1. Attend school at University of Western Kentucky or University of Missouri. major in photojournalism
2. Win the college photographer of the year CPOY
3. Get invited to intern for national geographic when you win CPOY
4. Graduate, get a job with one of the big 5 papers, ie, Washington Post, NY Times, LA Times or some wire service like AP. Smaller papers are great too, but job security is a major concern for many smaller and mid sized papers now.
5. You're in!
Hi I was a photojournalist from 1999-2004 with the local newspapers.
I joined The New Paper (TNP) in 1999, but when Today started in 2000, I was one of those who was asked to join the start-up then. At TNP, my byline is KC Wong, and in Today, I reverted to my full name Wong Khing Chong.
Frankly speaking, I don't think paper qualifications is THAT crucial in the local context. However, I must say that I was very lucky to join TNP when I had zero experience and a near-non-existent portfolio to speak. I didn't get the job on my 1st round, but half a year later when a vacancy became available, they called me. Training was on-the-job, where I was encouraged to look at contact sheets of other PJs (we shot film then). The photo editor was a very encouraging boss who entrusted me with huge responsibilities after a month or two.(I was given my 1st 2 page photoessay assignment).
I was constantly criticised. I knew it was critique time when the next day I saw a piece of paper (of the printed picture and news article) clipped to my name on the roster board. However, those were the most positive and rewarding times because that's when I got to learn a lot of things from veterans. TNP might be a tabloid, but because it is a tabloid, I got to do many "funny" and interesting jobs that were not so straight forward. We constantly had to shoot differently from what Straits Times (ST) pj were shooting, because as an afternoon tabloid, we certainly did not want a similar angle to ST or other main dailies.
For example, during the Nipah virus (pig's disease in Johor), I went to Seremban where the affected pig farms are and covered the aftermath, on how farmers were affected. I proposed my own story to go to Sabah to document this group of primary school children who lived in the mountains and had to trek 3-4 hours on Monday morning to go to school. (shacked out after the trek...the kids had to wait for me all the time because I couldn't keep up).
Today (the free newspaper) offered a different proposition. There were fewer opportunities for pictures but we were given more freedom of expression. However, things kept changing there and it's always a challenge to have very nice pictures published there. Do not overlook the photo department there....there are a few excellent shooters there who are not given good enough opportunities. One of them is my ex-colleague Wee Teck Hian.
His is a case of not having much paper qualifications but came to our office one day with a very very strong portfolio. His b/w street photography of Singapore was so matured that we were overawed by his photos back then. He doesn't speak English well, no degree, but his passion and eye for the unusual more than makes up for it. You can keep a lookout for his pictures in Today.
PJ is different from street photography at a personal level. Whenever you shoot, you have to think of the readers. Sometimes it's the news value, rather than artistic value that takes precedence. For example, a picture of TT Durai hiding in the car taken by Wong Kwai Chow in ST scooped the picture of the year. It's not arty farty, but it's spot on, news-wise.
Veteran PJs are a hardened bunch of people. They are tough, thick-skinned, resourceful (sometimes you need to do own research on best angle, anticipate when and where) but friendly. They are not as aggressive as Malaysian or HK PJs who are fiercely competitive and aggressive. You can see that if you are involved in regional events or there are visiting stars or dignitaries.
They don't do dramatic stuff all the time. In peaceful singapore, a lot of pictures published are for diary events (things that are pre-planned...eg. launches, events, press conferences, 1-1 interviews). You need to be very creative and strong in taking interesting potraits, from businessmen, politicians, celebrities to rank-and-file men on the street, and a lot of times you only have a few minutes to do so.
For events, you need to know what the gist of the event is, and take from an interesting angle that one look from the reader (if it is interesting enough for them to look at inthe 1st place), they know what it's all about. If you are able to inject a bit of humour and intelligence into it, you score more points.
To be a good PJ, you also need to think of a story in visual terms. The pictures should not be random snap shots. Every shot has to say something, not taking it for the sake of taking it. The best way is to ask yourself, after the shoot:"why did i take this picture? does it help in telling the story?is there a point to it?"
For example, in Saturday's ST (31 Mar 2007), there is an excellent photoessay by Sim Chi Yin about an indonesian maid from central java. There's a nice sombre picture of the maid walking in her village that serves as a good opening. subsequently, every other picture says something that adds information and depth to the story. Pictures are taken using wide angles, close-ups, details. even if the reader doesn't read the full story, we can feel for the maid from the pictures and captions alone.
I guess the above is the reason why people want to be a PJ.
You don't have to attend a degree course to do it (i think lah, at least when applied to local media). Attending workshops will help expose yourself to the PJ world and the requirements. Observing other's published works definitely help. If you are really passionate, take note of some of the diary events (opening ceremonies, launches, mini-concerts, government family events) where you think there might be media coverage. Observe how the PJs work, take a camera and shoot it as if your picture will be published and you can learn a thing or two on the next day, when you see the actual PJ's work get published. You won't know how certain pictures come about until you are there. Of course, certain events are private and only opened to media, but no harm getting a feel of the event.
This is my 2 cents' worth. But i think it's at least a start.
Thanks for the in-depth sharing. I agree that paper qualification is not a must for press photography work here in Singapore. Having a good and relevant portfolio is what it counts.
I still remembered that I was asked by an editor (during my job interview) to select 2 photos from my portfolio and explain why they are news-worthy. I've been on the job for only more than a yr plus but the opportunities have been priceless. Though not all the time a glamourous affair, the satisfaction of my photo being published (esp headliner stories) is great.
There're many more things which I've learnt on-the-job which is difficult to share over the forum.
This is a pretty niche profession in singapore. Keep building up your portfolio and at the same time, keep a look out for opportunities in the papers.
i did both PJ n commercial some 15yrs ago. fm wat i can remember, PJ gives u room for creativity. editor tells u abt the write up n its up to u to use yr creativity to come up with a interesting composition of a picture to tell a story. hard work but great satisfation. however, u wont earn as much as a commercial photographer unless ya v sort after. n yes, sometimes the "back problems n cold dinners"
on the other hand, commercial photograher usually does exactly wat he's told. the art director usually decides exactly wat he wats n its up to the photographer to "make it happen". kinda technical. but tats where the big bucks is...
if i had to choose, i'll prob go with PJ, more satisfaction i guess, unless if im outta cash...:bsmilie: