Tuesday, February 24, 2004

How photo requests work

This entry is written for PJ students more than the general public. Unlike most other entries, this post sounds more like an instruction manual than a casual explanation of how stuff works. The changes from third person to first person are unavoidable due to subject matter.

An "assignment" comes from the photo desk. A reporter turns in a "photo request" (see "common photo request entry fields" below). This is a request to get a photo to accompany a story. The photo editor evaluates the request and places it with the most appropriate PJ or rejects the request. It becomes a "photo assignment" after the assignment editor places it on the schedule.

The subtle terminology difference is because the assignment editor has the option to reject the "photo request." This happens daily. A PJ calls both the shoot and the paper an "assignment."

If the PJ is extremely lucky, the information on the assignment is correct. Since the reporters aren't held particularly responsible for bad assignment information, some reporters aren't as diligent as most about accuracy.

When I get an assignment, I preview it for obvious problems. If I spot something wrong, I'll resolve it immediately or the following morning (because I shoot nights and – although it would be fun to call some reporters at 4 a.m. – I understand the reporters don't work my shift).

Items to immediately check on the assignment are logistical:   is the assignment distant (out of town)? When is the deadline? Do assignments overlap? Are assignment times flexible or finite? Is there enough travel time between assignments? If not, where can I cut time? Will I need special tools for the shoot (hard hat, ladder, radio remotes, micro lenses, 600 mm lens, waterproof camera, etc…)?

Although times, dates, addresses and a number of other problems can make an assignment fail from the start, I'll gloss over these problems for now. We'll assume the basic info is correct to get a PJ to the right place at the right time.

Immediately upon arrival at the location, try to check the spellings of all proper nouns (names, buildings, events, etc.) and other assignment information. This is frequently an embarrassment to young reporters who are sometimes on location because they think we are double-checking their photo request accuracy rather than covering everyone's rumps. It typically furthers the embarrassment if names are indeed misspelled.

After we have the correct spellings, identify the main subjects. Find ways to identify each subject with certainty while avoiding ethnic labels. This is sometimes impossible, but we'll go out of our way to avoid it.

The male with black hair, brown eyes and blue jeans is distinctly different than the female with blonde hair, green eyes with glasses, and a pink skirt. Race is simply not a required identifier as long as clothes are not uniform. Therefore, there isn't reason to use it.

* Note: Get the first and last names of all people and domestic animals photographed. Get the age of all people who appear 18-or-younger and 60-or-older (if they agree) as well as any domestic animals with names. Ask relationships of people or domestic animals (people with different last names may be married or parents, siblings, etc. ...). Get the breed of any domestic animals and the most accurate name of any non-domestic plants or animals.

If you can't verify it's a bald eagle, then it's a "bird."

Because lab techs may later pull a file, include all details in the notes to prevent an early-morning phone call. Make certain the lab techs can identify the subjects without questions.

Yes, I have been called while camping in another state to verify information on a file photo. I walked the tech through my notes, and we were both certain of the identification. I'll do another blog one day about documenting signs, rosters and scoreboards to save future problems.

Next, we must make certain we have the correct story information in mind before acquiring images. A smiling portrait isn't appropriate if the story is about someone losing their job, getting a divorce and becoming homeless.

Likewise, the information on the assignment may be partially or completely wrong. Ensuring the correct information at the beginning of a shoot prevents a re-shoot and secures deadline.

Once this is done, then shoot. If the assignment is a portrait, work with the subject to make the image match the story. If the assignment is about the event or someone doing something, fade into the background and document whatever happens.

Enough for now,

Photo request information:
Assignment information varies at different organizations. As long as Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How (called “5 Ws”) are addressed, most photographers can handle the assignment. Below are the common information fields in a photo request database. Additional information is often presented to the editors to attach to assignments, however photographers often pick up assignments from remote locations.

Common photo request entry fields:
Assignment number ; date of shoot ; start time ; end time ; Is time flexible? ; assigned photographer ; subject/person ; location (include as much detail as possible, i.e. cross streets, directions, city, map locations, etc.) ; contact ; contact phone ; are we expected? ; location contact ; location phone ; reporter ; reporter phone ; travel with photographer? ; story summary (as much detail as possible, what the photos should illustrate, important people and events, etc.) ; story slug (file name of story) ; Credential information (required or not, where are they to be picked up, have they been previously arranged?) ; created by ; approval editor ; photo editor ; due date ; due time ; run date ; deliver to ; department/section ; assignment status (new, in progress, complete).

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