Monday, February 28, 2005

Sometimes it's too fast

Featherweight open boxer Raul Barrientes (left) takes a shot from Jose Hernandez (red glove right) during the Fort Worth Golden Gloves boxing tournament at the Will Rogers Memorial Center complex on February 23, 2002. Hernandez won the fight.
Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

This is an example of a rare occurrence of my strobes/shutter set too fast. This frame is shot somewhere around f/8 at 1/500 or 1/640. The resulting image looks like the red glove is placed delicately in the frame.

If we look closely, his head is beginning to spin around inside his safety headgear. Had I shot at 1/250 or maybe a little slower to let some available light blur the frame, it would've been more obvious how hard he was hit.

Consequently, sometimes it's important to keep the speed slower than possible. Hockey, boxing and karate look the most strange if there is no touch of motion to give the feel of speed and power. Basketball and volleyball hold up the best at super-high speeds.

Enough for now,

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Tip off

Colleyville Heritage High School's Jeremy Buttell (No. 32, left) and Grapevine's Danny Eichel (No. 32, right) jump for the tip off during a basketball game at Grapevine High School on Friday, January 21, 2004.

© Mark M. Hancock and The Dallas Morning News

Friday, February 25, 2005

Consider the Cadillac theory

You call a Cadillac dealership to get a quote on the newest, top-of-the-line model. The salesman says he can sell you one for $250 if you buy now. Do you?

I doubt it.

Why? The salesman might be a liar trying to trick you into coming down to the showroom to pressure you into another deal. He may have the newest, top-of-the-line model fresh from a train wreck. He may be trying to sell you a stolen car. Or any number of other problems.

Why do we think there are immediately problems? Because the price is too low for the merchandise and its reputation. The same holds true for PJs.

PJs aren't selling a product (a car). We sell our reputation. The high-quality reputation of the Cadillac brand makes buyers expect to pay a premium. The PJ's clients are the same.

Let's look at a typical freelance gig – a wedding. I chose a wedding as an example rather than an editorial gig because it's easier to see the dollar signs. However, this theory applies to all PJ endeavors.

Since most folks planning a wedding are not editors or art directors, they must go on reputation and price. They have already spent $15,000 on wedding preparations and their budget is tight now. They plan on this being their one and only wedding. The wedding PJ must capture the magic of the day.

They call two PJs because they heard PJs are the best at weddings. The first PJ understands their financial crunch and is willing to work out a payment plan, but the cost is still the standard $5,000. The second PJ says s/he'll do it for $250.

Who would this couple hire?

The couple probably hires the expensive PJ because there must be something wrong with the cheap one. They don't want to throw money down a hole and leave it up to a cheap photographer. Cheap doesn't mean "good" to most people.

Expanding a tad more, the cheap PJ may be busy every weekend, but it takes 20 weeks (five months) to catch up to the one week of the expensive PJ. So let's look at the odds. Is it likely the expensive PJ could get 1 in 20 jobs? Sure. Is it also likely the cheaper PJ might miss a high-dollar gig because s/he is already booked? Absolutely. Will the expensive PJ be able to manage more than one gig in five months? Very likely. Will the cheap PJ ever catch up to the high-dollar PJ? Never.

As if it didn't hurt enough for some folks, let's consider one other factor. People getting married are often surrounded by other people who are going to get married in the near future. If the PJ does a good job on the wedding, it's likely other people who participated in the wedding will want to hire the same PJ. It's also likely those people are in the same socio-economic strata as the couple who could afford the premium-priced PJ.

Meanwhile, the cheap PJ is never able to court the expensive weddings because all his contacts know the PJ as cheap and promote this aspect to their friends (no matter how good the images are). The expensive PJ gets referrals because the PJ is "expensive but does an excellent job."

Here's one more secret: people love to say how much they paid for high quality work. If someone paid too little, they would never say how much they paid or who the PJ was. If the price was fair but unattainable to most, the client gladly quotes the price and PJ's name because they want others to know how elite they are to hire this particular PJ.

If some PJs charge too little for their work (and drive down the overall market), they are creating their reputation as "cheap" rather than "good." We'll go into this theory in more detail later, but I wanted folks to consider how their prices relate to their reputations.

Enough for now,

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Optically center framed images

Many times, PJs need to frame their work for display. The obvious frame choice would be the exact size of the image. However, this choice leads to a crowded and off-balance placement of the image. It never looks right in the frame. Consequently the PJ (or client) won't be satisfied with the result.

To make an image look right in the frame, it needs space. It also needs to be balanced. However, like everything else visual, there's a catch. The human eye won't see a mathematically correct center as correct. Instead, it sees the image as low in the frame or out of balance.

Consequently, the image needs to be optically centered for display. Optical center is a position slightly higher in the frame (or a designed page) than the true center line. However, it must remain an equal distance from the left and right (vertically true).

Calculate manually
To calculate optical center, measure the total top-to-bottom length of the frame. Divide this length in half. Divide half by 10. The optical center will be 1/10th of the distance of half the page above true center.

A typical frame may be 16 inches wide by 20 inches high. The optical center would be:

20 / 2 = 10   Frame length divided in half.
10 / 10 = 1   Half the length divided by 10.
10 + 1 = 11   Optical center from the bottom (or 9” from the top).
When measuring this distance for image placement, the image size must be subtracted from the total length and width of the frame. Again, the width is mathematically centered. Therefore, divide the remainder by two and this is the distance to mark the outside edges of the image from the sides of the frame.

For our example, the image area is 8x10 inches. The width measurements are:

16 - 8 = 8   Frame width minus image width.
8 / 2 = 4   Remainder divided by two equals the distance from frame sides.
To make the image height optically correct, divide the remainder by two. Then add the 1/10th increment to the bottom measurement (or subtract from the top). This will optically center the image within the frame.

20 - 10 = 10   Frame length minus image length.
10 / 2 = 5   Remainder divided by two equals distance to true center placement.
5 + 1 = 6   True center plus optical center adjustment equals the height to place the image from the bottom (or 4 inches from the top).
As a result, the sides of the image area are 4 inches from the frame sides while the top of the image is 4 inches from the top of the frame and the bottom of the image is 6 inches from the bottom of the frame. The image is now optically centered in the frame.

To be fair, I chose the image and frame sizes for this example because the math is easiest. As long as the frame is larger than the image, it can be optically centered and look correct. Most folks choose a frame one size larger than the image (11x16 for an 8x10 image) for personal use.

However, the more space an image is given to itself, the more impressive it appears to the viewer (or client). The clean area around the image keeps viewers' attention longer because there is no competing visual information outside their primary field of view (on the optic nerve).

Cut-and-paste formula
Since many PJs typically aren't great at math, simply paste the following formula (include commas) into a spreadsheet, insert the dimentions and it should spit out the answers. Depending on the program, PJs may need to remove the quote marks from the front of the formula to make it work.

,Mat board width
,Mat board heighth
,Image width
,Image heighth

=(A2-A4)-A7,top border
=((A2-A4)/2)+(((A2-A4)/2)/10),bottom border
=(A1-A3)/2,left border
=(A1-A3)/2,right border

The results with be decimals (base 10). Since inches are measured in base 8, this chart could be of help as well.
1/8 = .13
2/8 = .25
3/8 = .375
4/8 = .5
5/8 = .625
6/8 = .75
7/8 = .875
I'm avoiding a mat board discussion at the moment, but understand PJs typically place their work on black mat boards (with black cores) rather than white or museum mat boards.

Enough for now,

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Critique of the day: Cory Dellenbach – Pro.

Cory Dellenbach of the Shawano Leader in Shawano, Wis. requests a professional critique of the images in his portfolio (Web site no longer exists). There is no comment section, so please e-mail the critique to him. Cory is the staff photojournalist and sports editor. There is no deadline.

Cory stated, "People can be harsh if they want. I want a professional opinion."

Enough for now,

Monday, February 21, 2005

Rogers rehabilitation

Photos © Mark M. Hancock and The Dallas Morning News

(Above) A hawk shreaks at the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Hutchins on Monday, February 21, 2005. Since the Heard Nature Center closed its raptor center last year, the nonprofit wildlife rescue organization has become the only area refuse for injured and sick wild birds. As such, the financial strain has increased as the number and diversity of birds has increased.

(Below) Kathy Rogers, director of the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, gives her pet parrot a hug at the center.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Boone Montgomery, 4, snaps his fingers during his sister's 3rd grade musical tribute to Benjamin Franklin at Colleyville Elementary School on Thursday, February 20, 2003.

Pits prove problematic

If anyone decided to cover fast-track auto racing from my earlier post, take a look at the third image in MSNBC’s pictures of the week before you go into the pits. Ouch!

This is why they force shooters to sign a liability waiver.

Enough for now,

Documents to give CPAs

Before we dive into this, let's clarify the "hobby" status problem. There are lots of urban myths about how many years in a row a person can claim to lose money on their freelance photo biz. If someone is a working professional PJ (freelance or staff), don't worry about this. The hobby exclusion is for people who are seriously playing with numbers.

