Building a Career in Photo Journalism

Bev Prideaux

Bev PrideauxWhen I'm not in our vineyard my other occupation is freelance photo journalism, with an emphasis on rural, trade and lifestyle features.

Working from home with a magnificent view across the vines is a great way to live when you've decided it is way to soon to retire.

My speciality is in horticulture and the wine industry, (I stopped counting after 600 published articles), and after 15 years the stories opportunities are still rolling in. It was a simple step from years in rural merchandising to writing promotional articles for the local wine industry and general interest stories for magazines and newspapers. Once I realised I had inadvertently built myself another career, I studied journalism through a variety of sources.

My background is in wool, mohair and textiles, followed by grapegrowing, winemaking and now a sandalwood plantation. 

When it comes to sporting interests (now that I've grown up), it's gone from competition shooting and horses, to photography (still shooting things), fishing and walking. 

So you want to be a photo journalist?

Before we start, please remember these are my opinions and not necessarily the only way to tackle journalism. It is simply what works for me.

What is a photo journalist?

In my case it is a freelance journalist with the ability and equipment to first, take relevant photos of sufficient quality to be acceptable to the target publication, and secondly, to process and deliver the photos according to the specifications and deadlines. And then of course, write the story according to the same criteria.

Why combine the two very different skills?

It saves the editor time and money.
Instead of having to find a photographer in the same locality as the story, or pay mileage to get one on site, he/she can make use of your skills for less money and a lot less hassles.

If you get paid less for your photos than a photographer, why do it?

Think of the photos in this situation as good promotion for your story. An eye-catching photo along with the story idea you are pitching to the editor, shrieks quick and easy, professional and organized. The same story idea without the photo could easily be overlooked. And importantly, if a story requiring photos (and most do) comes up and an editor can kill two birds with one phone call, guess who gets the job?

What is the minimum equipment I need?

  • Any digital camera that will give you a jpeg file of 2 megabytes or bigger. Most digital cameras these days are much bigger than that.
  • A tape recorder, a mobile phone and a computer with internet access.
  • A reliable vehicle is a necessity, if you want to be able to take advantage of all the opportunities.

Is there a difference in freelancing for general and trade magazines?

Yes, a big difference. General magazines have a consumer base of readers looking for ‘entertainment’. Trade magazine readers are looking for ‘focused information’.

Within ‘trade magazines’ there is the further refinement of ‘dedicated’ subject matter.
For instance a really good story on, ‘The incidence of 99-legged centipedes in a given population’, may well fit an entomologist’s journal, but would hit the slush pile immediately if submitted to a patchworking magazine, even if the author had just discovered one in the sewing box.

Is freelance journalism very different from fiction?

Absolutely and totally. Journalism is defined as ‘reporting’/ ‘recording’ events factually as they happened, not as you thought or hoped they happened.

What about writers block?

The best cure for ‘writer’s block’ is a fast approaching deadline and the sure and certain knowledge that if you can’t meet your obligations/deadlines there is someone else fast on your heels who can and will. Writer’s block? Never heard of it! (Though I do have big tufts of hair missing from time to time!)



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