A different View:
Can my copy of The Art and Business of Photo Editing by Bob Shepherd possibly be the same book that was reviewed favorably, if briefly, in the June PhotoStockNotes? Upon examination I find that it is Ė but my reaction to it is quite different from that of the reviewer.
Having worked as a photo researcher since the mid-1980s, I am very well acquainted with the process described by Shepherdís subtitle, Selecting and Evaluating Images for Publication. Hence I opened this book with much anticipation. Great, I thought, at last a publication that will give people outside my field an understanding of how photo editing is done.
Sadly, I quickly found that I was holding in my hands a prime example of "donít judge a book by its cover." The minutes I spent perusing the interior told me that this book may be an OK summary of the rudiments of how to shoot an acceptable photo, but it falls pitifully short of fulfilling what its exterior promises.
WHERE ARE THE PHOTOS?
For one thing, I expected to see lots of photos inside. Instead, photographic examples are few and far between, and most of them strike me as unlikely candidates for editorial use. A kitten asleep in a log. A middle-aged Asian woman preening for the camera. A blonde in a low-cut dress with a scowl on her face and her skirt pinned to a tree trunk Ė really! These photos simply are not instructive of anything that a nonfiction book or article would want to impart to its readers.
The other thing I expected to find was a thorough discussion of what kinds of subject matter to shoot, how to anticipate and interpret editorial photo needs, or the need for careful and accurate captioning (without which a photo has not a snowballís chance in July of being used for editorial purposes). And possibly some sound advice on how to approach a stock agency or market your own stock. I scanned the text in vain for this, and when I turned in desperation to the Table of Contents I found confirmation of what Iíd suspected from thumbing through: Shepherd is so deeply involved in compositional and exposure formulae that he barely touches on these factors. Factors that are the essence of, as he calls it, the art and business of photo editing.
Maybe itís a case of right book, wrong title; this book may have some value for novice photographers who want to improve their technique. But Iím sorry to say that I would advise experienced editorial shooters, not to mention aspiring or experienced photo editors, to bypass this publication and spenD their $29.95 elsewhere.
Amherst Media, 155 Rano St, Ste 300, Buffalo NY 14207. Phone: 1 800 622-3278. Fax: 1 800 622-3298.
Copyright by Elsa Peterson. Elsa Peterson is a freelancer with 17 years of experience specializing in college textbooks. She is based in Norwalk, CT.
A FREELANCE PICTURE RESEARCHERíS PROGRESS:
By Elsa Peterson
The PhotoStockNotes articles "Image Software Canít Do It" (2/28/01) and "Picture Research in a Digital Age" (4/1/01) forced me to think about issues that I often wish would resolve themselves. Soon. While the adjustment from the old, familiar world of film to the brave new one of digital imaging may seem as easy as the click of a mouse to some, it is fraught with dilemmas for people like me.
You see, I belong to a small, but -- in my opinion -- vital profession: Iím a freelance picture researcher specializing in college textbooks. Because there arenít very many of us, we freelancers who acquire the photos for Americaís higher education publications often find ourselves misunderstood by stock providers, ignored by software developers, and sometimes even questioned by our own valued clients.
I respect and enjoy the editors who hire me -- I wouldnít be in this profession if I didnít. But because the Internet has enabled them to surf their way to zillions of photos, I find that some of them have trouble understanding why it takes me days or weeks to track down a rights holder and clear permission for an image, not to mention obtaining it on film or in a high enough resolution to reproduce properly. The day will probably come when every website containing a photo has "click here and type in your credit card number" on-demand rights clearance, and hi-res delivery capability, and I bet some of my clients imagine they won't need me when that day comes, but that day is not here yet.
Now, about software. Weíve all heard of Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft PhotoDraw, and maybe even Paintshop Pro. But these programs are intended for people who create and modify photos. Whereís the software specifically designed to help professionals who view, evaluate, organize, and track photographic images without modifying them? There are a number of programs that can be used for this purpose, but none is widely enough used to be considered the industry standard.
Although these issues are perplexing, the big communication gap, the one that really impacts my day to day work, is with the providers of the photos. Let me articulate three false assumptions that they seem to be operating under.
THREE FALSE ASSUMPTIONS
False assumption number 1: That in-depth, conceptual research into their files is a waste of time or, in newbiz-speak, "not profitable." If itís not keyworded a certain way, or if my specification didnít happen to coincide with the keywords, then suitable images will inevitably be bypassed. The time-honored method of physically pawing through drawers full of transparencies may have been laborious, but by doing this, stock providers would gain familiarity with their holdings. It seems that keyword searching does not give them the same in-depth knowledge of what they have to offer and where to find it.
For example, if I request photos of Chicanos in the Texas-Mexico border area, and a stock providerís keyword search turns up several police-drama type shots of Border Patrol agents nabbing people out in the sagebrush, guess what happens? Do I get (a) a phone call or an e-mail asking me if this is what I had in mind, or (b) an e-mail lightbox full of the above, with no offer to look further in case I wanted regular, law-abiding Chicanos riding the bus to work? The answer is (b). And what are the chances of inappropriate Border Patrol images being considered for use? Zero. Do the math: how "profitable" is it for the stock provider to eschew in-depth searching?
False assumption number 2: That photos submitted by Agency A donít need to be compared side by side with those from Agency B, Agency C, and so on. Once Iíve received batches of images, I need to organize them. A typical textbook could easily have 350 photos, hence 350 different concepts tied to manuscript pages that need to be illustrated photographically. My authors need to select images based on what they illustrate, not what agency they came from or who shot them.
