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How to Pursue Photojournalism as a High School Student

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The importance of extracurriculars on your college application cannot be understated. Most selective colleges now receive applications from far more academically qualified applicants than they are able to admit, so the difference often boils down to other factors, like essays, recommendations, and extracurriculars.


Often, students think of extracurricular activities as a way to build their leadership experiences and show dedication to the causes and activities about which they’re most passionate. In general, the goal of extracurriculars is to express who you are outside the classroom walls.


This is sometimes easier said than done. While many students find that these activities fit neatly into existing school clubs or athletic or academic teams, sometimes a student’s interests do not fit so neatly into established extracurriculars. These students may find themselves pursuing ways in which to turn their hobbies and interests into serious extracurricular activities.


Another less often considered goal of extracurriculars is to build upon skills that you intend to use professionally in the future. While much of your academic coursework will prepare you for the thinking, calculating, and communicating necessary in the workplace, fewer will prepare you for the hard technical skills necessary in some of the more hands-on professions. For example, if you intend to pursue photojournalism in your future, or you just find it interesting and want to learn more about it, you probably have few options for doing so in a traditional high school class.


In this post, we’ll discuss the various ways that you can pursue photojournalism as a high school student, including everything from the obvious work on your school newspaper to a variety of intense summer programs and online courses. To learn more, keep reading.


What Skills and Knowledge Does Photojournalism Require?

It may be tempting to think of photojournalism as something that requires strictly photography skills. You may think that once you have a good grasp on the art of digital photography, you will naturally excel at photojournalism. But photojournalism often requires a far more specialized skill set, including a separate base of knowledge and a background in a number of different photographic techniques.


Of course, in order to become a strong photojournalist, you’ll still need to start with the basics. You should gain a solid understanding of digital photography and photo editing. You’ll need to be able to do both quickly and well in order to excel at photojournalism.


You should also learn about commercial photography, scientific photography, large format cameras, page design, and digital imaging. All of these skills will be used at one point or another if you seriously pursue a career in photojournalism.


In addition, you should strive to achieve a basic understanding of the history of photography. Knowing how the craft has evolved over time and recognizing common techniques and compositions will help you to perfect your own craft. You’ll be able to develop your own style based firmly on the styles that have already been established as effective.


Finally, you will need to learn about media laws and ethics. Not every subject you come across will be fair game for a cover photo. Often, your use of images will depend on many factors, including the subject’s role in the photograph and the ethics surrounding its use.


In order to pursue photojournalism as a high school student, you’ll need to develop a truly cross-curricular approach to the craft. You’ll need to learn its history, its legal ramifications, and of course, the craft itself. In order to do so, you’ll need a well-rounded host of activities to round out your experience.


Opportunities to Pursue Photojournalism


1. Student Newspaper

The most obvious route to pursue photojournalism as a high school student is to become a photographer for your school’s student newspaper. Many schools have student-run newspapers and getting involved can be as simple as signing up for the club.


From there, you’ll need to make sure that you make the most of the opportunity by attending meetings on a regular basis, completing assignments promptly, and hunting down stories whenever possible. As you do so, you’ll gain valuable experience and insight into what happens behind the scenes at a small-scale publication such as this. Over time you may even be able to take a role with increasing leadership.


While joining the student newspaper will certainly increase your experience with the publishing and journalism side of photojournalism, it will probably not provide a ton of feedback specific to your craft. Often, photography in a student newspaper is more of an after-thought or a visual aid than an actual piece of well-crafted photojournalism.


The experience is still worthwhile, of course, but you’ll probably need to find other avenues for learning about and perfecting your craft.     


2. School Yearbook

Your school’s yearbook is another official school publication that relies on photography a great deal. While it isn’t exactly photojournalism, you will still gain significant experience in photography and using photographs to tell a story as a complement to written text.


When you picture a typical high school yearbook, you might imagine awkward staged pictures of various school groups, but in reality a great school yearbook will contain lots of candid shots that document both the unique and the mundane experiences of high school. Often, you will have a lot of autonomy in exactly what you choose you capture and how you choose to capture it. Though you might be assigned to cover a specific event or school club, how you photograph it will be completely up to you.


Over time, you might even be able to work your way up to a leadership position within the school yearbook. Being in charge of layout or photo editing will give you additional insight into how photography and text work together to create a cohesive publication.


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3. Get Published

Your school newspaper isn’t the only avenue for getting your work published. You might also find local newspapers or even regional and state publications looking for photographs. Reach out to smaller publications to start with and see if they can accommodate any of your work. Many small publications will have submissions guidelines on their websites or printed in their copy.


