There was a time when publications assigned photojournalists long-term projects with the goal of thoroughly documenting an important story over time. Unfortunately, with rare exceptions, those days are gone.
Or are they?
Sure, if you’re looking to be sent to exotic locations for weeks at a time, keep dreaming. Today the business is about tight deadlines and tighter budgets.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t still create long-term documentary projects — and get paid to do so.
Start by opening your eyes to what’s going on in your own community. Find a story on your own, and cover it on your own time initially. You might be pleasantly surprised at what comes of it.
Swedish photographer Paul Hansen calls this “having a knitting project in a drawer.” It’s a project you take out and work on when you have some spare time. You “knit” a little every now and then, when time allows, and put the project away when you have other things to do.
Before you know it, you’ll find yourself with a complete sweater — or in the photographer’s case, a complete photo documentary.
Shoot Locally, Sell Globally
I used this approach for a feature I did a few years back. I shot parents and their babies taking advantage of Norway’s generous parental leave, through various activities. I did the whole thing in the area where I live, usually within walking distance of my home.
I ended up with a story called “Babyland.”
For the Norwegian media, my story wasn’t news. But in other countries, “Babyland” was seen as unusual — even exotic.
In the end, my photo documentary found its way into publications in at least five countries (tear sheets from three countries illustrate this post). And single images from the feature have sold in even more countries since then.
Other photo documentaries I have made locally have been published locally, depending on the story. In addition, these pictures contribute to my growing archive for future sales.
Starting a “knitting” project in your own backyard has numerous advantages. You can do it on the cheap. You can gain an intimate knowledge of your subject matter. You can shoot it between other assignments. And you can expand your network — even picking up new clients along the way.
Best of all, because you control the project, it is story-driven — not budget-driven or deadline-driven. And that’s a true breath of fresh air.