If I could afford hardware and software on a par with what the most techno-savvy agencies are using, my slicing and dicing task would be just as easy, if not easier, on the computer compared to the low-tech method of inserting transparencies into little paper folders labeled with concepts and keyed to manuscript pages. But -- surprise -- my budget is limited. And the fact that different agencies use different systems means that I would have a very hard time setting up my office to be compatible with all of them.
False assumption number 3: That the final say as to which images are used rests with me or my client. My job is to eliminate photos that are technically inferior, and those that fail to illustrate the points in the book. It is also, as described above, to organize batches of photos conceptually. But it is not to choose them. The authors do that.
Perhaps I shouldnít admit this, but Iím old enough to remember the days when publishing companies would fly authors to New York and sit them down with people like me in a photo selection meeting that might easily last two full days. We would discuss the relative merits of each photo, and I would come away with an understanding of what the authors liked, photographically speaking. This would help me determine how to fill any specs that bombed on the first try. Perhaps more of your PhotoStockNotes readers recall the '90s, when some publishers preferred to pay for all the "in the running" photos to be color xeroxed, or duped, and shipped to the authors; or to take the risk of shipping them the originals. Turning authors loose with photos in this way is, Iíll be the first to admit, not the best use of a picture researcherís expertise.
But we have quite a way to go before an entire bookís worth of photo "candidates" can be e-mailed, or sent on CD-ROM, to authors, with any hope of them being properly opened, viewed, and selected on the other end. Yes, most authors have computers. But many of them have been dragged willy-nilly into using them by the universities where theyíre on the faculty. Like me, they tend to be interested in their own professions, not in acquiring computer goodies. It would hardly do for me, a mere freelancer, to tell a 70-year-old emeritus professor, "Listen, youíll have to go out and buy XYZ software in order to view the 1,000 photos Iím about to send you. Oh, and you do have 256 MB of RAM, donít you?"
Iíve discussed some of these issues with my clients, and my sense is that they are just as perplexed as I am. We all seem to be lurching and feeling our way along this rather bumpy path to digital Nirvana. I hope what Iíve written will inspire stock providers to give some thought to these dilemmas and how they can be solved.
Elsa Peterson, based in Norwalk, CT, is a freelance editor specializing in college textbook development. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Larry Penner is Assistant Editor of THE MENNONITE, General Conference Mennonite Church, 722 Main St Box 347, Newton KS 67114-0347.
It's the most frequent complaint voiced by photographers to us here at PhotoStockNotes. We asked photobuyers to respond.
Tyler Pappas, PHOTO RESEARCH: "We work under incredible deadlines. When I'm searching for a picture, I let photographers on PHOTODAILY know the deadline and ask them to call before submitting. If the deadline is , say, Monday, and for one reason or another the photographer can't reach me by phone on Monday, it's best not to call on Tuesday and expect me to return the call, because the tight deadline has passed for that project and I'm already tied up in work on a new one."
Joseph Taylor, THE WORLD & I Magazine: "I'm glad for the opportunity to explain my side of the issue. First of all, we value the photographers who submit to our publication, so communication with them is of great importance. If I don't return a call, it's usually because it was a case of getting behind and trying to catch up to the next deadline. I hope this is not discouraging to photographers (not getting a return call), but sometimes there are not enough hours in the day to make the calls. I hope photographers understand why calls sometimes are not returned, and that they realize we definitely need their services."
Billie Porter, PHOTO RESEARCH: "If I get 15 calls from people I donít know, I am likely to return the calls that sound the most likely to have what I need. I take them in order received, and if I find a few that sound promising I will probably not return the call from those who say only to call if I need to. Actually I appreciate those, as it leaves me free to choose, but I guess the photographer feels he missed a chance for a sale, or at least a satisfying contact. That is sad, and perhaps we both lose, but itís those budgets that drive the issue.
"What is the solution? For me, it is Email. I think Email is the Best Thing Since the Wheel was invented, and because it is quick and "free," it means I can reply to any number of calls with very little input of time. Also, some photographers who respond that way include attachments or links to a Web site that will offer a scan of what they have in response, and that really helps.
"Now that the electronic world makes it possible for publishers to produce books 3 times faster than they did 10 years ago, we all are pressured to do things faster than ever."
Julie Smith, HARCOURT BRACE & CO: "Returning phone calls is a problem. Thatís why I ask suppliers to "fax first." Itís a good idea for the photographer to write in the fax something like, `If youíve already filled the photo request, or if my sample fax image doesnít meet your specs Ė no need to fax back.' For the most part I do return the calls (or usually faxes) of photographers that respond to my requests. With faxes, itís sometimes easier because I can just jot my response on the fax they sent me and send it right back."
Elyse Rieder, PHOTO EDITOR: "At times I will post a request in the PHOTODAILY and Iím barraged with phone messages from photographers. I use my best judgement and intuition as to which photographers really might "hit the target" and which are not "hearing" what I need and are just eager to send me whatever they have. A smart photographer will leave me a long, detailed description of their image. If it meets my needs, you can bet theyíre going to hear from me. If they just leave me their phone number or a vague description, chances are they wonít get a return call.
"I often limit my choice to the first two or three photographers whom I think will hit the mark. Iíll put off phoning back the others until I see what arrives. A photographer whoís a few days late in phoning me might have exactly what Iíd asked for, but I wonít call back. I have to place limits on the volume of submissions and Federal Express shipping fees once I receive a worthy slide.
"Freelance photo researchers are pressed for time due to ever shorter deadlines and ever restricted budgets. And yes, this even includes phone calls. So, please donít take it personally if I donít always return your calls."
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