If a PJ is a staffer, they are making money from the same biz on one part of the form and losing money on another part. It's an understood part of the profession. Don't lose money twice (expenses plus paying too much tax) because a relative got in trouble for claiming a worm farm was a loss for 10 years in a row. Pro PJs get the deductions every year they make any income with the profession.

I promise the government won't mind taking income taxes from stock photo profits in a few years. They can handle the cost of making those images now. Let the certified public accountant (CPA) handle the paperwork.

Why hire a CPA?
How to choose a CPA
What to give CPAs?
What are photo-related expenses?
How long to keep records

Why hire a CPA?
We've already discussed how PJs should keep records throughout the year. Some PJs try to "go it alone" with taxes. I suggest against it. CPAs know their profession, and their fees are a biz expense (read:   you get it back).

I got my tax report back for this year. I'll use it as an example. Let's see, there are pages and pages covered with tiny numbers and tiny words and drool... Wait. It's my drool. Nevermind.

Because I'm not a tax expert, I hire one. A good CPA saves PJs lots of money and keeps us out of trouble with the government. They know amortization and expenses like we know f-stops and shutter speeds.

How to choose a CPA
I'm darn lucky. I've had the same CPA for many years. She is actually a family friend and a reader of different newspapers where I've worked. She knows I'm not wealthy, so she is fair with her price.

If PJs don't know a CPA, they should look for one who can handle the majority of the paperwork. Most CPAs have software to get them through the process quickly while maximizing deductions. They also can file electronically and have returns directly deposited into the PJ's account.

Different PJs have different comfort levels when it comes to taxes. Personally, I am ultra-safe and would rather have the government owe me more money if they decide to audit. If a deduction is on the border, I don't take it. Other PJs may be happy playing closer to the edge with the numbers. Let the CPA know your risk comfort level.

To make the CPA's job easier (and save research expenses), present everything to CPAs in an organized and logical form. Use paperwork and memos to answer any question CPAs might have before they arise.

As soon as I get my W-2, I e-mail my income and expense report spreadsheets to the CPA (other PJs might use prints). Normally, the CPA faxes the results to me within a week for a signature (or we establish a PIN for electronic filing). A week later, I get a much-needed break from financial panic dropped straight into my bank.

What to give CPAs?
Let's discuss how to organize and present information to a CPA. I'm aware some PJs lean more toward the artistic side and appreciate the organic, spontaneous and mysterious nuances of their bag of receipts. CPAs don't.

CPAs live to create an orderly world from the disorganized chaos which amuses many PJs. To save initial CPA fees and everyone's time, it's best to organize expenses throughout the year into a form CPAs can translate into real-people terms (rather than PJ-speak). Staffers can look forward to a hefty refund and freelancers can minimize their out-of-pocket tax costs.

CPAs will first need a PJ's social security number and other personal identification information. This is why PJs must research and find a legitimate and trustworthy CPA. Be cautious of accountants with unusually cheap fee structures.

Next, CPAs need all information relating to a PJ's annual expenses and income. If filing electronically, they may also need bank routing information.

Income reports
Give CPAs all official tax-related paperwork. For a typical staffer, this includes any W-2 forms, 1099 forms, interest statements and any other income information generated from outside sources (forms from them).

Additionally, give CPAs a spreadsheet of freelance income. This lists the client, shoot date, payment date, amount received and notation as to whether they choose to send a 1099 form or simply expense it with the PJ's invoice numbers. This spreadsheet could also include any outstanding balances due (potential write offs) with an explanation. Group this information together by client name and total. Then, total all income.

For pro freelancers, the process is slightly different because they are required to file self-employment taxes quarterly if they go over a certain income limit. However, staff PJs should still keep an eye on how much they earn during the year because if they really work the freelance market, they could step over the threshold and need to file quarterly self-employment tax reports as well as their standard payroll taxes.

Also, give CPAs a spreadsheet of photography-related expenses (see below). Group expenses together by type as defined by the IRS and number them accordingly (line item numbers) for easy tabulation. Returns and other credits need to be included in appropriate groups (notate these with a negative number).

Include a total at the bottom of each group.

What are photo-related expenses?
Again these vary from PJ to PJ. Below are some general guidelines useful for most staff and beginning PJs. Established professional freelancers with studios and/or employees or sub-contractors need to have more detailed information.

DISCLAIMER:   Each year, ask your particular CPA for IRS tax code changes. Major changes can happen to the tax code each year. This is information CPAs know. Frequently, CPAs simply tell PJs to send them the same report as last year, and they'll handle line-item changes.

Include all new equipment purchased to produce images. This includes all accessories such as filters, tripods, electronic devices, etc.

Include all repair and parts costs related to the photographic equipment.

Newspapers and magazine subscriptions as well as most books and greeting cards are expenses to professional PJs. The subscriptions (and single issues with a receipt) are a source of clips, ideas, professional development and potential client. The books and greeting cards are used as either professional development or as a potential client.

I think my CPA puts these in with one of the other sections, but let the CPA know about them.

This is actually a separate form. It is form 8863 titled, "Education Credits (Hope and Lifetime Learning Credits)."

This seems to be a volatile category. Lately, the codes have been very favorable for students (or parents). Include any direct educational expenses (tuition, fees, books) as well as related expenses. If the entry is not obvious, spell out the purpose for CPAs.

Contests are a form of self promotion. The major contest winners get to increase rates and attract more clients.

This includes any direct fees associated with traditional advertising (design, printing and insertion). It also includes promotional direct-mail piece costs. Likewise, promotional products from keychains to coffee mugs are advertising. These "leave behinds" may remind a client to call the PJ when an assignment pops up.

Limit this line item to actual out-of-pocket, total loss expenses. Don't include basic office expenses (mail, envelopes, etc.) because they are covered elsewhere.

Charitable donations
This is only cash donations. The hours and hours a PJ spent shooting for a 501c-3 group was done for the PJ's kind heart and is not deductible. There is a way to make it work for both, but it's complicated. I'll save it for another day. In the meantime, do these freebies for your soul and stock file, but don't think they're a write-off.

The actual costs of film and equipment are still a write off elsewhere, but not the PJ's time.

Professional education
Include educational photo workshops, seminars and private instruction fees with an explanation.

Proprieties (props)
Proprieties are objects purchased and photographed by the photographer. A bag of oranges, jelly beans, tree ornaments, a cake or any other small item could be a prop.

All these objects can be used as subjects or supporting items for illustrations within an overall image. Although by this definition, a new motorcycle could be considered a prop, I would advise against it. Instead, think of props as items costing about $10 or less each.

The advantage of perishable props is that the PJ has the option of throwing the prop away after use or eating it. I normally eat whatever props I can, but sometimes they get snarled up and nobody wants to eat it. For poor college students out there, remember to shoot it before you eat it. Then, tell your parents you are actually saving money by playing with your food. They'll be so proud of their young college student.

09 Auto
Again, this is all expenses PJs pay to have reliable wheels. If a PJ has more than one vehicle, give the CPAs a note about the number of family vehicles and a percentage of use each one gave the PJ. This is also how PJs talk their spouse into letting us use the convertible for occasional assignments. ;-}

17 Professional services
Professional services include CPA fees, legal fees, and memberships in various professional organizations such as NPPA, ASMP, EP and so forth.

18 Office expenses
Office expenses cover everything needed to keep the PJ in business. Phones, pagers, computers, software, paper, pens, stamps, etc. are business expenses. CPAs may separate big-ticket items into other categories for depreciation. Let them do what's best.

19 Utilities
Utilities include all electricity, gas, oil and water related to the business location.

20 Rent
This is the costs for the PJ's home office or studio. Give CPAs the raw numbers rather than trying to calculate the numbers for them. Again, they need the total square footage of a home and the total square footage of areas used "regularly and exclusively for business or for storage of inventory or product samples."

22 Supplies
Supplies are anything directly related to producing an image. Common examples would be film, batteries, chemistry, printing paper, and other single-use items.

24 Meals
Meals are tricky and don't actually pay much of a percentage return. I limit mine to only meals I purchase while with a client or subject and the meals purchased while on assignment in a distant city. However, I keep all receipts because I constantly talk about this biz. Should an audit arise, I know I'll have a bigger safety net.

27 Access fees
Access fees are costs related to actually covering an event. If the PJ paid admission to shoot a festival, concert and or sporting event, get a receipt. This is an understandable business expense for non-affiliated PJs.

Other expenses
This line is normally a catch-all for any expenses which don't fit into another category. Let CPAs know exactly what the expense was and how it applies to the business. "Lion rental fee" isn't something CPAs or IRS folks always understand at first glance. Technically, it's an expensive prop, but set it aside to brighten a CPA's day. :-)

How long to keep records
As we talked about in the record-keeping post, PJs should have one central file folder for each year's receipts. Keep these folders and related tax returns in one box for 10 years. I know the rule is seven years, but they could always change the rules and mess up everything. It's also easier to know when to shred the old file if it's handled in 10-year increments

Enough for now,

Saturday, February 19, 2005

PJ accounting tips

Let's start by saying I hire a great CPA to do my taxes each year. A CPA's fee is a business expense and can be deducted from income taxes. It also saves me time and the stress of keeping up with tax codes while getting the proper amount of taxes paid (not paying more than needed).

