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|| News Item: Posted 2003-04-29

Turning the Tables: What a photographer wants in an assignment
By Joey Terrill

Photo by Joey Terrill

Photo by Joey Terrill

Snowboarder Tara Dakides for Sports Illustrated
As a guide for you budding picture editors out there, here is some solid advice about how to best extract award-winning photography from those in your charge:

1) Be sure to tell the photographer EXACTLY how to take the picture. That way, he won't make any mistakes while executing your idea. In fact, if you knew how to work the camera, you'd just go do it yourself, you genius you. When your boss asks, be sure to disavow any knowledge of where the photographer got such a lame idea.

2) When setting up the assignment, be sure to tell the subject or his "people" that the shoot will only take a few minutes. Then, when you call the photographer, tell him that the subject has agreed to a few hours. Oh, what a surprise that will be! When doing this, it's also best to tell the photographer that your expectations are very low due to the difficulty of the assignment. Then, when you get the pictures, act as though it was the easiest assignment you ever handed out and you can't understand why he had any trouble.

3) When you're trying to come up with a concept for a portrait or feature, make sure that it's something you've seen before. That's a sure way to know that it must be a good idea. If the photographer suggests something you can't visualize, it must be a bad idea and you should reject it right away. Tell the photog to lay off the hallucinogenic drugs and start reading some great picture magazines, like the Enquirer.

4) Don't let the photographer see the take after it's shot and above all else, don't let him edit it down. Why on earth would he care what the pictures look like anyway? He doesn't have a visual sense or anything. In fact, it's a wonder he even knows when to push the button. Most importantly, by viewing the take, he might find something you missed--like the picture of the game-- and we can't have that now, can we? As long as that never happens, your reputation is intact.

5) Don't ever call to tell the photographer you liked the pictures. He probably doesn't care what you think anyway, and besides, you're too busy to take the two minutes to call. After all, he's probably busy after traveling hundreds of miles, carrying a dozen cases of equipment, standing in the snow, waiting for an hour while the subject primped and staying up late to get the images out. Nah, that two minute call for an "attaboy" is too much trouble.

6) If the images weren't what you were looking for, don't call then either. Why would a photographer want to know that? It might hurt his feelings and change the way he approaches the next assignment for you. No, better to let him continue down his erroneous path. That way, you can just stop using him while telling everyone "he blows." If that doesn't work, call and rant at him for twenty minutes. That will let him know who's boss. Besides, you have all that time left over from the "attaboy" calls you never made.

7) When your "button-pusher" actually does get a great photograph (miracles do happen), be sure to take the time to spell his name wrong in the credit. This will help to keep him a secret from other publications that might like to use him as well. An alternative is to make the credit a group credit. That way, readers won't know who shot which picture and everyone on the list can take the credit for the best shots. And by all means, make the credit small. No one reads them anyway.

8) Always tell the photographer, "it's a rush." That way, you'll be sure to have the images in your hot little hand as soon as possible. It doesn't matter that the story isn't running for six weeks. Missing dinner, sleeping, or driving a hundred miles to the nearest electricity or airport is all just part of the job, especially after a twelve hour day on the road.

9) Crop everything. Those silly photographers don't know anything about composition, so you'll have to do it for them. Crop out anything extraneous. Arms, feet, balls or any "storytelling" element that the photographer might have mistakenly gotten in there. Crop as tight as you can. All that extra space just wastes ink and paper. As an alternative, manipulate the image in PhotoShop. Move the ball, add a puck, and take out a teammate. That's what the program was meant for.

10) Finally, throw a party at the photo shoot. Bring your significant other---who always wanted to meet the subject---a few friends, the writer, an editor, your mom and anyone else you'd like to impress. I know that when I'm being photographed, the more people standing around gawking at me the better. Make sure you have loud music playing to set the mood. That way, the subject won't be able to hear the idiot photographer's directions. Be sure to talk to the subject while the shoot is taking place. That will help to "loosen him up."

P.S. --- If you're a shooter, and an editor you work for exhibits some of these tendencies, run--don't walk--to another publication. There, you will likely find an editor who encourages your ideas, supports your efforts, backs you to the boss and will likely make you a better photographer. Give 100% for them and you will be rewarded with some of the best images of your career.

(Joey Terrill is a freelance photographer based in Southern California. His clients include Coca-Cola, Volkswagen, Bose, Vivendi Universal, Baxter Healthcare, Novellus, Mattel and Exxon Mobil. You can email him at:

Related Links:
Terrill's member page.

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