Advice for Aspiring Photojournalists: Part II

Advice for Aspiring Photojournalists: Part II

Four years ago, I put out my first post for aspiring photojournalists. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time, and I was both humbled and grateful to see the post shared by many and to hear from those who messaged me their appreciation for the things I had to say. A lot has happened since then, and I wanted to share what other pieces of advice that I have learned over the last four years; as well as some things I left out in my previous post. As with the last one, It’s my hope that something I’ve written here is of some help or encouragement. 

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There’s more than one way into a building than the front door. 

While some conventional avenues remain, there’s no real “path” in this industry. It’s not like becoming a doctor or a lawyer in which you go to law or medical school, do a residency or make the bar and then bam, you’re a lawyer or a doctor. Ask anyone whose working in this industry how they got to where they are, and most likely you’ll hear a different story every time.

I first got my start with the Washington Post when I was photographing the emerging “Occupy Wall St” protests that were spreading across the country- including Washington DC. I sold my first photo to the Post in late 2011 after a few protesters were injured by a car, and would continue to send in images until finally I was given my first formal assignment; covering the camp on a night some believed the camp would be taken down by park police. Shortly after however, the camp was finally removed, and essentially all contact with the Post had stopped. I wanted to continue making the connections I was making, but knew I wasn’t at a professional level that I could apply for an internship with them or expect calls for other assignments. I asked my college professor at the time Bob Reeder, who was a former staff photographer at the Post, for his advice. On my behalf he sent off an email to then-DOP Michel du Cille, who suggested that I apply for a position as a newsroom copy aide-which I did shortly after. I eventually received a callback once an opening occurred, and began working there in June 2012. I worked as a copy aide for almost two years; sorting mail, delivering morning papers to the various news desks, keeping the newsroom printers stocked and other various basic tasks. In short, it was the most entry level position possible at the paper. But through that job I was able to get a true glimpse of how newsrooms operated and get to know the photographers, reporters and editors on a face-to-face basis, and soon, I began receiving assignments from various desks for everything from covering the opening of bars and Batalá performers to Local Living profiles and the annual doggy day swim in DC’s public pools. It’s unlikely that I would have ever had the amount of opportunities that I did with the Post had I not worked there initially as a copy aide.

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Understand what you’re getting into.

While I am no less hopeful over the future of photojournalism, it isn’t easy. It’s important to accept the possibility of taking a job in this field only to find yourself out of one within a year. While I now work as a freelancer, I have worked as a staffer for two newspapers, and was laid off from both. The newspaper industry has been shrinking for many years now, and while the largest publications will most likely continue to survive, local news outlets will continue to suffer layoffs and consolidation into the future. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities. There are still groups across social media such as Facebook that continue to post up new job opportunities and internships every way. Despite the beating that the industry has taken over the last couple decades, there are STILL ways to make it work. 

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There’s no shame in having a day job or doing side gigs.

Because of this reality, there aren’t many photojournalists left that can still make a living completely off of purely editorial work. Many supplement their income with commercial work such as events, weddings, corporate headshots, assisting other photographers, teaching classes or conducting workshops. While some get lucky, it takes a lot of time to reach a point of total self sufficiency through freelance-and that’s okay! Doing whatever you can to get to that point doesn’t make you any less of a photojournalist in any way. You’re a photojournalist whether you work every day, once a week or once a month. The time between each assignment doesn’t detract from your skills and experience.  I’ve been a photojournalist for over ten years, and it’s only been in the last six months that I’ve made it to the point that I can work as a freelancer full-time. While doing all the freelance jobs I could for the Washington Post from 2012-2014, I was working in their newsroom as a copy aide. When I returned to DC from my internship with the San Francisco Chronicle, I eventually took a job at my favorite camera shop ProPhoto in 2015, and worked there while doing whatever assisting and other commercial gigs that I could until I moved to take a staff position at the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota in 2016, and in 2017, the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia. When I was laid off from the Gazette-Mail in 2019, I moved back to DC and returned to work at ProPhoto to pay my rent and other bills while slowly getting back into freelancing until being furloughed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a mix of unemployment insurance and the steadily increasing amount of freelance work I received throughout the dumpster fire of a year that was 2020, I was able to stay on my feet. It’s only this year that I’ve finally been able to make the jump to full time freelance, and I still take on all the side gigs I can. 