In other words, I spend my time shooting and making money in my profession and leave the taxes to a tax professional.

With this said, PJs must still accomplish many record-keeping tasks throughout the year to accurately report their information to CPAs. We'll list what documents to give CPAs, however this entry addresses what PJs need to keep for the end-of-the-year baton pass to the CPA.

Young PJs
Staffer tax benefit
Car expenses
Home business

Young PJs
Although this is a boring part of PJ, it's important to get a grip on it early. It could literally be the difference between a steak and starvation one day.

Since there are many college students (and even a few high schoolers) who regularly read PhotoJournalism, know your tax filing status. Parents with children in college often take the deduction because they are paying the bills. Know if you are listed as a dependent elsewhere (a deductions for your folks), or if you should take the following advice for yourself.

Staffer tax benefit
Before I jump too far into this discussion, staffers need to get with human resources and make sure ample taxes are deducted from each paycheck. The point is to cover any freelance gigs. This creates a buffer zone for staffers to earn money without needing to worry too much about some horrible payment in April.

Additionally, if too much has been paid throughout the year, the PJ gets a lump-sum refund check. Extremely wealthy people suggest against using taxes as a savings account, but I'm not extremely wealthy.

As an observation, most staff PJs aren't extremely wealthy and tend to buy high-dollar photo gadgets on impulse. Over-paying taxes all year is a relatively painless way to ensure enough money for the once-a-year gadget binge with the refund check.

Keep them all. Whether the PJ pays cash, check or credit, put the receipt in a wallet until it's either expensed through the company or notated on a personal spreadsheet (more on this to come).

At home, notate all the receipts in the spreadsheet daily or at least weekly. It doesn't need to be elaborate. Include the date, the store name, and a check number or which credit card was used. Designate one column as the known business expense column, and mark it with an asterisk (*) for all legitimate business expenses.

Once the receipt has been noted, place the receipts in a cancelled check file (4.5"x 9.5" flap folder with a pocket for each month). Include all monthly bills (rent, utilities, auto, etc.) in this file as well.

This creates a central depository of all information CPAs or the IRS need. If the purchases were marginal and not claimed or reimbursed for the year, PJs can find additional deductions in this file during an audit (hopefully it never happens).

For all of the following sections, we'll assume the first sentence would read, "Keep your receipts."

Car expenses
There are two ways everyone expenses business vehicles:   actual expenses or mileage allowance. If the vehicle is paid off, mileage is probably the best bet. If the vehicle is leased or has a note, actual expenses is probably the way to go. This is best decided by a CPA.

However, PJs can make it easy on CPAs by keeping records of both mileage and expenses. It's good to have this redundant accounting system to keep everyone off our backs as well as maximize tax returns or minimize tax payments.

By keeping actual mileage numbers, PJs can determine exact percentages of business vs. personal use of a vehicle. Although I'll explain in detail later, record each mile driven for business purposes. A simple five-mile assignment is 10 miles round trip. This equals $3.75 in 2004 or $4.05 in 2005. Miles add up quickly.

Most importantly, the information can be used by staffers and some freelancers to get reimbursement from the company or client. Many newspapers reimburse staffers either total office-to-office miles or give an auto allowance (around $400 per month) and reimburse out-of-county mileage expenses.

Freelancers need to negotiate mileage with most clients. Some PJs ask for standard rate and charge for travel time. Others ask for an increased mileage rate to compensate for travel time. Explain these fees to the client before sealing the deal.

This alone might be motivation for PJs to have fuel-efficient, well-maintained vehicles. Each penny saved on mileage is one less needed to make the bills. If the vehicle is very economical, it may even be a profit center for some PJs suddenly making the lethally-dangerous nuclear disaster in the next state look more appealing.

Actual expenses
Actual expenses include car payments, insurance, repairs, parts, towing, parking, etc. These are obvious as they occur. If money goes from the PJ's pocket to the health of the car, notate it.

The Standard Mileage Rates Set is determined annually by the IRS. It's an auto use cost estimate for business purposes at a per mile flat rate. It may be higher or lower than actual expenses depending on the PJ's vehicle and driving conditions.

Either way, PJs should keep a notepad in the vehicle and record each mile driven for anything related to photography. This includes trips to the bank to deposit freelance income, trips to the post office to send promotional mailings, etc.

Write down the date, location and odometer reading for each stop of the day. A normal shooting day might look like this for a freelancer:
2/17/2005   Office*   82550
2/17/2005   Fort Worth ballet   82650
2/17/2005   Feature photos   82675
2/17/2005   FW football game   82725
2/17/2005   Newsroom   82800
2/17/2005   Office*   82825
* "Office" is the freelancer's home office.

This example day includes five stops. It totals 275 miles. It lists exactly where the PJ was and why. Being a PJ could make an audit almost fun because we actually have images to PROVE we drove these miles. ;-}

At 2004's standard rate, the example day cost the PJ $103.12 to operate the vehicle at 37.5 cents per mile in 2004 or $111.37 in 2005. Someone - other than the PJ - needs to pay or compensate for this expense.

Home business
Both freelancers and staffers who freelance can write off a portion of their home and utilities for business expenses. I don't know all minutia of the code. But as I understand it, areas of the home set aside exclusively for business purposes can be deducted as a percentage of the total home's bills.

This requires PJs to set aside a closet, a spare bedroom or tape-off a section of the floor to designate it as the "office." This area is to be reserved for business-related activities such as printing, record keeping, filing negatives/CDs, storing equipment or reading and commenting on PhotoJournalism. ;-}

Let CPAs know the size of the home as well as the size of the "office" areas. Also give them the total annual expenses of the home (mortgage/rent, insurance, utilities, etc.). CPAs calculate the correct percentages and take appropriate deductions.

I'm going to take the easy course here and assume readers are editorial PJs (selling various rights) and only deal with federal and state income taxes rather than sales taxes.

If some PJs sell a product rather than rights, they need to check with their CPA to get proper paperwork for local and state sales taxes as well as business ID numbers to purchase supplies used to produce the products without paying sales tax for those supplies.

The invoices created throughout the year represent the PJ's income. If money exchanged hands, someone else could take the business expense (depends on their use of the images). PJs must report all income so they don't get in trouble later.

There are two basic billing procedures:   invoice and receipt.

Most PJs bill by invoice. These are commonly created on spreadsheets, databases, word processors or a combination of all three. Save a copy of each final invoice in one folder on the computer hard drive labeled as "tax" with the year. At the end of the year, group invoices together by client on a spreadsheet and tabulate for each client as well as a total. To the invoice total, add any receipt sales.

Receipt sales
There are a few rare instances where receipts are appropriate. For safety sake, buy a medium-sized two-copy sales receipt book and keep it in the car. If PJs need to sell rights quickly on location, they can cut a receipt on the spot (get ALL client information on the receipt). Remember to check the book at the end of the year before delivering information to CPAs.

Preparing this information for a CPA is miserable and time consuming if PJs don't pace themselves throughout the year. By regularly maintaining and updating records throughout the year, this process is automatic at year's end. Import the data, sort it, total it and send it to the CPA. If all went well, staffers get a nice check and freelancers don't need to sell blood can earn enough to cover taxes before April 15.

Next, we'll discuss what documents to give CPAs.

Enough for now,

Friday, February 18, 2005

Aqua hawk

© Mark M. Hancock and The Dallas Morning News

Meredith Grubb of Hebron High School prepares to compete in the state swimming championships at The Colony Aquatic Park in The Colony on Friday, February 18, 2005. Grubb is one of the best swimmers in the area and is the No. 1 seed in the 200 IM for next week's state meet.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Fixed e-mail

Some e-mails may have fallen into Hotmail oblivion. I tried to fix the problem, but it's nothing I can correct. So, I changed the e-mail button to my main address. If anyone sent an e-mail and didn't get a response, it got caught in this black hole. Sorry. Please resend the note, and I'll answer. Thanks.

Enough for now,

Destruction for status

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Neighbors Jay Lemak, 10, (left) and Jordan Lee, 9, (right) watch a bucket loader destroy a historic home in Highland Park in 2002. The home was demolished by its new owners to make room for a larger, more expensive home in the upscale township. Many town residents are calling for tougher ordinances to stop this practice.

It's tough to part

Fayrouz and I are preparing for an eventual move from Dallas to our next community (wherever it might be). Part of the process is going through all the stored "stuff" and removing unnecessary "junk."

Today I trashed more than $1,000 of old film and printing paper. It was more than a decade old and probably fogged (it wasn't stored properly). The store where I purchased it went out of business years ago.

Even though I know it's toast, and even though I don't expect to print another B&W image in the next 10 years, it was hard. I've lugged most of the paper and 100-foot rolls of T-Max around with me since I was in college.

Back when I purchased these supplies, they were like gold. I'd eat generic peanut butter on crackers for a week rather than be a day without film or printing paper. I knew exactly how much each roll of film and each sheet of fiber paper cost in real terms. I'd calculate food versus these supplies.

