Being a news photographer (has nothing to do with cameras)

[A note on this post: I wrote this a while ago for an audience that mostly included enthusiast-and-beyond-level photographers working far away from here. But after I reread it recently, I thought it could be worthwhile sharing here. Please let me know what you think in the comments. –> Ben.]

You think you’re ready to be a newspaper photographer?
I’ll bet you’re wrong.
I’m not being a pessimist … you and your camera just aren’t ready yet.
So what if your portraits are amazing?
Who cares if your lighting is inspired?
Who give a crap if your sports photography moves the viewer to tears?
So, you can shoot video, have a flair for storytelling and a nose for news?
You’re tertiary-qualified and have won awards for your work? Snore!
You might be the NEXT BIG THING about to happen to photography, but you still aren’t good enough to work beside me.
You aren’t ready.
You’re missing something.

[Note: Got your attention? Good! The intent of this orignally was to prove to that being a great photographer had very little to do with producing technically brilliant pictures, that’s a base requirement. A “great” photographer needs to be much more than technically proficient.]

Those above-mentioned things are all way down on the list of qualifications my editor looks for in a photographer.
My boss expects more from his photographers than incredible pixels.
In news, it’s a bare requirement that you’re pictures are amazing, that you’re understanding of lighting is perfect, that you know a 400mm lens better than the back of you hand.
There’s about seven other staff photographers at my newspaper – an eclectic mix of men and women, aged from young to old – and the one thing they have in common is they all rock at photography.
Armed with a couple of cameras – a 16-35mm, a 70-200mm, and a few flashes – every day we file pictures that inform, entertain and engage.
Just like all other news photographers.
Newspapers have shed staff dramatically in the past few years, and many of those who produced the very best in pixels didn’t escape the knife.
Those of us still in the job have to prove ourselves again and again, assignment after assignment, just to stay employed.
The kind of above-and-beyond commitment and dedication that used to earn you respect and admiration in the newsroom is now the baseline.
You show up, give 120 per cent, forget about your lunch-break and work a few hours overtime just to keep up with the rest of the photographers.

So, how do you get ahead with your camera?

You don’t.
You get ahead by being the best person you can be.
By being a fighter. A survivor. And a nice guy, too.
A fighter makes front page pictures out of virtually nothing.
A survivor doesn’t believe in reshoots. They somehow always find a way to make strangers who aren’t models look great in rubbish light.
And a nice guy can encounter with anyone, from editors to members of the public, and leave them satisfied and smiling.

Forget your 70-200mm – “you” are the best tool in your camera bag.

The brief for us every day is this: Deliver awesome pictures and video in crappy conditions with very little time and even less gear. There’s no valid excuses for stuff ups and usually only a nod of praise for a job well done.

So why do we do it? And why would you even want to consider a career in news photography?

Well, for me, there’s nothing like the thrill of walking into any story, any situation, any light, with two lenses and two flashes and producing a front-page picture.

News photography is the ultimate proof that it’s not your gear that makes the picture, it’s your brain, and your ability to connect with people.
Understand that, and you’ll get a job beside me anyday.

[Note: Sorry it was a long one. Hope you liked it. Please write to me here with your thoughts. –> Ben.]