Monday, February 25, 2013

How to prepare a competitive photojournalism portfolio

The Blade's Dave Zapotosky viewing a student portfolio.

   It’s that time again. Hundreds of student photojournalists are scrambling to find summer newspaper jobs. Despite the dismal job market paid internships still exist.
   This blog post focuses on helping PJ students prepare a competitive portfolio, which is the most important tool in landing an internship.
   A portfolio is a visual showcase; a collection of work that basically defines the skills and interests of the applicant. Seriously, in about 1/125th of a second a photo editor can tell whether the photographer is a good fit for the newspaper.
   Many newspapers, including the Toledo Blade, hire summer interns. The hiring process for this summer’s Blade intern began in January, and by the end of February Jeffrey Smith from Central Michigan University was selected out of 70 applicants.
   So what helped the chosen one rise to the top? What made him so special? He had the best portfolio.
   A good portfolio includes three vital components: Great photos, strong captions, and a good organization and delivery method. 
   As I recently watched Blade photo supervisor Dave Zapotosky and photographer Andy Morrison go over this year’s crop of portfolios, I asked them to share their concerns and tips.
   Let’s start with the photos, the heartbeat of the portfolio.
        The Photographs
·    Offer visual variety. Include your very best selection of sports, news, features, portraits, and at least one photo story. Editors want their new hires to hit the ground running, even though they expect them to be a little green. Stating in your cover letter you can handle the work isn’t enough. Demonstrate it. Spread the love. For example: 20 photos of portraits aren’t as convincing as five portraits, five sports, five features, and five spot news. Also include a solid photo story. Be very, very choosy in your selection.
·      Don’t overindulge your college life. Editors aren’t too impressed with shock value: images of drunken students depicting wild nightlife; sexual ambiguity for the sake of it (performing drag queens); and nudity. Know the newspaper’s readership. Our newly-hired intern’s leading photo on his website is a man walking goats past a cornfield – our Midwest flavor.
·      Show off your technical skills. Do you have a firm grasp of lighting? Do you know your camera controls? Is your use of motion and depth of field evident, appropriate, overdone?
·      Do not over process your photos in Photoshop! Instagramish, over-processed, hyper contrasted, super saturated photos and sun-flared pictures will not earn you extra points. Less is best. Crop, tone and color correct. Shoot it right and edit tight.  
The Captions
·      Include complete captions with every single photo! Captions explain what the photos are about. Make them super easy to find. Andy and Dave were very frustrated when they couldn’t find captions or had to apply effort to find them. This is a deal breaker!
·      Ensure your captions are complete. This is the journalism part of photojournalism. Answer the 5 Ws and the H. Watch your spelling and grammar. Complete sentences. Use present tense when explaining the 5Ws.
The Delivery
·      This is still evolving. In days gone by, we’d submit a page of 20 slides with a caption sheet. Now there are blogs, websites, CDs, flash drives,, and who knows what else.
- Dave prefers a CD or flash drive that includes two folders: one for single images and one for the photo story. This allows him to simply drag each folder into Photo Mechanic and view all of the photos at once. He said he doesn’t want to open a lot of folders (one for portraits, one for sports, etc.), considering how many folders he already has to open. When he’s ready to read the caption, he clicks on the Information icon.
- Include no more than 20 images in each folder.
·      Might be good to call and ask each editor how they prefer to view your portfolio. This will save you a lot of work and possible heartache.
·      If you have a website or blog, include the URL in your cover letter. Again, make sure your blog is easy to maneuver, and the captions are easy to find.
- Make your cover letters unique to each particular newspaper. Form cover letters are sometimes quite obvious. Make sure you study each newspaper before you apply. Again, this is knowing your audience. At this point in your collegiate career you should know what "do your homework" means.
      Well, that’s about it. Good luck to all students applying for internships!
      Here are more tips from working pros:
·      Tips by Peter Power
·      20 'Great' examples

Monday, February 18, 2013 publishes work of Intro to PJ students

   Nothing makes an instructor prouder than seeing the work of our students get recognized.
   I'm happy to announce my PHO245 students from last semester worked well together to create a powerful photo essay on arson in Toledo that was recently published on
   It wasn't a big investigative piece into the arson problem. The joint student community assignment was intended to teach them the basics of storytelling with a purpose. They learned how to plan, organize and produce a photo story using an added element of audio.
   The community photo story project is always the highlight of each semester, and this project on arson was even more special because it was published!
   Thank you for giving our students a real outlet to demonstrate their hard work!
   The story: