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Steve Phillips Blog: How to become a Press photographer

By StevePhillips  |  Posted: April 23, 2013

  • Scott Williams in action for Wales v Argentina. Being good at sports photography is one of the skills you need to become a press photographer.Picture by Steve Phillips

  • Pink in Concert at the Liberty Stadium Swansea.Picture by Jonathan Myers

  • Miss Wales runner-up Kelly Rowland who works at Ammanford Metals a recycling company. Press photographers have to come up with creative ways to illustrate stories. Picture by Gayle Marsh

One of the questions I get asked a lot is how do you become a press photographer? Well it involves hard work and sometimes some luck. When I got my foot in the door I was in the right place at the right time doing work experience at my local newspaper.

It certainly helps to be technically proficient because as a press photographer you will need to be able to take photographs in a lot of very different circumstances and environments. So you need to be really good at using digital SLR equipment, choosing correct lenses, knowing when you need to use flash, and how to use off camera flash.

You will need to be able to quickly download, caption and edit your photographs so knowing how to use a computer and editing software would certainly help. You also need to be good with people because 90% of the time you will be photographing them. You have to develop a knack of putting people at ease very quickly and getting them to do what you want for a picture even if you are a naturally shy person. You also need to be able to drive.

There is a formal qualification for press photographers. It is the National Qualification for the Training of Journalists Press Photography Diploma. You can study for this qualification at 2 centres in Great Britain, Sheffield and Bournemouth. A lot of students who complete the course and attain the qualification get a job in the industry. The course runs for an academic year and on it students complete their preliminary examinations in law, photographic knowledge, photographic practice and caption writing.

18 months after completing the course and after building up a logbook of your work and you can take the NCE (national certificate exam). This is a practical examination which takes on one day. Pass this and you are a qualified press photographer.

The industry has changed over the years and there are now less press photographer's jobs in newspapers so it's tougher to break into. Traditionally press photographers jobs have been on newspapers but this has changed over the years. There are still a lot of press photographers employed in the regional press but the national press now employ very few.

They use press agencies based all around the UK and the world and freelancers and this sector has grown over the years. There are press agencies all over GB supplying pictures and stories to national and regional newspapers magazines and websites.

If you really want to be a press photographer you need to be persistent. Going on work experience with your local newspaper or press agency is a good way of building a portfolio of relevant pictures. Don't stop there though. Look for stories and pictures yourself and go and shoot them and submit them to your local newspaper. Even if at first you do not get paid for them it will help if your work is published so you can show any prospective employer what you can do. It will also help you get on one of the NCTJ courses.

If you manage to get a job interview for a job or one of the courses it's no good turning up with a portfolio of immaculate still life photographs. As an employer I need to see evidence that you can shoot news, sport and feature jobs quickly and are able to edit caption and transmit them. I need to see you can photograph people, cope with different lighting conditions and use the right equipment for the right job. I also need to know that you can shoot and edit video, create picture slideshows and upload media to a website.

Knowing how to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to promote your work is also an advantage as is being able to use modern mobile phones to their full advantage.

Even if your aim is to work on a newspaper either in the regional press or national press you may have to first work at an agency or freelance first. It is tougher to get a job in the industry nowadays and there are less opportunities but there is still room for the most determined individuals who persevere and are too good to ignore. So if you really want one of the best jobs in photography keep knocking at the door, build a relevant portfolio and get yourself on one of the accredited NCTJ courses. Make sure your work is good enough and when the chance comes to get a foot in the door, be it with a weekly newspaper or an agency make sure you take it. The hardest part is getting your first job, once you are in and if you are good enough the world is your oyster as they say.

Details of the NCTJ courses can be found at