Christaline Randazzo: What I wish I’d learned earlier in my career

By Crystaline Randazzo

Other Photographers Are Your Friends, Not Your Competition

I attended a competitive graduate program at Syracuse University with eight other students in my class. Within the small group, there was always a feeling of competitive pressure. After my first semester, I switched to commercial photography due to a negative experience in the photojournalism department. The only way I could verbalize my situation was, “I simply wasn’t willing to scratch someone’s eyes out for a story.” I value all I learned in my program, but one truth remains for me.  I am a collaborative creator.

Photographers and friends TimothySutherland, Tom Turner
and Crystaline Randazzo. Click a name to visit their websites.
After ten years of being in the photo industry there is one thing I know for sure. You will get more work from your photography colleagues then from any other client. This is especially when you are first getting started.  It’s a matter of simple math. Most photographers are one man/one women teams. Which means they only have so many hours in day to give to clients. So what happens when one of their clients calls them when they are already booked for the date? They pass the job along to someone else that they know and trust.  The morale of the story is to be the photographer they know and trust. That means network! Join your local American Society of Media Photographers. Take another photographer whose work you love out for drink. You’ll have a better competitive edge when you are simply authentic and genuine in your passion for photography.  That is what connects us all together.

Multiple Revenue Streams Can Save Your Business

In all the time that I spent learning about photography, I don’t think anyone ever looked me in the eyes and said, “How are you going to pay your bills?” Among my colleagues there was a lot of idyllic discussions about running off to New York to become a photo assistant and working our way up the ranks to ultimately become a famous fashion/portrait/commercial photographer. The real world was just a fuzzy apparition in front of us.

So, are you ready? How are you going to pay your bills? The best advice I can give is to have a multi-revenue plan for your business. Look at your skills, your availability, and figure out what combination of those things can help you bring in business.  It is unlikely that you will just do one kind of photography for the rest of your life. And it is possible that you might have to have a source of revenue that isn’t even photography related. I love documentary style projects, especially working with nonprofits, but here’s how I’ve paid the bills for the last ten years:
©2012 Crystaline Randazzo Photography, LLC.  All rights reserved.
Photography Manager Freelance Retoucher
Photo Assistant
Wedding Photography
Family Photography
Event Photography
Artist/Art Exhibits

Be Prompt, Be Professional, Be Precise

The three P’s of being a good entrepreneur.  Every interaction that a client or potential client has with you should be professional. You should dress professionally. You should answer the phone professionally. Your emails should come complete with salutation, concise information, and most importantly within in twenty-four hours of receiving correspondence.  You should meet every deadline and follow up for feedback after your project is completed.

It’s true that photographers have the luxury of being a bit more laid back then some professions. I don’t expect you to be in a three piece suit. But if you want to be treated like a professional then you need to act like professional.  If your clients see you in this capacity, they will value your expertise.

Your Responsibility to the Photography Industry

From the first moment I decided to become a photographer, I thought that the business decisions I was making were about me. What was I going to create? Who were going to be my clients? How much money should I charge?  Where to begin?

The truth as I have come to see it is that every photographer has an obligation to our industry. I say this because each of our decisions can make or break the future of photography. It is up to us to create brilliant stories. It is up to us to charge what we are worth. And it is up to us to pass along our hard earned lessons to other professionals as they learn the ropes. The decisions we make affect our industry and it is up to us whether it has a positive effect or a negative effect.

I hear a lot of chatter from photography old timers about how young photographers don’t charge enough. How they are single handedly damaging our industry and ruining it for the rest of us.  I don’t believe that. I know that I made plenty of mistakes on the ladder of experience, but what I had was a series of mentors who showed me what was what. They taught me to look at my business as a business. To charge what I needed to survive and to say no when my skills weren’t being valued. I believe that out of respect for all those who helped me along the path and out of passion for the photographic industry, it is now my responsibility to pay that forward.

