On Being a Wire Service Shooter

This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, much Iike that middle school sweetheart who went off to great fame as part of the prom court at the reform school they ended up in … So much hope, and they amounted to something, just not what you expected.

Brian Ach, a stringer for Wireimage, has a post up on becoming a wire service photographer over at JPG magazine. I have no major issues with his piece, it does a decent job of laying out the path most folks take if they live in a major metropolitan area.

If you don’t, the wire service ladder has a few more rungs in it and the pay system is going to be very different.

Let’s start with the latter issue. If you get picked up by a traditional wire service, you won’t be waiting for months to get paid. You’ll be paid by assignment, usually within 30-45 days. Usage doesn’t matter because you’re being paid by the assignment. And there is almost no chance of retaining your copyright on those images. You may be able to get a shared deal, but the big wire wants all rights.

Is that worth it? Maybe. Maybe not. I lean towards the not side because I think it harms the entire industry, lowering the value of our work. But everyone has to make their own choice here.

As for what you’ll shoot … well, if you’re in a small market, expect courts and government coverage. Particularly if you knock on the door of your local Associated Press bureau as that has been and remains one of their mainstays. It’s where I started and spent much of my three years stringing for them.

The other thing I did a lot of was obit photo requests, and these are one of the worst assignments to get but also have a tremendous value to publications. When some non-famous person dies in a newsworthy way, someone has to go knock on the door of the grieving family and ask for a photo to go with the story. It is almost never a pleasant experience but getting that photo means a lot. It means readers can make a personal connection with the victim and will pay more attention to the story.

And, for the record, in my ten years of working for two different wire services I never once did a red carpet event. Except for the ones covered in blood, but that’s another type of stringing entirely …

Mark E. Johnson

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