Freelancing for Newspapers–Part 2

Unless you’ve been holed up somewhere the last 8 years, you probably know that the newspaper and print media in general are not doing well.

Just came across this: it’s fresh as of January 16, 2009, San Diego Union Tribune announced more cost cuts etc.

That said, this means most major newspapers have been feeling the pinch.

Their staff size has been drastically reduced.

And more and more, photographer’s rights as artists are being trampled on here in the US and in UK.

As a result, most are more than willing to drop their standards on what is usable as far as photos are concerned.

The current business climate aside, traditionally newspapers have always relied on freelancers for their  sports coverage because it is labor-intensive, time consuming and occurs in the evenings and weekends.

Evenings and weekends are also when newspapers have less staffing in the photography department. It makes sense because the content for the metro and local sections of the paper are already laid out and breaking news have been covered by the daytime crew. Most of the evening work tends to be concerts or speeches and  sporting events.

So, if you’re still gung-ho, be warned, those are the hours you’ll most likely be needed. So be prepare to sacrifice “quality time” with loved ones.

At this point, I need to mention that many newspapers will want you to sign a work-for-hire contract. Make sure you don’t do it. I would go so far as to avoid that discussion, so you can’t be ripped off.

Briefly, by signing that document, you are giving all your rights as the author/originator of that work forever, so don’t do it. No matter how tempting “they” make it sound, don’t do it!

With all those pleasantries aside, what’s next?

Build a portfolio


Start shooting a variety of sports. Show you can stop peak action, properly expose  while paying attention to make sure you have uncluttered backgrounds.

Unless you have deep pockets and can afford long fast lenses, shoot games that are played in daylight.

That means you might have to be selective about the kinds of sports you want to cover.

Mt. San Jacinto College quarterback Colin Wigely scrambles in second half and was 18 of 31 for 195 yards and threw for two touchdowns.  Canon 300mm telephoto  f2.8 ISO 1600 1/400 sec @ f2.8. Photo by DeeAnn Bradley.

football3Indoor sports like volleyball and basketball may be a problem if you don’t have a fast lens, so try soccer or baseball.

If you make the grade, some newspapers allow their stringers access to their pool of lenses but you’re not there yet.

When you have a body of work that you’re comfortable with, have 8″ x 12″ prints made of your favorites.

Also consider putting your images online along with a resume.

The online version is useful for obvious reasons.

Courtney Pete, right, catches a 50-yard touchdown pass to stretch the lead to 9-0 in the first half. Photo by DeeAnn Bradley. ISO 500 Canon 300 mm telephoto 1/400 sec @ 2.8.
If you read the caption carefully, you’ll see this picture was taken earlier than the one above. That one was in the 2nd half . That explains the difference in the background’s appearance.  DeeAnn, the photographer adjusted her ISO to give her the ability to shoot with a shutter speed high enough to arrest peak action and also wide open at f2.8 so that the background will be blurred out.pe_biz-card3

Next time you see a photographer from your local newspaper, introduce yourself and get a business card.

Then ask for the full name of any or all the picture editors.

From that business card, you’ll probably be able to figure out the official email address of that person. (When I worked at the newspaper, my email address was pphun[at]

Large organizations  usually have some sort of syntax for email you can figure out. You guessed it.

Now with your online portfolio ready, you send that picture editor the URL (web address). Don’t forget to mention you will follow up with a phone call!

If they like what you have, then those prints will be surely help to get you that first gig. As to where you should host your images, there are many online sites that offer “free” accounts.

I don’t recommend those free ones like Flickr, Facebook or even Picasa because of their terms of use. Free is okay if you are just sharing snapshots but in this case, it’s going to be your best work. Read what the Photo Attorney has to say about this. You should bookmark her site because she shares a lot of insight about your rights as an artist.

So pay for the service and retain your copyright.  Places like Zenfolio, Smugmug and others are very popular and they actually have e-commerce solutions built-in. That just means there are built-in shopping carts for you to sell your work.

Should you pay for your own domain name and own webhosting? It’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself. If appearances are important, and they are in this business, you ought to register your domain name and set up your own webhosting.

It’s not just about getting a cool email address like peter[at]

Moving along…

Learn To Send files electronicallywifi_logo

Getting great pictures is only a small part of the work. You need to know how to connect to the internet by a WiFi network if you use a laptop or by plugging in an (RJ-45) ethernet cable and ultimately transmit your pictures.

Once you’re online, you can either email or use a FTP (File Transfer Protocol) program to transmit your images to the newspaper.

Every so often, email gets flaky and doesn’t play nice, it is useful to know how to compress files, upload to a webserver, and then get the URL (web address)  to send to your recipient for downloading.

That means you’re computer will need photoshop and some sort of FTP or file transfer protocol software. If you use the Firefox browser, they have a free add-on called “fireFTP” which works well for these purposes.

