Thursday, November 30, 2006

Film Hall of Famer

Houston filmmaker Greg Carter accepts induction into the Southeast Texas Filmmaker Hall of Fame at Lamar University in Beaumont on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2006. He is completing "American Dream: The Mike Jones Story" for Warner Brothers, which should be released in February 2007.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

How photojournalism affects the brain

The eye is directly connected to the brain via an optic nerve. The eye and brain are in constant communication. The brain sends instructions to the eyes, the eyes respond with movement (called a saccade). The eyes collect visual information and immediately present it to the brain. Then, the process repeats.

Unlike written or spoken languages, the brain can immediately understand the massive data presented and sort for the meaning of visual information in milliseconds. Consequently, visual information is the most immediate and visceral of all communications.

While moving images (video and film) are the most engrossing, the still image is the most powerful. This is also due to the way the brain functions. Moving images force the eye to saccade as scenes change and objects move. However, the still image is frozen and allows time for the eye to fixate.

For anything to become memorable, the brain must retrace neural connections several times to build up a chemical memory. This occurs during viewers' fixations. Once the data is chemically stored inside these connections, it's a memory. It can later be called upon with another chemical trigger.

Essentially, if a still image is studied for a small amount of time, it becomes physically burned into the chemical markers of the brain. It's a chemical version of a rewriteable compact disk (CD).

Every new image encountered is compared against the previously stored mental images. Commonly, the brain might chemically say Bob looks like Ted with brown hair instead of black and green eyes instead of blue and a small scar on the left side of his forehead. When it comes to photography, previously stored images are probably very famous photos and difficult to usurp.

The most common or imperfect images in a set are dumped as better images are encountered. This is the point of impact for photojournalists. It's also what distinguishes the work of one PJ from others.

For example, let's consider a mass-market portrait photographer. Each image produced looks essentially the same. Each portrait has a person at a half-right turn with the same light and one of 25 interchangeable backgrounds.

Once the backgrounds are memorized, the people are the only difference. Once enough types of people have been photographed, only subtle changes are remembered. Over time, only surprising portraits evoke any response from the photographer.

Our portrait photographer may remember the subject in a business suit who insisted on wearing a red, foam-rubber clown nose.

So, let's build this mental image, which doesn't even exist in reality, from your own memory. First insert a generic portrait studio background. In front of this background is a head-and-shoulders shot of a person in a business suit. Then, we put a red, foam-rubber clown nose on this person.

The remaining changes are macro societal for the experience of the reader followed by minor details.

Any race, gender, or age could be applied to this generic person, these facts can be selected from previous experiences in your mind.

The minor details commonly appear at fixation points of standard images. Some fixation points are mouth, nose and eyes. These minor changes show the emotional level (happiness) of the generic person.

Let's say the person is serious for one image. But, s/he starts laughing uncontrollably as the second shot is taken. Most PJs, know exactly what the differences are without seeing the images. These neural pathways have already been traced so many times that we can easily connect arm position No. 3 to portrait No. 2 as we insert eye wrinkle No. 15 with hair No. 7, with suit No. 9 and clown nose No. 4. So, we know what the image looks like although we've never seen the image before.

An artist's view
All of this falls squarely into the hands of the art snobs who claim everything that can be shot has been shot. Furthermore, it applies to everything that will be shot in the future. This is because enough similar images have been created that the most complex composition is only a minor change from previously viewed images of someone with a vast visual memory.

This could be extremely depressing if one dwells on it too long. It means the most amazing photograph we'll ever make is only a minor adjustment from images others have already made. It also means the judge of whatever contest we're about to enter has a 30-year visual library to compare our images against in nanoseconds before s/he yells "out."

A PJ's view
Here is where quality PJ work becomes powerful. The reason the mental image above was so easy to construct was because it's made mostly of nouns (background, person, suit, nose). Probably, the generic mental construction was nothing more than a colorful silhouette of a person.

Experienced visual pros can easily assemble this image as well, but it's new to most folks and gets stored in their memory until something better overwrites it.

The verb is minor (laughs). However, the verb separated the example image from others. It's different. When the verb is inserted, the mental image of the generic person probably got mental attributes of a face. It could have been someone unknown, or it could have suddenly shifted to a well-known friend's exact face and body language.

The verb we inserted tapped into pre-existing, chemically-stored emotional bonds of the viewer. Going back to our original image, we've added several more neural connections and additional emotional meaning to the chemical memory.

This image may overwrite some other image in a viewer's mind, but could be easily lost with time and additional visual stimuli.

How PJs make memorable images
The example above was a simple portrait. It was made more memorable by the insertion of a minor verb. PJs have additional tools at their disposal.

