Canon Ambassador Ivor Prickett says a "natural ability to put people at ease" is a useful skill for aspiring photojournalists.

Despite the decline of traditional media and shrinking editorial budgets, the power of photography endures and the attraction of photojournalism as a career is as strong as ever.

However, it can be difficult for aspiring photojournalists to know how to get started. Competition is fierce, so it's important to recognise the skills and character traits required, the reality of the work and what it pays, and how you can make your images stand out from the crowd.

The Visa pour l'Image festival of photojournalism in Perpignan, France, attracts some of the industry's best-known photojournalists and photo editors, who have travelled extensively documenting our changing world, or have years of experience receiving pitches, commissioning and reviewing portfolios. Here, they share their advice on how to break into photojournalism.

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Stay inquisitive

"You have to be curious," says Francis Kohn, former photojournalist and Photo Director of Agence France-Presse. "You want to transmit something – it's your job – but you have to be curious, and being curious is a learning experience. Curiosity and an open mind lead to better stories and a better understanding of yourself as a photographer."

Curiosity is more than seeking a deeper understanding of your own work. Canon Ambassador Pascal Maitre recommends being "globally curious" and suggests that "wanting to read the newspaper" is a good indicator of someone who will succeed as a photojournalist.

Be respectful

"Having a natural ability to put people at ease" and being "quiet in your approach and not too forceful" will open doors, says war correspondent and Canon Ambassador Ivor Prickett. "Being gentle in my approach to photographing people, because it's a huge ask, is how I've done a lot of what I've done," he says.

Balance photography and business

"Networking is an important part of the job as a freelance photographer," says Ivor, "but essentially it all comes second to making good, individual work." He urges up-and-coming photojournalists to focus on the work above all else, and to apply a selective approach to networking.

"Target the people that you really want to work for, and focus on specific magazines, newspapers and institutions, because not everyone is suited to every publication or organisation. We all have our style and speciality, so work out where you fit in and go after that."

Canon grant award winner Laura Morton exhibits her work at Visa pour l'Image.
Photographer Laura Morton advises aspiring photojournalists to do their research – and to follow their hearts.
Visitors look at images in Ivor Prickett's exhibition.

Expert tips for developing and editing a story

Do you know when a photo story is complete? What it takes to get it published? Find out here...

One unique story can change everything

"Don't let people tell you that you should be covering this thing that everybody else is covering," says Canon Female Photojournalist Award 2018 winner Laura Morton. "I started having success when I started doing the things that weren't being covered. A lot of people thought I was crazy to photograph people basically sitting at computers, but that's when my career really took off. Follow your heart, follow your interests, do your research, read a lot. Know your story and then go with it, and don't try to follow what everybody else is doing."

Persevere

"Keep going. When you get a no, try somewhere else. When you get a no there, try somewhere else. Keep going until you get a yes," says Dutch photojournalist and Canon Ambassador Ilvy Njiokiktjien. "If you find your right path in photography, there's a way for everyone to find a way to make it. But you really have to keep trying. While it's not an easy industry, it is a great one to be part of."

A visitor to the Canon stand at Visa pour l'Image tests a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
A visitor to the Canon stand at Visa pour l'Image 2019 tests a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

Learn to be more technical

"I wasn't the most technically gifted person in my class," says Ivor Prickett. "I was probably at the lower end of the scale, but I was told that's something you can learn. Your natural ability, your interpersonal skills and your work ethic are not things you can develop in such an easy way. The technical side of things is much easier to master, but it takes time, and it's really important for making quick decisions, and doing good work on the ground."

As Ilvy says: "Just keep on shooting, keep on practising, keep on making mistakes and you will get there. If you have your curiosity, your open mind, if you're a good listener and you have your camera with you, that's a good starter pack."

Find all the Canon-related stories on our Visa pour l'Image event page.

Kirjutanud Matthew Bowen & Cecilie Harris


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