Becoming a photo journalist – despite all obstacles


When we think of a photo journalist, most of us have the same image in mind: a brave photographer going on a journey to give people a better understanding of our world. Telling stories, showing all kinds of countries and different cultures in catchy picture documentations and thus using their own language, which is universally understandable.

The job of a photo journalist is a glorified one for sure. However, is it still so glamorous if we take a glimpse behind our heroic images and who are the real enemies of photographers?

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I can show you the world through my lens/eyes

Only armed with a camera and some lenses, such fearless heroes travel through our world history, presenting the stories lurking behind every corner. Thanks to them, we can see different places, things and happenings we would have never seen otherwise. Through their own language they make every photo report unmistakably unique. The texts behind the pictures complete the entire image, thus bringing the fascinations of the world into people’s living rooms.

The idea of becoming a photo journalist is as popular as ever. Many youngsters want to start the foolhardy journey through the world and catch some unforgettable snapshots on their camera lenses. Sticking to your own principles, telling a story and experiencing amazing things – the job description sounds like a good Hollywood script. The truth behind it, however, doesn’t look so bright at all.

All that glitters is not gold

The good old days, of which we still hear many photographers talk about, are gone and reality catches up even with the most heroic dreamer, because the job of the photographer loses its former prestige more and more every day.

The times when publishers sent their photographers out into the world to create authentic high-quality reports are over. Today the jobs are rare, the budget is low and the main motto is: Get it done fast, even though time is an important factor for every successful photo report. Stock pictures and superficiality tighten the sling around the photographers’ necks every day. What used to be known as virtue back then now rather has become a disruptive factor.

Where the real enemy lurks

Unlike assumed, a photo journalist’s biggest enemy is not a wild animal lurking in the jungle or lava seeding in a volcano. The real enemy is reality itself, because most of the time reality looks like this: A lot of work with a low salary and glory often remaining a pipedream. Publishers don’t support photo journalists anymore. Competition is growing every day and the readers are satisfied with mediocrity. All of this leads to the final step where photo journalists keep struggling to make ends meet every day.

There’s life in the old dog yet

But despite all this, many people still choose to work as photo journalists, well aware of what they can expect. In an interview with DOCMA magazine, Professor Rolf Nobel describes how, even though he warns all his students at the beginning of the financial obstacles of this profession, the drop-out rates are in a single-digit percentage range (as of the year 2016).

Thus completely new ways open up in the entire professional field as now photographers are freed from their ivory tower and taken back to reality. Now photographers can focus on the essentials and walk new pathways.

Thus the future may remain uncertain. However, what we know is that photographers will be confronted with major changes. Only time will show whether they will be positive or negative.

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