Winter has hinted at its impending departure but many parts of the country find themselves still firmly in her embrace. For those who love cold weather photography, we have some tips designed to help you leverage the season to its full potential.
We also have a treat in store this month with our interview of Nell Carroll, formerly USA Today’s sports photo editor and now editor of the Austin American-Statesman. Nell has graciously shared her expertise on what it takes to become a successful photojournalist in today’s competitive marketplace. Her advice is inspiring, on point and designed to help you launch a career in this arena if you so choose.
We’ve closed the issue with some great gear recommendations and a refresher course on depth of field and how to create different effects through aperture adjustments. We’ve crammed a lot of photography fun into February’s issue, so spend a few minutes with us and get inspired. And remember to drop by the store to show us what you’ve been shooting. We’d love to see your latest work!
The Inside Scoop on Becoming a Freelance Photo Stringer by Laura Oles
Have you ever wondered if you had what it took to be a working photojournalist? Many professionals have earned entry into the field by working as a freelance stringer. In the journalistic profession, a stringer is a freelance photographer or journalist who is paid by the photo (or article) as opposed to being a salaried employee of the newspaper. Even though the stringer isn’t a traditional employee (s)he can build an ongoing relationship with one or several news organizations and create a steady stream of income through ongoing submissions (and acceptance) of work.
We turned to Nell Carroll, who currently serves as photo editor for the Austin American-Statesman for advice on what it takes to become a successful stringer in today’s competitive climate. Nell earned a degree in photojournalism from Syracuse University and got her start working for a small newspaper with a total staff of four people. She served as sports editor for USA Today for several years and then left Washington DC for Austin, Texas, where she currently serves as photo editor for the Austin American-Statesman. She has also served as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
When we asked Nell what it took to make a mark in this industry, this is what she said:
Be Different: “The market is saturated. Everyone with an iPhone thinks he’s a photographer. The available work can be spotty at times so folks should learn how to fill off time with marketing and promotion.” Being a working stringer means that you are, in essence, operating your own enterprise, and this requires making sure that your work and expertise are promoted. It’s important to understand that you are competing with countless other photographers. Marketing is an ongoing endeavor, so plan on building these efforts into your workweek.
“One of the most common mistakes I see involves weak portfolios,” Nell offers. “Many people fill their portfolio with shots from the same event and that does not show me any versatility. I need to see that a photographer can shoot many different types of things.” She adds, “However, if someone specializes in sports, I may like that and know I can hire them just for sports.” Nell offers a word of caution as well. “Don’t oversell your talent. Just because you had a head shot published in the New York Times does not mean you can call them a client.”
Be Aware: You need to have your eye on current events, so leveraging social media to keep current is an important part of the job. “Social media leads me to many photo opportunities so I keep a close eye on Twitter and Facebook to make sure I do not miss a beat,” Nell states. You’ll want to be aware of upcoming newsworthy events to make sure you’re positioned to be in the mix and ready to shoot.
Be Tenacious: While you don’t want to be a nuisance, you do want to follow up on occasion after submitting a query or photograph for consideration. There is also a fine line between bugging me about work and not following up at all. I am super busy, so things and people fall off my radar pretty fast if I am not reminded of them. I love when freelancers tell me their weekly availability, I may not use them for months but then BANG, I will need them immediately.”
Be Available: As a freelancer, being available is extremely important. Even if your calls have not been returned, when a newspaper calls you, you need to take it. Nell puts it simply, “Freelancers, always answer your phone.” You’ll need to consider your current life and commitments before venturing into the field of freelance photojournalism. News happens all the time, at any hour, and when an editor needs something covered, your answer needs to be ‘yes.’ Nell says, “Being a freelance photographer is a tough profession. You need to be on call at all times to be successful. One “NO“ from you can mean months of no calls from an editor.” If your schedule is one that allows this kind of flexibility, this can prove to be a true competitive advantage.
Be Tenacious: Work can come in many forms and in many niche areas, so being available also extends to being open to other possibilities. She says, “Realize that no assignment is beneath you, unless you are morally opposed it. I would never shoot paparazzi assignments because I feel they can be hurtful to the subject, but I would have no problem shooting a boring picture of a car for a car story.” She reminds us that there are many niche opportunities available including realtors, animal shelters, family portraiture and more. Be open to alternative opportunities as they can add depth to your portfolio.