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Place yourself in an area that isn’t already saturated with media.

Working in smaller markets will often give you vital experience in the abc’s of being a working photojournalist, as well as grant you a perspective of areas of the country that you may not have had before working solely in major cities. Additionally, There is a stereotype that to be successful one should be in a major metropolitan area. That may have been the case before the age of social media, when the range of how far local stories would travel typically went as far as the local daily’s circulation. This is no longer the case. I was in South Dakota as the Dakota Access Pipeline protest in neighboring North Dakota  was at its peak; a story unfolding as far away as can be from any major metro area. I often wonder if that story would have become as big as it did had it occurred over 20 years ago before social media made it possible to see things happening in real time from every corner of the planet. And about 8 months into my time at the Charleston Gazette-Mail in the Spring of 2018, teachers and school personnel across all 55 counties of West Virginia went on a statewide strike. The state capitol was teeming with striking teachers and school personnel pressuring state legislators and the governor to meet their demands. Their eventual success was the beginning of a wave of education strikes that would spread across the nation.  As a staffer for the local paper, I did everything to cover it as best as I could, and because my apartment was directly across the street from the state capitol, I was often there past my daily work schedule. 

Like many other newspapers, the Charleston Gazette-Mail had a contract for sharing content with wire services-in our case, the Associated Press. Because of this, my work was immediately distributed all over the place-landing in many of the nation’s major publications both online and in print. I’m quite sure that my images would never had had that level of use across media outlets if such a major news event were to happen in a media-saturated region like, New York, Washington DC or California. I’d just be another contributor in a very large pool of shooters, and so the amount of my work distributed would be drastically diluted simply by the amount of other content provided by others. It’s because I was providing images on a daily basis from an area in which there were so few photographers that my work was so widely distributed, and it was also as this was happening that I started hearing from publications that I had never worked for, such as Politico Magazine, Huffpost, AP and ProPublica

Publications will hire freelancers especially in areas that are typically outside of their range, as the cost of hiring a freelancer is typically lower than the cost of expenses of sending one of their own staffers. If you find yourself in the interview process for a staff position, make a point of finding out whether or not you will have the ability to do freelance work for other outlets while still working your staff position. I deeply value the fact that my paper allowed me to do so.  

Lastly, I’m grateful for my time in West Virginia because of the many things that it taught me. Among other things that there’s far more to a place than mere first impressions or what you may have heard from someone else, which is why it’s so important that local news outlets continue to provide the vital coverage that they do in these areas. The things that happen in small communities are no less deserving of our attention and efforts than those in larger ones. Media is an ecosystem, and much of what eventually reaches the headlines of major outlets begin life as a headline in a local paper after a lot of digging by journalists working in their own communities daily. You may not know their names, but we all benefit from their work. 

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Know what to ask when you have that interview. 

It’s important that you have questions ready for the editors if given the opportunity of an interview. This will save you time and misunderstandings later. For example, While I was still at my paper in South Dakota in 2016, I decided to accompany another reporter to cover the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline protest in North Dakota-while I was off the clock. Unfortunately, this act was not received well by the paper itself, and subsequently upon my return I was told that, for various reasons, no photos that I took while off the clock would ever be published in the paper.  Because this was a fundamental issue for me, I realized that I should have discussed this with the paper prior to being hired. In any case, I made sure to put this question to the editors in my interview with what would become my next paper in West Virginia. And again I repeat- ask whether or not there is a clause in the hiring contract against working on assignment for other publications-as is common with certain publishers. 

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Don’t  be afraid to say no.

Given the state of the industry, a lot of us may feel tempted to accept a job or internship in a place we don’t want to be. When every job or internship seems to have a host of applicants, the idea that someone might choose to refuse a solid opportunity anyway may seem strange.

In 2016 after graduating college I applied for and was eventually offered a six month internship at an MLIVE publication in Michigan. For various reasons, I changed my mind and turned down. Since then, I’ve now seen other people take on stints at that location who have done a fantastic job; making great work and learning a lot. I have the feeling that my path would have taken a very different turn had I chosen it. However, there were factors at play in my life at the time that ultimately led me to choose to not do it. It wasn’t an easy decision, and it’s one that I admittedly felt quite a bit of guilt for after the fact. In an industry in which many opportunities are fleeting with many people vying for each one, it almost feels downright arrogant to turn one down. 