PJs can give viewers subjects in context with authority and create sympathy/empathy. These images are most compelling when combined with a powerful action verb and strong emotional content.

Most daily PJ work takes place in the "real world." The backgrounds of our images aren't painted, they're real places. Often, they're real places where our most common viewers have visited. As such, viewers immediately connect the background to their own emotional memories of the place.

Although location is important to subscribers, other viewers correlate the background to somewhere they have been. Although subtle, PJ images are already beginning to mean different things to each viewer. The image starts to become unique to each viewer as their neural synapses fire and connect visual and emotional memories.

This is most true with uniform environments such as sports. Although PJs shoot a pee-wee football game in the suburbs, the background may remind a former football player of his college football days. The backgrounds we capture are enough to make an image memorable and connect with viewers' emotions.

In addition to the context mentioned, PJs' images have authority. Our images are primarily facts. When viewers see PJ images published on paper or on the Web, they're viewed as facts. The cutline verifies the facts of the image for skeptical viewers.

Most day-to-day images don't require this factor to connect to viewers emotions, but images with new data require this authority.

For this example, let's consider a man in a business suit stands next to a traffic light near an overpass. The man holds a sheet of cardboard with a hastily scrawled sign that reads, "Needs work."

This photograph would immediately evoke emotional responses from each viewer. Some with limited world knowledge might find the image mildly funny. Some who have suffered through hard times might become angry (one of the most powerful emotions) about how everyone makes fun of them. Note the image is no longer about the subject, but about the viewer because the viewer connected personal emotional links to the image.

However, PJs present facts. After the initial anger subsides, viewers might read the cutline to verify this is a factual image rather than some advertising gimmick with extremely poor taste.

The cutline reads, "John Smith, formerly an account manager at Telecom Industrial Utilities, holds a sign to acquire work after the government closed the business for failure to pay taxes on Monday. More than 600 employees lost their jobs."

These are all verifiable facts, which support the image and give it authority and credibility. The guy was really there holding the sign.

PJs want viewers to find parallels in our images to their own lives. This is why PJ work is sometimes called a reflection of a community. We show the community to itself. By doing so, the community connects with the publication on more than a superficial level.

If we can't get this level of sympathy/empathy between our image subjects and our readers, the images are unlikely to have any impact on the readers and are basically "page fillers."

The readers who found the previous example mildly humorous at first may get an emotional kick of guilt after reading the cutline. Those who have "been there, done that" connect the image with every emotion they felt under similar stressful situations.

Obviously, the impact of the image varies greatly from reader to reader.

If the cutline continues, "Smith, a single parent, said employees were not paid and his hospitalized daughter needs medicine."

At the inexperienced end of the spectrum, empathy with the subject is probably created. Viewers may not feel the image, but they can imagine themselves in a similar situation and have an emotional response.

Worldly readers may experience total sympathy with the subject. The image is immediately connected to deeply-burned chemical trails in the brain. Painful memories are replayed and connected to the image on the page. They feel his emotions. They have sympathy.

Powerful action verbs
As evinced above, subjects with relatively passive verbs ("holds") can etch into the minds of viewers and connect deeply to stored information within viewers' own brains.

When powerful action verbs are introduced to PJ images, images are most likely to affect viewers. Visual verbs such as falls, explodes, slams, rips, etc. summon defensive responses within the viewers' brains.

Often, images which contain powerful action verbs elicit physical reactions from viewers. PJs want viewers to have these "gut reactions." This means our image was connected by the viewer to additional nerve centers within the body. The image isn't simply mental but became physical as well. In other words, it'll be remembered for a while. In addition to the neural traces, it now has physical reinforcement.

Most Pulitzer Prize-winning images from the 60s and 70s had strong action verbs. Here are some memorable example images:
1961 - Japanese student stabs socialist leader.
1964 - Ruby shoots Oswald.
1969 - Vietnamese police chief executes Viet Cong prisoner.
1973 - Napalmed Vietnamese girl runs.
1976 - Woman and child fall when balcony collapses. (Two verbs)
1977 - Thai students beat lynched leftist students.
1977 - Racist spears lawyer with flagpole.
Emotional content
Emotional content runs the entire length of the human experience. As we know, personal experience varies per viewer. However, there are some universal experiences including pain and fear. Other common emotions include happiness, disgust, remorse, grief, etc.

While the physical reaction isn't as obvious, the brain connects viewers' emotional content to images. The physical reaction is more on a cellular, nervous system level than a muscular reaction. Viewers' skin may tingle, stomachs may clinch, tears may form. These are all physical manifestations of emotional reactions to chemically-stored images within the brain.

Many emotions have become verbs. Scream and cry are common. Other emotions are implied and understood by the viewer from facial expressions. A person recoils (in fear or pain).

