Advice for aspiring photojournalists

Advice for aspiring photojournalists

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time. While I’m just starting out in my own career and have a long way to go, I’ve learned some valuable lessons that i’d like to share. Here’s a list in no particular order of personal truths based on my own experiences and others that have helped me. I don’t take my own opinions as gospel, so take from them what you will. Hopefully there’ll be something in here that’ll be useful to you.

Note: This post is about advice on a more personal level. I have another post coming up for more practical tips regarding getting into photojournalism. I’ve also made a list at the bottom of this post of working photojournalists all over the country that are doing great work while highlighting some of their work throughout this post. See if one of them is near you and see how they shoot places that might be familiar to you. 

There is a place for you, no matter what kind of shooter you are.

No matter what kind of a photographer you are, there is a place for you in this industry. I didn’t know that for years myself though. I thought for a very long time that photojournalism was one thing only; LIFE magazine style photo essays; structured  storyboards from beginning to end, focused on one subject that you spent days, weeks or even longer working on. I always felt this underlying pressure that If I wanted to be taken seriously as a photojournalist, I just HAD to do that kind of long form work. The problem was that I didn’t really want to. Even though I appreciated and admired other photojournalists who did, I preferred short stories and daily assignments. I had convinced myself though that that wasn’t “real” photojournalism; that what I did wasn’t “good enough”. I wrestled with this completely self-inflicted guilt of not feeling like a true photojournalist for a long time. It took years of different experiences and conversations with others to learn that it was actually okay to not want to be a social documentarian, and that the term “daily shooter” wasn’t something to be ashamed of; to realize that there was in fact a place for me in this industry.

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Jessica Christian, San Francisco Examiner: Quincy Quinton, right, cries as David Glamamore comforts him while attending a vigil held at Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro District of San Francisco, Calif. remembering the victims of the Orlando, Fl. shooting Sunday, June 12, 2016. See more of her intimate and poignant work documenting the San Francisco Bay Area here

That’s not to say that I’m still uninterested in photo essays, In fact I’m more interested in them than iv’e ever been. The point I’m making is you should never, ever feel like you have to force yourself into shooting a certain kind of work or adopt a style that isn’t yours because you think it’s what people want or that it’s the only way editors will take you seriously. I still remember being told by a staffer at a paper that different interns would come in and shoot in a way that they thought the editors wanted, when really the editors chose the interns because of the fact that they saw things differently. Be honest with yourself and embrace the kind of work that you really want to do, because that’s the work that editors want to see. I remember another editor telling us that they didn’t care what it was that you wanted to do. That if you wanted to shoot something like a series of dressed up dogs they’d still take a look at it. So do everything you can to express your own vision in your work, and I promise you, there will be people who WILL appreciate it.

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Adria Malcolm of American Reportage has a great ongoing series of the town of Santa Rosa, NM, a town along Route 66 that is struggling to survive. You can see more of her images and writing here

It’s okay to not know what kind of photojournalist or even what kind of photographer you want to be.

I didn’t know that I wanted to be a photojournalist when I first picked up a camera. I got my start in shooting landscapes, and kept shooting them as I got more involved in photojournalism. I particularly loved panoramas and long exposures; not exactly hard hitting photojournalism. It turned out that my love for long exposures and other aspects of landscape such as color and composition were ideas I could bring to the way I shot photojournalism. No matter what kinds of other photographs you enjoy taking, there are aspects that you can apply to your own shooting. More than that, many photojournalists have other passions that they funnel into their work. Think about those other passions and interests you might have. Ask yourself how they may better inform your personal vision or what kind of work that you gravitate towards. Give yourself the space necessary to grow and experiment. Master the technical aspects of your equipment and pursue a deeper understanding of how you see and what you are drawn to.

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Matt Gade of the Daily Republic in Mitchell, SD posted this just a few days ago: ‘The Dakota Wesleyan University football team gathers for a team prayer at about midfield after being introduced to the crowd prior to the Tigers game against the Jamestown Jimmies on Saturday afternoon.’. You can see more of the great work Matt does on his website

 looking at the work of others can help. 