But If something isn’t for you, then it isn’t for you. It’s better that that opportunity go to someone who really wants it vs someone lukewarm about it. Regardless of how dire the overall situation of the industry may appear at times, new opportunities still arise. Had I taken that position, I never would have moved to South Dakota to work at the Rapid City Journal; nor would I have had the experiences I had or made the friendships I made as a consequence. It could have been that once the internship ended that I immediately took on another internship or position elsewhere, perhaps ensuring that I would never have applied to the position at the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, and subsequently, arrived back in DC as I did. 

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Getting the shot is only part of it. 

You can be doing this for over 10 years, and still make basic mistakes-the misplaced card reader, the memory card that you forgot to format, the low battery you forgot to recharge or forgetting to clean the dust spots off your sensor that show up in a published photo. Mistakes will be made, and it’s important to do everything that you can to prepare and ensure that they happen as seldom as possible. I may have learned to be consistent and minimize the number of times they happen, but I admittedly only learned how to do things consistently right by consistently doing them all wrong first. Missed deadlines, caption mistakes, arriving late-you can be the best photojournalist in the world, but none of that matters if you can’t get in the photos on time or place the wrong name to someone’s face in a photo caption one too many times. Do it once and you may get an earful from a disgruntled editor, do it more times and you may not get called back for another assignment. The details and little things add up, and matter just as much as the photos you actually take. Arrive early whenever possible to both allow yourself time to get familiar with the setting, and to find good people that you can not only make images of but offer to the reporter as sources if you’re working with one. For editing quickly and submitting; image presets in camera raw, as well as metadata templates for your images and setting up code replacements in Photomechanic beforehand will save you a lot of time-especially when working assignments like sports. Make it a routine to unpack your cameras, place your batteries in chargers and format your memory cards once you’re done at the end of each assignment. Creating for yourself a consistent workflow is one of the best things that you can do for yourself and ensure you keep getting called back for that next assignment.

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Pitching stories: Inspiration comes from all kinds of places. 

I want to write a post dedicated just to pitching, but it’s worth writing a small section about here for now. For most of my career thus far, pitching stories was something I was terrible at. As much as I loved reading them, I couldn’t come up with my own to save my life. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve realized that a lot fo times, story ideas can come from many places; whether that’s passing by something interesting and taking a moment to walk up and ask some questions, or even from just some google searches at home.

As an example, last year in Spring 2020, I was looking for places where I could go and take some nice landscape photos outside of DC. On one of my searches I just happened to come across Tangier Island, VA; a small, constantly receding island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay; home to a small community of watermen who still made their living off of their catches in the Chesapeake. Tourism accounted for the rest of the Island’s income-which was at that time completely frozen with all tourism ferries halting operations and the local businesses that catered to such tourists closed down. After doing a little more reading, it was easy to see why. With such a tight-nit community; one with many older folks particularly vulnerable to the virus, an outbreak on the island could’ve potentially had dire consequences. As there was an ongoing debate about balancing public safety with keeping the economy afloat, I thought that Tangier’s situation could serve as an example of how certain communities are approaching the pandemic. I pitched it around to various outlets before eventually pitching it to the DOP at HuffPost, who was happy to pick up the story. I ended up staying two days on the island making photos and subsequently helped co-write the feature piece.

What started as me just looking for places to escape to turned into a successfully pitched and executed story. Just as I had mentioned in my previous post of looking to your other photographic interests to inform how you approach your style of photojournalism, look inward to what other interests outside of photojournalism you may have to help inform and serve the stories that you may ultimately pitch. 

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Trust the Process: Don’t be discouraged or lose hope when life takes a turn that sets you back.

I laid this out more in detail in a previous post, but It’s worth writing about here as well. In the summer of 2014 I was riding high-at least I thought so. I had spent the last two years freelancing for the Washington Post, had attended the Eddie Adams Workshop, and had just finished an internship with the San Francisco Chronicle-all by the age of 21. But while things may have looked good for me on paper, I was personally spiraling downward. I had only just finished my internship when I was arrested and convicted for drunk driving. 