A cola was one roll of bulk film. A fast-food meal was five sheets of paper or a roll of nice chrome film. A pizza would critically damage my chemistry fund.

So, with a heavy heart, I said farewell to all the meals I skipped in college today. It was like throwing away letters from loves long lost. The perfume has faded and only the romantic memory remains. Sweet dreams my silver friends.

Enough for now,

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Hot and disappointed

Richardson fire Capt. Michael Rochester struggles to free himself from heavy and hot protective wear following a search for missing residents at a house explosion in west Richardson. The explosion and fire killed two people.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Get flash cards in order

In the film and photo vest days, it was easy to know if a roll was shot or not. If the film had a leader, it was fresh. If the leader was inside the canister, it was shot. The fresh film sat in one pocket, and the shot film went into a different pocket.

Because we were in darkrooms then, we established eyes-free ways to find and change film in total darkness. We also took extra precautions with exposed film to secure it. One lost 36-exposure roll could cause a week of restless nights – imagine what a missing flash card of 200 images would do.

With digital cameras it's still important to establish a foolproof way to keep flash cards orderly to avoid overwriting or damaging a card.

Use a card wallet to organize the flash cards. Mine is a Lowepro D-Res 4M Memory Card Wallet and it cost about $9. There are more and less fancy options.

Each flash card costs about $75. Most pro PJs travel with at least six cards. It's worth the cost to keep them organized and secure. A card wallet protects flash cards from dirt and impact damage as well as keeping them in a central location. One glance in the photobag for the wallet, and PJs can go to the car feeling secure. At the newsroom, grab the wallet and notepad and run inside to make deadline.

How to organize the wallet
The first item to place in the card wallet is a current business card. The business card is your only hope at getting the cards returned if the wallet is lost. Consider circling the cell phone number in red ink and writing “Reward if found” on the business card.

Next, place the flash cards into the wallet with the label facing outward. This is the PJ's code for fresh cards. As the cards are used, place them back into the wallet with the label facing inward in a specific order by assignment.

The inward-facing cards are shot, and PJs know which cards were used for each assignment by their location in the wallet. This could be critical on deadline assignments where every second counts.

Other wallet items
Many PJs also keep a card adapter inside the larger pocket. The adapter ensures the cards are read by laptops and most machines in the office.

Flash gels can be kept behind the adapter. They are folded into quarters so they don't get lost or damaged. If the main light source changes, open the wallet, get the appropriate gel, return the wallet to the bag and keep shooting.

Where to keep the wallet
Many PJs keep the card wallet in their shirt pocket. However, there's the chance of forgetting the wallet altogether when making a quick exit from the house.

A good location to place the wallet is inside the camera bag. It should be deep inside the bag rather than in an outside pocket. The point is to keep it in a location where it won't be easily dislodged. As an extra security, some PJs clip them on a lanyard to ensure the wallet doesn't escape.

When it's raining or there's a chance of getting wet, place the wallet in a high-quality, airtight freezer bag. It takes a second more to get to the cards, but it only takes a second to loose all the images forever.

Back-up plan
As a general rule, PJs use one card per camera per assignment. At the end of a stressful day, PJs could have up to 10 flash cards full of images. However, there will always be the one early morning call to cover a shooting or fire. The PJ might be too tired to check for the card wallet before leaving home.

For these instances, stash an extra high-capacity card somewhere in your car. Place it in a secure, airtight container in a seat pocket or glove compartment. Use it only in emergencies (otherwise it'll be at home with the rest in the card wallet). A small, keychain card holder with one or two high capacity cards accomplishes the same goal. However, the keychain version may get banged around more than practical.

If there's time after the shoot to retrieve the wallet, great. Otherwise, dump images onto the laptop while in route to the next assignment. Even though it's a pain, you'll be happy for the back-up.

Enough for now,

Monday, February 14, 2005

Kenneally wins NPPA-Nikon Grant

Brenda Ann Kenneally, a freelance photojournalist from Brooklyn, NY, wins the 2005 NPPA-Nikon Documentary Sabbatical Grant. She will continue her ongoing essay, “Legal Guardian: The Long Arm of the Law Reaches Inside America's Most Vulnerable Families.” This award makes her the first two-time winner of the $15,000 award.

Read the NPPA story.

Enough for now,

Know your rights

Most PJs take media law courses. However, many non-media photographers are concerned about their right to make photographs. This is particularly of concern in post-9/11 America, where some would like to use fear to exert illegitimate power over others.

If you aren't certain of your rights as a photographer or citizen, read this one-page report on photographers' “Rights and Remedies When Stopped or Confronted for Photography” by Bert P. Krages II, an Oregon-based lawyer. He is also the author of the book
Legal Handbook for Photographers: The Rights and Liabilities of Making Images.”

It puts most concerns to rest.

Enough for now,

Sunday, February 13, 2005

First day farewell

Ohene Amoafo's, 5, goodbye hug from his mother Adeliade Osae was a little long for him in front of other students at Northwood Hills Elementary School in Dallas. It was the first day of school in the Richardson Independent School District.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Saturday, February 12, 2005

WHNPA enforces contest rules

After judging the White House News Photographers' Association's "Eyes of History 2005" competition, some new rules were established for proper use of PhotoShop methods. An image with apparent cloning was disqualified and a heavily toned image still won, but got a shot across the bow to warn others. Additionally, one winning image was disqualified for violating a date-of-membership rule.

Read the whole story.

Enough for now,

Friday, February 11, 2005

World Press Photos announced

Congratulations to the winners of the 2005 World Press Photo competition. Arko Datta of India took the top prize. All the winning images are posted here.

According to the contest officials, this year broke previous records in both the number of photographers entering the contest and the number of images received.

Enough for now,


Appearantly, Blogger seems to have eaten my last entry after it was posted (16 hours of work). I'm hoping they have back-up somewhere, and it will miraculously reappear. Stay tuned. GRRRR....

BTW, if anyone e-mailed the post or somehow copied it, please send me a copy so I could re-post it. Thanks!

2/14/2005 UPDATE:

I backed up PhotoJournalism and initiated a new plan so work won't vanish again. I haven't heard back from Blogger about the absentee post, so I'll rewrite it. I'm probably going to break it up into three parts instead of the one massive entry I posted. However, that would require me to use the same example photo for two days, I'll think this issue over while I rewrite.

2/16/2005 UPDATE:

I got the official automated word from Blogger. I must have saved it as a draft. Gosh. Let me check, NO. Hey, I can't complain too much. It's a free service, and they do a good job. To make it more than a year without a problem is remarkable.

Enough for now,

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Eye on the ball

Lake Highlands senior Sam Howard keeps his eye on the ball as he pitches against Arlington's James Bowie High School in a preseason baseball game at South Grand Prairie High School on Februaray 9, 2002.

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News

Archive images to appear

As some of y'all know, I'm not shooting anywhere near as much as I did when I was a staffer. Consequently, the likelihood of me having a new image each day is slim while I avidly hunt for a new job.

So, I'm going to post some older images on PhotoJournalism for a while. Once they roll off the front page, I'll move them where they belong in the archive like I’ve been doing for the last year or so.

The images will be new images to most blog readers, think of it as a walk down memory lane for the Dallas readers. I may even root through my archives and pull out some really old images (Cancun is very beautiful).

Hang in there, we'll get this resolved soon.

Enough for now,

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

NPPA Best Practices

The National Press Photographers Association Business Practices Committee announced its "Best Practices for the Business of Independent Photojournalism" recommendations. It lists how image purchasers and producers should deal with one another and the public.

Enough for now,

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Rick Gershon interview - Part B

Rick Gershon is the 2004 College Photographer of the Year. Please his bio and Part A of this interview.

What have you discovered about the profession that you did not expect?
When you're in college, it's really romanticized, and you're looking at James Nachtwey and Salgado and all these guys, and you're like, ‘Oh man, this is what I'm going to do. I'm going to get out there, and I'm going to be changing the world right off the bat.’

When you first get out to the real world and that doesn't happen overnight. You're photographing pet-of-the-week for the 15th time, and you're doing snapshots, and you're shooting another softball practice or another sportrait. It's difficult not to let that get you down. It's difficult to keep sight of your vision of what you're trying to do, and what you want to accomplish, and your goals. I think that's the biggest shocker. You got to get over that. You've got to keep sight of where you're heading, not just where you are.

I don't think there's anything that I've learned that I wasn't expecting. That's what I've experienced. It's almost like a let down. It's just all up here [in your head] when you're in college. You're thinking and every day you're just sitting there, but then when you get out of college, you're making money. You can't always do the things you want to do. You can't always photograph stories on AIDS in Africa or whatever. You got to do things to pay the bills sometimes. Plus you have to do things to earn respect.

When you're starting out, you're a rookie. That's the stuff you get to photograph. So, you got to pay your dues.

Another thing I tell students, is just not to give up. If you put your mind to it and you work hard and you really apply yourself, you can do it.

