Photography is becoming more popular as a hobby and I guess a lot of amateur photographers also fantasize to earn money with their passion. Although most try their luck in portrait photography, photojournalism can still be a viable career path. Photojournalism in most cases is a lot more complex and costly. For a complete story and project, You need to invest a lot of time and often have to travel. How can You start Your career as a Photojournalist and do You need a photojournalism degree to fulfill Your dream?
How to Become a Photojournalist
First of all, a photojournalism degree is not a requirement to call Yourself a Photojournalist.
Anyone with a camera can, in theory, become a photojournalist. In reality, what does it really take to become a professional photojournalist?
A Photojournalist documents the life around him. He focuses on an interesting story and follows through with his project and tries to produce an unbiased series. Anything that is interesting to You can potentially become such a story.
Contrary to Street Photographers, who are more focused on the single image, a photojournalist focuses on complete series. This means, that he doesn’t need only one good picture, but at least 10 to tell a cohesive story.
Often times, Photojournalism is seen in the context of war or other tragedies. People that are at the edge of our society are often part of documentary photography. But photojournalism is more.
You can also, for example, focus on sports, nature or music and display the beautiful side of life, which is often underrepresented.
Once You have found an interesting topic that You want to bring closer to the viewer, You don’t need much more than Your camera and a lot of dedication.
Is a Photojournalism Degree necessary?
I assume that You are already familiar with creating good photos and also know how to put them together in a series. In this article, I want to focus more on discussing if a photojournalism degree is necessary and not want to give a detailed tutorial on how to create a photojournalism project.
So once You are content with Your project and have put together a series of photographs that tell a cohesive story, what is the next step?
If You are asking this question I guess You don’t have the reach to self-publish Your work, similar to probably 99% of all Photojournalists.
Therefore You have to put Your work out there Yourself and pitch them to interested magazines, agencies or publisher.
From my perspective, pitching directly to magazines only works for smaller online websites. They are able to publish Your work, but You won’t get any monetary compensation. If You want to go professional, this isn’t really helpful and the exposure You gain from presenting Your series on smaller websites is not really worth it for giving Your photographs away.
Bigger Magazines and credible newspapers usually work with permanent agencies together. In this day and age, You also have to respect, that there are far more series out there ready to be published than there is any space in these magazines. The demand for those high-quality photojournalism has gone down and even if You believe that You have the best photographs out there, You have to follow the rules.
Therefore there are two options to get Your work out there and make money from the project.
Realistically, You have to do smaller photojournalism jobs before You can work with such big household names.
As You can see, a photojournalism degree formally isn’t a prerequisite for becoming a professional photojournalist. If You are able to work together with the agencies or generate income through Your journalistic projects, You can call Yourself a Photojournalist.
Jobs in Photojournalism
Being a Photojournalist isn’t Your typical 9 to 5 job. There are times where You don’t have an assignment from an agency or newspaper and have to work as a freelancer, trying to create Your own project and then there are times where You have an established connection to a publisher, who is confident in Your photographic series.
But where can You start?
The beginning is very hard. Having a good eye and creating compelling projects is not everything. In the beginning, You have to build up a portfolio and be able to show that You can create good quality consistently.
The best case would be if You have enough savings to invest in Your portfolio Yourself. But who can actually say that from himself?
Another option would be, if You are somewhat established and confident, that others would support You to crowdfund, a more serious project.
Now, those are more extraordinary options.
The go-to route would be to work Your way up from the bottom.
This means to start at very local newspapers for example as a news reporter.
Other options would be to start as a wedding photographer, entering contests or supply photo agencies with some of Your photographs.
After all, it takes a lot of consistent work to climb up the career ladder in photojournalism and not every photojournalism job will make You happy in the beginning.
Internships can be another alternative in gaining experience in the photojournalism world rather quickly. You won’t make much money, but the entry barriers are a lot lower.
A photojournalism internship is focused on gaining experience and working for the first time for an agency, newspaper or other media publishers. In return, they will mostly ask You to do some mundane tasks and assist others photographers.