These emotions are best displayed on the subject's face. This is why most editors want to clearly see people's faces. Often, body language or position alone can also convey the emotion without the ability to see the subject's face. However, readers can more rapidly and effectively connect directly to the subject if the subject's eyes are visible (and in focus).

The viewer feels the emotion while seeing the image. PJs want to tap into our viewers' feelings to maximize the impact of our images.

As such, viewers are likely to absorb images completely when emotional elements are introduced. Rather than dwelling on the obvious, let's understand this is the key to a successful image.

PJ's goal
The goal of PJ work is to communicate with viewers through truthful images and words. If we place subjects in context and create sympathy/empathy while documenting a powerful action verb and strong emotional content, we have succeeded.

When combined, these ingredients connect multiple neural and physical chemical pathways to a mental image for the viewer. If successful, we've overwritten many previous images in the viewers' brain chemistry.

If all of this can be done while presenting a new word to our viewers, we've created something truly worthy of our viewers' time.

Enough for now,

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Kirbyville stopped

Kirbyville's Pierce Rhodes (No. 2, top) gets stopped by Silsbee's Brandon Watts (No. 21, bottom) and Josh James (No. 20, right) during a high school football game in Kirbyville on Friday, Nov. 3, 2006.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sunday football fans

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Diana Humphrey (from left to right), Kayleigh Grantz, Jan Humphrey of Essex, Iowa and Brian Humphrey of Beaumont root for the Kansas City Chiefs while they watch a televised football game at Buffalo Wild Wings in Beaumont on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2006.

Beaumont-based engineers Rich Murphy from Pittsburgh (left to right), Mike Kalisz of Battle Creek, Mich. and his wife Lisa Kalisz of Lanse, Mich. root for the Steelers while watching a televised football game at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Homeless no more

© Mark M. Hancock for the Portland Press Herald

Billy Woolverton (left to right), poses for a portrait with his mother Sue Moore and half-sister Shanna Adams in front of Moore's destroyed mobile home in Silsbee on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2006. Woolverton was primarily homeless for more than 30 years after he ran from an adoptive parent's home when he was 15 years old. After he played a big role in the production of the play "Hear Our Stories, Know Our Names," Adams located him and invited him to move to his current Silsbee home in a FEMA trailer with his biological mother.

Sue Moore talks with her son Billy Woolverton (right) outside Moore's FEMA trailer in Silsbee. Moore's mobile home was destroyed during Hurricane Rita. She lives on a fixed income and cannot afford to repair her home.

Billy Woolverton (right) tells a story from his travels to his half-sister Shanna Adams (left) outside his new home in Silsbee. Woolverton was formerly homeless in Portland, Maine. After he wrote and performed parts of the play, his name appeared on the Internet and Adams was finally able to locate him after years of searching.

Billy Woolverton (left to right), his mother Sue Moore and half-sister Shanna Adams search for Woolverton's missing sister on the Internet at Moore's home. Woolverton and his sister were taken from Moore when they were small children. Woolverton's full sister, Julia Sue, is still missing. She was last known to live in Texas and had the last name Hare or Jones.

Please read "Homeless man's on-stage story has off-stage ending worthy of applause" by Bill Nemitz of the Portland Press Herald.

12/25/06 UPDATE: Please see Homeless no more Part B

Sunday, November 26, 2006

WO-S knocked out

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

West Orange-Stark's DePauldrick Garrett (No. 24, left) takes a savage hit from Giddings' Alan Dock (No. 11, right) while trying to catch a pass during a high school football playoff game in Humble on Friday, Nov. 24, 2006. No. 4-ranked Giddings won the game 21-13 and knocked the undefeated Mustangs out of the playoff race.

Award winner:
2nd Place, Sports Photo, Press Club of Southeast Texas, Excellence in Media Awards

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Boston Avenue expansions

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Gaudie & Co. employee Sarah Staton (right) shows an ornament to Jamie Lefort (left) at the store in Nederland on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2006. The 2-year-old boutique on Boston Avenue has doubled it's floor space this year due to its continued success.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Beaver's Christmas Tree Farm

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Robert Beavers inspects this year's crop at Beavers Christmas Tree Farm in Nome on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2006. Trees with white tags have already been selected by customers.

Kaden Richard, 2, and his grandmother Febra Boyd of Sour Lake lead Robert Beavers to the tree they selected at Beavers Christmas Tree Farm. Selected trees are tagged and continue to grow until the purchaser is ready for the tree.

Zoe Boyd, 8, of Sour Lake runs through a young crop of trees at Beavers Christmas Tree Farm. The Friday after Thanksgiving is traditionally the busiest day on tree farms across the nation.