The University of North Texas isn't known for producing the world's greatest photojournalists. It doesn't have the history of the University of Missouri or Western Kentucky or Rochester Institute of Technology or Ohio University or any of these big schools have these years and years and decades of tradition of producing great photojournalists. We just don't have that. We don't have the resources for that.

Over and over again, I heard from people at The Morning News say, ‘You people just aren't ready. You haven't learned enough. You're not there. You're not anywhere near where the rest of the nation is.’

Some of my professors, I won't say who, told me, ‘You might as well just quit. Just because you have good equipment doesn't mean you can take good pictures. You're not natural at this,’ and all kinds of stuff. I watched a lot of students let that stuff – they quit. They gave it up because of that.

For me, once again with my football background, I've had coaches cuss me out and push me down over and over again. It does nothing but motivate me. I tell students not to give up, and to let that stuff motivate them. Don't give up the first time they're turned down to do an assignment, or they're told their work is horrible.

You just have to persevere. That's where your character comes into play. You can't let these people get you down. You have to persevere and keep sight of where you're going. A lot of students just give up because – in college in general, not to photojournalists – they expect to have a $50,000 a year job waiting for them right when they get out of college. It's not the way it works. You really have to work hard and persevere for that stuff. It can be done.

This College Photographer of the Year thing that I won, there's no reason anyone from North Texas shouldn't be able to compete with Western Kentucky or the University of Missouri. You have to really work hard and find people to pour into you and be relentless with it.
What's the future of news photography?
I think it's going digital for sure. That's no secret. It's already happened.

The thing they kept preaching to us in college was the idea of convergence journalism where video and still and writing and all that converges, and you have online stuff. I think it's here to stay. A lot of people say, ‘TV and video is going to phase it out.’ But I don't think that at all. The power of an image can never be replaced.

That's what I love about photojournalism over video or anything else. For me, I'm not in photojournalism because I fell in love with photography per se. I enjoy photography, and I'm falling more in love with it every day, but I'm in photojournalism because of it's ability to impact people. That's purely the reason I'm in it. The ability an image has to burn into somebody's mind and to change their life. That's the power that photojournalism has. It's an extremely powerful medium when it's done right.

I don't know if there will be any huge things in the future that would change it a lot.
How important is competition in the industry?
I think competitions are really important. Cheryl Diaz Meyer told me one time that competitions are like currency in the photojournalism world. I think it's very unfortunate too. It's good, and it's bad.

If you're a photographer and you enter College Photographer of the Year and you win it, it's a great thing. Everybody knows your name. It's something you can put on your resume. You're not going to have a really tough time getting a job probably. It's going to help you a ton.

But, let's say you decided not to enter in a contest. You're the exact same photographer with the same passion with the same focus. You're just not going to have some of the same opportunities. You're just going to have to work a little harder.

Contests in the journalism world are really a huge part of it. They play a big role in it. I think it's unfortunate sometimes – as a student especially – you can start to just shoot for contests. I think that can really skew the focus of what photojournalism is all about.

It's hard – like when I was in Africa – it's difficult not to take an image hoping it would play a role in winning a contest rather than focusing on the story and trying to impact people and change people. That's something that is hard to battle in the journalism world.

I think ultimately in contest, it's the photographers that aren't shooting to win a contest that win the contest. The ones who have a passion to communicate through their images and their stories, they're the ones that win the contests.

I would tell a student, ‘Don't shoot to win a contest.’ Shoot to do great photo stories for the sake of what the point of photojournalism is and do your best to get your work out there – that's what contests do.

It helps bring attention to who you are. It helps you get a job. It helps you get your stories out there. Sometimes you can't get them picked up by publications. If you enter and win a contest, more people are probably going to see it than if it went into a publication.

I hate when [contests] overshadow everything else the rest of the time.
Why enter at all then?
It helps you to grow. Contests push you when you are competing against other photojournalists. You're competing against yourself. You're trying to better yourself. That ultimately ends up serving readers better as well. You're becoming a better photojournalist.

It's like there's never a Super Bowl or national championship, and all you're doing is playing games. You don't have anything to shoot for or to aim at, and you're not getting any better. I think they serve a great role as far as that's concerned.

It can be encouraging to you. At the same time, it can get you down if you don't win. It just helps you to grow. They can be hurtful as well is what I'm trying to say.

[The assembly process] is good too because you learn who you are as a photographer. Where you're lacking. Where you need growth. Where you need help. What you need to get mentored in and things like that.

With my stuff, I spent months and months getting that entry ready. I had the photographs laid all over the floor. I'd lay them out in the order I thought they should go in. I'd live with them for a couple of weeks like that. Then I'd change them up and live with them like that. I really learned a lot about myself as a photographer – the things that I had struggled with, and the things I needed to grow in. You learn a ton. That process is very helpful.
Talk about Africa.
I went to South Africa to do a story on AIDS orphans. The director of our graduate department was going to do a media conference there. I wanted a reason to go to South Africa to do this story. He and I worked together so I would go and be part of this one-day conference, and I stuck around for two weeks afterwards on my own.

I hooked up with a family there and stayed with them. I made some contacts and did this story on AIDS orphans. I went around to a lot of different organizations that were doing AIDS-based work.
Is it important to shoot overseas?
I wouldn't go foreign because you think you need to go foreign to have a well-rounded portfolio or to win a contest because you're not going to take great pictures overseas if you can't take them here. That's what my professors always stressed.

I was told to start telling stories here and focus on making my images the best that they could be here. When this opportunity arose, and I knew it was a story that I cared a lot about and wanted to work on, I jumped at it. It wasn't that I wasn't doing anything here so I felt like I needed to go overseas to win a contest or make my portfolio better. It did help, but I think it was the story and the way it was told that won the contest or made my portfolio better – not just that it was in Africa.

There's a lot of great stories here. In fact, I don't even think it was the best story in my portfolio. I think the best story was a local story that I did here.

You can learn a lot by doing it as a journalist, but I don't think it's a necessity. I think [students] think they they've got to go overseas to another country to get a job or whatever, but that's just not the case at all.
An initial mastery of technical skills is very important. You're not going to get a job if your pictures are out of focus, and you can't compose a picture worth a darn, and you don't know anything about light and you don't know anything about exposure. I think you get to a certain level where those things become routine and they become second nature. You don't think about them as much. They just become an extension of what you're trying to communicate.

I think that's what you should shoot to get at, but there's a period as a young photojournalist that you really have to focus on learning that stuff because it's very important.

It's like learning the rules and being able to break them. You really need to have a mastery of that stuff and then it becomes a distant second to communicating and telling a story because it should be something that is natural. Something that you're not having to think about every second every time you're shooting. It's instinctive almost.
I don't like to in my stories. If it's absolutely necessary, I will. I love to use available light because I think it's very unobtrusive and natural and factual. In a story, blowing a flash in somebody's face over and over again is not going to allow them to relax and go about [their activity]. It's not going to allow me to get the candid moments and the quiet moments that I want. So, I don't like to use it.

I do use it a lot with the daily assignments, and it's necessary to understand how to use it. If I'm working on a story and there's no light, I can walk away and say, ‘OK, I'll get a better picture tomorrow when there's some light.’ That's personal stories.

When I'm working on assignment for The News, that doesn't fly. They'll say, ‘Why didn't you use a strobe and get a picture.’ So, I need to know how to use my strobe in any situation because it's very necessary. Sometime, you just must have it.
How's the job market look for you and your peer group in general?
I would hope that it would open up some. But right now, it's a pretty small job market as far as openings for positions. [It's] economy type stuff and just the competitiveness of photojournalism.

With digital photography there's more and more “average” photographers, and there's more photographers period because it's so much easier to pick up a digital camera and learn how to photograph.

If it weren't for digital, I don't think I'd be at all where I am today. That's one thing I'd like to tell students too, if you can in any way, shape or form get a digital camera because you have instantaneous results. You can see your mistakes. You can see what you're doing. You learn exposures so much quicker.

When you shoot film, you have to either record everything or come back and try to remember what you did. [Digital photography] is instantaneous. You're learning on the spot as you're doing it. You can see a mistake. Also, you can practice all you want, and it doesn't cost a thing. You're not needing to buy rolls of film and paying $8 a roll and process everything. It's incredibly expensive just shooting.

It's incredibly competitive, and that's why it's becoming more and more important to either enter contests or get yourself out there somehow and really set yourself apart from everyone else. It could be with your work ethic or getting your work in front of people, latching on to veteran photographers or finding veteran photographers and editors that can be references for you.

I don't think the job market is going to get any better. I don't know enough about newspapers to know that.

If you want to start out making $15,000 a year and shoot 10 assignments a day at a really stinky paper – and that's not a bad way to start, a lot of really great photojournalists start that way and just work, get some experience and move up the ladder because it takes experience like that or winning really big awards to get to a bigger newspaper. But for the better papers with more veteran staff and great editors that you're going to learn a ton from, I think the job market's pretty small.