Carving a space for yourself as a photo stringer can be demanding but such coveted positions require a particular tenacity and dedication. While this career can be challenging, it doesn’t mean that you have to surrender your entire life. In fact, having outside interests is an asset. Nell says, “Your hobbies and other interests are important to maintain because they add dimension, perspective and texture to your work. Having a multi-faceted life is beneficial and those outside hobbies should be nurtured.” Nell adds that these outside interests encourage curiosity, which is an important component of photojournalism. Nell also enjoys mentoring other photographers when her schedule allows. “I really enjoy looking at other photographers’ work and helping them find the obvious and hidden gems.”
The arena of photojournalism is one that offers variety, excitement and the opportunity to share local and national stories with your community. It’s a career that many photographers dream of achieving and one well worth pursuing. If you’ve ever dreamed of trying your hand as a photo stringer, we hope you’ll take the first step. Start building your portfolio and keep Nell’s advice in mind.
Grab your camera and head out. The world is waiting!
Exposure Compensation Tip: Winter Whites:
The proper exposure can make or break an image so a general understanding of exposure, along with how to override your camera’s exposure settings, can help you garner the proper balance of light. Today’s cameras have sophisticated exposure technology but there are times, such as shooting in snowy scenes, which can trick your camera’s exposure settings.
Your camera’s exposure meter interprets the scene as a mid-grey (or what’s known as 18% greyscale), so a landscape with snow may throw your camera’s interpretation off to an extent. Your camera may ‘see’ the scene as a grey image with bright light cast through, so adjusting your exposure compensation by +1 or possibly even +2 should be enough to properly expose the image. Photographing the same scene and adjusting the EC once or twice for comparison is an excellent exercise in understanding how your camera ‘sees’ what you see and what to do when you two aren’t eye to eye.
A Common Cause for Missed Shots:
One of the most common reasons we miss great shots is something that is completely avoidable--our batteries aren’t charged enough to take us through the entire event. You can take control of the situation by keeping an extra battery or charger in your camera bag.
Get one for your gear bag here: http://www.samys.com/c/Batteries--Power-Adapters/2/140.html
Rain, Rain, Go Away…
Ok, so we really don’t want the rain to go away since it can create some beautiful environments for us to shoot, but we do want to keep the rain at bay when it comes to our gear. We have just the thing to keep your gear protected from wet weather while allowing you to keep working.
Get one for your gear bag here: http://www.samys.com/s/rain%20cover
The Benefits of Shooting on Overcast Days:
While photographers understand the benefits of sunny days and how to use sunny skies to an advantage, some shy away from shooting on overcast days for fear of not getting the benefit of bright light. Shooting when it is overcast can actually yield some of the best images because the light is more blended and muted.
Overcast skies can be extremely flattering when photographing people because the clouds diffuse and filter the light so that it is more even, which can have a positive effect on skin tones. Harsh rays can sometimes overpower a portrait or a nature scene whereas overcast lighting is more even and soft.
An overcast day is also a great opportunity to convey a particular mood, especially when coupled with nature scenes. The gloomy feel is articulated through the even grey skies and the surroundings, and in this instance, the environment is the perfect catalyst to convey somber settings or emotions.
Quick Reference Tip: Depth of Field
Depth of Field (DOF) is a term that refers to areas of an image that remain in sharp focus. Experimenting with deep and shallow DOF settings is one of the most common ways to experiment with composition and interest in an image. What you choose to keep sharp and what you choose to throw out of focus with your DOF choices can substantially influence the overall impact of your photograph.
If you want to keep a shallow depth of field, such as keeping a woman’s face in focus but blurring the entire background, choose a smaller aperture setting (this means the iris opening is larger) for this purpose. A longer lens or a longer focal length will translate into a more shallow depth of field. For situations where you’d prefer the entire image in sharp focus, choose a larger aperture setting (the iris opening is smaller) and this will increase the depth of field. Shooting with a shorter lens or a shorter focal length will also aid in creating a longer depth of field in your image.