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|| News Item: Posted 2001-06-29

The Photographer's Home Office
By Anne Ryan

"There's got to be a better way!" That's what I say to myself every time I look at my temporary office/laundry room that I share with my photographer husband John Zich.

We are still renovating our house so half the laundry room has been taken over by cameras, computers, printers, scanners, CD burners, etc. All the bills, the kids school papers and junk mail and dirty socks pile up on my desk rendering it unusable for work. I'm sure the dryer lint has worked its way into every piece of equipment, but we should only have to live with this for another couple of months.

Photo by Ron Vesely

Photo by Ron Vesely
We are in the process now of designing our new dream office, so I thought I'd find out what some of our esteemed colleagues have done with their offices. My thoughts immediately went to two of the most organized photographers I know (and I mean this with the highest regard), Ron Vesely and Michael Schwarz.

According to Vesely (, the Chicago White Sox team photographer, " I must say it is much easier taking the time to plan your office layout BEFORE setting up anything...I prefer to work "smart" not "hard" ".

Vesely took the dimensions of the room he intended to use as his office to office furniture stores with him. Then he took the information back home and laid out the plan on the floor to see if it was feasible. His approach was well worth the time and effort. Having an efficient office can save a lot of time and energy.

Both Vesely and Atlanta-based USA Today contract photographer Schwarz ( have large filing cabinets, at least two computers, and the usual scanners, CD burners, printers, etc. Schwarz prefers to use a portable headset phone when he's working so he can move from place to place in the room while talking on the phone and a backless roller chair to preserve his back.

He also invested in a dehumidifier and a device to monitor the temperature and humidity of his office. Computer software is key to Schwarz, "The core of my work flow is a custom-designed FileMaker database that I use to track clients, create assignment paperwork and handle my filing system. It will also do slide labeling and some other stuff".

Sport Shooter business guru Rick Rickman likes a left to right configuration. "It starts with my light box and goes immediately to the drawers with the film and slide pages. Next in line is the computer and scanners and the printer is right next to the fax machine. Everything I need is within two feet of me and my chair is in front of the computer screen." One should definitely consider how they like to work, what supplies and equipment they need every day and what they need occasionally."

One major consideration in our line of work is the amount of equipment we need. Most of us could probably fill an entire office with it. One solution John and I have decided on is creating an auxiliary storage space in a dry part of our basement rather than keeping everything in the office to pile up and trip over.

We can keep our every day camera bags close at hand, but keep the long glass, lighting, old computers, extra office supplies, returned film etc. ... in the auxiliary storage. This frees up more workspace.

We also invested in Cradoc's fotobBiz software (available through t hat is designed for forming a client database, billing and other business issues. It also contains Cradoc's Fotoquote, a database useful for quoting prices to clients.

Here are some very important considerations when planning your home office:

1. Electrical Outlets/ Phone Jacks: Are there enough? Are they in the right locations?

2. Lighting: Is there enough overhead? Will you need special light in certain areas?

3. Carpeting/ Hard Floors: Carpeting is more sound proof, but hard floors are better if you like to glide in your chair from workstation to work station.

4. Privacy: Is your office Grand Central Station for your family? This works out well if you have to keep an eye on children while you work, but it can also be a major distraction when you're on the phone with a client or editor.

Photo by Michael Schwarz

Photo by Michael Schwarz
5. Furniture: Do you need special ergonomic furniture for a bad back? Do you need a traditional desk or a rolling workstation?

6. Computers/Software: Consider networking all the computers in your home for file sharing. Most of us need at least two. Consider buying or creating software for a client or contact database.

7. Storage: Do you prefer cabinets or closets? Do you need extra storage space in another part of the house? Do you need locking storage? Do you need a small refrigerator/freezer for film? Do you need fireproof storage? What about your digital storage needs?

8. Climate: Make sure you meet your temperature/humidity needs. You should make it as comfortable as possible or you won't want to spend much time in it.

9. Work flow: Left to right? Right to left? Circles? Everything within reach?

John and I have discussed our office needs in depth and we decided on a small room next to the kitchen where we can work and also keep tabs on everything that's happening with the kids on the first floor and in the back yard.

We just figured that if our office were in a remote part of the house we wouldn't use it as much. We will have French doors to close out some of the noise on both ends of the room, a set that opens to the dining room and kitchen area and a set that opens to a screened in back porch.

Damian Strohmeyer, of Sports Illustrated, prefers to work at home despite all the distractions of raising three children. He says "That is the biggest reason for working at home, the chance to keep up carefully with our kids' lives. And while it can be occasionally frustrating ... the rewards far outweigh the frustrations.

"My kids are used to me being around when they get home from school, know my desk is their easiest source for any supplies they need for their school work. My desk functions as a "help" desk for homework questions, construction questions, and a referee's desk for the multitude of disputes that arise having three kids."

It is important if you're working at home to set rules about when you cannot be disturbed (i.e. a closed door or screen means you wait until dad or mom is off the phone). If you don't think this will work you may want to consider moving your office to a remote part of the house or out of the house entirely.

(Anne Ryan, a former staff photographer with USA TODAY, is a freelance photographer in Chicago.)

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