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|| News Item: Posted 2006-09-05

Road to NFL Playoffs Maps Photo Book Deal
By Thomas E. Witte

Photo by
Well, at least one good thing came out of it all.

I'm referring to the Rip Van Winklesque Cincinnati Bengals playoff drought. I've been covering the Bengals in some capacity since I was 15 and through it all knew that one of these days not only would the team be worth something but the photos would be as well. Time and patience rivaled only by Red Sox fans would pay off.

In the late winter of 2004 I got a voicemail from Orange Frazer Press, a publishing company another county over. They had been keeping tabs on some freelance portraiture I'd been doing for the Cincinnati Enquirer and invited me to lead a project of theirs. During one of our initial editing sessions I was looking at their library while freebasing coffee and noticed something. "Hey John; how come you don't have any books on the Bengals? Or football even?" OFP publishes a wide range of small run books. They weigh heavy on coffee table books but have a substantial amount of books on the Cincinnati Reds and baseball. Football? Not a one.

Leaning back in his chair to poke his head through the doorway he replied, "Have you seen any reason to for the past decade?" Point taken.

However, that little comment of mine unintentionally planted a seed.

The 2005 season would germinate that seed. They were 7-2 going in to the bye week, they were scoring at will, leading the league in interceptions and for the first time since I was in grade school - they weren't being made fun of on Sports Center. (One thing that always drove me nuts during the 90's was that every time I'd see a special on TV for any of the other teams, they were always showing highlights while playing against the Bengals.) Outside of a major meltdown it looked like they would be making the playoffs at least as a wildcard.

Around week 11 of the season while doing a chainsaw maneuver on a rack of ribs at Damon's, John asked out of the blue, "So how many photographs do you think you have on the Bengals?"

"Beats me. 100,000?"

"Riiiight. Soooo. Enough for your own book then."

I was flattered and apprehensive at the same time. My first thought was "wow a book." My second thought was; "Holy s*** a book?"

While it was John's idea, he still had final say on if they would publish it and he had his reservations. His first wasn't what I expected. Football fans and baseball fans are two entirely different species, specifically when it comes to collecting memorabilia and whatnot. Would there be a market for a book on the Bengals? I didn't buy in to John's concerns at first but then started to think about it. I know of several people - even casual fans - who have extensive collections of baseball memorabilia that could fill a wing of the Hall of Fame. Football fans on the other hand? I couldn't think of anyone I knew outside of my Uncle Richard in Green Bay that has anything more than a few jerseys and balls. Do football fans not collect things because they don't care to, or because there isn't anything out there for them to collect? It was a bit of a chicken-before-the-egg paradox for both of us.

Photo by Thomas E. Witte

Photo by Thomas E. Witte

Cincinnati Bengals half back Chris Perry (#23) catches a pass for a first down against the Green Bay Packers at Paul Brown Stadium on October 30, 2005 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati won the game 21-14.
And of course, I had concerns of my own. Their idea was for it to be on the first three years of the Marvin Lewis era keying in on the concept of the teams rebuilding process. Since most of my work is for commercial and editorial stock, I was worried about the image variety, so I opened up the hard drives to start compiling photos. It turns out I was just a hair off in my estimate. The grand total of logged photos dating back to 1990 was 191,727. Thankfully we only needed photos from 2003 through the end of 2005... You know, the years when I was completely digital and shooting everything that moved. For those three years it was a paltry 97,000 that needed to be whittled down to about 200. Piece of cake right? Not necessarily.

Since I shoot so much stock, I had thousands of redundancies because I'm always trying to get a better image of each player. Players facing left, right, in the air, on the ground, happy, dejected, helmet on, helmet off, night game, day game, rainy game, snowy game. You get the point.

