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a small experiment in linking peers + postings

a photojournalist’s five-step plan

© LARRY C. PRICE

ELVIS IMPROV IN HANNIBAL, MISSOURI © LARRY C. PRICE

© LARRY C. PRICE, PHOTOJOURNALIST + STORYTELLER

My wife, Debbie, and I begin each begin most mornings with a little ritual. We hurry into our living room with our morning coffees, often sitting in  the dim room, or at most, switching on a small lamp in the corner. Here, in the morning quiet, we compare notes, make plans, talk about the news, complain, joke and generally take some quality time with one another before the realities of time and the responsibilities of the day set in.

Recently, during one of these morning conversations, we went down the path of change and the future. It only felt like the proverbial “yesterday” when we plotted our courses as journalists and storytellers. We’ve seen a lot of changes in the media business and continue to wonder what might be on the horizon as the media landscape continues to evolve. We talked about the new generation of journalists and how equipped (or not) they are to take the reigns of the media professionals.

As a result of our morning chat, I came up with five pointers emerging photojournalists should consider if they want to set themselves apart in today’s competitive markets.

1) Form a group. The demands of media companies these days demand us all to be generalists. A little photography, a little writing, a bit of radio, some video: All in a day’s work. Sadly, you can’t be truly great in all disciplines. Try to concentrate on what you do really well then find better people than you to help you with the rest. In a classical newspaper, magazine of web-production environment, you may have to play as a one-man band. On bigger projects or freelance gigs, find help and raise your bar. I long ago gave up on being a jack-of-all-trades journalist. These days, I concentrate on using my eyes, creating the best images I can and get help with on the back-end of production, computer maintenance, video editing and so on. I know enough to “be dangerous” but I try to prioritize my creative flow.

2) Develop a style. This is a tough one, but the idea of developing a photographic style should be constantly nagging at you. As you grow as a photographer, you’ll naturally want to experiment and stretch. But through all the themes you’ll eventually explore, there should be that “special something” about your work that’s unique to your vision. When someone tells you they recognize an image as yours before they actually KNOW you made it, you know you’ve defined a style. Recognizing your style is unique and personal. You should take pride when this happens. Some photographers go through their careers and never find the “signature” that sets their work apart.

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© Larry C. Price

© LARRY C. PRICE

Check out Price’s portfolio and his Pulitzer-Prize winning work on Angola + El Salvador and Liberia, as well as his recent photography project documenting Philippines Gold: Child Labor and his recent article for the Pulitzer Center on the child labor crisis.

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3) Build a good foundation. If you are serious about being a photojournalist and storyteller you have to be curious about the human condition. You should be well-educated and well-informed. You should stay up on current events, know history, understand science and technology and be able to write reasonably well. If you can’t walk into a crowded room and carry on a comfortable conversation about any topic that might come up, you have work to do. And it goes without saying, you must master your craft. Photographic equipment is so sophisticated these days that anyone can take a reasonable photo or capture good audio or video. Knowing how to make the best creative decisions under a given circumstance only comes with lots of hard work. Masters know their gear like the lines of their hands.

4) Sweat the small stuff. Think like a business person. Be professional and be pro-active. There are so many photographers competing for work that you must not only set yourself apart, you have to cultivate an image that is appealing to potential clients. Get things on paper, get business cards and learn how to write a job proposal. Get social and leverage the power of Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to present yourself as a confident professional. Above all else, take care of details. Check in with clients and don’t go more than a few hours without returning phone calls or emails. Do your research and know what you’re going to shoot before you get on location.

5) Find a project. Every serious journalist I know has some overriding interest lurking in the back of their minds. It’s that notion or idea about a story they feel deeply about. Think about your photographic obsession and start working on it.  Promote and market your idea–stake you claim and then own the story. I know photographers who work on projects for years while they go about their “day job,” but it’s not work, it’s pleasure for them to circle back from time to time and shoot pictures they feel are important. Not only will this stimulate your creativity, you’ll have an amazing portfolio of great work to show or publish.

Meanwhile, good luck and Godspeed as you chart your own path through this crazy business.  See ya on assignment.
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© LARRY C. PRICELarry C. Price is an award-winning photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Dayton, Ohio. Larry spent much of his career in newspaper journalism as a photographer and an editor at six newspapers.

A native Texan and journalism graduate from the University of Texas at Austin.

His journalism career has spanned three decades including two Pulitzer Prizes for his photography. Price also has received a Best Photographic Reporting award from the Overseas Press Club and has been honored at the World Press Photo Awards. His images have appeared in Time, Newsweek, National Geographic, U.S. News & World Report, Audubon and other national publications. Price has contributed to 12 “Day in the Life” photography books including the acclaimed A Day in the Life of America, A Day in the Life of the Soviet Union and A Day in the Life of Africa.

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