"If, at the end of the day, I've done what I'm supposed to, lives can be changed."
Photojournalist Carl Costas had an early interest in the ways that pictures make up the stories of entire lives. This fascination led him to pursue an associate's degree in visual communication from Collins College. Although that educational experience gave him the foundations for a visual arts career, he says his success comes from mentorship, hard work, and diligence. The belief in these three principles led Costas to The Sacramento Bee where he is on staff as a photojournalist.
Here he uses his camera to capture the visual stories in everything from parades to politics to professional sports. In addition to the hectic pace of the newsroom, Costas is also involved in wedding photography, which allows him to capture some of the equally exciting but quieter moments in people's lives.
Costas believes that the future offers exciting opportunities for those with a passion for photojournalism and a good work ethic. His experience has shown him that the Internet and multimedia are key changes in the world of photojournalists and he points out that any new graduate will want to learn as much as possible about new mediums. At the same time, the new technologies offer new graduates the option of a new way to break into the profession.
Carl Costas & His Career
Tell us about your career.
I am one of 16 photojournalists on staff at The Sacramento Bee. I photograph everything from professional sports and California politics to parades down Sacramento's Main Street. I also do wedding photography http://www.carlcostas.net/, through which I tell the individual stories of one day in one couple's life.
What do you enjoy most about your career? What do you do dislike?
Photojournalism offers me the opportunity to do great things, to be a part of change for the better, to make a difference in the world around me. At the same time, the newspaper industry is very fast-paced and pressure-based, which can sometimes be overwhelming.
What are some favorite projects you've completed and why?
A self-assignment in Nicaragua. I did what lots said couldn't be done, which was to photograph the lives of the people living there. The images can be seen on my website http://www.carlcostasimages.com.
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
I am interested in furthering my career as much as possible while continuing to be the best parent I can be. It is important to me to balance my professional and personal lives to make the most out of each of them.
Education Information & Insights
Tell us about your education.
I have an associate's degree in visual communication from a small art school. It was a degree that felt right to pursue at the time because it interested me. Ultimately, I don't feel that it had a lot of bearing on where I am today, but it gave me the basic education that I needed to get in the door. Any professional success I've enjoyed has come from mentorship, diligence, and hard work.
In retrospect, what do you know now that you wish you knew before you pursued your education?
I wish that I would have understood how competitive the school would be. That was a difficult part of art school for me. Also, looking back, if I could do my education over, I would have gone with a degree in journalism. But hindsight is 20/20, so they say; sometimes you just don't know what you are going to end up doing.
Based on what you hear in the industry, what do you think are the most respected and prestigious schools, departments or programs from this career?
Does graduating from a prestigious school make a difference in landing a good job in this field?
It helps. There are obviously many factors that go into getting a good job in the field but having that degree from a good school helps you to get that foot in the door.
What can students applying to schools of this kind do to increase their chances of being accepted?
Work harder than the next guy. It's really as simple as that.
What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a school?
First, find what makes you happy. Figure out what drives you and grab it with an iron fist. There are going to be different considerations for every individual student; there are as many different kinds of education as there are people in the world. Determine what works for you and be okay with that choice.
What other advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in this field?
Find mentors and learn from them like your life depends upon it.
The Actual Work
What exactly do you do on a daily basis?
I tell stories with my camera. I take whatever the situation is - whether it is a wedding that I'm photographing or an event assignment that I've been given to cover for the newspaper - and I ask myself what the story is there. Then I search for the right moments to tell that story through pictures.
What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
The sheer volume of work that I have to maintain and the pressure to maintain very high standards are really difficult parts of working for a newspaper. Deadlines are generally the most stressful part of the job.
Best tip for a novice?
What tools of the trade does a newbie need to know?
Computers and cameras; live them, love them, know them.
Photojournalism Career Information, Trends & Advice
What are some common myths about your profession and how do they differ from the actual work?
The media is portrayed as the bad guy a lot of the time. In actuality, it's two bad apples that make the other 98% of us easy targets for that kind of misportrayal.
What contributions do you feel your job offers to society as a whole?
My work touches the lives of thousands. If, at the end of the day, I've done what I'm supposed to, lives can be changed.
What are the hottest specialties within the field of photojournalism over the next decade?
Multimedia is where it's at right now. There are changes happening to news and communication because of the Internet and being on top of those trends will be important to newcomers in the field.
What kinds of jobs are available for graduating students in this field?
Jobs on newspaper staffs have always been hard to attain. They're even more so now. Look to the web for really getting in to the areas where work is available. You stand a better chance of getting into the field that way.
What are the best ways to get a foot in the door?
Journalism is an ever-changing field. The more tools in your tool box the better. Never stop learning, never stop networking.
What other career advice can you offer graduates of this field?
Introduce yourself to people whose work you admire and learn all that you can from them.
Do you feel that is important for someone to be passionate about photojournalism in order to be successful?
What's life without passion?