Thursday, July 16, 2009

How to shoot and sell incident photos to local newspapers

It's evening rush hour, the aroma of pizza fills your car as you head home, you turn the corner and suddenly right in front of you is a three-car pileup with emergency workers swarming everywhere.

Looking around for an alternative route, you notice no one is taking pictures. This is where you grab your digital camera off the seat beside you and go to work!

Action shots from a wreck, fire, flood,
blizzard, etc. could put money in your pocket.
Although newspapers have their own staff, they are often stretched to the limit and can't be everywhere at once, or they re so far away they arrive too late to get all the good action shots. That's when being at the right place at the right time can pay off. But there's more to it than just being in the right place.

Contact the editors of your local papers ahead of time to see what their policy is for accepting submitted photos. If they are willing to accept your photos, find out what their pay scale is. Usually they pay for only what gets published. And until you establish a reputation as a good source of photos, don't look for much,
or photo credit on your work.

Chances are there are low key sporting and community events that aren't covered by the paper on a regular basis. These events are good place to improve your photography skills and perhaps sell a few shots to gain acceptance by a newspaper. Remember, action is key.

Once you know your photos have a chance of being used, stay alert to what's happening around you and keep your camera loaded with a large capacity memory card and fresh batteries.

It doesn't have to be an expensive camera, but a mega pixel value of 7 or better is recommended, along with a 12 power zoom lens. With these cameras the print quality is very good, even up to poster size, and the zoom ability allows you to make tight, close-up shots without getting in the way of emergency workers.

No matter how good your camera is, the final results rests with your ability to compose your shots. You need to develop an "eye" for good shots and remember, "action" is the key element for photos used by newspapers.
As you approach your (photo) target area, staying on public property, take wide angle shots, shooting everything you see, like accident debris strewn along a highway, victims sitting at the side of the street holding a bandage to their head or bystanders trying to console family members or victims at a fire. NEVER, I REPEAT, NEVER TAKE PHOTOS OF A DECEASED PERSON AT AN ACCIDENT SCENE! Not only is this in poor taste, it can get you sued in a heart beat!

Next, narrow your focus to close-in action shots of paramedics loading patients onto ambulances or helicopters. Firefighters, using the "jaws of life" to pry open doors to free trapped victims, always makes a good shot.

Look at the faces, expressions of strain, concentration, pain or anxiety can say volumes. But, be careful not to let your enthusiasm get you into trouble or hurt.

Stay out of harms way, whether from a burning building, gun fire, fights, speeding traffic or a limp fire hose that suddenly whips about when instantly charged with hundreds of pounds of water pressure per square inch (it can snap a leg like a toothpick).

Also, stay on public property, sidewalks, streets, city parking lots, etc. Don't go onto private property without permission. Get the name of the person giving you permission to enter private property and make a note of it somewhere, along with the time and location.

Get to know as many firefighters, policemen, rescue workers, paramedics and utility workers as possible. Don't expect them to bend the rules for you, but if they know you and you mind your P's and Q's, they are less likely to run you off and may give you an on-scene tip once in awhile.

At first you might want to make available to the editor a copy (burn a CD/DVD) of every photo you have and let them pick and choose. Then as you gain more experience, you do the picking and choosing, giving you more control of your work.

As you improve, start looking to larger newspapers when you come across a story that is worthy of state-wide attention.
Occasionally, insurance companies may to come to you willing to pay good money for photos that can help their case. Especially in wrongful-death suits resulting from auto accidents, etc. These prices sometimes are negotiable, but don't get greedy. In a large city there could be repeat business from these agents.

Warning, being in the right place at the right time is one thing, and chasing police cars, fire trucks and ambulances with a police scanner is something else.
If you employ a scanner to alert you to a nearby incident, remember to obey all traffic laws while en route. You are a private citizen and don't have special privileges that allow you to run red lights, bust stop signs and drive 90 miles an hour in city traffic.

Once near the scene, park away from the incident and walk in, don't add to the traffic congestion. Follow directions and orders of emergency workers on the scene, they are in charge. If they need you to hold the end of a roll of caution tape, do it. Learn to take photos with one hand.

Since you are at a scene in no official capacity, you might want to try this little trick to give you some breathing room. Wear a ball cap or reflective utility vest bearing the word PHOTOGRAPHER.

Remember, determine if there is a market, submit as much as you can, perfect your technique (take photography classes if necessary), and always look for another market that will allow you to expand.

Good fire photos, showing flames and action, are always in demand. In daytime these are fairly easy to obtain, just concentrate on composition.

But at night, well that's another story. Here lighting/exposure is critical. This means you will have to have a stronger flash than just the pop-up, strong light from another source or putting your camera on a tripod (recommended ) and bumping up the ISO setting to 800 or better.

Once you have stabilized the camera and increased ISO, set your camera's self timer to 2 to 10 seconds, focus, push the button and immediately remove your hands to avoid camera shake which results in blurry photos.

Another technique that often works with a tripod mounted camera is to simply turn the flash off and use what light is available.

Notice the reflective strips and letters on firefighters turnout gear, too much flash and they will wash out your shot, a lot if it is trial and error, so take lots of pics with different settings.

And remember......Keep your batteries hot and pack a big card.