Mario Rodriguez (left) and Antonio Rodriguez move an imported tree at Beavers Christmas Tree Farm. Some trees are imported from the mountains of North Carolina for customers who moved to Southeast Texas from northern states.

Molly Beavers, 2, (left) and her grandmother Susan Beavers (right) take a ride through the Beavers Christmas Tree Farm. Farm owners Susan and Robert Beavers (driving ATV) said this year's rain made for a good crop of healthy trees. Other Christmas tree farmers in Southeast Texas remain closed or had their tree growth stunted by Hurricane Rita last year.

Please read "Southeast Texas tree farmers ready for shoppers" by Kristina Herrndobler.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

If anyone needs a reason to be thankful...

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Doris Marie Brown, 51, of Lumberton (center) walks through a gauntlet of reporters outside the Jefferson County Courthouse in Beaumont after her arrest on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2006. She was arrested for criminal solicitation for capital murder.
The Beaumont Police Department stated Doris Marie Brown tried to hire an undercover police officer for $10,000 to kill her husband so she could collect money from an insurance policy.

Doris Marie Brown, 51, of Lumberton (left) is arraigned in the courtroom of Justice of the Peace Ken Dollinger (right) in Beaumont. Bond was set at $100,000. If convicted, Brown faces life in prison for the first degree felony.

Please read "Police foil murder-for-hire plot" by Ryan Myers.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Fighting fires at city council

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Firefighters wait to address the city council at the Beaumont Civic Center in Beaumont on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2006. Firefighters presented their safety concerns about the number of firefighters assigned for emergency responses.

Firefighter representative John Werner, of Reaud, Morgan & Quinn Lawyers, points out an OSHA safety exclusion during his address to the city council at the Beaumont Civic Center. OSHA's minimum requirement is for two rescuers to enter a hazardous building while two remain outside. There is an exception for emergency situations in OSHA's recommendation.

Firefighter Scott Chamberlain (right) addresses the city council at the Beaumont Civic Center. Beaumont trucks are crewed with three firefighters. The firefighters are upset that every emergency call must either be an exception to the rule or potentially deadly while waiting on additional firefighters.

Please see stories related to the continuing battle between the City of Beaumont and the Beaumont Fire Department.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Basketball battle

Memorial's Charles Wise (No. 15, center) and Matt Smith (No. 3, right) fight the ball away from an Ozen's Stephen Moton (No. 32, left) during a basketball game at Ozen High School in Beaumont on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2006.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Sign the Orphan Works petition

Earlier this year, I asked folks to take action about the proposed "Orphan Works" (copyright stealing) concept. For the folks who who care about your intellectual property rights and haven't voiced your concern yet to your representatives in D.C., LightStalkers offers a relatively painless Pro-Copyright Petition. Just send them an e-mail with your name, profession, location and citizenship, and they'll add you to the petition list.

This important issue must be resolved. I'd imagine there are very deep pockets behind the push to take our property rights, but possibly the latest political turn might make some folks think before they try to steal more of our rights.

Thanks to Frank Johnson at for the link.

Enough for now,

Monday, November 20, 2006

Beaumont's future

Michael Sterling works with mock trial students at Central High School in Beaumont on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006. Sterling, a 3rd year law student at Thurgood Marshall School of Law, has been identified as a future leader by Beaumont Mayor Guy N. Goodson.

Please read "Man with a plan: Michael Sterling sets sights on mayoral job" by Colin McDonald.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tom's Meat Market reopens

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Tom's Meat Market in Spurger, Texas has been largely repaired by Thursday, Sept. 21, 2006. Hurricane Rita destroyed the grocery store, which forced community residents to drive many miles to get fresh meat.

Randy Holcomb cuts beef at Tom's Meat Market in Spurger. The Holcombs were uninsured and have invested their life savings to reopen the store.

Randy Holcomb cuts round steaks at Tom's Meat Market.

Sandra Holcomb slices ham at Tom's Meat Market. Although the store requires much more work, the family-owned business is starting to recover.

Jaina Shook measures half-pound portions of ground beef at Tom's Meat Market. The market also grills and sells hamburgers.

Sharon Emerson (left) holds her granddaughter Reigan Shook, 3 months, as her father Blayke Shook (right) gives her a goodbye kiss at Tom's Meat Market in Spurger.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Lamar women open hoops season

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Lamar's LaToya Carson (No. 25, center) shoots over New Mexico State's Sherell Neal (No. 2, right) as Clara Denning (No. 33, left) watches during the season-opening women's college basketball game at Lamar University in Beaumont on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2006.

