This paper reports the results of a field study on journalists’ practices in requesting, searching for and selecting photos in the course of their daily work. The study addresses different types of search topics common in journalistic illustration tasks, journalists’ searching behaviour and the criteria they apply in selecting photos. Data were collected by observing journalists in their work and interviewing them. A sample of requests received by the archive was also analysed. The results indicate that specific needs dominate the use of newspaper photo archives. Photos of objects, themes, or abstract topics expressed in general terms were also needed, but finding them and formulating queries in these cases especially was considered problematic. The results suggest that browsing is an essential strategy in accessing digital photo archives. Journalists tend to browse but the present archive systems support browsing poorly. The paper concludes with suggestions for the improvement of end-user access to photo archives. The possible applications of current feature-based indexing and retrieval methods in the newspaper photo archive are discussed in the light of the results.