Two years ago, as I sat on the sidelines of my very first college basketball assignment — Northwestern v. Indiana — I glanced over at the photographer sitting next to me and found myself scrambling to find words to strike up a conversation.
His press pass read “The Associated Press,” and my D90 and 18-105 mm kit lens paled in comparison to his two professional Canon cameras and fast prime lenses.
My memory of our exchange is a bit hazy now, but I recall expressing how fun I thought shooting for the AP must be.
Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a rhetorical question backfired when he shot back, “It’s not that great.”
That quickly put an end to the conversation.
My chat with the AP photographer hasn’t been my only buzz-kill encounter with professional photojournalists. Striking up friendly conversations with other photographers from large agencies, I quickly gathered that my outlook on the future of photojournalism was too optimistic for their liking.
“Learn video,” one told me.
Another, chuckling in that “life is tough” sort of way, suggested that I was sensible for also pursuing design and keeping my options open.
I don’t dismiss this kind of advice out of hand. That would be unwise. These photographers have been in the field for years, and their opinions have value. The best way to learn the business is from those who are currently experiencing the changes and the struggles.
That said, I maintain my optimism and refuse to feel discouraged.
Call me naïve, but as an aspiring visual journalist who loves photography, I refuse to believe the industry is so grim that it’s not worth pursuing.
I think it is largely a matter of shifting mindsets. You can no longer take a traditional approach.
Sure, you shouldn’t go into journalism or photography for the money — but that’s never been the primary reason people went into these professions. You can still find a way to make it.
My peers and fellow photographers at Northwestern have shown me that the possibilities for visual journalism are many and varied. You just have to take initiative and be creative.
Take on different assignments. Don’t limit yourself to just one publication or speciality. Explore the possibilities and pave your own road.
While I have friends who brand themselves as landscape photographers and others as portrait photographers, most of us take photo assignments from multiple publications, offer to take headshots for performing arts students and explore different opportunities.
We create our own business models, jump at every chance to expand our portfolios, and take an entrepreneurial approach to the future.
Full Speed Ahead
I am a strong believer that our society is more visual than ever. For all the discouraging blog posts out there, there are twice as many posts about new technologies that offer more opportunities for photographers than ever before.
With the rise of tablets like Apple’s iPad and high-resolution screens, online publications will feature photographs more prominently — and the color on these tablet screens is absolutely stunning. Stories will always need accompanying photographs, and some stories are simply told better with photographs.
With less than one year left in college, I am frequently asked questions about my future: What do you want to do after you graduate? Do you know where you will end up? What is your dream job?
These answers required less thought when I was five — ballerina, teacher, astronaut. Today, my answers tend to be filled with “um’s,” “I don’t knows” and long-winded explanations that last far longer than the standard elevator pitch.
But I know that I will pursue visual journalism in some shape or form, whether that be photography, design or interactive graphics. I am confident about that.
Regardless of how difficult and unpredictable the future of the industry may seem, my camera remains attached to my hip for most of the day because there is nothing like the thrill of photography for me. That’s why I choose to focus on the endless possibilities ahead.