Check out NPPA’s monthly clip contest entries to see good work from all over the country. Go see if your college library has some books on photojournalism. Check out photo websites like the image deconstructed. Look at Time.com’s Lightbox, or the week in photos from various publications. It’s never been easier to see and admire good work.

It wasn’t until I spent a lot of time actually looking at the work of photographers I admired that I began to move away from my own narrow view of  photojournalism. The way Alex Webb used color, Damon Winter of NYT used light or Matt McClain of WaPo used composition. I loved how these photographers could take anything from a general news story or an everyday element of life and could turn it into something that escaped the daily news cycle and stood by itself as something memorable and beautiful. I remember one photo in particular that, silly as it may sound, changed almost everything for me. It was a photo McClain took of a church that was building a pipe organ. He shot it through a cutout in the shape of a cross in the doorway. Seeing the photo now I think it’s still pretty clever, but when I first saw that photo it made my mind explode like a supernova. Through seeing images like that and others, I started to consciously grasp the concept that photojournalism could be and is so much more than just documenting a subject or event. That there is in fact a deeper language to the medium; of not just seeing light, color and symmetry but actually feeling them as viscerally as one feels emotions. Ever since, Iv’e been addicted to finding those kinds of images in the day to day; those little moments where humanity is shown and in which light, sound and motion intertwine with one another.  I truly believe that there can be just as much magic in an everyday moment as there is in a major news event. It doesn’t happen all the time, but that’s the goal day in and day out.

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The same concept of framing was used to brilliant effect in this photo by Taylor Irby of the Manhattan Mercury in Kansas for a story on a cowboy country church; a photo that she won first place for in the recent NPPA clip contest for the Central region.

Professionals shoot awful photos (too)

I spent my first couple years starting out looking at the work of other young and talented photographers. I’d count on my fingers the number of years between their age and mine, to the point that I felt like if I wasn’t on the front page of the New York Times by the time that I turned 21 i’d be a failure. Looking at the work of others stopped being constructive and just became self abusive. All i could think about was how much better those shooters were than me. I truly felt that the work they did was something I couldn’t do myself; that their vision was something inherent in them, not honed through years of learning and practice. I didn’t understand at the time that the problem with looking at only the highlights of other peoples work is you begin to assume that they’re always shooting great images, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I was at a workshop where a photojournalist who’d been working for many years gave us a presentation of an assignment that they shot for the New York Times. We were able to see their entire take from that assignment, and I saw that a whole lot of those images weren’t good. In fact, some of them were just awful. If any of us are being honest, there are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of photos we take on our assignments that no one will ever see (or at least we hope not). But I think it’s important that newcomers know that there’s a lot of truth to the saying that “most people only see 2% of an artist’s work. ”

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Nicole Hester, Natchez Democrat in Mississippi: Elijah Davney 10. Minorville Jubilee. 2017. See more of her incredibly creative work here

It’s a marathon, not a race.

Sure, there may be some prodigies of photojournalism, but the vast majority of the people who work in this industry are people who just refused to quit. Even when you reach a level you’re proud to be at, there’s still more to learn and even more bumps in the road to overcome. you’re going to have times when you feel insecure no matter how good you get; times where you wonder if this is what you’re really supposed to be doing or if you even have what it takes. The answer is simple: you do. As one photographer I listened to said “if you spend your time wondering about where you’re going to be ten years from now and try to plan it all out, you’ll freak yourself out and defeat yourself before it can even happen. All you have to do is focus on the next picture; about the assignment today and what you’re going to be doing tomorrow. If you do that every day, I promise you that the rest will take care of itself”.

So go out to shoot, even in the times when you don’t feel like it or don’t have a clear idea of just what it is you’re going to photograph. Look up different photo exercises you can do. Petapixel has a slew of articles to get your mind going. It’s hard to really notice your vision developing from one day to the next, but if you put the time in, step back after a month or a year, and you’ll be almost sure to see a clear and discernible difference in your work. After all, the moon isn’t moving fast as you look at it, but it still makes it to the other side of the sky each night.