The damage I did to myself and my career was undeniable. For over a year I had no drivers license. My freelance work dried up completely by the time I got back to DC, and rather than working at another paper as I had hoped to do the following summer of 2015, I was instead being driven by my parents to community service and the DMV to do group classes and counseling in order to get my license back. Even after getting it back, the damage I inflicted on myself continued to show. A year later upon finishing college I was accepted to an internship at a paper in Ohio, only to have the acceptance rescinded a few weeks before I moved there-the paper’s HR citing my DUI arrest as grounds for doing so. I then applied to an internship at a paper in Virginia, and was told shortly after that, while I was their first choice, they would ultimately have to refuse for the same reason. I felt absolutely helpless about my situation, and, given that I had now graduated and was facing the prospect of soon not being eligible for most internships due to no longer being a student, I was desperate. Around this time, I heard back from the editor who would eventually be my boss at the Rapid City Journal. I had applied to a staff position there a short while ago before being told that they had enacted a hiring freeze, and the editor was messaging me to let me know that the freeze had ended, and to ask if I was still interested in the position. I told him that I was, but was also upfront about my recent history in order to spare myself another protracted rejection should it prove disqualifying. Thankfully, because that was the only offense on my record, I was told I would still be eligible, and soon after I moved to South Dakota in late 2016 to take the job. While I was only there for four months before being laid off, it gave me the opportunity to press a reset on my career after more than two years of no freelance work whatsoever, set me up to take my staff position in West Virginia and ultimately, be where I am today. 

I share all of this because life is never a straight line. There are highs and lows, and sometimes, the lows are so deep that you may come to doubt whether or not you’ll ever be able to overcome them. But I promise you, for however long it may take, you WILL overcome them. There was a gap of five and a half years between my last freelance assignment I did in DC and my first upon returning in fall of 2019. Two years later, I’m grateful to be in a very different place career wise.

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The most important people you can get to know are your fellow photogs. 

While it is important to network and get yourself on the radar of editors you may want to work for, the majority of new clients I have ever received were a direct result of another photographer that I know recommending me when they themselves were unable to do whatever assignment the editor called them about. This is a community, and it’s to your benefit and the benefit of those you associate with to work together as often as possible. Not only because doing so will be helpful to your career in the long-term, but even more so because we are a community of some really talented and wonderful people. I’m grateful for the many friends I’ve made throughout my career thus far. So what are some ways that you can go about doing that? 

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Workshops, Seminars and Portfolio Reviews.

The thing that makes workshops great aren’t the speakers, the lessons or even the portfolio reviews; helpful as they may be. It’s the opportunity to meet people who are in the same boat as you are; either just starting out and unsure as to how to move forward or someone whose reached a plateau in their career. There are a number of great workshops and seminars that happen every year, whether that’s NPPA’s Northern Short Course, the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, The Missouri Photo Workshop, The Mountain Workshop, The Eddie Adams Workshop, The Image Deconstructed Workshop, or WPOW’s annual portfolio review in Washington DC. I’ve attended all but the Mountain Workshop at least once, and each time I came away not only with new knowledge and valuable insight into my own work through reviews, but also with new friends-fellow photogs who are also doing everything they can to navigate this industry and be part of it all. 

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There will be ups and downs, and that’s okay!

No matter what level you’re at, inevitably you’re going to go through periods of having lots of work to having little to none at all. It happens to all of us, and there’s nothing abnormal about it. Nonetheless, the more days that pass by without any phone calls, that feeling of imposter syndrome may grow a little bit more and more. I promise you that another phone call is coming, and it’s going to pass. It always does at some point. 

If you’ve made it to the end of this post, I thank you for taking the time to read it. I hope that there is something in it that has been helpful in some way to you. I Intend to write another one soon dealing more directly with tackling assignments themselves geared more towards those just starting out, and I’m looking forward to that. 

Craig H

From the Desk: Notes and thoughts on one year in West Virginia

From the Desk: Notes and thoughts on one year in West Virginia

It’s now been a year and two months since I moved to West Virginia.

When I accepted the job at the Gazette-Mail, I was almost a month into living in my best friend’s loft in DC after moving back from South Dakota; where I worked at the Rapid City Journal for four months before being suddenly laid off. Other than Harpers Ferry, I’d spent no time in West Virginia. “why are you here!?” was a common question. Admittedly, the first time I visited Charleston, I wasn’t impressed. From the height of its population of eighty thousand in the 60’s, the city count barely scratched fifty thousand now, and that number showed itself in the numerous closed storefronts and vacant lots that lined the streets. With the exception of Capitol street, every other one seemed like a random mishmash of drab office buildings and parking garages. I liked my apartment well enough, but I knew it’d take some time for me to warm up to this place.