Most newspapers have accounts for access to Starbucks, T-Mobile, Metro Wi-Fi or other hotspots. That is generally the way but until you become a dependable stringer, expect to have to pay for your own account name and password.

That is generally the way their staff photographers transfer their images back to their newspapers. These days it’s becoming very common for staff photographers to have a Mobile broadband cards. These are special antennas which have either USB 2.0  or PCMCIA connectors that plug into laptops to allow connection to the internet anywhere they have a cellphone signal.

Making Contact

At every newspaper there is at least one picture editor who works nights or weekends. They are the ones you want to make first contact with, not the Director of Photography or the Big Kahuna in the photography department.

They are the ones who will ultimately be supervising you. They also want to be take the credit for finding “new and cheap talent.” For most paper-pushing picture editors, that’s probably the most joy they find in their jobs.

Be computer literate

The laptop is your digital darkroom. The sooner you become familiar with its ins and outs, the better. As a freelancer, the more competent you are with these technical issues, the more likely you’ll impress your supervisor/editor.

When out in the field things often go wrong. You need to know how to quit a frozen application, how to troubleshoot, re-boot and work around issues. Understanding your computer’s operating system is vital.

If you haven’t realized this by now, the actual picture-taking is maybe 50% of the actual work you’ll be doing.

Getting there, not getting lost, writing captions and identifying your subjects in the picture and making deadlines makes up the rest of the work.

On my next installment, I’ll deconstruct covering a typical Sports assignment you might get at the local newspaper. And if I get enough interest, I’ll discuss how to cover a News assignment after that.

Again, if you have any questions, suggestions and comments, let me know. I’ll try and answer all of them here.

Many many thanks to my friend DeeAnn Bradley for sharing her football pictures. If you have a need for a freelance photographer in the eastern Los Angeles Valley, contact her “irishfiregirrl [at]

7 thoughts on “Freelancing for Newspapers–Part 2”

  1. Richard,
    Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m actually quite elated by the response I’ve been getting. The 4 posts were extremely long. I’m pleasantly surprised that the information was well received.
    You’re right about most of it being intuition. I know of many professionals who didn’t go to college and are doing this at the highest levels. Like many creative endeavors, you just have to keep at it.

  2. This is a nice informative series of articles – the part I find interesting and affirming is that so far everything you have said is really common sense, I say affirming because even though I already know most of what you are saying I have not acted on it as I have been looking for the “secret” so after reading I figure the real trick is to just give it a go 🙂

  3. Jeni,
    Breaking into magazines is quite similar. The key here is to get published first. Since it is easier to get some published pictures or “clips” in a newspaper, that’s where I suggest you start.

    Study the magazine you’re interested in. See if you can spot a trend in their stories and more than likely you’ll see a pattern develop.

    Most publications like magazines are very seasonal. For instance if it’s a lifestyle magazine, you can predict in the Spring, they’ll be gearing for a “Wedding edition” before summer.

    Come up with an idea like “Places Brides Love to get Married in ……..County (insert the county where you live) Start photographing those venues when they look nice when gardens are in bloom etc. etc. If you’re web savvy throw up an online page so that you’ll have a URL or a link.

    Contact the editor via email, in your email, send them the link. Follow up with a phone call. It’s called doing assignments on spec (speculation)

    Where I live they have the Orange County magazine, Inland Empire magazine. Both are local to the county so you can really target your pitch.

    Even if they don’t accept your pictures, you’ve established contact and you’re out there shooting.
    Be persistent. It pays off.
    Thanks for visiting, commenting and subscribing.

  4. thanks for the Hot “News” tips… any advice on approaching and building your portfolio for magazine photography? Local publications, national… doesn’t matter!

  5. Hi Keith,
    Sure newspapers will buy your pictures. They just have to be compelling, unusual and timely, though not necessarily in that order.

    For instance, when our recent temblor struck 1 mile south of San Bernardino. If you were somewhere and there was major damage with casualties or heavy damage, that would be something they might buy.

    The problem with an earthquake is that if it’s extensive, the clean up won’t happen for days. Chances are by then the newspaper would send a staff photographer to the same scene and you won’t make a sale.

    But if it’s a dramatic rescue in progress, say on one of the freeway bridges which you photographed, your picture will have value for sure. The more unique, meaning if you are the only one who has pictures of that scene, the better your chances they’ll buy it. In that case, you have to make sure you are licensing the image for one-time use.

    Then if the wire services, Reuters, Associated Press and others, are interested, they have to negotiate with you separately.

    To answer your question, I would post your low resolution image somewhere online, with caption information and watermark it, then email a picture editor the link with your phone number. Follow up with a phone call to the newspaper.

  6. Hey Peter,

    I am enjoying these posts about freelancing for the paper. I have a question, how would you go about selling images of spot news events? Like fires, crashes, etc… Do newspapers even buy these type of photographs from freelancers? Thanks.

    -Keith Jeskey-

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