Crystaline Randazzo is a documentary photographer living in Kigali, Rwanda.
"My varied experience includes a sizeable body of work in post-conflict and disaster areas. I’ve documented agricultural projects in post-earthquake Haiti, women’s cooperatives in post-civil war Uganda, and intercountry adoptions in Congo. I strive to create a variety of images during each shoot and create narratives about how large projects affect individual lives. My approach to telling individual stories puts my subjects, most often women and young children, at ease.  The result is vibrant, honest, and emotional photography that resonates with any audience."
View Crystaline's latest documentary, "Meeting Mietzi," at this link.
Send questions or comments about Ninja Journalism to amosnews@yahoo.com


Jennifer Retter: Small-market journalism pros and cons

When Jennifer Retter writes about community journalism, it is like Warren Buffett giving tips on money at a cocktail party. Listen up!
Jennifer Retter
Reporting for small markets certainly has its perks – research shows small-market papers are keeping circulation up compared to struggling big-market papers – as well as its challenges.


1. Clear-cut “well-known” sources

It’s much easier to present a story about local schools with a quote from the school board president of the one school district in the area. The board president is likely someone everyone in the small town knows, sees at the grocery store and maybe sits next to at church. If there’s a story about education, well, you know whom to call. In bigger markets, the choice is trickier; how many of the 35 board presidents can you call if you’re on deadline and looking for a general sentiment as to how education leaders in your area view a new legislative measure?

The same principal goes for governance. If you’re on a tight deadline and can’t reach the mayor, you’re probably OK to quote a city councilmember and get the same name recognition factor. In a tiny town, people often know their council members directly.

2. Always relevant

With (often) so little happening in such a small area impacting such few people, it’s easy to stay relevant to your audience. You have more of monochromatic reader base from the start, which means stress over which stories make the front page and which get cut is largely irrelevant. If there’s a yearly town event, you can bet photo coverage relevant; the whole town will show. If there’s a high school athlete you want to feature, it’s likely a large portion of residents know at least someone connected to him or her and are therefore drawn into the story. If there’s an event at one of the three schools in town, you’ve just drawn in one-third of your young reader base.

3. Often, less competitive

If you work for the sole news outlet covering a small town, chances are you’re the sole source of information relating to that town. Residents aren’t rushing to buy the nearest city’s paper to learn about upcoming changes to their town’s water system; they’re buying your paper.

A former coworker told me about a newspaper owner in New Mexico (I think it was New Mexico!) who operated as the sole source of town information within the town, which sat hundreds of miles from any big city. At a conference, the man expressed zero interest in a presentation on converting to online journalism. If people wanted to know the news, he said, they would have to buy his paper when it came out. While his response is not an excuse to forgo the Internet forever or slack on the responsibility to provide news in a timely manner, it demonstrates small papers’ ability to command their markets.

4. Ability to do more

In a small market, you may be the reporter-editor-photographer-designer-receptionist-ad sales rep all in one day. Your skills build, your résumé thanks you, and all those titles look better than “calendar editor” or something equally bland from a big-city paper where you worked on one mindless task every day.


1. Unpopular story? Too bad

Journalists are to report the big stories with no bias – unless it conflicts with the mayor’s reputation, involves your coworker’s friend’s sister, or at all negatively impacts (if you’re in small-town Texas, at least) the high school football team. Undoubtedly, many of the highest-impact stories in small towns never make in the paper.

The same goes for story angles on potentially controversial topics. If the football team messed up, there’s only one way that story gets portrayed – positively.

2. Gossip outlet or news source?

Sometimes news tips work their magic and you have a completely original or breaking story at your fingertips. Other times, people want to be SURE you’re aware that their neighbor posted a sign they don’t want posted, or so-and-so at this parent meeting said she would adopt puppies and oh, SHE DID NOT. I think this issue is far more prevalent in small towns – could you really see a resident of Manhattan call up the New York Times about a spat with their frenemy?