The tasks can vary a lot depending on the employee and the genre of photojournalism You want to head.
Those can go from typical studio set-ups where You are responsible for the lighting, to assignments overseas.
A lot of times, the job offer will also state that a photojournalism degree is beneficial, but what counts more is Your passion for the job and Your willingness to learn.
Be aware though, to pick a photojournalism internship where the experience You gain is relevant to Your prospective direction.
It doesn’t really make sense to work with a magazine, where You do a lot of studio shootings when You rather would be out on the field.
If You have absolutely no experience then such a photojournalism internship might help You, but the more experience gain the more relevant it should be.
Also, don’t get caught in the internship spiral and try to get “real” jobs as soon as possible and see internships just for a personal development, but not for a long-term perspective.
A higher Salary with a Photojournalism Degree?
If Your goal is to become rich, then You hopefully already know that photojournalism isn’t the right direction for You.
Being a photojournalist must come from an intrinsic motivation and not for the money. You should be passionate to document the world and tell stories rather than making a lot of money.
Realistically, You will find Yourself more on the lower end of salaries.
The median salary for a photojournalist in the USA is at around $40,000.
Now this statistic might be a little skewed because there are a lot of photojournalists stuck in low paying internships and the salary for established photojournalists might be a little higher.
The entry photojournalism salary is around $21,000.
A photojournalism bachelor degree or at least a minor is an advantage when it comes to the entry salary as they already prove in some way that You have certain skilly.
Monetary wise, a photojournalism degree can be a plus, but once You have landed Your first jobs it is all about the results You are delivering and not the degree anymore.
Without a photojournalism degree, it is advised to take courses and educate Yourself in more fields than just taking pictures.
As You can see the photojournalism salary is very low and You should expect to have irregular working hours.
Colleges & Universities offering a Photojournalism Degree
Photojournalism degrees are usually offered in a 4-Year program. During these 4 years, Your focus will be much more widespread than just focusing on the photography part. In fact, the photography itself will only be a minor part of Your education.
A greater focus lies on the photojournalism ethics, publishing Your work and then also some more specific tasks including lighting or other techniques.
The photojournalism Colleges & Universities try to prepare You for the real tasks as a photojournalist. Therefore a greater part of the education includes also the business aspect and working as a freelancer.
Tuition fees in the U.S. can range from $10,000 to over $45,000 per year.
The reputation of the university or college isn’t really important when entering the job market as a photojournalist.
More important are the internships that You could experience while studying, as well as Your opportunities to study abroad.
Take that into consideration when choosing the right photojournalism college for Your program.
The photojournalism degree is not an easy road, but if taken the right way, can be a very beneficial photography major.
Is a Photojournalism Degree worth?
A photojournalism degree is a huge investment, like any other degree. It takes 4 years to finish and also a lot of money in tuition fees. Since the salary and future income prospects are relatively low, You should realize to not live in prosperity anytime soon.
If You are Younger and inexperienced, just finishing high school without experience in the photography world, a photojournalism degree might actually be a good investment. You learn the business aspects, but also a lot of related fields that can assist Your future work.
The degree helps You also to understand which direction You might be heading in.
On the other hand, if You are already somewhat experienced in photography, have done some minor projects, then a photojournalism degree might not be really worth it.
Once You have built up a portfolio, the degree becomes insignificant and the actual results of Your work count more.
As an experienced photographer, I’d still recommend You to search for certain programs, but more for the benefits of networking. Look for events near You, visit them and engage with the publishers.
Sometimes, schools also offer portfolio reviews, which should increase Your chances to land the next assignment.
A photojournalism degree isn’t necessary and the history of photojournalism shows, that a lot of photographers found success without one. You can enter the field as a self-taught photographer and try Your luck to become a photojournalist.
But a photojournalism bachelor or master can make that entry a little easier but at the cost of around $40,000.
In the end, I believe if You already have some experience, had the opportunity to travel a bit and have built up a small portfolio, then a photojournalism degree isn’t really needed. Then it depends on Your hard work and dedication to become a successful photojournalist.