For Photojournalists, Creative Freedom Is Its Own Reward

As a career, photojournalism is a noble adventure. Not only do you often enjoy travel and get paid for it, but you are permitted a passport into the lives of others — in your own community, and if you’re lucky, around the world. But it’s not the easiest professional path; there are roadblocks, as well as tempting detours.

One roadblock is that, as a journalist, you are not always welcomed — especially by political, social, military, and governmental elements that would rather not expose their own shortcomings. So you sometimes find yourself in a battle between your passion to tell the story and get it right, and the deterents that prevent you from “trespassing” into the subject’s domain.

For photojournalists who are good at what they do, such barriers can be overcome. But then you’ll likely be enticed to give up photojournalism altogether and turn your talents to more commercial areas for greater income and social status — areas such as advertising and corporate assignments.

Such temptations are not unique to photojournalists. A talented musician can be tempted to produce elevator music; a talented composer, to produce TV show themes; and a talented writer, to hack out formulaic sitcoms. The difference in pay makes it attractive. In photojournalism, unless you are a well-known photographer with many credits, remuneration for your work is not much higher than for basic labor positions (sometimes lower!) Add to the financial challenges the fact that like any business, the publishing world is always trying to reduce expenses. Often, the first target is freelance and staff photographers.

So, will leaving photojournalism for more money or security make you happier? Probably not.

In just about every survey of workers, the reward that workers consider most important is not salary but recognition of their contribution to their chosen career. For a person who has a passion for photojournalism, the carrot of higher pay is not going to outweigh the gratification and self-esteem the photographer realizes from his or her profession.

Is there a solution for this dilemma? Yes. It’s called patience. Demand for creative talent will never subside. Your experience and knowledge will be rewarded if you stick with your profession.

There will always be challenges that come with your job: amateurs, other photographers, your family’s financial needs, etc. But if wild horses can’t pull you away from photojournalism, you will eventually come to a stage in your career where you will have blossomed and matured. You’ll ride out the ups and downs of the publishing world and their cost-cutting cycles, to their traditional returns, to their realization that to get quality service and consistently good photography, they have to pay accordingly.

Your services will be in demand, and the freedom to choose what, when and for whom to photograph will be your biggest reward.

[tags]photojournalism, travel photography, editorial photography, creative freedom, Rohn Engh[/tags]

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