In a city where the median age is 39, making friends in my age bracket hasn’t been easy. Thankfully, that has changed as of recently, and I’m the happiest I’ve been since I moved here. The scene continues to get brighter as new restaurants, cafes, bars and other businesses pop up around town. I’ve made some great friends, and only grown more comfortable here as time has gone on. Meanwhile, West Virginia itself is undeniably beautiful. I’ve swam in more creeks and rivers and done more hiking here then any other place I’ve lived. Nature surrounds you everywhere, and there are few places in the entire country more beautiful than West Virginia in the fall; when the entire state turns into a sea of gold and crimson.

All too often states like West Virginia are depicted in extremely simplistic stereotypes; coal, trump country, moonshine etc. A lot of people would probably be surprised to learn that the coal industry makes up less than 3% of the state workforce, whereas other sectors of the state economy such as healthcare and tourism combined make up over 26%. While it’s true that all 55 counties of West Virginia voted for Trump in the 2016 election, it’s also true that all 55 counties voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. More than that, Democrats dominated state politics for generations. It’s only been over the past 20 years or so that West Virginia’s legislature has flipped to a republican majority. Moonshining was popular in West Virginia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but moonshine has since been legalized and sold as a commercial product. Marijuana growing has long replaced moonshine as the illicit product of choice in West Virginia, with cash flows far more lucrative to its cultivators than moonshining ever brought to its distillers.

Despite a steady stream of stories that come out of here that focus on the things you’d expect to be covered here, the truth is West Virginia is not the backwards, poverty stricken hell hole it’s often made out to be. West Virginia is a complicated state, with a history that is complex and deeply misunderstood. This isn’t to say this state doesn’t have major problems; Near-colonial exploitation of the state’s natural resources for generations by out of state entities that cared little for what collateral damage they inflicted on the land and people, A drug epidemic fueled in part by pharmaceutical companies that flooded West Virginia with prescription drugs, a steady exodus of young people, lack of opportunities, poor education and infrastructure from lack of proper funding. longstanding political corruption that makes a lot of other state governments look saintly in comparison. The list could surely go on.

But I’ve also met a lot of amazing people here; people who love this state and do their best every day to make it better. For each person that may pine for the “good old days”, there’s another person eager to look to a future beyond the resource dependent, boom-bust cycle economy that the state has largely relied on for much its 155 years of existence. I’ve also seen some pretty amazing things. Thousands of teachers across all counties in the state converged for weeks at the capitol demanding higher wages and a stable state health insurance program; a victory that has turned into a movement across the country. 4th and 5th grade students giving presentations to their classmates about everything from ways of solving the opioid crisis to alternative energies, 3d printers and more. People who’ve started farmers markets and greenhouses to alleviate the food deserts that plague the state. People who left the state and came back to open businesses and help their communities grow. I’ve learned a lot living here, and I’m glad I made the decision to do so. I thought i’d end this post with a small gallery of photos in no particular order dedicated to the people who make up West Virginia and give it the spirit it has.

I hope the reader understands, even just a little, that there’s a lot more to West Virginia then what you’ve read or heard. Thanks for reading!

2017: The year in pictures.

2017: The year in pictures.

If you just want to look at pictures, scroll down.

For me, I look back on three important things this year. Experiencing the landscape of the West, becoming an honorary West Virginian, and the further embracing  of my visual style. The first one happened rather unintentionally. While I had explored the surrounding region of the Black Hills and Badlands to a certain extent, my work hours prevented me from venturing too far out. Once I got over the initial shock of being laid off I began thinking of all the places I’d been meaning to go to. In those few months I made my way to Montana, Eastern Idaho, Western Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and other closer but still important areas. I still struggle to describe the feelings invoked by the landscape there, everything from its vastness to how light seems to dance across it. I think about that land often and wish I could go back there even for a short time. It never felt like I was in just another part of the states, rather it truly felt like a world unto itself.