You're still going to need to get experience – bottom line. I'd rather keep trying to freelance at The Morning News while I'm learning from really great photographers and editors than go take a job in the backwoods for the next five years, where you're by yourself, and you'll get stagnant, and you're not growing. You're not in a community of photojournalists where you're learning and competing – because competition can be really healthy too - as far as competing with your peers and fellow photojournalists.

In the next five or 10 years, I'd love to take a good position at a newspaper where I'm going to learn a ton. Like if I could take a position at a newspaper with photographers that I could respect and learn from and editors that I could learn from, I'd love to work there. Otherwise, I think I'm going to continue the freelance route, and I would love to start working my way into magazines.
What are your minimum requirements?
For me, minimum requirement would be – I don't care about size, but I would like to be in a big enough town to have some opportunities to shoot some cool stuff – I just want the staff to be a staff that's focused on impacting people with their images and have a staff that I can learn from and grow from.

That's my minimum requirement. That there is an editor or editors that I feel is going to be interested in helping me grow as a photojournalist and other photographers that I can learn from and be pushed by.

[Income] is going to be different for me than for a student fresh out of college because I'm married and my wife has a really nice job. If I didn't have a successful freelance business going at all right now, and I wasn't married, I could live off Raman Noodles and whatever. I wouldn't look for money as much as I'd look for a great environment to learn in. I'd rather learn and grow and come out a more mature photojournalist than just have a better paycheck.

I really like the freelance deal that's going on. That's what I like about the magazine world. It's mostly all freelance. There's not magazine staff positions anymore. I like that aspect of it. I like you owning your images, and them just having partial use of them.
Enough for now,

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Rick Gershon interview - Part A

Rick Gershon is the 2004 College Photographer of the Year. You can read his bio here.

How do you view yourself professionally?
I have to go back and explain why I got into photojournalism to explain that question properly. During college, and before I got into photojournalism at all, I did about four years of youth ministry internships.

Youth ministry was really my passion – working with troubled youths and mentoring youth and helping them. I spent about a year where I lived in a youth ministry building with three other guys, and we were there 24/7 for kids.

That was my passion, and it still is my passion. I see my photography as a ministry. My main passion is to impact and change lives.

As far as news photography on a daily basis, I do it to pay the bills. I enjoy it, and it's really exciting, and I like it. It's a heck of a day job to be doing different assignments every single day. But ultimately to me, the types of stories I choose to do are stories that will impact people's lives and are specifically geared toward youth.

I'm a concerned photojournalist with a desire to impact people, more than just a news photographer.
Then define photojournalism.
Photojournalism is using photographs to tell a story or to communicate. Cutlines play a role, but I think the main focus is the image has to speak on its own. The cutlines definitely clarifies what's going on in the image. They're very helpful so you don't read it the wrong way.

Photojournalism is based upon documentary photography, and that's what I love about it. It's recording and documenting history and documenting people's lives. [It's] telling stories through images in a factual way.
How important was your education to your career and why?
My education was huge to my career because I didn't even pick up a camera until my sophomore year of college, which was four years ago. Everything I know about photojournalism is from my education at North Texas. I didn't have a desire for it in high school or anything. I never even had an instamatic camera. I didn't care.

I had my desire to impact and the passion part down for what I wanted to do with my life. But, as far as the craft and the ability to tell stories with the camera, all that is my education. I credit most of that education to the adjunct professors that I had that were Dallas Morning News staff that taught at North Texas University.

There was John Davidson, William Snyder and Mona Reeder. I did a mentorship with Louis DeLuca and that was pretty awesome. I owe everything I know photographically to that for sure.

The basics of the camera, the basics of exposure – I took that upon myself to learn because the classes I took were a little more advanced than that. But as far as story telling, I owe most of that to them.

When I started becoming interested in photography I grabbed everything I could that had to do with photography and read it. Every magazine, Outdoor Photographer, PhotoGraphic, whatever, I picked up every magazine I read everything. I was extremely forced at it. It would be like me trying to go do synchronized swimming. I don't have a clue how to synchronized swim. I didn't have a clue how to use a camera. So I thought, ‘I better learn this.’

I read everything I could read, I spent hours in Barnes & Noble's reading stuff. Also, I found whoever I could that knew how to use a camera and had them teach me everything I needed to do with it.

That's one of the largest ways I learned, is by having a mentor. I had several. I'd go from one to another. I'd learn all there was to learn from that person and then move on to the next person. I'd just follow them around and watch them and observe the way they shot and what they did, and I'd ask them every question under the sun. That's what I mean by I self-taught myself.

Once I got that stuff down, then I was able to learn from The Dallas Morning News people because my classes were not good on the basics, they were much more conceptual.
Ride alongs?
I did a few with a couple of people. I spent about six months with Louis going to every assignment he had. That was huge. That was really big for me. I had a free credit, so I did a “special problems” class. It was a mentorship with him.

I learned a ton that way because you really see how veteran photojournalists go about solving problems. A huge part of the job is solving problems on a daily basis and getting the job done. He does an incredible job of seeing differently and his stuff's amazing. I learned a ton that way.
Define problem solving
As a news photographer, specifically for a newspaper, I think you run into huge problems because you could be thrust into a situation that's a horrible situation photographically, you don't have a lot of time. You don't have the time to gain the trust or respect of your subjects in order to have them be unguarded. A lot of times you go into these horrible lighting situations, short on time and come out with a great picture to run in a newspaper like The Dallas Morning News. There's so many different things you come across.

That's what I learned from following him around: how to make good images out of stinky situations.

That's true especially for freelance. Ninety percent of the stuff I shoot is horrible situations as far as photographically.
What do you wish you had learned in college?
I wish that I would have known more about the internship process and job process and more about the differences in going the newspaper route and the magazine route. If you want to go the magazine route, how do you get into it? I didn't learn a lot of that stuff. Job basics 101 I guess. I just don't know. I didn't learn a ton of that stuff.

I learned a ton about telling stories and what makes an image good and developing a portfolio. About editing stories and things like that. But as far as how to go about getting a job or breaking into magazines or things like that. I don't know how much you can learn about things like that, but maybe if I had learned a little bit more about that, it would have been nice.

Everything I've learned about that, I'm kind of winging it.
Newspaper or magazine?
I don't know. For what I want to do, it's tough for me to decide right now. I'd love to do magazine stuff. I like newspaper stuff. I don't know. We'll see. I like to do really in-depth, long-term projects.

I don't think it really matters to me how I pay the bills either way. I'm going to have to do those stories on my own most of the time. I would love for somebody to call up and say, ‘We want you to take six months in South Africa. We have an unlimited budget,’ which is not even realistic.

I'd love to try to break into magazine work. I applied for the National Geographic internship – that would be awesome.
Not any with any publications. I did some with individuals. I did one with a professional sports photographer, a PR guy and then I did the mentorship with Louis.
Is it good or bad to not do internships?
If you're going the traditional newspaper route, it's a bad thing. A lot of the things that people look for is those internships on your resume – and you can learn a ton. I feel like there's stuff that I've learned at The Dallas Morning News that's very comparable to it. I've learned so much being around there and freelancing for the last year. I don't know what I could learn outside of that.

I think I've missed out by not having internships with other newspapers. It wasn't something that I even thought about really because I was so new to it all. I was trying to learn everything I could.

Last summer, instead of applying for a ton of internships, I decided to go to Africa and do the story that I did there on AIDS orphans.
What advice do you have for young photojournalists?
I would say two things. One, I would find the best photographer around and I'd latch onto him. I'd learn from him. I'd get a mentor because that's huge. Have somebody who's pushing you, challenging you that will critique your work honestly, that will be hard on you but will encourage you at the same time. That's what I've had with Louis and Mona Reeder.

You have to have that. You can't do it on your own. I think you need someone like that to mentor you.

Two, look at other people's work 24/7. Get photo books and just study them. You don't even have to buy them. You can go on the internet most of the time and see all the photos.

Look at other people's work and study it. Try to put yourself in their situation. How would you photograph in that situation? How did they look at the elements of composition and light? How did they want to tell a story. How they used their images to do that. That's one of the biggest ways in which I've learned. Those are the two ways I learned.

My classes were good, but I really only had two classes in photojournalism, and they were with those professors I told you. Everything else was looking at other people's work and latching on with another photographer and following him around.

Shoot like crazy. Just go shoot everything and anything. Shoot and have somebody review your work so you can get better at it. Go work on the things that you struggle with. I don't think college photographers shoot enough.

It takes burning a ton of frames. I heard some sick quote the other day about Eugene Smith and how many frames he burned in a certain amount of time. It was an ungodly amount of pictures he took.

When you look at his stories, the story is 10 or 15 pictures. It makes it look easy, but when you think about how many frames he burned to get to that point – not just useless frame burning, but taking photographs, bringing them back, having somebody critique them and learn from the mistakes.

You learn from getting out there and trying things and messing up and making mistakes.

Shoot more, because a lot of college kids kind of waste their time until the end of their senior year when they're about to graduate [and then think], ‘Oh man. I don't have a portfolio that I can do anything with because I've been goofing off all through college instead of taking the time to...’ See, college is the best time. You can use the ‘I'm a student’ phrase for anything, and you can get help.