As you start to get work published, whether it’s through your school newspaper or someplace else, begin to compile a portfolio of your best work. Don’t include everything you’ve ever published, though; just include the pieces that you think of as the epitome of your achievements. Your portfolio should be a reflection of your highest abilities. Choose work that you’re truly proud of and that is the product of an extended, thoughtful process. You want to put your absolute best foot forward in your portfolio.


4. Volunteer to Take Photographs for Local Organizations

There are many service organizations or nonprofits that could benefit from a strong photographer. Pictures might be used online, in newsletters, or as part of a marketing or fundraising campaign. Check with local food pantries, homeless shelters, retirement homes, animal shelters, or even your local library.


These types of organizations usually have a strong need for publicity and public outreach, but they generally have little to no budget for accomplishing it. They may be grateful to have you volunteer your services, and your published work will serve to build your portfolio.


5. Photography Contests

Many contests specific to photojournalism are not open to high school students, but that shouldn’t stop you from entering photography contests in general. You’ll still have the chance to learn as you fine-tune your composition and editing skills. In addition, many of these contests have the opportunity to win cash prizes or scholarships.


There are lots of general photography contests open to high school students. You can find some of the more prestigious ones in our post Prestigious Visual Arts Competitions for High School Students. Some of these contests include scholarships worth up to $10,000.


If you can’t find a contest that seems like a good fit, or you think there’s a demand for a photojournalism contest in your community, you could start your own local contest through your school, library, or community center. Seek donations from local companies to offer as a prize and compile a panel of judges from the industry. Keep in mind, though, that as long as you are overseeing the contest, you are probably not eligible to enter. Nonetheless, founding the contest is another feather in your hat and is strong evidence of your commitment to the craft.


6. Summer Programs

There are plenty of summer programs available for high school students looking to increase their exposure and experience in photojournalism. While they generally are not cheap, they are one of the few ways in which you can expect to receive intense, dedicated instruction specific to photojournalism.


Introduction to Photojournalism for High School Students course is offered by the Rochester Institute of Technology each summer. This weeklong intensive class is taught by four-time Pulitzer Prize winner William Snyder and includes daily lectures, critiques, demos and daily assignments. Students can expect to learn basic technical skills along with basic photojournalistic skills, visual story-telling techniques, and how to consider a storyline.


Two afternoons are spent photographing the Hemlock Little World’s Fair in Hemlock, NY, and then students spend their last day editing images and compiling a book.

The cost for the workshop is $450 for the week, and students must arrange their own room and board.


National Student Leadership Conference’s Journalism, Film & Media Arts summer program is another option. This conference is offered three times each summer, in two different locations. In 2017, it is offered in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.


At this nine-day workshop you can expect to work closely with professors as you experience college-level lectures on various topics within the fields of journalism, film, and media arts. You will also have the opportunity to take part in specialized workshops specific to journalism, public relations, and digital and DSLR photography.


In addition, you will have the option to earn college credit for your work.


Tuition for the nine-day workshop is $3,095 and is all-inclusive, covering room, board, materials, and excursions. Scholarships are available.


School Curriculum for Photography offers another alternative for summer work. This is a more casual, self-paced program offering online classes. Though they aren’t specific to photojournalism, here you can learn the finer points of digital and DSLR photography at a reasonable price.


Beginner and Intermediate lines of study are available for $80 per student. The SCPHOTO curriculum meets the state teaching standards for the state of California, so you might even be able to receive school credit for them if you attend high school in California and can work out a formal arrangement with your school in advance.


There are often many other local photography and journalism programs available to high school students as well. Check your local community center or community college for summer offerings. While these courses and workshops won’t necessarily focus on photojournalism specifically, you will still have the chance to increase your understanding of various aspects related to the craft. Building your skills specific to photography or specific to journalism will be advantageous in the long run.


If you’re a high school student interested in photojournalism, you might be wondering how you can build your skills and pursue your passion. There are not often school clubs or organizations that directly support this specialized interest, but by combining relevant skills and seeking out opportunities beyond your own school, you’ll find that there are plenty of ways to pursue photojournalism while you’re still in high school.


By getting work published, compiling a portfolio, entering contests, and pursuing workshops and summer classes, you’ll be on the right track to pursue a professional track in photojournalism. For more guidance about extracurriculars, college applications, and how to choose activities that best suit you, download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more!


For more information about extracurricular activities in high school, check out these posts:



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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.