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Joe Ahlquist of the Rochester Post Bulletin in Minnesota took this great series of images at a county fair. See more of those images here and more his other work here

You can make great work anywhere.

There is fantastic work being done every day by photojournalists all over the United States in areas large and small. That’s because there is an entire world of photojournalism that goes beyond the daily news cycle or the major national stories. You don’t need to live in a big city or move to a different country to create compelling images. Great moments are everywhere, and the more you shoot the more you will intuitively recognize them around you. Check out some of the work of people I posted below, and seriously, check the monthly clip contests of NPPA. Take note of how many of those great images are of moments that happen in your own town or city.

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Sam Owens of the Evansville Courier & Press: “Jamison Heitger fights off boredom as he waits for his turn to bat during his last little league baseball game of the season held at a Scott baseball field in Evansville, Indiana, June 5, 2017.” Click here to see more of the great work she’s doing.

Rejection and disappointment happens, and that’s okay. 

If you do this for even a little while, you’ll be rejected, whether it’s for pitching a story or applying for an internship, staff position or workshop. Sometimes the rejection hurts a lot, even after it’s already happened times before. Iv’e been a finalist for internships and staff positions at more than a dozen publications only to end up not being chosen, and no one feels pride about the dozen times they almost got the job. Sometimes it’s hard to not take it personally as a referendum on your work or even yourself. Trust me, its not. There are a lot of reasons for why you might not have been the one chosen that have nothing to do with you.

It’s also important to be happy for other people, even when that’s the last thing you feel. Earlier this year, three months after I’d been laid off by the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota, I applied for an internship at another paper in the region. My lease was up in a month and I knew i’d have to go back to DC if I didn’t land something, so I did everything I could to get it. I even offered to drive the couple hours to get there to meet everyone in person. I spoke with their editor, went on a ride along with one of their reporters, was given a tour of the city and the paper itself, and then met up with the editor again the next morning. I was so sure I was going to get the internship I even mentioned I was looking at apartments. I drove back home without an offer but was convinced I’d get one.

And then I didn’t. Instead I was told that they offered the internship to a college student.

Was I disappointed? Yes, deeply. but I also understood that it was going to be a great opportunity for the person getting it, even if that person wasn’t me. Iv’e had my opportunities, and this one was theirs. You might forget it sometimes, but you’re not entitled to anything no matter how skilled or qualified you might think you are. It’s important to be grateful for the things you’ve already been able to do and to be happy for the successes of others. Recognize that this is not a competition and that we really are all in this together. Yes, It’s okay to feel depressed and dejected at times. It happens. But you can’t let those feelings fester into sustained bitterness and resentment. It helps no one and only hurts you.

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Josh Morgan has a great series of images from his time spent covering the Dakota Access pipeline protests in Cannon Ball, N.D. You can see more of that work here

You might not change the world, but you can effect someone else’s.

There are plenty of images that come to mind as examples of imagery that moved many and reshaped public opinion; the Vietnam Napalm Girl, the Iwo Jima flag raising, the falling man on September 11th or the body of toddler Alan Kurdi on a turkish shore. The list goes on. We all hope to make such impactful images at some point in our lives, but really, the greatest gift that this profession has to offer is that it allows for the ability to make little differences each and every day, whether you’re starting your first entry level staff position, shooting a class assignment for school or just working on your portfolio.

And just because a certain assignment or subject may not matter to you doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter to someone else. That restaurant shoot? It means a lot to the owner of that restaurant who just opened and is trying to get people through the door. That charity organization profile? It means a lot to the people that have been doing their work for years without being publicly recognized. Another night shooting another high school football team? That team captain is carrying a copy of the paper to show his friends and his parents are sharing those photos on facebook. You have no idea how much of a difference you might be making, even with something as simple as sending someone a feature photo you took of them. For all you know they hadn’t received a photo of themselves in years. No matter what level you’re at, you have the ability to make this kind of difference every day. That’s something to aspire to, and that’s something to be really proud of.

