Another essential part of your kit

   In the below photo, notice that the Greensboro News & Record shooter covering an April 2012 Tea Party rally in Greensboro, N.C. is wearing glasses - whether needed for vision or sunglasses or whatever - and they are held on his head by a piece of rubber tubing.  I used a thing from Wal-Mart’s fishing department to hold my glasses on my head - and it’s inexpensive and floats.
   Stories you will shoot will have you dealing with real live idiots - even if only drunk guests at a wedding!  Rallies may degenerate into riots without notice - regardless of the ideological orientation of the rally; one counterdemonstrator throwing something may - if by accident - hit you in the face.
   So - even if you wear contact lenses or don’t need glasses - get real glasses or sunglasses made by a local eyewear place, with large thick lenses (unlike the shooter in the photo) to maximize protection.  The lenses should be polycarbonate - the eye-doctor industry’s name for the Lexan used in bullet-resisting shields - so it won’t break into little pieces that end up in your eye.  Major benefit: such eyewear can keep you shooting that story even if your eyes wouldn’t have been injured at all.

Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record shooter covers Tea Party rally, April 14, 2012, Greensboro.
Note eyeglasses and tubing holding them
on his head.

What do you shoot when nothing’s happening?

   What do you shoot when nothing’s happening?  When nobody’s protesting or rioting, when no politician’s campaigning or making an appearance, nobody’s having a formal wedding they want you to shoot, and no promising athlete is playing?
   My answer is everything and anything - as in the bewildering assortment of logos; yes, such photos do sell.  Companies later make news - if not at the time - when one buys out another; I sold a photo of the stylized front of a major area supermarket chain (below) when it later was bought out by a national chain.  Carmakers may later make news - for all the wrong reasons, such as their make being discontinued in the U.S. market.  Photos of spinoff products based on TV series people may sell - as one based on “Duck Dynasty” did for me when that show made news for its characters’ views on gays and lesbians.
   Ideally, you place such photos with an agency - but, if the agency you used goes out of business, you will have to find another or market the images yourself.

A photo of this major supermarket chain’s stylized decor sold when the chain sold

Why you should change your return-address stamp

   I just changed the pre-inked stamp I use for return addresses on outgoing mail - and so should you.
   I got the idea from a sort-of-related suggestion in John Harrington’s book Best Business Practices for Photographers - which I strongly recommend you study, along with its sequel More Best Business Practices for Photographers.  In the first book, he suggested a rubber stamp for use on back of prints sent clients - to emphasize that the shooter owned rights to the image and that the client didn’t.
   You may be a great shooter - but believe me you can learn a lot about the business side of photography of any kind from those two books.
   Right after moving here - and knowing that stick-on return address labels wouldn’t come for some time - I had a local print shop make me a pre-inked return-address stamp.  But Harrington’s books gave me an idea for a big improvement: including the Web address of my portfolio as the stamp’s last line.  That way, everyone who reads any envelope I mail will see it - and be tempted to check it out, without my including a business card.

My first really good camera

   I’d had a camera of my own before - for a short while: a bottom-model Instamatic a paper-towel company (and likely also Kodak) was giving away for proof-of-purchase seals from rolls of paper towels plus a nominal postage fee.  But I very soon moved up to a really-good rangefinder 35mm camera as my parents’ incentive for placing near the top in a Scout troop’s competition.
   I’d had my eyes on a mid-range Instamatic with auto-winding and also having photocell like my mother’s that she still occasionally used instead of her SLR -but they were more practical.  They “suggested” me towards a rangefinder 35mm - either Konica like her SLRor (when the Konica had to be returned due to malfunctions) a Minolta Hi-Matic 7S.
   They saw a need for even hobbies that would eventually potentially pay - as opportunity even then in the early 1970s was vanishing, and my father had just been dumped as a professor, despite teaching a field short of faculty and his having three graduate degrees in three math-oriented areas few studied.  So my reward would be that camera - not the typical kid stuff like go-karts or minibikes.
   That camera was light-years above the giveaway Instamatic - with a fast f/1.8 lens, a photocell, and settable for any film speed from 25 to 800.  Readout in viewfinder told EVnumber - then settable on lens with calculator scale built in - a huge step up from any Instamatic.  Shutter speed was up to 1/500.  Sure, the lens was fixed and wide-angle at 45mm - but took filters easily, and I came to keep an UV filter screwed in for protection at all times.
   I quickly graduated to developing black and white film myself in various home darkrooms - and then enlarging the negatives.
   That’s the camera I shot the first news photo I sold with - a wrecked small plane at the tiny local airport, I heard it on scanner, went, shot photos - sold the film to area daily.  Area daily ran it next day with credit.  Plane sustained $250,000 damage; I got paid $30.  I was in college then - and hooked on photojournalism.

