The once sought-after newspaper staff photographer position Part 1

A while back a visitor,  photojournalist Nick Morris, suggested perhaps some insight into a newspaper photographer’s day might be of interest to you.

That’s a valid point since consistently many visitors arrive here  on the post I wrote about Sports and Freelance photography.

Even though I’ve been gone from the business for 6 years, I’m fairly confident some of these details are still accurate.

As I write this, I wonder though how relevant this is, considering how the newspaper industry is struggling.

Six years ago when I left, there were 20 photographers where I worked.

Today, they have 7 staff photographers.

The most recent departure from their photo department was perhaps 2 weeks ago.

Anyway, in no particular order of importance, here are some of the highlights which might interest you.

Work schedule

Most photographers work an 8-hour shift with 2 days off.  Some employers give their photographers 2 days off in a row. But that isn’t always the case. Regardless, they all put in a 40-hour work week.

Their schedules are usually rotated so that the misery of having to work weekends and nights is spread around.

I should state here that some photographers love working nights and weekends. Those tend to be ones who love covering sports. Most sporting events occur during that time.

So perhaps what I said earlier that “the misery of having to work weekends is spread around” is all a matter of point of view/choice?


Keep in mind that even though there are lots and lots of exotic lenses out there, the majority of photojournalist carry maybe 3 lenses, 2 bodies and one or two flashes. Any more gear would be tough on their bodies and counterproductive unless it’s a very specific shot that requires special lighting.

The lucky ones who are hired full time at larger newspapers are supplied photo gear. Typically, these might be in a staff photographers trunk:

Photo Equipment

  • 2 bodies usually professional grade bodies. Since camera bodies are discontinued on average once every 8 months, the specific model isn’t such a big deal. Most bigger newspapers issue Canon 1D Mark 3s or the Nikon equivalent
  • 16-35 mm f2.8L lens
  • 70-200 mm f2.8L Image Stabilized lens
  • 50mm f1.4
  • 300 mm f2.8 L lens Tele-converter 1.4x
  • 2 or even 3 speedlites with wireless triggering capability either by Canon STE-2 or Pocket Wizards
  • A good supply of compact flash cards
  • A laptop equipped with wireless internet cards (MacBook Pro or Windows-based laptop)
  • Full version of Adobe Photoshop maybe Photomechanic or some sort of fast loading editing software
  • Monopod, tripod and light stands

Then there are the other extras which are not photographic in nature but essential for them to do their work:

The Mobile Office

  • a reliable vehicle
  • cellphone–probably a smartphone these days
  • Police band scanners in vehicles
  • Maps, probably replaced by GPS units these days
  • knee-high boots or waders for covering floods
  • Nomex or fire retardant clothing  & fire shelter
  • Hard hat for entering construction zones and covering brush fires
  • Bright ugly neon green vest for working on California freeways
  • Some sort of food and water or MRE, Meals Ready to Eat
  • First aid kit/Earthquake preparedness kit
  • Media credential for identification (commonly referred to as Press Pass)

In case you’re thinking the job entails just snapping pictures, the picture-taking is sometimes incidental.

There have been times when I’ve spent 70% of my day driving and getting on location and only 20% of my  time actually taking pictures. The remaining time is waiting around, negotiating access and editing.

If you can’t get on location, either because you can’t read a map, or have the initiative to find alternate routes when there are road closures, what good will all that photo gear do you?

Next…The Assignment