I really hope you were able to gain something from this post. Feel free to post any questions or comments you might have, or send an email to craighudsonphoto@gmail.com. Thanks for reading.

Various working photographers whose work I admire in no particular order. Of course, the amount of photographers who’s work I admire is longer than this list, but for practical reasons I’m keeping it a reasonable length. 

Taylor Irby, Manhattan Mercury

Adria Malcolm, American Reportage

Josh Morgan, Greenville News

Caitlin Penna, North Carolina

Demetrius Freeman, NYC

Jabin Botsford, Washington Post

Josh Galemore, Casper Star-Tribune,

Jessica Christian, San Francisco Examiner

Brontë Wittpenn, Billings Gazette

Sam Owens, Evansville Courier & Press

Manuela Montañez Guerra, NYC & Bogota

Joe Ahlquist, Rochester Post-Bulletin

Matt Gade, The Daily Republic

Charles Mostoller, Philadelphia PA

James Tensuan, San Francisco, CA

Marcus Yam, Los Angeles Times

Dorothy Edwards, Naples Daily News.

Andrew J. Whitaker, Southeast Missourian

Alyssa Schukar, Chicago IL

Jake May, Flint Journal.

Matt Cohen. SF Bay Area

Scott Strazzante, San Francisco Chronicle. 

Stuart Palley. Southern California

Nic Antaya, Grand Rapids Press. 

Melanie Boyd, Mississippi

Jessica Lehrman, NYC

Kevin Hume, The Storyteller Studios

Joe Lamberti, The Courier-Post

Nicole Hester, Natchez Democrat

Angus Mordant. NYC

Alyse Young, Louisville, KT

Shaban Athuman, Bowling Green, KT

Dougal Brownlie, Colorado Springs Gazette

Zac Popik, Kent State

Eslah Attar, Kent State

Michael Noble Jr. NYC

Dominic Valente, The Daily Herald 

Chris Gregory, NYC

Ryan Michalesko, Southern Illinois

Logan Riely

Megan Farmer, KUOW Public Radio

Eli Hiller

Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press

CS Muncy

Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

 

From the Desk: Missing the Shot

From the Desk: Missing the Shot

 

It happens to all of us, more than we would probably like it to. You get an assignment with a brief description of the subject, sometimes it’s a person, place or event. Maybe you’ve already started visualizing the shot you want in your head, or maybe thats not your style. Either way, at some point in the assignment, wether its the moment you arrive, while you’re there or right as you’re leaving, you see the shot happen in front of you (or off to the side or somewhere else, you know what i mean) Whether it’s because you didn’t put yourself in the right position, choose the right lens, the right exposure or any of the other familiar obstacles and rookie mistakes

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like chimping. Stop it. Stop doing it. 

Whatever the reason, you miss it. And almost instantly you know, sometimes a few seconds after or even as the moment is still happening, that that moment was the picture. It’s not even a thought; it’s a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Obviously, you don’t just give up and walk away. You keep shooting the assignment and try your best for as long as you can. Maybe at the end you still come away with something that you’re proud of, and sometimes you don’t. either way, you think of that picture you didn’t get. Sometimes it bothers you more than you know it should and you beat yourself up about it, because when you pour so much of your energy, so much of your heart and soul into something, that “something” for better or worse becomes a part of you; how you see yourself, who you are. When that happens it’s hard to separate yourself from what you might look at as a failed assignment; to not fall into the trap of feeling like you are a failure because of it.

When that happens its important to remember that this whole thing is a marathon and not a race, that the missed moment can be a lesson learned so you won’t miss a more important one later, and that even the best of the best make mistakes too.

With that in mind, I thought I would share a couple of my more memorable experiences of not getting the shot; the could have been’s and never were’s. These aren’t good pictures, and that’s kind of the point.

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A hopelessly out of focus President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama walk on a blurry Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House. 

