Creating a Winning Photojournalism Portfolio

Creating a dynamic photojournalism portfolio is the key for lending you a much-sought after assignment or a full-time job in a newspaper or a magazine. The aim of the portfolio is to demonstrate creative versatility and solid technical skills.

In the field of photojournalism, your career options are to be a photojournalist on a full-time salary basis; or be self-employed (known as freelance photographer) and land assignment work.

Generally, the staff jobs with paid benefits and steady pay-check are at newspapers (or news photo agencies). Most photojournalists employed by national and local   newspapers are generalists in nature rather than specialising in a particular field.

On the other hand, full-time magazine staff photographer jobs have all but disappeared nowadays. Instead, magazines hire freelancers who specialise in the type of photojournalism that they publish. They are more like commercial photo illustrators supporting a story rather than traditional photojournalists. Therefore, magazine photojournalist portfolios are more targeted towards freelance assignment work specialising in editorial work.

Essential Elements in a Photojournalism Portfolio

Above all, a strong photojournalist portfolio needs to demonstrate versatility of your skills and vision. At the same time the images in the portfolio should evoke intimacy and emotion while showing a point of view and fresh vision. Not much to ask, hey ? But it is all achievable following the guidelines that follow...

In the field of photojournalism there are several portfolio categories based on the type of editorial work. You will find that different photojournalist associations have slightly different definitions for these portfolio categories but in general terms they can be broken down as follows:

  • News:
    • Spot News – a single picture of an unscheduled event for which no advance planning was possible.
    • General News – a picture of a scheduled or organized event for which advance planning was possible.
  • Sports:
    • Sport Action – a single picture or sequence showing participation in a game or athletic event.
    • Sport Feature – a feature picture that is sport related.
  • Features – Usually a found situation with strong human interest: a fresh view of an everyday scene
  • Portraits/Personality – a picture that captures an aspect of the subject’s personality
  • Picture Stories – a collection of pictures with a single theme. Picture stories offer the best media to express your ability to capture subtle moments and convey strong journalistic instinct. The story can be themed around the following areas:
    • News Picture Story
    • Feature Picture Story
    • Sports Picture Story

    Here are three tips for helping you create a winning photo story :

    • Concentrate on subjects with relatively easy access and potential for strong emotional interaction.
    • Similar to a good book, the narrative photo story should take the viewer on a journey through a beginning, middle and an end. Do not take this literally rather show the emotional chronology of your subjects journey as you go through the story.
    • Aim for a close edit of between 5 to 12 images showing a mix of tight and wide shots and diverse compositions.

At this point you might feel a bit overwhelmed, however for newspaper work you do not have to demonstrate command of all of the portfolio categories detailed above. But categories such as news, features, portraits and sports are importantas well as presenting at least one strong picture story is a must.

Tip :

A great source to get inspired and see the work of the top talent in the business for newspaper and magazine photojournalism is at the Picture of the Year International Awards website .

In fact, for experienced professionals and to be successful in photography competitions your portfolio should include at least two good picture stories, together with 10-15 single shots.

You should aim the single shots to be spread amongst several of the main portfolio categories rather than being concentrated just in one. The idea here is that through your single shots in the portfolio, you demonstrate your technical proficiency and ability to create diverse compositions, as well as to use flash.

On the other hand, magazine photojournalist portfolios may instead be highly specialised in one particular category.

What Do Editors Look for in a Photojournalism Portfolio ?

    1. Editors always want to see strong recent work meeting the criteria we discussed above.

2. They also seek in photographers positive attitude combined with imaginative pictures and good ideas.

Tip :

Be willing to work in your own time to produce recent good work that shows depth and meaning and represents you in the best light.


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