Lamar's Aida Bakhos (No. 13, center) tries to pass over New Mexico State's Jazmyn Foster (No. 3, left) and Tyshae Walton (No. 35, right) during the season-opening women's basketball game at Lamar University.

Lamar's Brittney Williams (No. 34, left) completes a layup after New Mexico State's Sherell Neal (No. 2, right) misses a block attempt.

New Mexico State's Sherell Neal (No. 2, center) is surrounded by Lamar Lady Cardinals during the season-opening game at Lamar University.

Collect the invoice payment

Between the time I left the Army and got my degrees, I worked four years as a corporate collector for General Electric Capital. I handled the business revolving charge accounts for a national office supply chain and a popular computer manufacturer.

Each month, I'd be handed several million dollars worth of delinquent accounts and a specific collection goal. With few exceptions, I regularly exceeded my goals. So, I know a bit about collecting debt and how accounts payable departments work.

Let's demystify the process for new PJs. Hopefully nobody needs to use this information. However, it's better to know and not need it than to need it and not know.

Don't take it personally
Most PJs are passionate about what they do and pour themselves into their work. As such, they tend to take negative treatment personally. Business isn't personal. It's about shuffling numbers around.

Pro number shufflers (accounts payable) only want accountability. You're not PJ, a person or even a business to them. Frankly, they could care less about your images. You're only a set of numbers (dollar amounts) tied to another set of numbers (invoice). If they can clear your numbers off their books, they're happy. If they never got an invoice (for whatever reason), the debt doesn't exist.

Reasonable payment time
The first problem new PJs have is getting accustomed to accounts payable cycles. Unless a client's contract states otherwise, a reasonable time from invoice to payment is about 30 days.

This means new freelance PJs better have a month's worth of cash on hand, or they're done before they start.

Each business is different, but larger corporations tend to be extremely efficient on the biz side. Rather than buying extra check printing machinery, they schedule payroll checks on a specific Wednesday and accounts payable are handled on the opposite Wednesday.

It sounds fair enough unless a PJ's invoice is sent on Friday, arrives on Wednesday, makes it to accounts payable on Thursday and sits on a desk for almost two more weeks. This is ignoring any delays before it gets to accounts payable.

This process has changed in recent years as more companies have moved to electronic payments for both payroll and accounts payable. However, this also means the broken printers won't be replaced, so don't get too excited when dealing with a new client.

Without getting into all the details, understand some companies pay promptly upon invoice while others absolutely won't pay until 30 days (to keep accrued interest).

Remind yourself
The folks who follow the advice in "Manage your money" (or the longer "Budget for three months" post) already understand how to track invoices. Otherwise, establish some other way to know when 30 days have passed and payment is due.

Initial actions
Thirty days have passed since the invoice date. There still isn't money in a PJ's bank account. What should we do?

Don't panic. The payment was probably in the warehouse fire you covered last week and it got torched. It's a "no fault" situation that can be easily remedied.

Check the mail
I know, but we get busy and forget to look in the bill receptacle. Maybe there's a nice treat in there too.

E-mail the client
Because I was a collector, I hate phones. So I normally e-mail first. Editors are busy, don't waste their time. Be cordial yet direct. Here's a good example:
(sent on Nov. 1)


Would you know what happened to my invoice? It was for my invoice #GMM06-10 for assignment 555555 for $468.60. I sent the invoice on Oct. 1, 2006 to your attention. This was the "Gators taste like..." assignment. The images were transmitted on Sept. 30, 2006 and the image ran on Oct. 2, 2006. Any info would be appreciated.

Thanks again,

John P. Shooter
City, State, Zip

What was done?
The e-mail header and return address should get the editor's attention rather than being seen as spam. The date is automatic, but important for problem accounts.

Address the specific editor or accounting representative. Formal folks might include "Dear" before the name.

We immediately address the question but in a non-confrontational tone. Their initial answer is probably "I don't know." Consequently, they're gently encouraged to find out what happened without being commanded to do so.

We also note every possible tracking number and date associated with the assignment because we don't know how it's listed in their system. Also remind them about the amount, the date it was mailed and the subject of the assignment. Then formally ask for their help.

Thank them and close the e-mail with your current mailing address.

Typically, editors check with accounts payable and let you know what's up within 24 hours. If they say they didn't get the invoice or it never made it to accounts payable (both are reasonable mail problems), ask if you can e-mail or fax the invoice again. If yes, do it now with a note requesting a confirmation. "Please let me know you got this without problems" is normally good on the resubmission.

This solves the vast majority of payment problems.

If there is no response to the initial e-mail within one day, pick up the phone. The assignment editor may be off or on vacation. It's important to resolve this quickly to avoid more uncomfortable actions.

If the PJ already has a collection folder, place a copy of all e-mails into the folder as they are sent. Otherwise, make sure to keep a copy in the "sent" folder until the payment is received.

