While I mostly work as a wedding and portrait photographer, shooting on assignment for newspapers has been a great way to pick up additional work and add variety to what I shoot. I’ve been able to shoot everything from Judo demonstrations to Thai food by working with newspapers.
Getting the Gig
Staff photographer jobs are difficult to find, but many papers use stringers to shoot extra assignments. The best way to start is to find out the chief photographer or photo editor at a nearby newspaper, and simply ask if they are looking for stringers. Most papers have a pool of freelance photographers that they use when assignments come up.
When I get a call for an assignment, I’m given basic information such as the address of the event, sometimes a contact person, and when the files are due in to the newsroom. I’m rarely given much direction as to what photos to get, and for the most part, stringers are just expected to “cover” events.
Shoot for Coverage
One of the things you need to consider when shooting on assignment is that you’re shooting for a story. Consider what the reporter will be writing about, and shoot to complement it. For example, I recently covered a charity Heart Walk for our local newspaper. There were a few scheduled events throughout the day, such as awards ceremonies and even a Zumba class, and I made sure to get a photo of each. I also needed to get shots of the ribbon cutting before the walk, and some general photos of people walking.
In film school, we learned to “shoot for coverage.” This meant that for a scene you would get a good, wide, establishing shot. Then you’d move on to a medium shot, and a detail shot. In the case of our Heart Walk, I got a shot of the grounds, a medium shot of some walkers, and a detail of the ribbon cutting. This gives you several options to choose from, and keeps a photo essay visually interesting.
Editing your choices is an important part of the job, and shooting for the edit is a helpful skill to learn for any style of photography. You want to be able to give the photo editor some variety to choose from, without overwhelming them. Most ask for 5 to 7 photos for an event.
The Medium is the Message
It’s important to remember where your photos are going. In an increasingly digital age, keep in mind that you’re shooting for a print, and for a particular format. The content of the photo is, to the newspaper, just as important as the composition. Photo editors will need information for the caption, so don’t be afraid to go up to people and ask for information.
All photos shot for Pittsburgh City Paper