My immediate favorite when it comes to my screw ups, I was able to get a pass to cover Obama’s second inaugural parade. I got to the place relatively early, and was tipped off by an AP guy on the press riser that Obama would be getting out of the beast somewhere around 9th and Pennsylvania and walk for a couple blocks before getting back into it. I walked over to the space and saw a bench with no one on it. All I had to do was go sit on it and wait for awhile. But no, I didn’t feel like doing that. I went to get some food. By the time I got back it was a solid wall of people, and the bench, totally full. So as the Obama’s got out where the guy said they would, I had to hail mary it with an 80-200mm from the 90’s that already wasn’t good at focusing even when I was looking through the viewfinder. The results were predictable. I got nothing. I was so angry I left immediately and didn’t talk to anyone for a good 24 hours. It doesn’t bother me at all now; thousands of photos of the Obama’s were taken that day, but at the time it meant a lot to me.

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Elder Ronald Demery walks down the stairs after greeting congregants at the front door to give a sermon in the basement of Bibleway Temple.

Ever since this assignment iv’e done my best to get to places early (just assignments, i’m still working on that in my personal life) I was assigned to photograph a young pastor who was taking a leadership position in a very old and traditional church in DC. I got to the assignment right on time; and too late. Just as I was walking up I saw him greeting and hugging the last few people at the front door. I felt it right then and there that that was the photo I needed and that everything else I took would just be secondary. As much as i tried to make interesting pictures in the basement while he gave his sermon, my pictures (if I’m being generous) were just ok. I didn’t get another call from the Metro desk for a year.

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If this photo screams I have no Idea what i’m doing, you’re absolutely right!

I cringe every time I open the folder of this shoot. It’s so awful. This was my first portrait assignment for the SF Chronicle during my internship there, and I knew next to nothing about portraits. I had a lighting kit given to me, but I had no idea how to really use it. I was assigned to photograph a ballerina who had come all the way from France to perform/study in San Francisco. I was told I’d be shooting her while she practiced and to try and get a portrait of her as well. But there was a mixup with the timing and I actually got to the building as she was finishing practice. So I found myself desperately trying to look like I knew what I was doing shooting with no lights in the blaring afternoon sun. I was grasping for straws to the point that I told her to lay on the bush, because the bushes and design of the bars reminded me of Versailles and I figured that was reasonable enough. Considering how inept I was, she was incredibly gracious with her time and attitude. I walked back to the Chronicle and showed my miserable photos to Russell the photo editor, who asked me if I thought the photos were beautiful. When I said no he handed me back my laptop and said “well that’s what you have to do next time” before walking away.

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A police officer pulls an American flag from the hands of an occupier the morning after occupiers assembled a winter shelter in McPherson Square in downtown Washington.

This was back when the Occupy Movement was happening. The campers had just put up the “occubarn” in the early morning.

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I was going for an iwo-jima esque photo, which didn’t happen thanks in part to that dude who’s literally doing nothing

It’s not that good a picture, but I remember this being the first photo i took that really pissed me off when the officer just walked into the frame at the perfect time to mess it up.  Speaking of being in the frame.

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You know when your’e shooting a really touching and intimate story but theres that person there that just can’t help inserting themselves into every photo and you don’t really know how to tell them to get out of your shot without it getting awkward? 

Well it’s almost 4am here, and I know I have plenty of missed photos in my albums at work, so i’ll probably add more tomorrow when i can look through them.

 

From the Desk: 1 month; a retrospective

From the Desk: 1 month; a retrospective

It has been exactly one month since I started working at the Journal. So I wanted to share some of my images taken while on assignment and put down some thoughts I have had since starting…

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A group of women and their dogs wait to participate in a competition during the 2016 Rapid City Kennel Club Dog Show at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Friday afternoon.

Photojournalism is in some ways unlike any other job in the world, while in others it is like any other job. One of those things being that it’s very easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and become frustrated with yourself; what you are doing and where you are going.

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Julie Gilliland and Eli Hernandez practice reading during Denise McCormick’s kindergarten class at Badger Clark Elementary School in Box Elder on Tuesday afternoon. The Douglas School District Board of Education has approved a proposal to realign grades k-3, which has upset some parents.

