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Breaking into Photojournalism: Sony Artisans Provide Insight at B&H Photo

January 13, 2017

By Greg Scoblete

On December 1, Sony Artisans Ira Block, Ben Lowy and Michael Rubenstein gathered at B&H Photo and Video’s Event Space in New York City for an all-day event hosted by Sony and PDN. The three shared their insight on today’s photojournalism industry during a panel moderated by fellow photographer Rick Smolan. View video of the full panel here:

All three photographers have maintained long careers in photography, so we caught up with them after the event for a Q&A to relay some of their tips.

PDN: What advice would you give to photographers looking to break into photojournalism? How about those looking for commercial work?

Ira Block:  The world of photojournalism is changing quickly, but the basic values are still the same: tell a story with your images and make sure that story and your photos are a truthful representation of what is happening. One thing that hasn’t changed since I started my career many years ago is that you have to know your craft. You just can’t pick up a camera and start shooting.

To find commercial and photojournalism work you need to have a presence on social media. Everyone looks at social media, so an art director or photo editor may see one of your images and think you are the right person to do a job for them. Take your social media seriously if you are a photographer; don’t make it “social.” No food photos or goofy images of your friends—make sure that your pictures are photographs and not snapshots!

Michael Rubenstein: For someone wanting to break into photojournalism today I think that the most important part is to understand that photojournalism is mostly journalism—it’s much more than just going out and photographing the world around you.

If you want to break into ad work I would do two things: One: shoot, shoot, shoot. Shoot everything that interests you. Build a great book, website and social presence. Two: assist. Clients want to know that you can handle a big-budget job. If you assist for a while and learn everything you can from the photographer you’re working with, you’ll probably be able to handle it. If you just dive right in…well, you might sink.

Ben Lowy: Inheriting money would be a good place to start. But seriously, know that the business is hard to break into now that there are so few publications, smaller budgets, and more photographers. The key is consistency and marketing. Being visible and putting out work that matches your visibility. The same goes for commercial—though I think for commercial work you need to be more on-target for what you want to shoot. A commercial gig has millions at stake, so they will go with the tried and true.

PDN: After you’ve achieved some measure of success in the photo industry, how do you stay fresh?

Block: I spend most of my time looking for new projects to shoot. I try to stay relevant by seeing what types of images people are doing now and adjusting my style to keep things more modern and fresh. I spend a lot of time with younger photographers, looking at their work, which not only helps them, but helps me to see in new ways. I also stay up-to-date on new camera and lighting technology—it enables me to find new ways to be creative.

Rubenstein: Two words: personal projects. I wouldn’t be able to survive if I wasn’t working on personal projects. I need to be free to follow my own ideas and shoot any way I want to without a client or editor to please. Personal projects are often where I do some of my best work and they inform my clients and potential clients of the work I want to be doing. I actually get a fair amount of work based on the personal projects I shoot.

Lowy: Inspiration, motivation—they come from the world around you. From the people you surround yourself with to the books you read. It’s important to keep your eyes and mind open to possibilities—to new things. It’s important not to self-censor.

Photo © Tony Gale