Online portfolios - which one?

   There are various templates for online portfolios - and I can suggest two, both of which I’ve used.
   One is the National Press Photographers Association - through its membership.  NPPA has improved it a lot since first offering it to members; each  thumbnail lets viewers click for a caption.  And the easy advantage of NPPA’s portfolio - as a benefit of membership - is that NPPA’s members are easily searched by state, which is how I got my first on-assignment work.
   But nothing beats Format - previously 4ormat - for professional-looking Web portfolios that your name or business is the Web address of.  A Format portfolio is very easy to build - and very versatile, allowing blogs like mine here; see my Format portfolio at  
   Any Format portolio is easily tagged with tags such as your state, your city, what kind of photo work you do.
   Of course, you can always put together a redirect to take your choice of Web address to a NPPA portfolio you have.

Advertising - inexpensively

   How do you advertise - inexpensively? Certainly not the Yellow Pages - whose rates are expensive.
   One way is an online portfolio.  One method is the National Press Photographers’ Association - which now allows a quite good portfolio.  Another is Format - which also allows a quite good online portfolio, easy to set up and with your choice of name for Web site’s address.
   With Format, tag your portfolio’s Web site with words and phrases that lead potential clients to it - such as “photojournalism”; “photography”; “news photography”; and your city and state.  Also your name - and any business name.
   Either way, caption each photo in your online portfolio - both as to what it was and what publication(s), if any, ran it.  Emphasize top stories - not just great-looking photos; see my portfolio at
   Another inexpensive advertising method is to leave a business card on the table every time you eat out - or do anything else out.  Also, don’t forget to put business cards on bulletin boards at convenience stores, restaurants, etc. - especially if you also are willing to shoot wedding photos.  Get great business cards done by a local printer - rather than freebies obtained online - if you do this.

The two essential lenses of photojournalism

   Sure, Canon (and Nikon) make a long list of top-end lenses - but, in reality, only two are needed for over 95% of photojournalism.  And there is no substitute for either; both of the Canon ones are weather-sealed.  They are the 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM and their 70-200 f/2.8 “L” IS  USM.
   “Weather-sealed” means I’ve shot stories with each in the rain - without trouble, without damage to the lens or dSLR that it was on.  This is essential if you have a top story to cover and cannot put it off until the storm ends.
   That wide maximum aperture means you can achieve nil-depth-of-field effects for movie-poster-like photos that the subject seems to pop out of - with the subject in razor-sharp focus and even very-near objects a blur (photo below).  That’s why the 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM is the go-to lens of wedding photographers.  It also means you can shoot in dim conditions without flash - essential for weddings, as many churches ban flash.
   Used, each is available at large savings.  So save up for one of each - and scrimp on anything else, including the dSLR body itself..  A 7D works fine with those two lenses - and a life-size 20”x30” print shows it, looking just like the subject is in your living room!

Marine veteran at Memorial Day commemoration, 
Graham, N.C. 2013.
70-200 f/2.8 “L” IS USM  lens used.