While photojournalism is hands down the best career in the world and one that I wouldn’t trade for anything else, it doesn’t mean there aren’t days where I want to rip my hair out from dealing with the daily grind.

 

And what is the daily grind?

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The varsity boys cross country teams of local community high schools run at the start of the 2016 Region 5A Cross Country Meet at Rocky Knolls Golf Course in Custer.

 

The daily grind is a high school volleyball game and a minor league hockey game followed the next day by a city council meeting and a building dedication ceremony.

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Forwards Josh MacDonald and Ryan Walters wrestle the puck away from forward Travis Ewanyk during the Rapid City Rush’s match against the Idaho Steelheads at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center on Wednesday night.

The daily grind is running back and forth for an hour and a half on a football field in 35 degrees because both teams suck and won’t stop punting.

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Bonny Petersen and Leanna Bussell meditate to remain calm during a 2016 presidential election watch party for the democratic party in Pennington County at the Rushmore hotel in downtown Rapid City.

The daily grind is a person at a podium.

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Ellen Pinholt proposes the construction of a fenced-in dog park on Idlehurst lane in Rapid City to the Vision Fund Citizen Committee in the community room at city hall on Tuesday.

 

The daily grind is another high school volleyball game and a minor league hockey game, followed the next day by a photograph of an elementary school.

The daily grind is trying to make a storage unit and an exercising room look interesting.

The daily grind is being told about a really awesome assignment you’ll be doing the next morning then being told 30 minutes later that the paper is using handout photos instead.

The daily grind is waiting another hour to go home because the writer hasn’t got back to you yet about info you need for a caption and there’s a hornet that somehow got through two separate doors just to exclusively menace your desk.

The daily grind is two more high school volleyball games.

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Custer outside hitter Morgan Parys hits the ball during a match against the Hill City Rangers on Tuesday afternoon.

 

But sometimes…

The daily grind is running on a muddy field with rain and hail pouring down on you without a rain jacket using a safeway plastic bag to keep your camera dry and not caring because you know the photos will be great.

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Crusader Running back and Line Back Daveon Provost leads stretches during football practice at Red Cloud High School Wednesday afternoon.

 

The daily grind is getting up at 4:45 am to climb boulders in the dark and stand in 27 degrees waiting for the fog to clear just enough to get your picture.

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Mt. Rushmore is seen through clearing fog at sunrise from Iron Mountain road in the Black Hills in October.

The daily grind is hearing that people are keeping a copy of the newspaper in their car from that story you did on them to show other people.

The daily grind is having insightful conversations with people you’d otherwise never meet.

Maybe, the daily grind isn’t a grind at all. Maybe this job and every assignment is ultimately what you make of it. Granted, there are some assignments that will just suck no matter what you do. But you embrace them anyway. You work like hell to find that different angle; that something that will elevate a routine event into something that challenges you. Because you’re not OK with just doing OK…

I’d write more but I have a football game to go shoot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Eddie Adams Workshop.

About the Eddie Adams Workshop.

As you’ve probably already heard from anyone whose been before, the Eddie Adams workshop is a life changing experience. That’s not an exaggeration. The people you meet there are people that you’ll know for the rest of your life, and the experiences you have there will be memories you treasure for a long, long time. To be a part of it is a badge of honor that no one can ever take from you.

Iv’e always wanted to write a blog post about what i learned at Eddie Adams, but for now I want to share what advice I can offer from putting together a portfolio to how you can make the most of the experience. Some of this advice may be obvious, but I hope there will be something useful to you.

Iv’e attached my submitted portfolio and cover letter as a reference for anyone whose interested.

Cover Letter: EAWApplication

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Apply. Even if you don’t think you’ll get in. 

I was 18 and had been seriously persuing photojournalism for a little more than a year when I first applied to Eddie Adams. While I was coming along as a shooter, I didn’t think I was nearly at the level of others who I knew were applying. Despite that, I applied anyway. There’s no way to know whether or not you’ll get in, but I would say $50 dollars for the chance is worth it.

