Tuesday, June 22, 2004

PJs must deliver

If images aren't where they belong when they belong there, it's a huge problem. Delivery is the core of the PJ's reputation and reflects upon the photo department as a whole. I've already made an entry about newspaper deadlines, so let's discuss image delivery.

Image delivery is different than shooting, editing or any of the other technical factors we tend to talk about in this biz. Image delivery is the only component of this job that matters to a publisher or assignment editor. Delivery (or lack thereof) is what makes mediocre PJs acceptable and great PJs worthless to editors.

Editors don't want to be burned by a shooter. Think of editors as conductors of an orchestra. Each PJ delivers predictable notes when and where they're expected throughout the entire score. When everything is done properly, it's professional. If one PJ doesn't deliver properly, it's a sour note repeated over and over and over by an amateur. The entire orchestra suffers as a result of the actions of one.

It isn't like a pebble disturbing the stillness of the water. It's a freaking cannonball through the side of the ship. Everyone must scramble to fix the problem. However, typically the problem comes near deadline and the only option is damage control rather than a reshoot. So, the hole is patched with text or whatever image or graphic might be similar.

Redundancy is the key to delivery. There are multiple ways to get information and small items (film, disks) around the globe now. We must know how to use each of these and which ones to use first. We use the cheapest first and then work up to the fastest depending on the deadline.

It costs a lot (ouch), but we can literally pay American Airlines to hand deliver something to another city the same day. Freelancers should measure the cost of potentially lost gigs (photo editors are all friends, and it's a tiny world) against the cost of making deadline and then make his/her decision after the last FedEx pick up was missed.

Hopefully a PJ only needs to get some dit images to the editor. If the Wi-Fi location is down, there is always a hard wire or cell patch. If FTP doesn't work, there is always e-mail. Most publishers have their own hubs or at least some form of high speed connection. A six Meg file isn't a problem to get as an e-mail attachment anymore.

Even if the file size is a problem, freelance PJs can set up a special area on a Web site to load images. Post the images there, let the client download the jpgs from the Web. Later, pull the image down, invoice the client, do the happy dance and eat a pizza.

In a worst-case scenario, the PJ shot film and is working for a distant client. S/he should process the film, edit, scan (high resolution) and transmit the best six with an explanation. The editor won't be happy, but the editor is more concerned about making deadline with any image rather than having nothing and an excuse. You can always send the negs later for file images.

If something happens late at night and the film must be souped, it could be a problem for those who don't have the knowledge, chemistry or equipment. This is where those who know how to process color film at home (or in a hotel toilet) keep the clients while others lose future gigs. When it comes to competitive situations, it doesn't matter who has the shots as much as who delivers the shots.

As long as an image – any publishable image – is delivered on time to the right place, everything else becomes academic. Exposure, composition, timing, chemistry, pixels, etc. don't mean anything if there's no image in the system or in the basket at deadline. It's slightly understandable when the PJ runs late while in the midst of a hurricane, but a missing three-day-old mug shot is intolerable.

We turn out (prepress into the system) most of our zone stuff two days ahead of deadline because of the press schedules. Only Main, Metro and Sports can think about real-time deadlines.

Whatever the circumstances, have multiple back-up plans. Get an attachment to transmit with a cell phone in a pinch. If the traffic is dead, pull over and send one image. It's the best possible option. If the car breaks down, and there's no way to transmit from the car, expect to hitchhike to the closest Wi-Fi location with a laptop. Call the auto club or a tow truck on the way, but make deadline.

Enough for now,

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