Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Avoid ghastly assignments

Don't get good at what you don't want to shoot. This is a backward truth if there ever was one. Probably I shouldn't be posting this, but I may as well say it for other staffers elsewhere. I suppose this entry is only for staffers or underpaid freelancers. Pro freelancers are stuck because they don't want to eliminate any shoots.

A seasoned shooter told me this truth:   if a particular kind of assignment is repulsive to one photojournalist, the PJ should not kill her/himself on the assignment. It might be something someone else enjoys shooting.

If the PJ does an excellent job on something most PJs hate, the requesting editor notices the difference and requests the same photographer each time. In real terms, this means those who hate a particular genre get trapped in it because that's what they're "good" at shooting.

A good assignment editor wants to keep PJs interested in their job and get the best images from each person. So, the editor monitors how we shoot different subjects. Those with good results are remembered. Those with bad results are also remembered. We're steered toward our successes rather than our failures.

I'll discuss an example I don't mind shooting. Our paper has started shooting pets and the people who love them (it's different than "pet of the week"). It has been really popular with our readers since Texas is a pet-friendly place.

I like animals, and I'm not afraid of them. This means I'll shoot the 16-foot-long snake with a wide-angle lens at close range because it's not an issue to me. I'm also OK with a squirrel monkey sitting on my head for a while.

So, I've gotten some of these assignments. With each success and some positive feedback, the assignment editor knows I'll do a good job making sense of the chaos created by trying to arrange animals and people in one tight frame.

Here's what the section editor wrote to our assignment editor:

Subject: praise for foto

Ah, those pet people, they love their dogs, they love our photogs. This came from Colleen FitzGerald who has Chance the Samoyed.....She wrote, "Mark Hancock was a delightful photographer. What a pleasure to work with him."
This sort of thing makes my life a lot better, too! Thought I'd let you know so you can arrange a whopping bonus for the shooter....

Colleen (center) and Jim FitzGerald (right) pose for a portrait with Andrew Kreis, 13, (left) and the FitzGerald's dog Chance, a 3-year-old Samoyed, (bottom) at their home in Duncanville on Wednesday, June 9, 2004. Kreis worked with Chance to earn a dog care merit badge and credit toward his Star Scout certification.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Obviously, my whopping bonus is more Pets & People photos. It's cool with me. I enjoy the challenge, and I also know which assignments I'm avoiding at the same time (fete sets - the oneses we hateses). But imagine if I didn't like pets - or was allergic to animals. What a horror this letter would bring.

So, if you don't want to shoot something, don't die for it. If you want to shoot something, excel at it. If you don't excel at something, don't expect to get an assignment to do it ever again. This sword swings in every direction, but you can keep it from swinging one way or another if you get good at alternatives.

Enough for now,

06/24/2004 UPDATE:

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