I have a confession to make: I wish that I had the benefit of having more strong editors influence and support me in my developing years. It’s not that I didn’t get to work with a few who took me under their wing. Jay Quadracci when he was at the Greeley Tribune gave me loads of support along with the excellent advice to “go have fun and the pictures will be there”. A big nod goes to Paul Aiken at The Boulder Daily Camera who always told me to “shoot the shit out of it”. Those guys were and are important to me and I can never thank them enough.
Because I didn’t go through the typical P-J school system, didn’t have internships and essentially have made, read as faked, my way from the “get go” some things took quite a while to filter their way to my head. One of which was the critical importance of a good editor. Now this is mostly because looking back at it I realize how many bad editors I had to deal with in the beginning. I think that they didn’t really know what they were supposed to do and acted as naively as I did in my own right.
I think that the issue was that I thought I was supposed to roam free, like the lone wolf, cowboy, rogue agent or something equally romantic, unencumbered by either convention or pesky people at the head office who coincidently are paying me for my photographic jaunt! On the other side of the assignment desk the editor most likely saw themselves as simply management: get things done, fill out the paperwork necessary – keep things clean and tidy.
We didn’t realize how much collaboration our work really is. Not in the sense that we are working together but that we are working for each other. The editor is not just the one who tells me to “go here and shoot this” but rather is my champion at the publication who is there to support me both in the field and in the office. To do my job well, not just properly, I need to have the time, access, information and supplies necessary. Much of that comes from the editor. Short notice, no real idea of what I’m supposed to see once I arrive at a vaguely described locale with a subject who may not be willing to cooperate and not having the critical something necessary to make the shot happen is a recipe for photographic disaster. Even if I apply the “go have fun” and then “shoot the hell out of it” principles the photos will likely be poor at best. Unfortunately I had way too many manager types and all too few who would make sure that I had what I needed to enable me to produce the coverage that the client honestly wanted. Too many times I had no more than an address and time with the instructions as fleshed out as “Need a shot of Dr. Pence. Vertical”.
As a news guy I learned to embrace being a tough intellectual loner to thus cope and figure things out as I went. Sometimes I had nothing more to go on than my instinct and work ethic. That’s when I started researching subjects in earnest so that I could have ideas to work with once I got there and found that I had little to work with. Unfortunately I had to do that so often that I tended to think of all editors as paper shufflers who were put in charge of professionals whose work they neither understood nor cared to have much interest in. I had the chance to shoot for very well known publications whose editor I was working for couldn’t fathom what it was like to have to make photographs in the real world.
Editor: We have a problem with some of the photos you took.
Me: Oh, what’s the issue?
Editor: Well the photos you took of her, (the subject of the story) when she was on stage are really red.
Me: Yeah. They had her in that deep red light pretty much the whole time. I couldn’t use flash while she was giving the presentation so that’s what we had to work with.
Editor: Ok, but they are really red.
Me: I used a tungsten white balance but that red has such a narrow spectrum that didn’t do much to clean it up.
Editor: I don’t like them – they are all red!
Then there is the:
Editor: How did it go? (after a three day travel story shoot)
Me: Great. I’m pretty stoked. I got excellent access, the weather was fine and there were lots of things happening.
Editor: Cool. I can’t wait to go through your shots.
Me: So that you know about 2/3 rds the way through there is a series with a couple on a bench with the big bridge in the background – the sun was going down behind them so I shot them as silhouettes. So you don’t think I botched my exposure! (laugh)
Editor: (confused) Silhouettes? Why in the world would you shoot something as a silhouette?
Me: Uh, well the colors in the sky behind them were lovely and the graphics of them on the bench with the tree on the other side of the frame with the arch of the bridge … Could make a good cover shot.
Editor: (shaking her head in wonder)
And the inexplicable:
Me: Wow. What a great time. I totally fell in love with that family – I hope they adopt me. Moments just happened in front of me effortlessly. We got horrible weather but it made for amazing light and their eyes and faces were just glowing from it.
Editor: Excellent. Did you get the cover shot we wanted?
Me: Not quite. As I said the weather was terrible so I had to find other options for that. We did three different locations just for the cover and I’m pretty happy with them.
Editor: But we told you we wanted a vertical of the family in front of their house for the cover!
Me: I know but it rained both days I was there. There was no way to do the shot when it was pouring down. Take a look at my images. I have plenty of options for the cover. Frankly their house is pretty boring looking so even if I did the outside shot with good weather it wouldn’t be that good as a cover.
Editor: No, no, no. You had specific instructions to shoot them outside their house …
(The editor was telling me this from 1500 miles away from the shoot location and had never even seen what their home or neighborhood looked like.)
Those kind ofexperiences gave me a very bad and totally unnecessary image of editors. As a result I think I became prejudiced against them fearing that the next one I dealt with would be clueless as to what I needed as a working professional. I did learn my lesson and as a result try to search out clients that understand and support their photographers. When you get a good editor you find that they are totally golden and you will bust your last nut for them as they will for you.
So here’s to the editors! You are not just looking through my images for “the good ones” you are doing all that you can for me/us so that I will in fact bring back “the good ones”.
Pic of the day: A little interplay of light and shape that I grabbed on my way to a shoot in downtown Denver.