Eventually, after being unemployed for four months and living off of my severance,  unemployment insurance and tax returns, I moved back to DC and took back my old job at ProPhoto and applied for jobs while crashing at my best friend’s place. On a facebook job page, I saw an opening for a staff photography position at the Gazette-Mail in Charleston; West Virginia’s capital and largest city. With the exception of Harper’s Ferry and a night trip to Shepherdstown, I had never stepped foot in West Virginia. However, I have always been interested in places that hold ideas and assumptions in the American psyche; places that everyone seems to have an opinion about without ever really having been there. Since taking the job nearly six months ago, I have visited many areas of the state and gotten to know the people who call this place home. I can thankfully say that i’ve only come to enjoy this place more as time has gone on. Yes, West Virginia has plenty of problems and issues it has yet to overcome, but this place has plenty of good in it too, and a lot of people who care deeply for its future.

Lastly, and what has personally meant the most to me, has been the overwhelmingly positive response I have received from people here regarding my more artistic images; specifically my long exposures. Long exposures were the very thing that made me fall in love with photography in the first place; a creative method that could take a scene or moment in front of you and reveal so much more than our immediate senses could perceive. Admittedly, it had been a long time since I had regularly taken long exposures (one of my biggest regrets this year being that I didn’t take nearly as many long exposures in South Dakota as I should have). I decided to take it up again as a means of showing West Virginia from a different take, and the amount of enthusiasm with which my paper has embraced those kinds of images coupled with the responses I have received from others have motivated the hell out of me to shoot, shoot and shoot more. It’s been awhile since i’ve felt so compeltely energized, and I think great things are around the corner for 2018.

So here are, in no particular order, my favorite images from 2017.

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Ruben Moya is shrouded behind plastic sheeting while making his way through construction inside the Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral, which is undergoing extensive renovations. Charleston, W.V., on November 02, 2017.

Snowy Day along Capitol Street. Charleston, W.V.
Snowy Day along Capitol Street. Charleston, W.V.

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Fairgoers are reflected in a puddle at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.

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From left, Ana Collins, Ania Jones, Asan Jones and Joshua Gray cool off at the Magic Island splash pad in Charleston,W.V., on Wednesday, June 28, 2017.

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Ballet dancers are seen in a long exposure during a performance of The Nutcracker at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences in Charleston on Wednesday, December 07, 2017. The production, with performances scheduled for December 08-09th, is put on by the Charleston Ballet Company with dancers from the Columbia Classical Ballet and the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra

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Mountaineer Challenge Academy students move past a mural drawn onto a canvas on the wall in the dining room area at the Governor’s Mansion in Charleston, W.Va., on Tuesday, December 05, 2017.

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A herd of bison roam through snowy fields inside the 777 Bison Ranch in Hermosa. The ranch prides itself on raising their bison completely grass-fed.

Passing storm over farmlands Southeast of Columbia Falls, MT.
Passing storm over farmlands Southeast of Columbia Falls, MT.

Pinnacle Buttes, Shoshone Wilderness. Wyoming.
Pinnacle Buttes, Shoshone Wilderness. Wyoming.

Grist Mill. Babcock State Park. West Virginia
Grist Mill. Babcock State Park. West Virginia

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Judy Blough of Montana gives a kiss to a stallion named Felix the cat at the 40th annual Black Hills Stock Show inside Rushmore Plaza Civic Center on Friday afternoon.

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The setting sun casts shadows of parents and students lining the fence during the Hurricane-Cabell Midland soccer game as part of the Class AAA Region 3, Section 1 soccer finals at Hurricane High School on Wednesday, October 18, 2017. Taken on assignment for the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

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Alan Withrow of Poca jumps to block Josh Hoffman during a half court game outside of the Nitro High School football stadium during the Wildcats game against the Poca Dots on August 25, 2017 in Nitro, W.V.

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Dancers are reflected in a mirror lining the wall inside the Charleston Ballet studio during a master class on modern ballet in Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday, June 22, 2017.

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Arika Jayne of Alderson gives some attention to a pig at the State Fair of West Virginia in Lewisburg, W.V., on Wednesday, August 16, 2017.

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Kylie Robinson, forefront, covers her ears as police cars wail their sirens during the third, “Operation Citation” at the Dunbar United Methodist Church in Dunbar, W.Va., on Tuesday, November 28, 2017. Created by the Charleston Police Department Traffic Division, ‚”Operation Citation” honored four Girl Scouts this evening.

