The age we live in is visual. We are bombarded by imagery everywhere we turn – most of which has been manufactured to elicit all sorts of responses. The work of a photojournalist rises above this visual clutter – capturing the essence of a situation and communicating a moment in time for others to interpret.

Photojournalism can offer an interesting and varied career, and if you’re a freelancer there’s the added flexibility that goes with the territory. But how hard is it to make ends meet?

As a freelancer, your work needs to sell itself, so you need to make sure you’re good. Alison feels the core skills you need are ‘tenacity, practice, the ability to take on feedback and hard work’.
‘Before the arrival of digital cameras, I took literally thousands of images to work out how best to take the shots I wanted,’ she explains.

“Also, analysing the work of other photojournalists allows you to build on your skill set.”

While many photojournalists shoot a wide variety of subject matters, Alison’s approach was to initially focus on her passion – surfing – and branch out from there.

“I started doing surf shots almost exclusively because that’s what I was writing about mostly but the more images you take, the better you get. Being exposed to different subjects, lighting and climate conditions is essential.”

Should photojournalists aim more to capture the true essence of a situation or take shots based on what they think will sell? Alison feels, ‘If you get the former and it’s good enough, the latter will follow. I look for what’s going on around and beyond the subject or situation and look for something other than the obvious. But sometimes the straight usual-suspect image is what the editor wants and the best shot.’

Given many photojournalists need to show considerable nerve in intense situations – is this something that can be learnt on the job?

“Yes, you simply have to get on with the job. When taking images of disasters for example, you must develop a good situational awareness to ensure that you know what’s going on around you – moving vehicles, people, emergency services workers, victims, weather, downed power lines and radio traffic. Don’t get sucked into the tunnel vision of just taking photos.”

Like any sole trader, special attention needs to be paid to self-promotion. Through her work in surfing circles, word of mouth often helps secure additional assignments. Her website is also a key promotional tool, as is existing work that’s been published in broadsheet newspapers and magazines.

As Alison values her work-life balance, her income from photography is supplemented by penning articles for a variety of publications – mainly on the topic of surfing. While selling photos could well be her main source of income, the travel involved means that she prefers to write as opposed to being a full time photojournalist. And for many, it’s that work-life balance that attracts people to freelancing in the first place.

Alison Aprhys joined the Copyright Agency in June 2011 and was our 20,000th member.