How to break into photojournalism – the World Press Photo Contest jurors' views

Spain’s Javier Arcenillas was awarded third prize in the Long Term Projects Series category, for Latidoamerica. In this image, Roberto Arturo Adonay Antonio, allegedly a member of international criminal organisation  Mara 18 , arrives at a pre-trial detention centre in Usulután, El Salvador.
Spain’s Javier Arcenillas was awarded third prize in the Long-Term Projects Series category, for Latidoamerica. In this image, Roberto Arturo Adonay Antonio, allegedly a member of international criminal organisation Mara 18, arrives at a pre-trial detention centre in Usulután, El Salvador. Taken on 28 December 2015 on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens. © Javier Arcenillas, Luz

World Press Photo Contest jurors are chosen for their experience, knowledge, and ability to spot a story – and talent – from afar. With decades of experience in photojournalism – receiving photographers' pitches, commissioning, and portfolio reviewing – nobody is better placed to give advice on breaking into photojournalism today.

Christian Ziegler’s

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Despite being widely reported as an industry in decline, photojournalism's attraction hasn't diminished. But with no clear career path into the industry, those wanting to become photojournalists may find themselves wondering where to start. In a market heaving with passionate photographers, it's important to recognise what will make you stand out from the crowd.

Telling us what they look for, what grabs their attention, their pet hates and giving advice on how to cut through are three of this year's World Press Photo jurors: Whitney C Johnson, Chair of the Nature and Environment categories and member of the general jury; Jérôme Huffer, Chair of the People category and member of the general jury; and Laurence Tan, Juror of the News and Documentary categories.

Headshot of World Press Photo Contest juror Whitney C Johnson on a dark grey background.

About Whitney C Johnson

Whitney C Johnson is Vice President of visuals and immersive experiences at National Geographic. Prior to joining National Geographic, she was Director of Photography at The New Yorker, where she won multiple awards. She also serves on the board of the Alexia Foundation and the W. Eugene Smith Fund.

Whitney C Johnson

"First, study something other than photography. When commissioning a photographer, we consider not just their visual approach to a subject but the expertise or connection that they bring to the subject matter. Second, don't skip the research. If you're embarking on a project, take the time to thoroughly research the idea itself as well as to consider similar projects that have been done before.

"I think it's important to develop a personal project. A project helps an editor to understand what you're passionate about – how you research a story, how you build a narrative and how you edit. It's the cohesive, committed, singular project that resonates – for a day or for years. In a world where everyone takes pictures, it's imperative that a professional photographer defines themselves through a distinct vision and perspective.

"Finally, make sure you research the publication that you are pitching to and tailor your presentation, your portfolio, and your questions to that publication. Often, a meeting at a publication or a portfolio review is like a first date, and you should treat it like that: be engaging, don't ask too much, and make them want to see you again!"

Headshot of World Press Photo Contest juror Jérôme Huffer leaning against a stone wall.

About Jérôme Huffer

Jerome Huffer is head of the photography department at the French weekly news magazine Paris Match, where he has worked since he graduated from art school in 2001. He has served on a number of photographic award juries, including the Visa d'or and the Bayeux Festival.

Jérôme Huffer

"Ironically, my principal advice is to be a journalist before being a photographer. It's quite easy nowadays to be a good photographer, technically speaking. But I usually say that while everyone has a pen, few of us are writers. You have to be good enough to forget the technical side and just think about what you are saying with your images.

"Find a good picture editor to work with and to trust. Most of the time, a photographer is a very weak editor. And working with a good editor can steer your career in the right direction – most picture editors have a global understanding of the industry.

"Most of the time, pitches don't get to the point – the message isn't clear. You have to listen to 10 minutes of context before you understand the purpose of the work. So my advice is: get to the point! If you're showing your pictures, put the best one at the front of your presentation. If you want to do a story in a country, don't waste 20 lines explaining the past 20 years of events in that country. If your story is good, a few words is enough to catch my attention, then you can explain your project further when we get to the next step."

Headshot of World Press Photo Contest juror Laurence Tan taken up close.

About Laurence Tan

Laurence Tan is Assignment Editor at Getty Images in Hong Kong, commissioning photographers across Southeast Asia, parts of South Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Before moving to Getty Images, he worked at the New York Times' Hong Kong office, and at Reuters' global picture desk in Singapore.

Laurence Tan

"It takes a lot of hard work and personal sacrifices to break into the industry. I think it's important for photojournalists to ask themselves why they chose this path when they get consumed by commercial work to pay off the bills. There's really no secret formula – everyone finds their own way based on their strengths and weaknesses – and one photographer's way might not work for another.

"Photojournalists need to produce authentic work and show a sense of their opinion, especially while covering major stories. Assignments alone won't be enough to produce work that stands out, since everyone else is doing the same. It's a competitive industry, and original ideas need to be well executed to get someone's attention.

"Before presenting portfolios for pitches, it's important to make sure they are well edited, and ideas are well thought out. I usually prefer to see a mix of personal projects and photos shot on assignment. Everyone is competing for attention, so good preparation is vital. I often ask the younger photojournalists what they aim to achieve with their personal projects when they look incomplete. It's also important to acknowledge the industry's demands, particularly the increasing need for photographers to incorporate video and multimedia."

Kirjutanud David Clark

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