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 during the 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.
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
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.
Sony Artisans provide insight at the B&H Photo Event Space By Greg Scoblete
Pictured: Michael Rubenstein, Ben Lowy and Ira Block speaking
to moderator Rick Smolan during the B&H event (top of page);
work from the three photographers (above).
BREAKING INTO PHOTOJOURNALISM