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Hurricane players celebrate going into overtime during the George Washington Patriots-Hurricane Redskins football game at George Washington High School in Charleston on Friday, October 27, 2017.

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fall foliage dots the landscape as the girls cross country run is underway during the MSAC Championship at Cedar Lakes in Ripley, W.V., on October 11, 2017.

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West Chester University Goalkeeper Matt Palmer falls to his knees after University of Charleston Defender Armando Tikvic scores a goal to bring the score up to 2-0 during the UC-West Chester soccer game as part of the NCAA Division II tournament’s Round of 16 at Schoenbaum Field in Charleston, W.V., on November 16, 2017. UC would hold the score at 0-2 and advance to play Cal Poly Pomona in Kansas City.

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Charleston Catholic Forward Jordan Keener, right, celebrates with teammates Mills Mullen, center, and Elizabeth Rushworth after scoring a goal against Byrd High School as Eagles Defender Lura Simons collapses to the ground in agony after failing to block Keener’s kick during the Charleston Catholic-Robert C. Byrd soccer game as part of the State Soccer Championships at the YMCA Paul Cline Memorial Youth Sports Complex in Beckley, W.V., on November 04, 2017.

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Hudson Swafford hides his face after missing a putt on the 12th green at the Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs. W.V., on Saturday, July 08, 2017.

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From right, David Thompson, Scott Ratliff, Angel Staten, Greg Miranda, Mike Otter, Paul Nemeth and Tim Bolen of the IATSE Local 369 bring down a large American flag after President Trump’s political rally at the Big Sandy Superstore arena in Huntington, W.V., on Thursday, August 03, 2017.

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From left, James Davis of Huntington, Garry Pauley of Charleston and Donna Childers of Huntington wait for the start of Pres. Trump’s political rally inside the Big Sandy Superstore arena in Huntington, W.V., on Thursday, August 03, 2017.

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Violet Jones, 3, checks out the carved pumpkins at the Kenova Pumpkin House in Kenova, W.V., on Halloween night, October 31, 2017.

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Dusk over New River Gorge.

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Johnny “Tarzan” Copley of Salt Lake City base jumps while dressed as a unicorn during the 40th annual Bridge Day on the New River Gorge bridge in Fayetteville, W.V., on Saturday, October 21, 2017.

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Brigette Madden does a solo act during a rehearsal of “CLASSIC, COUNTRY AND ROCK ‘n ROLL.” by the Charleston Ballet at the Civic Center Little Theater in Charleston, W.Va., on Tuesday, October 17, 2017.

John Amos Power Plant from across the Kanawha River. Poca, WV
The John E. Amos coal-fired power plant operates Sunday night on the banks of the Kanawha River. The plant was upgraded to meet new environmental regulation standards by 2015. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump is attempting to roll back the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

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Evening commute on I-64. Charleston, W.V.

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Crowds of people gaze and snap photos of totality during the great American eclipse in Greenville, SC., on Monday, August 21, 2017.

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Runners begin at the Capitol building for the Charleston Distance Run in Charleston, W.V., on Saturday, September 02, 2017.

at Dolly Sods on Sunday, September 24, 2017.
Dairy Queen. Buckhannon, W.V.

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Dunk a Wench. Maryland Renaissance Fair.

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Cunningham Memorial Park is alight in a sea of candles late Saturday night in St. Alban

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Lights from a house are illuminated in fog that blankets the road ahead under a starry sky somewhere around routes 39 or 28.

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Truck lights frame a house in this long exposure taken in the town of Daily along the Seneca Trail.

 

November: The Month in Photos.