A call normally does it all
Folks, who aren't phone adverse, are probably better served by calling. A direct call to the assignment editor typically gets immediate results. Cover the same information listed above. If the editor doesn't know the answers, leave a call-back number.

If the assignment editor isn't available, ask to speak with whoever else could answer an accounts payable question (get their direct number if you can).

If connected directly with accounts payable, give them all the numbers they need to sort through their information. If they don't have a record of the invoice, ask them if you can e-mail or fax the information to them.

In all situations, make sure they have your correct mailing address in their system. Also, note the names of anyone handling the account as you speak with them.

What's the next step?
PJs have e-mailed and called, but were unable to talk to the assignment editor or accounts payable.

Send a reminder invoice to the attention of "accounts payable." This bypasses an editor who might be sitting on invoices for some unknown reason.

However, we're going to place "30 Day Notice" in big, bold letters at the top of the invoice. At the bottom, add "If you've already mailed this payment, please disregard this notice."

If the client is well-established it's probably a paperwork issue. It'll be resolved soon. If this is a new client, go ahead and send the 30 day notice so they know not to abuse you in the future.

In the accounting database, move the account information to 45 days. This is your follow-up reminder.

Collection advise
From here onward, PJs become collectors rather than salespeople. We're getting payment for an image that has already been published (our copyright hammer).

Don't threaten. Only tell the debtor what has been done.
Keep intensity low. Don't take it personally. Get the money owed and conclude business.
Continue the process. No matter what is said, continue a methodical approach until the amount owed (and any fees and/or interest) is in the PJ's bank account.

Phone notes
As journalists, we're all trained to collect who, what, when, where, why and how. As collectors, we collect the same information from accounts payable.
Who sent the payment? (get a specific name)
What amount was sent? (verify amount)
Where was the payment sent? (verify correct address)
Why was it sent late? (to avoid future problems)
How was the payment sent? (snail mail, FedEx, electronic, carrier pigeon)

Obviously, use discretion when dealing with clients. If the information they give is believable, believe them until proven false. As the account ages, it's important to get specific information about payments and create evidence for further actions.

The point of these questions is to solve future problems at first. Later, it's important to have evidence of deliberate violations of truth. If accounts payable said check number XXX was sent to the correct address on a specific date, and later say they never sent it, this is important to have documented for copyright violation claims.

E-mail the notes
PJs should make a folder in their e-mail program for "collections." Any e-mails and phone notes should go into this folder for easy access later.

Before making a collection call, paste the invoice details into a blank e-mail addressed to yourself. Then, paste the questions above below the invoice information. Next, enter the date and numbers called and ask for the names of people who make arrangements or take messages. Quickly type any conversation notes and/or promises they make.

When the call is concluded, send the e-mail notes to yourself and place them into the collection folder. This gives the information a verifiable date and time stamp.

Before each subsequent call, copy the information from the previous e-mail into a new e-mail, update for any fee changes (interest and/or late fees), type the day's date and add new notes. This develops a recorded and verified history of conversations with the client. It also allows the PJ to have immediate access to any information related to the delinquent account.

45 Day notice
If contact was made at 30 days, follow up via the same route (e-mail or phone) requesting information about when and where the payment was mailed.

Notice we asked when and where it was mailed. At this point, change the tone slightly to remind the client that the payment should already be in the PJ's hands.

If contact has failed
At 45 days, it's getting serious if no active contact (e-mail or phone) has been established. PJs have tried twice and given plenty of time for editors or accounts payable to return from vacations.

If we still haven't established contact, it's time to (nicely) get someone's attention (and make sure they're still in business). Send them an official notice letter. Use the normal headers and footer, but limit the invoice data. They should know about it by now. Try this sample:
Accounts Payable,

I/we have tried unsuccessfully to contact (biz name) regarding Invoice #GMM06-10 for $468.60. Please contact me/us at your earliest convenience to discuss this account.

If you've already mailed this payment, please disregard this notice.


John P. Shooter
City, State, Zip

We've added phone and e-mail contact information if it wasn't previously included. PJs might start to use the formal "we" to change the tone of the letter. This lets accounting know the PJ understands this is a business situation. It also implies more than one person depends on the payment (possibly a lawyer).

60 Day actions
At 60 days, it's time to decide if client is worth the stress. We'll again send our e-mails and make our calls, but we're going to send a late notice letter to secure our legal rights.

If it's a regular client and this is one old invoice and/or they've paid other invoices, make a call and e-mail and send the previous letter. They may have mixed up invoice numbers or some other accounting problem.