Even if you aren’t selected as one of the 100 students, there’s still a chance for you to go. In addition to the 100 selects, the workshop also designates an additional six people to be on standby as alternates in the event that one or more of the 100 selected are unable to attend. It may not sound like much of a chance, but it’s the reason I was able to go.

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Photo Editors want to see how you see.

To put that into perspective, my friend and former fellow SF Chronicle intern Kevin Hume (whose now working as a full time shooter at Klamath Falls, go Kevin!) asked one of the Chronicle photo staffers if they had any advice for us interns. As I remember it, she said to him “A lot of interns make the mistake of shooting how they think the photo editors want them to shoot. Don’t do that. They chose you because they liked the way you see. They want you. So shoot how you shoot”.

To place that thinking in the mindset of portfolios; I was getting my portfolio reviewed at one of NPPA’s annual photojournalism seminars, and during one review with a senior photo editor, he said to me “Every year we have our summer internship program, and out of the applicants we’ll get 30 to 50 or so portfolios from people at (insert respected institutions here)  and to be honest, I often can’t tell any of them apart”

The point I’m trying to make is how important it is not to only show your best work, but to show work that best represents you. We all have cameras; it’s how we see that sets us apart.

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Have diversity in your portfolio, but not just for diversity’s sake

While having a portfolio that displays your shooting versatility is great, it’s important to not fall into the trap of creating a “look i can shoot (insert subject here)” portfolio. Case in point: A friend of mine was looking through my portfolio some time after the workshop, and he stopped on a photo that I thought was good because it had been published on the front of a large prestigious newspaper. I told him why it was in there, only for him to ask me “beyond showing me that you can shoot lightning, what else does this show me about your work?”. Not enough to justify keeping it in my portfolio.

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Share your portfolio with teachers and others you look up to

Get as much input as you can from others. Photographers rarely make good self-editors, and others will show you aspects of your work that you may not have even been aware of.

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Take lots of pictures & Bring a recorder.

How many times have you heard a great piece of advice during a lecture or were told something really encouraging from someone at a portfolio review, only to not quite be able to remember what was said even a few weeks later? I started making recordings of lectures as far back as EAW, some of which i still have for anyone whose interested (id attach them here but my free plan won’t let me).I’d highly recommend bringing a recorder of some kind like an H4n so you can work the levels to where your sitting in the room during lectures, but if worse comes to worse the recorder on your phone is better than nothing.

Seriously, Soak up every moment as best as you possibly can.

Be strategic!

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Check out the list of people who will be participating at the workshop. Check out their bios,their photos and their particular styles. The more you know about who will be there, the better you’ll be at knowing who you’ll want to direct some of your questions to. Also, Knowing who’s who at the workshop in advance will serve you when it’s time for portfolio reviews, making your task of choosing who you want to be reviewed by a lot less agonizing.

Take advantage of the portfolio reviews

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Again, obvious. But at 18 I wish I had taken more advantage of them. Also, just because your given a fixed number of allotted review times doesn’t actually mean you can’t have any more reviews than that. If there’s someone you really want to have look at your portfolio, wait until they’re done reviewing or approach them somewhere else. Remember that they’re at the workshop for you! Which leads into the next thing…

Don’t be Shy!

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There are so many opportunities throughout the weekend for you to not only make connections with photographers and editors you emulate and admire, but to make friends with your fellow students! Even just asking people if you can look at their portfolio goes a long way. Seriously, the best takeaway there is from this workshop is the friendships you make there.

Plan on getting very little sleep.

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This one may go without saying, but whatever keeps you going; cigarettes, caffeine pills, red bull, whatever, make sure to bring a decent stock of it. By the 3rd morning you’ll be hearing things like “you got 4 hours of sleep? wow, good for you!” official workshop activities last until the late evening, and afterwards everyone hits the bar to socialize. It’s a great opportunity to talk with some of the people you’ve always looked up to in a casual setting, and again, getting to know your fellow students.