, dedicated, unemployed PJs. They want any job just as much as a new college grad. However, they have pro experience and pro awards on their resume.
When I was in college, the Internet was new. It didn't have the information or capacity it has now. This availability of information is both good and bad. Now (the good), students can use it as a learning tool to get an edge over their competition. However (the bad), your competition is using it too.
Don't waste your time. Use your time wisely to learn everything you can about your craft and the world around you. Then, help your peers learn.
If you give your peers all your knowledge, you must continue to learn and grow to become better. When you need info, ask your peers. This process forces innovation and creativity to remain competitive and valid in today's marketplace.
Become a professional now. As soon as you have mastered focus, exposure and timing, you should start earning money with your images. Otherwise, the learning curve is steep and dangerous. It's easy to starve to death. It's hard to learn this business and avoid starvation.
Reinvest your profits into your equipment to get higher paying gigs and be more marketable. Get the gigs, and buy a decent camera, lenses and laptop. This makes you mobile, agile and marketable.
With the current market trends, learn as much as you can about video and sound. It's very likely most daily newspapers won't be using still cameras within five years. However, get the skills now with the still camera because it can still put food in the fridge.
Shoot, compete and select your internships wisely. Aim high and don't look down. If you're completely comfortable with the level of work you're accomplishing, you're not pushing yourself hard enough.
Take the ethical high ground. You may get beaten by a cheater, but I'd rather lose to a cheater than win through deception.
Above all, be flexible and look for opportunities. There are no "normal" days.
There are a lot of set-backs in this profession. Each time something goes wrong, look for "the best" in it. Understand and try to live the "pony parable." If you look for the ponies, you'll find them. Good luck with your search.
Enough for now,