At this point, it's important to get all paperwork ready for future actions. PJs who schedule their "hard copyrights" quarterly (opposed to soft copyright upon shutter release) need to send the batch early to secure absolute rights on the images and have a copyright number to present to a lawyer.

If it's a new client, they owe a large amount or the client isn't worth the problem, it's time to resolve this problem.

60 Day Notice

Accounts Payable,

We value your continued business. We have not received payment for Invoice #GMM06-10 for $468.60. Payment was expected on (date). Please contact me/us to resolve this account.

If you've already mailed this payment, please disregard this notice.


John P. Shooter
City, State, Zip

90 Day actions
If it's a regular client and this is one old invoice and/or they've paid other invoices, make a call and e-mail and send the previous letter. By now, we should know the reason for delinquency (R4D). However, we need to keep the ball rolling and protect our legal rights.

At 90 days, we're done with any new or infrequent clients. We need to move on to greener pastures. We'll again send our e-mails and make our calls, but we're going to send a demand letter to secure our legal rights. Send this notice with a return receipt request card (make them sign for it).
90 Day demand
Manager Accounts Payable Department,

We have not received payment for Invoice #GMM06-10 for $468.60. Payment was expected on (date). Under the terms of our contract, we demand payment in full. Please contact me/us to verify this payment has been sent.

If you've already mailed this payment, please disregard this notice.


John P. Shooter
City, State, Zip

120 Day actions
At four months, we're done. Don't ever take an assignment from this client again (and let other local shooters know what's up as well).

If the client published the image AND the PJ submitted the images for a "hard" copyright, the client is so screwed.

At 120 days without any reasonable R4D, particularly for balances over $500, it's time to enforce copyright. The client is in violation of the contract by not paying. They have essentially stolen the image. It's time to make a packet with copies of the contract, delivery memo, hard copyright info, copies of all e-mails, delinquency notices and collection notes (from phone conversations).

Take the evidence packet to your friendly neighborhood copyright attorney along with a high-end bid for the same image had it been stolen (probably a much higher amount than the gig originally offered).

The lawyer will see the easy money. The lawyer tacks her/his fee onto the end of your fees and sends a demand notice for the new-and-improved total. This is the final nail in the coffin. The lawyer's next steps are to arrange a court date and get treble damages from the client for copyright violation.

Enough for now,

Friday, November 17, 2006

Sabine surfing

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Whitney Whitenton of Spring, Texas (left) prepares his sailboard while Chris Ihle of Port Arthur (right) carries his board to Sabine Lake at Pleasure Island in Port Arthur on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2006. Windsurfers took advantage of the unusually strong winds while much of Southeast Texas was negatively affected. Flight delays were common at Houston's airport today.

Chris Ihle of Port Arthur (left) windsurfs while Les Proske of Dickinson, Texas prepares to ride in Sabine Lake.

Les Proske (left) and Whitney Whitenton (center) windsurf while Chris Ihle (right) takes a break in Sabine Lake.

Whitney Whitenton of Spring, Texas turns his sailboard in Sabine Lake.

Les Proske (left) and Gary Hobbs (right) windsurf on Sabine Lake. Hobbs used a GPS unit to clock his speed on the water at 33.3 MPH.

Chris Ihle of Port Arthur returns after wind surfing at Pleasure Island in Port Arthur. The surfers said the powerful, gusting winds were difficult to safely control.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Playoff quarterback

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

West Hardin High School senior quarterback Brandon Letsinger poses for a portrait at the school in Saratoga on Monday, Nov. 13, 2006. His team is heading into the playoffs.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Voicing concern

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Gwenalyn Westbrooks voices her concern about neighborhood gangs, drugs and prostitution during the first Community Access Committee meeting at the Beaumont Civic Center in Beaumont on Monday, Nov. 13, 2006. The committee was formed to allow residents to inform the Beaumont Police Department about issues of concern.

Image is part of the Charlton-Pollard series.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Lamar men open hoops season

Lamar's Brandon Chappell (No. 1, right) grabs a bad pass as Texas Southern's Nick Walker (No. 3, left) changes gears during a college basketball game at Lamar University in Beaumont on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2006.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Monday, November 13, 2006

Central lateral

Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Central High School's Brandon Williams (No. 5, left) laterals the ball to Derrick Hall (No. 3, right) as he's hit by Ozen's Darron Wilkerson (No. 28) during the last regular season game at Lamar University in Beaumont on Friday, Nov. 10, 2006. Central advances into the playoffs while Ozen is done for the season.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Veterans Day program

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise

Retired 1st Sgt. Alex L. Pellerin Sr. (left) salutes as Art Ferris plays the national anthem during a Veterans Day program at the Golden Triangle Veterans Memorial Park in Port Arthur on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2006.

