My interests in photography, writing, multimedia slide shows and making a living in journalism go back to my childhood. Inspired by my father and uncle with their 35mm film cameras and darkrooms, and surrounded by picture magazines like National Geographic, National Wildlife and Life, I bought my first Pentax Spotmatic in 1972 at the age of 15 for $200.

A couple of years later I was submitting slide sheets and selling stock photos to illustrate poetry in a magazine that my grandmother received, Christian Herald, for $50 each. In high school I was too shy to shoot pictures with classmates, and nothing interested me about the school newspaper. But my choice for high school career orientation was a weekly visit to the local Gannett community newspaper, the Butler County News, which created a lasting impression.

During my first year of college in Altoona, Pa., I shot for the school paper in exchange for free use of the darkroom. The following year for the Blair County Arts Festival, I used “modern technology” (two Kodak Ektagraphic projectors, a dual tape deck and dissolving unit) to produce a slides-to-music presentation and won a $100 Media Award. This is where the passion began.

I first wrote for newspapers as a staffer on the Daily Collegian newspaper at Penn State University and was encouraged to become a "complete" journalist who could report with both the camera and pen. Now the complete journalist needs to know audio, video, computer and any other tool for storytelling.

In 1979 and 1980, a 10,000 km bicycle tour of eastern North America launched me seriously into documentary photography and rural weekly newspaper journalism. I gained respect for the local media while living in remote places from Nova Scotia to Texas. I learned that the small newspaper was an excellent avenue to pursue professional documentary work.

Over the following three decades I have worked professionally as a photographer and journalist on staff at weekly newspapers and freelance for national magazines. The Gleaner in Huntingdon, Quebec, an English-French newspaper founded in 1863, is where I learned on-the-job between 1983 and 1993 as editor. “Cut & paste” back then really meant trimming long columns of text and PMT's with Xacto knife and hot wax for page layout. Before computers we did it all by hand on deadline.

Around 1986 I decided that I don’t do weddings and I don’t do portraits. However, those jobs pay well, so in order to do the kind of photography I like, it has meant constantly finding new clients and learning the new media to display it. Making a living in photography means running a business, so the artist in me has had to struggle with constant tasks of marketing, bookkeeping, price negotiating and choosing subjects with profit in mind. Don't forget days spent on computer and software troubleshooting.

Staff vs. freelance? Sure, I own all the images I ever shot but I envy staffers who only have to think about shooting pictures.

My travel articles occasionally appear in The Gazette and affiliated CanWest papers across the country. Although doing assignments for the big daily media pays well, more and more it means relinquishing copyright to pictures and text.

For stock photography the past several decades have been a revolutionary period as the age of print media yielded to the boom in broadcast media, then computers and the Internet made the photo market global, and now digital cameras and online newspapers are bringing television, radio and newspapers onto a common playing field.


Although I have no formal photojournalism degree, I have pushed myself to get specific training as the industry evolves and keep abreast of the cutting-edge trends. During the digital revolution from 1996-2002 I had an office in the photo department of the Montreal Gazette where I was the Stock Photo Administrator and shot occasional daily assignments.

It was an historic time I will always cherish, becoming friends with veteran photographers who once shot with flashbulbs and 4x5 plate negatives, and at the same time getting my hands on the first film scanners, modems, digital SLR cameras, digital archives and email transmission of image files.

During the 1990’s I was inspired by meeting the world’s best photographers at conferences of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) in the US as well as working alongside National Geographic journalists on two Quebec assignments -- Priit Vesilind, Sarah Leen, Sisse Brimberg, and Doug Lee.

In 1998 I built my first website and from 2003 to the present I have been taking university courses in website construction, HTML and computer graphic design. At the same time I began scanning and archiving my old film images and keywording them in a searchable digital database that now numbers over 250,000 files (including digital camera files since 1999). I first saw this archiving technology in 1990 at the Washington DC office of US News & World Report and it still amazes me that I can have that kind of power on my own desktop.

Web publishing continues to be my business focus and I have acquired nearly 200 domain (www) names in hopes of developing regional portals. But no one really knows where the next big media trend will be. Who would have thought that Google and YouTube and Facebook would become so mainstream?

And maybe old media will be rediscovered. As a colleague from The Gazette said when audio slide shows for web came along, he was doing multimedia on computers 10 years ago and now they’re saying it’s the newest, hottest thing.

In May 2007 I was fortunate to be among 43 North American photojournalists, including a Pulitzer recipient, attending the first-ever "Multimedia Summit" by the NPPA in Portland, Oregon. This added audio recording and video editing to my toolbox. Click here to view my first online multimedia slide show.

Teaching has been another way of making a living in photography. I ran a high school journalism project that published a monthly newspaper supplement about local entrepreneurs, CV Magazine, using the text and images by the students. This model could easily be adopted by other schools and expand to incorporate video and web applications. The students love the technology and learn so much by interacting with subjects out in the real world. In Prince Edward County I lead Photo & Fitness outings.

In an attempt move ahead of the pack of the growing legion of serious photographers, and to culminate my experience in the field, I am building County Photographer, a geographically based e-commerce stock photo agency.

At age 55 and father of 3, I look forward to finding time for new documentary challenges and picture stories that make a difference ... armed with my digital SLR's, photo / web / multimedia studio, and the longtime experience as editor / writer / photographer / web / graphic designer in this ever-changing multimedia environment.


Phil Norton
Updated 2012