Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Photojournalism on a budget

Someone recently asked me what kind of gear they need to start out in photojournalism, covering breaking news and feature work.

This is a pretty good question. And in reality, you can do it pretty cheaply, to start with. Any digital SLR camera will do. Even a cheap Digital Rebel Xt or Nikon D50 will do. The kit lenses, even though they get a bad rep at times, will work fine, and you can pick up a cheap longer zoom, like a 70-300 or 70-200. A basic flash, like a new Vivitar 285 and a lot of memory and batteries will complete the camera gear. With this set up, you can cover quite a bit. And this gear should be well under $1000. If you want to do it right though, from the start, Canon 1 series bodies, and at least a 16-35, 24-70, 70-200 and 300mm set of lenses, all in 2.8 versions, along with a fast prime or two like a 50 1.2, 85 1.2, or 135 2.0, and this can run you more than 10X what the basic kit will, maybe closer to 15 or 20X.

But it is much more than just the camera gear. A laptop that you can transmit your images quickly on, meaning either you need a wifi or internet location to hook up to or a cellular phone card to connect to the internet to transfer files, software to quickly edit the images and caption them and a ftp program. And to find the news, you need to be connected with press releases, keep a police scanner near you, and create relationships with newspaper editors in your area. You could get away with spending as little as a couple thousand dollars to close to $100K on "tools of the trade".

But whether you have the Rebel or a 1D Mk III, and all the computer gear and software you need, you still have to be able to capture the news, and that means knowing your gear and understanding what makes a news photograph newsworthy. College classes on journalism and photojournalism, as will as journalism workshops help greatly here. Very few people can make a career out of photojournalism with out having some schooling in it. Starting out with a local weekly paper can give you some experience, but the knowledge is not as great as you will get with actual higher education. So, look at spending another $50K on tuition to Brooks Institute or another credible photojournalism school.

It is a very tough business, and you can make it if you work hard at it. Good luck.

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