I had about 5000 photos of Chad Johnson alone when we only needed about five or six. This poses a bit of a problem as you can imagine. John had originally asked for me to just send them a few DVD's to edit from. I know, I laughed too. It would be easier to give them a hard drive but I didn't feel comfortable with that. Not because I didn't want to hand over a drive or anything, but because they didn't have the intimate knowledge of the archive that I did on top of the fact that editing 97,000 photos is nothing to sneeze at. Imagine someone handing you 5000 photos of one person and being asked to find the five best? That would take hours depending on your computer or a few seconds depending on your interest.

Because of my familiarity of the archive and the fact that I'm a control freak, I requested to be the editor on the book under one condition: that they bought me a Quad G5 and 30-inch display to help speed up the process.

Photo by Thomas E. Witte

Photo by Thomas E. Witte

Cincinnati's Carson Palmer (#9) fires off a short pass against Cleveland during the first week of NFL action September 11, 2005 at Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. The Bengals beat the Browns 27-13.
I did the edit in stages. Using the color labels in iView I went through and picked out 10 players at a time and toggled through the photos assigning their concordant color. At the end I moved those labeled photos into a player folder and went back through again with 10 new color assignments. In the first edit I went from 97,000 to 1100.

Next I went back through the player folders and looked at the full-res version axing the ones that were out of focus, not able to hold together as a double truck or were out of bounds in regards to color/exposure. That got it down to 900 photos covering 80 different people or things.

One last edit on my part to get it down to about 300 and I was ready to hand them over to John. This is when I really needed to be involved. I gave them the "ins" as well as the last two rounds of "outs" just in case. John would occasionally pull a photo from the out pile and want to include it, but I'd interject with something like, "we can't use that one, he dropped that pass." Or, "he actually ended up getting sacked on that play for a loss." I don't know why, but for just about every photo in the entire archive I was able to remember the play.

To most people, maybe it wouldn't matter if the player fumbled, but to me, in the spirit of doing a book highlighting the team, this didn't seem like a methically (my word for morally and ethically) correct image to publish. In some cases John swayed my decision and in some cases it was appropriate. A photo of Corey Dillon fumbling was different from Rudi Johnson coughing it up because Dillon had gone from golden boy to scapegoat, following in line with the point of the book - rebuilding the team.

When we got it down to about 220 they let me pick out which ones I wanted to run as double trucks and a handful of images I liked for the cover. Aside from that, the bulk of my work was complete. My obligations were to edit, provide the multiple image licenses, prove I was the copyright holder and promote the book which I gladly do since I'm paid royalties. When Brad Mangin asked me to write about the process of the book, I essentially was contractually obligated too.

Photo by Thomas E. Witte

Photo by Thomas E. Witte

The Cincinnati Bengals kick off against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Wildcard game at Paul Brown Stadium on January 8, 2006 in Cincinnati, OH. Pittsburgh won the game 31-17.
Obviously, none of this would have came to fruition had I signed over the rights to my photos. The financial gains are unknown since its all contingent on royalties but there are two bright spots regarding that. The first; some folks I know who work at a local Barnes & Noble informed me that their store has preordered 35 copies. For best sellers, they typically order 15-20. So our concerns about the book having interest have been put to rest. The second was that I worked a progressive royalty schedule into the contract where my kick back will go up substantially with each subsequent edition - the first edition being 5000 copies. So far a large chunk of that has been preordered so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

What was the point of that last paragraph? To brag? Actually it was to prove two points. The first was that a decision I made 15 years ago is financially affecting me now. Even as a teenager I didn't like the idea of giving away my copyright. This was mentioned in a thread recently about your decisions now coming back to haunt you later in life. The second point was having witty business sense. (Pun intended).

At the moment the book The Road Back: The Cincinnati Bengals Under Coach Marvin Lewis is being distributed to retailers... Just like my career covering the Bengals, time and patience will tell.

The Road Back: The Cincinnati Bengals Under Coach Marvin Lewis is available for online preorder at: Or directly through Thomas at for a discounted rate for members.

(Thomas E. Witte has been a full time freelance photographer based in the Greater Cincinnati area and Midwest for the past ten years. His clients range from Sports Illustrated to Business Week to Getty Images. )

Related Links:
Book: The Road Back
Witte's member page

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