Since I'm out of college now, I can't necessarily do a lot of things a student could. When I was a student, I could call The Morning News and say, ‘I'm a student, I'd like to go shoot the Maverick's game. Do you think I could go along with one of the photographers?’ I did that several times. I shot several Stars games, Rangers games. Now that I'm not a student, I can't shoot those. I maybe could if I asked nicely.

As a student you have access to so many things that you don't later. It's like internships. I can't even apply for any because I'm not a student. They require that you be enrolled in school for at least a semester in the last however long. I'm not eligible for The Washington Post, L.A. Times, any of that. There's so many things you can take advantage of as a student that you don't have access to when you get out of school.
Better to extend time in college and stuff some internships in there?
I didn't do that. I rushed to get out. I didn't know that you could get internships. I might have spread it out a little more, but then again, I was very much benefiting from being able to focus on photojournalism 24/7 rather than all the other things that go along with school. Plus it also thrusts you out into the real world, which kind of helps.

If you don't have much of a portfolio, and you really need to develop, slowing down and spending a little more time in college may definitely help. Take a few classes over if you have to.

That's what I tell the people up at North Texas who are in their final classes. They really shouldn't be, and they're not ready. I say, ‘Look, if you fail it, it's no big deal. Take it over and take the time to learn. Take advantage of the time you have with professors like Mona and William pouring into you because you're never going to have that again to this degree. You're going to seriously seek it out if you want it. It will never be like this where you meet every week and have somebody help you grow as a photographer.’

If you really need it, I might go ahead and stretch it out. But, I wouldn't become one of those people who's on an 8-year plan trying to hop from internship to internship. [An editor] told me the other day when they look for their intern, if they see an intern candidate with three internships, they throw out the resume altogether because they don't want a professional intern. They want somebody who's young and ready to learn, but not somebody who's just milking internships. I guess I would find a happy medium there.

It's different for every person. I think it was the right thing for me to do, but some people might need to spend a little more time. But don't overdo it.
What does it take to be successful in this profession?
I think it takes an incredible work ethic. I think it definitely takes skills. You need to go and tell stories with your images. Taking pretty pictures is not enough. You need to be able to understand what it means to communicate something with an image and get the point across. That's what makes a good photojournalist.

It makes images speak. When there's something behind them to try to communicate and that's what you're doing on a daily basis for a newspaper like The Dallas Morning News.

Also to make it in this business, I think who you are as a person plays a big role as far as your character and your attitude. Bottom line, if people don't like to be around you in the newsroom, you're not going to get a job anywhere. I don't know if you want to call it politics or not. It's your reputation is huge in this industry because it's a small world. If you are a jerk and nobody likes you, it's going to be very difficult to get a job. Then again, if you're a butt-kisser too, people notice that.

Your character plays a huge role. Your integrity, your trustworthiness, whether you're honest or not, that plays as much of a role just as your skill does. Personally, that's what I think. Humility is a big thing for me.

As far as work ethic is concerned, especially when you're first starting out, there's no room for laziness in photojournalism. There's no room for sitting around and not working hard or getting to an assignment and doing it half way. You'll never get anywhere. If you don't have a strong work ethic where you go out and pour yourself out on every assignment, you're just not going to get anywhere. That's the bottom line.

You could take a fairly mediocre photojournalist, I think, and if they have an incredibly strong work ethic and desire to grow and learn could make a great photojournalist. But you take the most talented person in the world and is lazy as can be and just sits around and doesn't do anything and isn't out there working hard. They're not going to get anywhere. I firmly believe that.

You talk to any editor. Who would they rather put on an assignment? Somebody that they know will milk it for everything it's worth and work really hard on it and maybe not be the greatest as far as talent goes or somebody who's stuck on themselves, thinks they're the best thing since sliced bread and is lazy and if it's not the best lighting or the best situation is going to shut down.

That applies a lot, especially to young photographers. I learned a lot of my life's lessons in the sports arena. I walked on to play football for North Texas. I was a recruited walk on. They basically said, ‘Come play, but we're not going to give you any money.’ To stick out to them and to get their attention, I had to work twice as hard as anyone else. I had to run twice as fast, do the drills twice as hard, I didn't have a big, fat scholarship that I could sit back on.

I think that really applies to young photographers because photojournalism is extremely competitive. I mean, it's really competitive because there is a million other photographers out there just as good as you, and it's very difficult to be set apart. You really have to work hard.

As a young photographer, your work ethic plays a huge role in the way you grab the attention of people, editors, other photographers, professors and how hard you work. You have to put in long hours. I put in 14 or 16-hour days sometimes back to back to back. It's hard. It's really hard. That's part of it.

As a veteran, it might slow down a little as you're a little more respected. But starting out you must buckle down and go after it and really, really, really, really work hard.

It's nice as a freelancer, I think I could take a [vacation] every now and then, but I have to work really hard. I can't just hang out all month and then take a vacation when there's no money in the bank.

I think freelance is harder because you're not guaranteed that paycheck every month. Every assignment you have to go do your best so they would give you another one.
Please see Part B of this interview.

Enough for now,

Friday, February 04, 2005

Gladiola photo mosaic

This is the photo mosaic which made the Texas Visual Arts Association Citation Awards juried exhibition. It's only half of the total image. This is a 10 frame 4 x 6 image. The original is 20 frames (10 frames long by 2 frames wide). I cut it down to fit a standard frame.

I kept the file size on this one fairly large. If you click on the image, you will go to another screen to see more detail. If you move your cursor over the image there, it will turn into a magnifying tool. Click again to increase size to the file sent

© Mark M. Hancock /

For those who haven't ever read my statement about photo mosaics, I deliberately move the frame to keep them from being continuous. If they were continuous, they would look like a single frame with some black lines here and there. The point is to find the perceived frame flaws and be rewarded with more information as the viewer moves closer to the print.

It'll never look right digitally because I can't post them the size they are capable of withstanding. The photo mosaic titled "Donna" is shot on 100iso film. Each frame could easily be enlarged to 16 x 22.5 and hold up fairly well. At those numbers, the final image would be 144" by 405" (12' by 33.75').

If a company wants a really cool billboard ad or lobby image, this is a rockin' way to get attention. ;-}

Within the next few weeks, I'll present some digital photo mosaics. It somewhat defeats the original intent of the pieces, but it's all I can do without a no-cut printer. At least the tones and color balance won't be so strange in the digital versions. The final image at full-frame would be able to crush just about any personal computer. Consequently, I'll reduce the frames down to sizes this computer could handle.

Enough for now,

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Rick Gershon (1982 - ):  2004 CPOY

Rick Gershon was born in Mount Pleasant, Michigan in 1982. He moved to Pilot Point, Texas when he was three. There, he excelled at sports and lettered in football, basketball, track, golf and baseball. His wide receiver skills got him onto the University of North Texas (UNT) football team as a red-shirt freshman.

His mother, Cathy Bell, got him a freelance sports assignment at The Pilot Point Post Signal, a local weekly newspaper. His assignment was to write a story about a basketball team. He was also required to turn in some photos. His mother quickly taught him how to operate a manual focus camera and sent him to the assignment.

After his first year at UNT, he realized his passion for photojournalism and dedicated himself to his training.

He was recently named as the 2004 College Photographer of the Year as part of the Pictures of the Year, international (POYi) competition through the University of Missouri. It's his first major competition win.

Earlier this year he married his high school sweetheart Nicolle, who is an account sales representative for American Airlines. They started dating during Rick’s sophomore year of high school, and both went to UNT. They currently live in Carrollton and have no children.

Please see Part A and Part B of his interview.

Enough for now,

Coffee photo mosaic

© Mark M. Hancock /

This is the last film-and-print photo mosaic I made. It's made of 12 5 x 7 prints. Since then, the printer has closed, and there's no other printers with a similar machine.

2004 CPOY intro

Some may notice I added a link to Rick Gershon’s Web site. He said it'll be more complete in a week or so. Rick is this year's College Photographer of the Year. I know him more as a darn good paintball player. ;-}

Nonetheless, I'll post a bio on him this week and an interview will follow. I interviewed him because he is struggling with many of the same issues as the majority of PhotoJournalism's readers.

At the moment, you can learn more about him in January's News Photographer magazine. He got the cover image as well as the lead story and a nifty high-key photo by David Leeson.

Enough for now,

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Rozier bummer

Mark M. Hancock / © The Dallas Morning News
Former DeSoto mayor Richard Rozier (center in white shirt) and some of his supporters hear why the precincts have not reported while they wait for Republican party primary results for Dallas County judge at his DeSoto office. Some of his supporters include (from left to right) Mike Brodnax, Gordon Mayer and Rozier's mother Ann Rozier.

I really wish this didn't have the hot spots it does. But, it still got honorable mention at the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar a few years ago.

Critique of the day: Andrew Grupp – Pro.

Andrew Grupp of San Diego requests a professional critique of the images in his portfolio. A comment section is provided, so please post critiques on his site.

He is high school student. He works at the school newspaper and photo assists at a local studio. He wants to land some stringer gigs as a professional freelancer. There is no deadline.