3. Small staff

Working with a smaller staff can help with the ability to cover a wide range of tasks (see pros, number 4), but can also cause problems. In a big company, an inter-employee relation problem could be taken to the HR department and sorted out. In a smaller company, HR may be the one other person you work with.

4. Fewer angles

It’s more challenging to get a diverse array of opinions and ideas about issues in a tiny town of people who all perform the same jobs, come from the same ethnic group and attend the same churches. For example, say you want to do a story on a recent change in synagogues – but your town has none. Or, a controversial measure on gay marriage passes, but your tiny town votes 98 percent conservative and the 2 percent otherwise fear social exclusion if they talk to you. You may have to cast your net much wider to find enough sources for a balanced story, which threatens your ability to remain relevant.

What about you? What are some other pros and cons you’ve experienced in different market sizes?


Photojournalism: A photographer-journalist

I disagree with the common definition of the word photojournalist. I have hinted about this in Ninja Journalism, but I am more convinced after reading a post from a Chicago Sun-Times photographer (“photojournalist”) about cutbacks at the paper resulting in this month’s firing of all 28 photo staff members.

First, let me say I emphasize with anyone who looses their job and I particularly feel their pain when it is in journalism because I have been fired in the most brutal and heartless way and survived. It is also concerning to me to hear of such sweeping cutbacks from one of the country’s largest publications.

That being said, I disagree with the definition and duties of photojournalists, at least from the dictionaries and by the largest market publications. Most of us in medium and smaller publications have never experienced the luxury of having to do only one thing well and we in community journalism take multitasking to a spectacular level.

A common definition of a photojournalist is a talented photographer who takes pictures for a publication. My definition of a photojournalist is a talented photographer who is a talented reporter and writer - a true photo-journalist.

Hart believes a person who is a skillful photographer and experienced writer is real as a unicorn and he is dumfounded at the idea of reporters taking their own photographs and doing both tasks at an excellent level.

Concerning the firings and instructing reporters to take pictures, he states:
“Will such moves erode the quality of the news product? Possibly. These new ‘super journalists’ that one hears about may be able to do everything, but none of it is likely to stand out.”

I am pleased to be referred to as a “super journalist,” but I prefer “Ninja journalist,” thank you. And many large market photographers will be astonished to learn we do walk the Earth. I can’t help thinking about the Geico caveman commercials and the advertising guy that learns cavemen do exist. The Cavemen ride motorcycles, date hot girls and take tennis vacations but have difficulty getting respect.

Please read my earlier post Ninjas Have Multiple Skills here.
A link to Rob Hart’s post in Newscheck.com is here.
Share your thoughts and comments below:


Not the hammer

It’s not the hammer that builds the house. It’s the carpenter.

I say this a lot when talking photography. It means no matter the size, cost, quality or quantity of your tools, you can’t do diddly squat without talent. It means no matter your camera, you can take good pictures if you have skill, imagination and sometimes a little determination.

On the other hand, one can have the most awesome cameras and accessories and still be a poor photographer, and this person usually has a pious attitude. I have known people in that category, but I won’t expound on them here. Instead, I want to talk about making the best with what you have and how you can upgrade to better tools as your talent or needs grows.

If you have awesome equipment and seasoned talent, wonderful. Just remember to rely on your skills more than your equipment and don’t let great tools be a crutch for you.

Several years back at a sport event a photographer with a lens the size of garbage can remarked about my mediocre lens. It was something like “Is THAT all you brought to shoot with?” At the time I could not afford a cool, fat 2.8 aperture lens and was shooting with a simple $200 zoom. I just smiled and said “Yep,” but I was picturing in my mind beating his brains out with one of my photography awards.

I do have pretty awesome equipment now, but along the way in my journey as a photojournalist I made good with what I had at the time and grew my tool kit as my needs and money grew.

