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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2010-12-07

TRADING PLACES
Stepping into management’s shoes is an “eye-opener”

By Trent Nelson, The Salt Lake Tribune

Photo by Trent Nelson / The Salt Lake Tribune

Photo by Trent Nelson / The Salt Lake Tribune

World Cup Aerials
There's an old phrase that goes something like, "The more things change the more they throw you into management for a five-month stint." That's what happened to me recently. After a change in our photo management I was bumped into the Deputy Director of Photography chair until they found a replacement. It was a huge eye-opener.

The transition from shooting to editing can be a tough one. It's like one day you're the convict, lifting weights in the prison yard griping about the warden with the other cons, and the next day you wake up to find you've become one of the guards, and you're going, "How did all these shivs get smuggled into the prison?"

When you are a photographer, you only have to worry about your assignments. You can tune out everything and everyone else and focus on your work. It's a great thing. Ousted from that cocoon, I now had to look out for ten photographers and their concerns, attend editorial meetings, schedule assignments, etc. I couldn't simply go home after my assignment. The days were long and things would come up whether I was on or off duty. The change was a shock. After a few speed bumps another old phrase came to mind: "History repeats itself when we don't learn from it and are thrown into management to learn it all over again from the other side of the coin."

One day a photographer complained that I'd published the weakest photo from the choices he'd sent in. The correct response to his complaint seemed so obvious to me, so I responded with something like, "Why did you send in a photo you thought was weak?" It seemed an open and shut case from my side of the desk.

Later I realized I'd been in this exact situation before, but on the other side of it. Nearly a decade ago I stood at a photo editor's desk holding a copy of the paper and confronting him with the question, "Why did we even run this photo?" I was naively expecting him to say something like, "You're so right. This was my fault, a huge mistake, and it will never, ever happen again. How can I ever make it up to you?" He didn't say any of that. Instead, he said, "Why are you complaining to me? You took that photo."

I remember standing there speechless. I had no response. But only now that I'd been on the other side of it could I see that he was right all along.

Other situations from my life as a photographer repeated, and they looked a lot different now that I was on the management side.

As a photographer I used to complain about not having enough information about an assignment. As an editor I was the one trying desperately to save an assignment one afternoon by sending a photographer out with no more information than a text reading: "Fairgrounds. Horse exhibition. Shoot Latino competitors."

As a photographer I once pissed and moaned when given an assignment requiring portraits of thirty politicians. As an editor I found out how it felt to give out an assignment only to have the photographer respond with a one-word text: "UGH."

My time in the editor's chair is now over. I'm back to shooting. Looking back, the experience was invaluable. I know how the newsroom works. I've made friends and allies. I even learned the names of some of the people on the copy desk. Most importantly I understand the pressure that photo editors face every day. It's made me a better photographer.

It's not like I'm calling for anything crazy like National Photo Editor Appreciation Day. But I assure you, seeing things from both sides is a huge advantage.



Tent Nelson is a regular contributor of the Sports Shooter Newsletter. You can see his work at his personal website: http://www.trenthead.com/ and on his SportsShooter.com member page: http://www.sportsshooter.com/members.html?id=30.


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