Dive photojournalism is a lot more than gathering up your best underwater shots and assembling a few paragraphs based on what you can remember about a dive destination.
It requires a proficiency in photography and writing, an investment in equipment, knowledge of digital imaging software, good organisational skills, and advance preparation. In short, it’s an entirely different approach to a dive trip.
Before attempting to get work published, a budding photojournalist must first acquire the skills and equipment required for the task at hand. While it’s possible for beginners to get some good photographic results without really understanding the reasons why, it’s essential to acquire knowledge of how good work is produced, so that it can be repeated consistently.
By far the best and easiest way to make quick progress is to take tuition from a leading underwater photographer. Underwater photography is a challenging subject to learn, so any help of this kind can save years of frustration.
It’s important to develop land photography skills, so that features can be illustrated in a wider context. Some underwater photographers neglect the topside, often to the detriment of the overall feature. Plan to include images of the people and places with any piece of work.
Another key skill is that of writing. Some people find this relatively easy and enjoyable, whereas others find it a trying and time-consuming process. Certainly for the majority, the skill of writing has to be acquired and honed through practice, with most admitting that it seldom comes easily. Try reading examples on websites like DPG or magazines to get an idea of the writing voice.
To produce good features, it’s essential that the writing and pictures are related—for example, there’s no point in making your fantastic manta ray encounters central to the story if you’ve no images to back it up. Make sure you can tell the story through both words and images.
Successful underwater photography cannot be achieved by just being comfortable in the water and possessing knowledge of f-stops and shutter speeds, important though that may be. It’s really the overall approach to the activity that can make or break a successful photojournalist. It’s important to think about what kind of images you want to capture prior to getting in the water, in order to best illustrate the feature. Knowing what to expect at a destination, and more specifically, a dive site, will greatly improve your chances of coming home with killer shots.
The importance of the dive briefings themselves should not be underestimated and is a crucial step in locating the desired subjects, or how to behave around potentially skittish subjects. Following it will be much more likely to bring in good results.
Of course, what happens out of the water is massively important, too. While on location, especially on a paid assignment, it’s important to carefully maintain your photographic equipment to reduce the risk of flooding a camera or strobe.
But it doesn’t stop there—a good photojournalist must also download and name images, back up work onto storage devices to minimize risk of data loss, and take extensive notes so that you’re not having to rely on memory to write the feature when you get home.
To understand the benchmark you must attain, study current published work and seek to emulate the quality of those features in your own work. Once you feel ready to get published, you have to ask questions such as, “What might an editor be looking for?” Refer to the specific magazine or website you’re targeting to understand the type of features that are regularly published in terms of writing style, word count, photography, and so on.
With your ideas fully formed, it’s now the time to put a proposal to the editor. Editors receive many proposals, so it’s important to ensure that you create a professional first impression. To learn more about these pitches, do a simple online search for successful examples.
If you get that wonderful “yes” email back, it may seem that the most time-consuming part of the process is over. However, don’t underestimate the work required to write an article and get it to the point that you’re happy to submit. It’s essential to stick to the brief agreed with the editor. Choose someone else to give your writing an edit. And then edit, again and again. Take the time required to get it right.
Photojournalism is hard work, but rewarding work. Most of all, it requires personal commitment. If it’s for you, why not give it a try?