November: The Month in Photos.
I’m about a week or so away from hitting the 6-month mark of my time in West Virginia, and I think November has been the first month where i’ve started getting a grasp on this state and no longer feel like an outsider. I’ve been here long enough now to already have made some good memories and long enough to decorate my desk! That being said, November was also a good month for photos. I think I’ve shot more sports (football, soccer, basketball) in the last month or two than I have for the past 12 months combined, but I’ve also shot a decent amount of other subjects. This month I started incorporating single or multiple on-location lighting setups and hope to use them to better effect this coming month. Considering how dark it’s going to be I’m sure I’ll find a time to. Lastly, If you know me even a little, you know how passionate I am about long exposures, and i’ve been blown away by the overwhelmingly positive responses i’ve recieved from people regarding my long exposures for the Gazette-Mail. The photos that have been published so far have been photos taken on my own time for the fun of it, and to know that the publication i’m working for appreciates and embraces the use of those images means a lot. One other thing i’ll mention that was great this month was I got to volunteer at the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar. I’d like to thank Kevin, Ted, Michael and all the others who’ve been incredibly kind to me and made my time volunteering there a great experience. 

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Ruben Moya is shrouded behind plastic sheeting while making his way through construction inside the Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral, which is undergoing extensive renovations. Charleston, W.V., on November 02, 2017.

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Kylie Robinson, forefront, covers her ears as police cars wail their sirens during the third, “Operation Citation” at the Dunbar United Methodist Church in Dunbar, W.Va., on Tuesday, November 28, 2017. Created by the Charleston Police Department Traffic Division, ‚”Operation Citation” honored four Girl Scouts this evening.

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Returning from deployment overseas, members of the 130th Airlift Wing disembark from their plane in a steady rain at McLaughlin Air National Guard Base in Charleston, W.V., on November 07, 2017.

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Patrick Berry greets his children Joshua, 11, Lily, 8, Brianna, 5, and Nathan, 3, during a homecoming ceremony for members of the 130th Airlift Wing who deployed earlier this summer overseas at McLaughlin Air National Guard Base in Charleston, W.V., on November 07, 2017.

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Gwyn Napier of Altered Fashionistas walks the stage during the Recycle Fashion Show at the Charleston Town Center Mall in Charleston, W.V., on November 18, 2017.

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Addison Jones, center, and Vanessa Morris, right, wait their turn to walk the stage during the Recycle Fashion Show at the Charleston Town Center Mall in Charleston, W.V., on November 18, 2017.

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Bud Sears rocks a baby inside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston, W.V., on November 06, 2017. Sears has been volunteering in the Unit for 3 years, working six hours a day for three days a week.

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Mary Kathren Robinson, longtime Administrator for the Hubbard Hospice House in Charleston, W.V., pauses in front of the memory tree, which is filled with the names of those who have passed on in the care of the hospice house. Robinson will be retiring at the end of the year.

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Attendees are reflected in a glass door during the inaugural Good Jobs conference at Tamarack in Beckley, W.V., on November 08, 2017.

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Benjamin Ryan Taylor leaves the Jackson County Courthouse after his pre-trial hearing in Ripley, W.V., on November 01, 2017. Taylor is accused of sexually assaulting his girlfriend’s 10 month old child who later died from injuries incurred during the assault.

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UC Midfielder Ross Holland high fives UC supporters after UC’s victory over LIU Post in Charleston, W.V., on November 18, 2017 for the right to play in the NCAA Final Four of men’s soccer.

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WCU Goalkeeper Matt Palmer falls to his knees after UC Defender Armando Tikvic scores a goal to bring the score up to 2-0 during the UC-West Chester soccer game as part of the NCAA Division II tournament’s Round of 16 at Schoenbaum Field in Charleston, W.V., on November 16, 2017.

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Charleston Catholic Forward Jordan Keener, right, celebrates with teammates Mills Mullen, center, and Elizabeth Rushworth after scoring a goal against Byrd High School as Eagles Defender Lura Simons collapses to the ground in agony after failing to block Keener’s kick during the Charleston Catholic-Robert C. Byrd soccer game as part of the State Soccer Championships at the YMCA Paul Cline Memorial Youth Sports Complex in Beckley, W.V., on November 04, 2017.

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Hurricane High School Redskins celebrate their victory over Wheeling Park High School during the State Soccer Championships at the YMCA Paul Cline Memorial Youth Sports Complex in Beckley, W.V., on November 04, 2017.

John Amos Power Plant from across the Kanawha River. Poca, WV
The John Amos power plant is seen in a long-exposure from across the Kanawha River in Poca, W.Va., on Sunday, November 26, 2017.

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Evening traffic on I-64 crossing the Kanawha River. Charleston, W.V.

in Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday, October 22, 2017.
Poca House. WV. The John Amos Plant towers above on the other side of the Kanawha River.

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