Freelancing for Newspapers–How to get started Part 1

So you’ve honed your skills to the point where you are confident you can get a good picture in any situation.

Have you thought about freelancing for a newspaper?

Photojournalism is one of the most challenging, exciting types of photography.

As a result, it is also the most competitive fields to break in to.


So what do you need to start? When I worked at the newspaper, I used 2 bodies.

One was fitted  with a wide angle  16-25 f2.8 zoom and the other body had a telephoto 70-200 f 2.8 zoom.

For sports coverage, we had a pool of long lenses from 300 mm f2.8 to 600 mm f4.

The picture above shows most of the “tools” you need. Not included are extra memory cards, card readers and of course batteries: AAs for flash, powerbook and proprietary batteries for camera bodies.
The police scanner on the bottom left is optional. But everything else is pretty much a must-have.
Curious about the picture on my powerbook? The driver of the sedan fell asleep at the wheel and veered off the 91 freeway in Riverside coming to rest and lodged inside the trailer of the truck. Fortunately for him, the trailer was empty and he escaped unharmed.

Arnold Schwarzeneggar campaigns in Riverside against Gray Davis. Political campaigns allow  the public to get up close so if you need to build your portfolio of famous celebrities, these are excellent opportunities. After a candidate is elected, their “security personnel” keep the public back.

Reliable Transportation

This should be obvious, but it’s intentionally high in this list. All the skills and the best gear in the world without the ability to get on scene is pointless. So you should have a dependable car or mode of transportation.

Decent photo gear

I consider these minimum requirements.wide_zoom

  • 2 (at least 8 megapixels) bodies is a minimum requirement so that you have a backup.
  • a wide angle, a telephoto, a fast 50mm lens, and at least one flash. As to the exact focal lengths, that would depend a lot on what you plan to shoot.
  • a good supply of memory cards. If all you’re shooting is jpegs, then you might be able to get away with 4 to 6 4GB memory cards. They’re cheap compared to the past, so don’t sweat it. Again sports shooters will require more of this as well.zoom_vertical
  • a laptop with a WiFi card. The platform Mac or Windows doesn’t matter. Just like for your camera, Nikon or Canon, it’s just a tool.**optional Mobile broadband card for laptop**
  • Photoshop Elements is a minimum, the full version is nice but unnecessary. Most of the time, all you have time for is saving your jpegs to the newspaper’s specs, attaching captions and then transmitting it to the paper via the internet by either an FTP client or emailing.
  • cellphone for communicating with editors at the paper.
  • Optional but not vital is a police scanner. I don’t advocate running off and chasing fire trucks and ambulances but sometimes being at the right place at the right time with a camera is all it takes. Ask bystander George Holiday who videotaped the beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers in 1991.

One of my former colleagues at the newspaper was a UPS deliveryman. He always had his cameras with him and a scanner. He would “happen” on fires and other breaking news and over time built enough credibility and trust to become a stringer/freelancer and eventually land a job as a staff photographer.



When I overheard “211 in progress” at the bank down the street from me, I got there about the same time as the police officers. It turned out that there were 2 sets of robbers trying to rob the same bank.
Even with a police scanner you would still have to be very close by to get there in time to photograph a scene like this.

Writing, reporting ability

Writing and reporting go hand-in-hand. You may not need to write a full blown news story, but you do need to be able to write accurate descriptive captions.

So proper grammar and ability to gather accurate caption information like names and ages is very important.

A good reference book if you are in the US is the Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law. This has been the bible for journalists and will continue to be so.

The 2nd part of the title is worth its weight in gold. It explains a lot of the legalese around libel and media law which you should know.

Remember if  you consistently provide wrong information and the newspaper has to print a correction each time, they won’t be calling you back.

Good knowledge of current events and sports

jim_courierIf you’re looking to shoot sports, then good all round knowledge of a variety of sports is important.

Since popularity of different sports are very regional, I’ll leave it to you to figure that out.

Obviously expect to know Australian Rules football and cricket if you’re Down Under, baseball, hockey and American Football if you’re in the US and etc.

In sports expect to know quite a bit about all types of sports even if you’ve never played it.

If you’re covering a tennis match, for instance, do you know how the players change sides on the tie-breaker?

And how do they score the game? If you don’t understand how the game is scored, how do you know when the last point of the match is coming up?

Jim Courier leaps in joy after defeating Guy Forget in the Newsweek tournament in Indian Wells, California. Nikon F4 with a 300 mm f4 lens. Fujichrome 100.

Keeping up with news is especially important.

When big names and celebrities come through your community, seize the opportunity to get photos of the event.

This is a great way to get your foot in the door. The newspaper may or may not have the personnel to cover everything so your contribution may be welcome.

Even if they don’t use your pictures, you’ve at least made contact. Realize these are highly simplified tips.

It takes years of hard work and dedication to get into the business and photojournalism is a 4-year field of study at college. In my next post, I’ll discuss how to get your foot in the door at a newspaper, developing your portfolio for display online as well as in a printed book.

10 thoughts on “Freelancing for Newspapers–How to get started Part 1”

  1. Hendra,
    Apa khabar? Terima kasih. Kamu sedang mengikuti Kejuaran Bulu Tangkis di Hyderabad, India? Italics are Bahasa–language spoken in Indonesia & Malaysia

    How are you. Thanks for visiting my blog. Are you following the World Badminton Championships that is taking place in Hyderabad, India?

    Kamu fikir Taufik Hidayat akan menang bila bermain dengan Lin Dan?

    Do you think Taufik Hidayat will beat Lin Dan to win the Word Title?

    Kalau ada soalan specific, tanyalah. Kalau saya tahu, saya akan berjawap.
    If you have specific questions about this subject, ask away. I’ll try and answer them here.
    Selamat datang, pelawat-pelawat dari Indonesia.
    Greetings to my visitors from Indonesia.

  2. Thanks Michael for reading and more importantly commenting. I just realized how tough it is to be comprehensive on a blog post. Fine line between being long-winded and concise. I’ve tried to make everything as relevant as I can.

  3. Nice write up. You can never underestimate the importance of having the right tool for the job.

  4. Hey Erin,
    Thanks for reading. I’m pleased someone found this useful. I just posted Part 2, and 3. I’m drafting the 4th part. It’s the toughest because of the nature of the subject–News Photography.

  5. This is absolutely perfect. Thank you for generously sharing your insight, experience and knowledge. Wonderful contribution to the world of amateur and professional photographers alike.

  6. Steve,
    I haven’t done any Stock Photos. I toyed with iStock but they are way to picky and their cut is too high for my efforts, I think. Just posted Part 3. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  7. Hey Rajesh, thank you for commenting. I just finished Part 2. I have parts 3 and 4 of this article in draft. I’m trying to sort out which of my archived pictures will work best with the article. Stay tuned.

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