Shopping for photo gear at a pawn shop

   How do you shop for top camera gear at a pawn shop - and get great deals?
   You can either start at the pawn shop’s business and business model or with a specific item in mind - but the end result is the same:
   1) Pawn shops - even of major chains - have a rather-typical method of deciding how much to lend on an item or buy it for: usually eBay to see what the item sells for used.  Adorama and other deep-discount photo distributors with used-gear divisions are beyond their mindset - as they see eBay as their real competitor if a loan defaults or anything they bought is to be sold.
   2) Evaluate the item carefully before buying - as usually it is a cash sale with no return.  Major pawn chains now only take cash or debit cards - not credit cards, which offer recourse for buyers - for this reason.
It is far easier to evaluate something you yourself forfeited to the pawn shop when you were much worse off!
   3) Upper-end items are much likelier to have stood up before the pawn shop got them than low-price knockoffs or worse.  Regardless of the pawn shop’s own practices, anyone with a $2,000 Canon “L” zoom lens handled it a lot more carefully before losing it to the pawn shop or selling it to them than someone with a bottom-end camera.
   4) Shop the case at the pawn shop that their pricier camera gear is kept in - at least weekly.
   5) Finally, you need to know the “market” used price on any item you’re considering before buying from the pawn shop - or especially to negotiate with it!  Shop the used-gear division of Adorama or even see what the item goes for on eBay - and you know what a good price is on that item.

Getting top gear cheap.

   How do you get top gear cheaply?  One obvious answer is eBay.  Another is the used-gear departments of top deep-discount retailers such as Adorama.  I’ve had good experience with both.
   But nothing beats a pawn shop for deals.  My first good digicam - a Canon A60 - I bought used from a local pawn shop that was holding a going-out-of-business sale.  I had one of their people put batteries in it - and tested it in the pawn shop before buying.  Price was great.
   Today, I did  much better.  I saw a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 “L” IS USM in the display case of the pawn shop I’d lost it to when times were hard - stickered at $550.  They told me it was the one I’d brought in.  That particular lens cost me $1,500 from Adorama used.  I negotiated it down to $350, tax included.
   Pawn shops just want money - fast.  They are willing to make real deals - especially now that they are full of stuff they can’t sell that they lent on or bought.  Pawn shops are now full of all kinds of stuff - an indicator of the real economy.
   I love that lens - as it can produce real shallow depth of field effects.  See the photo below.

Cate Edwards walks alongside her father John at his trial.
Notice how - even less than a couple feet from her - he’s blurred enough to pretend he’s unrecognizable, while she’s in razor-sharp focus!
Shot with Canon 70-200 f/2.8 “L” IS USM.

Which lens first?

   Which lens do you get first - other than, of course, the kit lens your dSLR probably came with?  It depends on what you’re shooting.
   If you’re shooting weddings, Canon’s 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM is about essential - as many churches won’t let you use flash inside during the wedding.  It’s been the go-to lens for wedding photographers for some time.  It’s also weather-sealed for outdoor events.  Sure, it’s expensive - but you can make it up on a wedding or two; buy used and version 1 - and save big.
   But for news shooters?  For sports, Canon’s 70-200 f/2.8 “L” IS USM is about essential; it’s also about essential for some news stories.  It’s also expensive, heavy, and large - but substantial savings possible on version 1 and used, and the photos that older version produces look fine printed 20”x30” and will look like the people really are in your living room.
   That leaves the intermediate zoom to buy - and your choices there are Canon’s 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM, Canon’s 24-105 f/4 “L” IS USM, and Canon’s 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 USM; unfortunately, while all are fine lenses in this wide-to-moderate-telephoto category, only the first two are weather-sealed.  If it comes down to skipping meals out for a while, the 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM is well worth it.  Otherwise, the 24-105 f/4 “L” IS USM is a fine choice and costs much less - and, if you just can’t afford the others, the 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 is quite good and is quite affordable.  Buying used on any of these - and version 1 on the 24-70 f/2.8 - saves a lot of money for results that very few will notice were any less.  Any will produce photos that - printed 20”x30” - really do look just like the people are in your living room, showing every hair on someone’s head like a movie poster as in the photo of Mitt Romney’s son Tagg campaigning for him (below).
   But - if it came to which one to buy first - I’d buy the intermediate zoom, then save up for that 70-200 f/2.8 on an as-soon-as-possible basis.

Mitt Romney’s son Tagg campaigning for Mitt, Oct. 17, 2012, Burlington, N.C.
24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM lens used.