Austin Solis of Port Arthur holds a U.S. Marine Corps flag during a Veterans Day program at the Golden Triangle Veterans Memorial Park. Solis was a Marine from 1955 to 1957.

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Walter P. Lane Camp fire two cannons during a Veterans Day program at the Golden Triangle Veterans Memorial Park.

Tom Horne (left) and Art Ferris (right) play Taps during a Veterans Day program at the Golden Triangle Veterans Memorial Park in Port Arthur.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Shoot for magazine layout

Betty Greenberg poses for a portrait at her home in Beaumont on Wednesday, Oct. 25 2006.

This version of a cover image allows room for a magazine nameplate, mailing label and story teases. Orientation is to the right.

Photos by Mark M. Hancock / © The Beaumont Enterprise for BE magazine

Betty Greenberg poses for a portrait at her home in Beaumont.

This version allows room for a magazine nameplate, mailing label and story teases down the right-hand side plus a breakout box on the lower, left-hand corner. Orientation is non-traditional. Her angle is left, but her eyes orient right.

Betty Greenberg poses for a portrait at her home in Beaumont.

This is the best version for most publications. It allows room for a magazine nameplate, mailing label and story teases down the right-hand side plus a breakout box on the lower, left-hand corner. Orientation is to the right.

Paige Windham (left) and Betty Greenberg (right) pose for a portrait at Greenberg's home in Beaumont.

This version is the best for a traditional cover. It allows room for a magazine nameplate and mailing label. Orientation is forward.

We've talked about offering various layout options. Primarily, we've talked about horizontal and vertical layout options as well as subject orientation. These are common requirements of newspaper layout. However, newspapers don't (and shouldn't) place text within the image area.

If PJs are shooting a magazine cover, additional factors come into play. Text is commonly placed within magazine image areas. Cover images are almost exclusively vertical. Most magazines also tend to run more vertical images than horizontal images inside.

Although I haven't elaborated yet, it's important to have model releases on everyone and property releases for anyplace (non-public) appearing in images for a magazine. Although most magazines have journalistic protections, some don't. Don't take a chance with any of them; get the releases.

What magazines require
About 80 percent of all magazine rack sales come from cover design. Every element of a magazine cover is critical to the magazine's survival. Consequently, PJs must shoot exactly what's needed if they want to get a cover.

For the cover story above about sweaters for a specialty publication, I needed to present several options. All of the options needed to have extra space at the top of the frame for a nameplate. If the image runs inside, the top would be cropped to make the image into a square.

While traditional magazines only require nameplate space at the top, most modern magazines place text over the cover image to entice readers to the stories within. Frequently, text is placed on the right-hand side of the image. No matter how good an image is, it won't be used for the cover unless there is a place for this text.

Most Western-language magazines are bound on the left-hand side. Middle Eastern magazines bind on the right-hand side. This can present problems for some PJs in Europe, Africa and Asia.

Most American publications want the subject situated in the middle-to-lower, left-hand corner for cover consideration. Well-established magazines often float the subject over the nameplate, but it's not the preferred option for most designers.

Additionally, many glossy magazines require a mail label area in the lower, right-hand corner of the cover image.

When a magazine client lets a PJ know an assignment has cover potential, it's critical to make sure to keep these factors in mind (particularly if there's cover incentive money involved).

Once PJs are certain they have the cover shots nailed, they can move to inside shots. These are shot similar to newspaper images, but it's wise to shoot both horizontals and verticals of everything.

Previsualize the layout
New PJs and/or those wishing to branch out into editorial work need to start seeing these layouts when they look at a scene. Most PJs know how to previsualize the frame proportions when they look at a scene. Rather than looking at the subject, they see the edges of the frame.

Next, PJs learn to superimpose text elements over the scene. The remaining area is the usable portion of the frame. This is the area where the main subject must be located.

However, the remainder of the frame must still contain information. Although it's less important space, it's not "dead space." Some clients may use a square, oversized format. This really compresses the usable image area.

Orient right
Considering the information above, it's best to orient the subject toward the right (where the text is). Otherwise the subject looks toward the spine of the magazine and the layout folks might be tempted to flop the image. Although this is forbidden in newspapers, it happens too often on magazine covers.

Just for fun, select any famous cover model with a "beauty mark" (like Cindy Crawford). Go online or to the newsstand and see if you aren't confused after a few minutes about where the mark actually resides. It'll probably switch from side to side with each publication.

However, if every image is shot for the cover, an inside image may get flopped to accommodate inside layout. If PJs take the time to shoot both orientation options (left and right), then there's no need to flop an image. Since a lawsuit was successful due to a flopped image, I'll again emphasize the importance of model releases.

Enough for now,