To become a press photographer, one might seek a college education or pursue a self-taught career in this field. As photographers build up experience, a portfolio, and a resume, their formal qualifications may become less of a factor in employment decisions. It can take several years to establish a reputation in photojournalism, with or without a college degree. The work requires travel, adaptability, and the ability to think quickly in rapidly changing and sometimes dangerous situations.
Students who want to go the college route to become a press photographer can seek degrees in photography or journalism. Some may focus on topics like politics, economics, or other subjects to develop a broad range of knowledge about the subjects and events they will be photographing. If possible, while in school students should seek out internships in press rooms to start developing experience and skills. After graduation, a student can apply for entry-level positions in photojournalism.
Self-taught photographers can take advantage of books, workshops, and other tools to acquire photography skills and become a press photographer. Practice with the camera is also an important part of training. As they develop experience, they may be able to study under an experienced photographer or start work in a newsroom. Trainees who demonstrate aptitude for the work and the drive to complete projects can be given more responsibilities, and may eventually take on their own assignments.
No matter which route someone takes to become a press photographer, it is important to build up a portfolio and keep it current and relevant. Older images may become less valuable over time as the photographer develops more skills and has newer portfolio entries to showcase. The portfolio should be kept to a manageable size, and should demonstrate a range of skills. Photographers may want to develop a reputation for a specific kind of photojournalism, like sports photography or war photography, in which case their portfolios should provide ample examples of this kind of work.
Agencies that hire full time press photographers tend to look for people with approximately two years of experience in photojournalism, which makes it hard to get a start. As a result, some press photographers start out as freelancers, sending images on spec to multiple agencies in addition to seeking out assignments. This job has some drawbacks, as the work can be demanding and the pay may be irregular. Competition for entry-level positions on newspapers, magazines, and other publications to get the experience needed to become a press photographer can be fierce. It may help to stand out by presenting a strong portfolio and developing good interview skills.