Making do
The next time someone makes fun of my equipment....BONK!
I had to learn to make do. In the days when we did not have digital cameras and shooting film for newspapers and magazines while making deadlines required crazy stunts. I sometimes shot the beginning of a game, left at half time to rush to a one hour photo lab and beg to have my shots processed quickly to negatives instead of prints, rush back to the game to get the final score and quotes from the coach, then race to the office to make deadline. With news, I sometimes used a cheap-o Polaroid camera back then for late-breaking news on deadline. I shot an event with my good film camera and then popped of a couple of shots with the Poloroid to make deadline. Those Polaroid cameras cost about $39.95 but with imagination they got the job done.

When digital came along it was godawful expensive and out of the reach of most photojournalists. I was in a college photography course when a Canon rep showed us the first digital SLR I had ever seen. It cost $10,000 and its features are long extinct in today’s market. In time, my boss bought a simple Nikon pocket digital for a whopping $1,200 and we took turns using it. I learned to shoot football and track with the slow focus of the pocket camera by focusing on an area close, locking the focus by keeping my finger on the trigger, and then popping off a picture when the action came. Good carpenters use their skills to figure out how to get the job done with the tools they have. About a year later I was forking up the money for my own digital SLR big boy camera.

My encouragement is, if you have great equipment, great. If you don’t, well, great anyway. Just find ways to do great work with what you have and grow into better equipment and accessories as you can. If you have questions about types of cameras that will meet your need, read customer reviews. Avoid complicated manufacturer reviews and avoid reviews by customers that believe spending more money makes up for a lack of talent. Better yet, talk with a photographer friend and tell them your budget and explain to them your photography needs. Got no photographer friends? Sure you do. Just email me here.


Coach the perfect picture

I love feature story photography. I also dig news photography, because news photography is spontaneous, sometimes exciting and often just plain lucky. But feature photography allows you to be creative.

With feature photography and often soft news photography, don’t be afraid to tell your subject what to do. You must be tactful and courteous, but you can get a great photograph by gently coaching your subject. Don’t leave great photography to chance. Keep in mind - this is soft news and feature photography, not hard news photography.

For example, I may be doing an interview at someone’s home and feel it is time for pictures. The conversation may go like this:

Me: “I want to take some quick pictures while I’m here.”
The subject: “But I don’t take good pictures.”
Me: “Don’t worry. I do.” (That is my favorite comeback line)
I stand and pose where I want the subject to let them visualize what I want.

“Stand right here by your war medals you were talking about. Great.” Click “Now, look over at the big one you said was your favorite.” Clickckick “Reach over at the big one while I take a picture from this angle.” Clickclickclick “Can you do that again for me?” Clickclick “Nice. Now look at me and smile.” Clickclick

There. We just avoided an Al Capone shot. Miss T used to scold us for Al Capone shots where you just stand your subject against a wall and shoot them.

Here is an exciting shot of a cheerleader. I was leaving a locker room after an interview and saw the cheer squad working outside. I asked one if she could do that big flip again I saw her doing as I came out. Click “Fantastic! Will you do it again for me?” Clickclick. I had her flip four times while I took about six pictures to capture the perfect shot. I would have asked her to do it more but she was getting pretty darned tired.

One week I was scouting for an exciting cover picture and found skate boarders in a city park having fun on spring break. I hit the jackpot because I had a dull front page in the works and needed an "eye-popper" on the cover. I did the same thing I did with the cheerleader - over and over - until I had a bunch of pictures to choose from. I laid next to the skate ramp and and shot up at the guys, making sure they were facing down at me. I did fear getting bonked by a board.

I was assigned to photograph Boy Scouts doing a service project cleaning and painting a city basketball court. I wanted to get all the members in one picture but wanted to avoid an Al Capone, so I climbed up the back of the basketball goal one guy was working on and shot over the top. “Gather in closer, guys. Now closer. Even closer.” Clickclickclick. “Now closer….”

Fantastic news photography is sometimes just being in the right place, but fantastic feature photography takes work.

Does this make you think of great feature photos you have taken? Send them to Ninja Journalism and share your skills with others. Email here.

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