He stated, "I don't need these to be cut down to a smaller number, but would like to know the weakest ones to get rid of."

He probably wants to know what he needs to round out his portfolio. He's braced for a professional critique.

Enough for now,

Get business cards

Every pro PJ should have business cards. This is the easiest way to distinguish a professional PJ from an amateur. These are by far the cheapest and most effective tool every PJ has to gain access and business.

The business card represents immediate legitimacy to the reader of the card. It lets people know who the person on the card is and how to contact them. In other words, if a PJ has a business card, they are willing to take responsibility for their actions. They have gone to the effort to create a validation for anyone who asks for accountability.

Staff PJs have business cards issued through the company with the company logo. Cards are typically ordered while new hires are processing all their other paperwork at a new job. At the very least, new PJs get cards once they have their cell and pager numbers established for a new market.

In my first 10 years as a staffer, I went through more than 2,500 business cards. Mostly, it's a quick way to hand someone instant credibility. They would take the card, see all the contact information and logo, and they were satisfied with my journalistic legitimacy.

I carry about 20 cards each day. Occasionally, I run out of cards because I'm asked for my card so frequently in one day. This tends to happen at large public events (parades, community events and such). It's also likely to occur when the event involves some kind of performance where people might want photographs for their personal collections (concerts, sports and such).

Some staffers carry two sets of business cards. They carry the official, company-sponsored cards and business cards for their freelance work. They give the official card unless they are asked if they freelance. In the latter instance, they give the secondary card in addition to the company card.

A note of caution here. Although it's OK for staffers to give out freelance cards, don't talk business on the clock. Explain to the potential client that you are working for the newspaper now, and you're happy to answer any questions via e-mail or otherwise off the clock. They'll understand and appreciate it while you're working on their dime.

Meanwhile, freelancers hand business cards out like candy to whoever takes one. The card not only clears legitimacy concerns, but it helps acquire potential clients. Potential clients need multiple means to contact the PJ if they need the PJ's services. The card is the answer.

Professional printers
I know it's easy to buy pre-scored biz card templates at the business supply store and print them at home. Don't do it. Your credibility rests on the cards you present. Instead, use a professional printer for your business cards.

The cost of 500 very-high-quality business cards is $45 or less. It is probably the single best investment any pro PJ could possibly make. Compare this cost to six fresh rolls of film. I promise the cards generate more income over time.

Simply stated, a cheap card looks cheap. It's easy to tell from the card edges if it's a pre-fab, do-it-yourself card. When water is introduced, the entire ink-jet card may smear or wash away. A laser card will stick to other cards or other items in the wallet and lose some or all of the characters. Be professional and get professional cards.

What information goes on the card?
Business cards are best if they are simple and broad. This keeps the PJ from being pigeon-holed as a "mug shot" or "party" photographer. After all, if the card list 20 things the PJ is willing to shoot, the PJ must not shoot the things not listed.

Typically a name, title, and contact information is best. My current cards have my name, "pro photojournalist" as a title, phone numbers, e-mail, Web site and PhotoJournalism's Web address. My name and title are centered, phone numbers are in the upper left-hand corner and online information is in the lower right-hand corner. The rest remains blank.

In contrast to a cluttered card, my card means I can shoot anything, anytime, anywhere.

As I described before, Doug Davis has hand-buffed steel business cards with only his name and office phone number embossed into the metal. That's all.

Essential card decisions
When creating a freelance business card, several decisions must be made. Among these are paper grade, print quality and design.

Paper grade
Without getting too technical on paper grades, just tell the printer you want heavy-weight business card stock. You might hear the word "bristol," it's the printer's word for stiff, heavy paper (including rag pulp). Likewise, you will hear basis weight referred to in pounds.

The "basis weight" is the standard used to specify the weight of paper. It generally implies the paper's thickness. The basis weight is equivalent to a 500-sheet ream of 17 by 22 inch paper. If this ream weighs 100 pounds, it is called 100-pound paper. For business cards, you will want opaque, heavy-bond, non-gloss (matte) paper. Textured paper adds an extra level of sophistication.

The point of the heavy paper grade is to ensure the paper is durable enough to be handled, shoved in a pocket, washed and still retain your basic information.

Print quality
Print quality is essential for the business card. When someone gets the business card, they unconsciously rub their thumb across the print. When they do so, they also are subconsciously assessing your value.

If the card has raised type, your worthiness increases. If the type is flat, your value is diminished. If it smears on someone's fingers, you may be considered an imposter.

To get the proper raised letters, ask for thermographic print. In thermography, a special rosin powder is introduced after the ink is applied to the paper. Excess powder is removed and the remainder is heated. The heated rosin powder cools to create the raised type.

An additional benefit of thermographic print is its ability to become wet and remain on the paper. It requires intense heat rather than water to remove the print. Consequently, the cards are still useful after a rainy sporting event. Also, the client can wash the card and the text lasts as long as the paper. However, once the card goes into a clothes dryer, it may negate the benefit. But, it's better than other options.

One major downside of thermal reproduction is the lack of halftone printing. In other words, there's no way to include photographs in thermographic designs because the dots will melt into a blob. Therefore, only text and line drawings can be used.

If the PJ is depending on a client to make their decisions based solely on a business card photograph, it might be better to skip the client anyway.

Another minor problem is time. Most printers run thermal cards either once or twice weekly. Don't expect the cards to be ready the next day unless you're lucky enough to go on the right day of the week.

Consider the purpose of the business card. It's designed to let people know who the PJ is, why the PJ is there and how to contact the PJ later. It isn't designed to attract attention, sell a product, inform or entertain the reader. It should present legitimate facts to get the PJ in the door or let a potential client know where to see work samples.

As I said before, it's best to go with a simple design. Keep the business card to "just the facts." However, other elements such as a logo or slogan could be introduced to the design - as long as they are on each and every product the PJ produces.

Before heading to the printer, it's best to know what you want before you go. The printer is helpful, but only the PJ can make the final decisions. Look through all those cards you've collected for years (you did collect cards of hard-to-contact people didn't you?).

Try out some test cards on a layout program. Once the PJ is happy with the design, take a serious look at the card and see what could be removed to make the key elements stronger. I'd wager most PJs return to the suggestions above. But, the PJs had a fun day deciding all the other stuff is just, well, stuff.

What remains should be mostly text. Type font is important. Although we know serif fonts are easier to read as the print becomes smaller, consider a san serif font for business cards. Additionally, consider all capital letters for the PJ's name, but have the first letter a point or two larger than the remainder of the name. It works fairly well.

Proof the card
At the printer's office, PJs are asked to fill out a form with their design and requirements. There are samples of paper stock, typefaces and so forth. It shouldn't take long to narrow it all down and submit the request.

Have the printer make a proof before you leave. This is often a laser copy on a sheet of standard paper. PJs need to check the proof for accurate spellings and correct numbers. Also look at the overall design and make any changes for accuracy or style. Once the proof is approved, 500 cards are made exactly like the proof. The PJ pays for it - even if it's factually wrong.

Photographic business cards
Each photographer has probably made a photographic business card at one point or another. We are proud once we can make them in our darkrooms with 1-to-1 negative reproduction and clarity.

Please avoid this temptation.

I have boxes of business cards from other people. Most of the photo business cards promote a product or a specific person. Items such as an insurance agent's smiling face, wedding cakes, motorcycles and boats look fine on business cards. Feel free to make quality images to help these people promote their businesses with your fine images.

However, unless you know you are handing your business card to someone who immediately relates to the image on your business card (same hair color, same hobbies, etc...), consider how they'll perceive this card later.

The card with a goat is from the goat photographer or the goat herder. The card with the child is from the child photographer. However, this client sells beer - not children. Furthermore, s/he wouldn't dare sell beer to children.

Most PJs get my point. Keep the card clean and refer the clients to the newspaper or PJ's Web site. Let the images do the talking there.

Make the cards work
Although business cards are useful, make them work. They can get equipment returned and even get professional discounts on new equipment.

Recover equipment
Place a business card in a flash card wallet, in the bottom of any bags or suitcases, every coat pocket, inside car door panels or any other item which might be separated from the PJ. At best, it will be returned to the PJ. At worst, it's a way to identify stolen property.

Get some heavy laminate (as used on old driver's licenses). Laminate two cards back to back. Find someone with a badge punch or carefully cut a hole large enough to insert a leather or plastic band. Attach these to credentials (dog tags), tripods, monopods, camera bags, camera straps, power packs or anything else of value or immediate use.

Normally, people are very kind to news PJs and immediately call the PJ's cell phone if an item is forgotten when the PJ ran out the door to cover a fire. At the least, the PJ has a return number to claim missing equipment after the fire.

Get professional discounts
Many folks can be intimidated when they walk into a major camera store the first few times. Introduce yourself to the store owner or clerk with a business card. It levels the playing field and often helps secure a professional discount.

Ten percent doesn't sound like much at first. However, when it's time to buy a $3,000 dit, it equals $300 in the PJ's pocket or $300 worth of flash disks.

Enough for now,