What does a photojournalist do? (Types and skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 11 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Photojournalists capture and transmit newsworthy pictures using photography as their primary storytelling method. They offer these photos for publication in magazines, newspapers, television or on the internet. If you're considering pursuing a career in photojournalism, understanding what photojournalist does can help you make an informed decision. In this article, we define what a photojournalist is, answer ‘What does a photojournalist do?' and discuss the types of photojournalism, their workplace and their skills.

What is a photojournalist?

Photojournalists are individuals who photograph, edit and publish images to tell a story visually. They're skilled at interpreting and communicating meaning through photographs. They may also use words to accompany their pictures. Photojournalism is much more than just photography. It involves following journalistic standards, such as ensuring the photo adheres to the original narrative. It differs completely from other forms of visual storytelling because it engages and informs the viewer.

Photojournalism is a powerful medium of storytelling, as the photos can convey emotions and complex stories without the need for words. It also places viewers alongside the storyteller and allows the audience to experience real-life events as they occur. Photojournalists cover a variety of matters, such as issues in their local communities, unrest in foreign countries and important events. They may work with a reporter or journalist to provide them with new stories. Magazines, books and newspapers may also use their pictures.

Related: Photographer career: roles to pursue (with salaries)

What does a photojournalist do?

Below are some duties to help you answer ‘What does a photojournalist do?':

Take photographs of events or locations

The primary duty of a photojournalist is to photograph people, locations or events. Photojournalists rarely stage their shots, so their pictures provide realistic depictions of current events. They attempt to communicate and evoke emotion in the viewer. Photojournalists are quick thinkers and always ready to take hundreds of photos of their subjects with the aim of getting the perfect one.

Edit photos

Image editing is an important part of any photojournalist's job. Quality editing can make a good photo great. Photojournalists upload their pictures into photo editing software and adjust the colours, levels and balance to create the best possible pictures. When using their photos for an article, it's also their responsibility to ensure that their pictures align with the written story.

Develop film and clean up digital images

While many professional photographers now use digital cameras, some photojournalists still use film. Every good photojournalist knows how to develop film in a dark room. They can also convert film negatives to digital images. When working with digital images, they may clean them and remove artefacts that result from debris or dirt in the lens.

Related: What is graphic design and what skills do you need?

Travel to different locations to cover events

Experienced photojournalists often travel and spend a lot of time on the road to document news stories. Depending on the assignment, they may travel across different regions, states or countries to cover international news, sites of natural disasters, important events or even war zones. Therefore, photojournalists are usually comfortable with and open to travelling.

Use and maintain photography equipment

Photojournalists use various types of extra equipment, such as filters, lenses and external light sources to ensure they get the perfect photo. These tools help them manage crowds, poor weather and other obstacles. Hence, travelling with this equipment means they can complete assignments in a range of challenging environments.

Related: How to become a journalist

Establish freelance contacts

Photojournalists may work full-time for print or online publications. A lot of them also work as freelancers on a contract basis, where they either submit their pictures for consideration or work on assigned tasks. Many freelance photojournalists use these opportunities to establish connections with organisations.

Types of photojournalism

Below are the five top types of photojournalism:

Feature photojournalism

Feature photojournalists cover interests and stories relating to humans, such as social aspects, technological progression, art, politics and business. They deal with people and the happenings around them. This type of photojournalism places its focus on three vital factors, including the background, subject and story. The background often provides the pictures with a context which helps the viewers to comprehend what the scenario is all about.

The subject usually implies a group of individuals in action, not necessarily a particular individual. As a photojournalist, you can have a worthy story when you properly combine these two factors. For instance, a person discussing social problems indoors may not be your subject of interest. Instead, capturing crowds chanting slogans during a protest can be an excellent feature.

Environmental portraits

Environmental portrait photojournalists cover the reducing reality of the environment, showing the harm that's done to nature. These photojournalists capture photographs of fumes in the sky, drying corals, drought and other environmental changes. Their job is to capture the truth through their pictures to raise awareness. They may also look into positive things happening in nature.

Related: A list of 19 well-paying jobs for journalism students

Illustration photojournalism

Illustration photojournalism involves the manipulation of pictures or images to create a new image. Photojournalism captures images in their raw or real form. Whenever they manipulate an image, they call it a photo illustration. These types of photographs often convey products, concepts or ideas. Being an illustration photojournalist calls for a high level of technical expertise, intelligence and a sharp mind that can pass a message across to gain the viewers' attention.

Sports photojournalism

Sports photojournalists are those that meet and interact with sports players and also cover their major games. Becoming a sports photojournalist calls for a proper understanding of the sport and its history. They're usually involved in the game as they're required to take pictures of the event several times, especially during, before and after the game. They also try to capture photographs that can easily tell a story, images that show the emotions of the spectators, coaches, players and other related activities during the sports events.

Portrait or personality photojournalism

Personality photojournalism represents sympathy and emotions. The medium depicts others' feelings, such as happiness, sorrow, anger or determination. In personality photojournalism, body forms and back pictures convey messages to viewers and outstanding personality or portrait pictures also reveal or say a lot about the photojournalist.

Read more: What is a photographer and what does a photographer do?

Workplace of a photojournalist

Photojournalists may work for magazines, newspapers, photo agencies or as freelancers. They can work in various settings, such as sporting events, offices, political rallies, war zones or studios. Photojournalists are flexible. They often work odd or long hours. They work any day of the week, sometimes at night and during holidays. Some of them are on-call, ready to go as soon as they receive a call about a breaking story.

Photojournalists may also work outdoors in all kinds of weather. They often travel locally, nationally or internationally to complete their work. They work in high-pressure environments, fast-paced newsrooms and under many different circumstances.

Skills of a photojournalist

Below are the top five qualities and skills that can help you be a successful photojournalist:

Attention to detail

Different news reports require different images, and it's necessary for photojournalists to produce images quickly. Pay attention to important details and ensure that photos reflect stories accurately. Being able to pay attention to detail helps you make sure that the composition and lighting complement other elements of the photo to communicate the right message. Having this skill can also help you view situations in a unique way.

Communication

Strong communication skills enable photojournalists to share their work concisely and clearly. Depending on the story you're covering, you may add captions to your photos to provide the audience with extra information. With effective communication skills, you can also gain and establish the trust of publications while you're working with them.

Read more: Photographer skills: definition and examples

Time-management

Time management is the ability to organise and plan your work to fit into a schedule. Photojournalists often multitask and put a lot of time and effort into taking photos and their various other duties. They consider the light, subject and colour of their photos, and they make quick, strategic decisions under pressure. Good time management skills can help you organise your day and prioritise your tasks. They also help you to remember deadlines and stay focused on your current tasks.

Read more: What is time management? (Importance and how to improve it)

Storytelling

Storytelling skills involve using facts and narrative to effectively convey information to your audience. Photojournalists who have mastered this skill can capture images that tell a story, arrange them to engage the viewers' interest and convey a powerful message. With strong storytelling skills, you can capture your audience's attention, lead them in the direction you want and teach them something that they may remember forever.

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