20+ things to never say to a photojournalist

In light of The Washington Post‘s achievement this week in scoring a Pulitzer for its excellent photo coverage from Haiti, I thought I’d dust off this list which originated in my days as Director of Visual Journalism, and faculty member, at Poynter. There, along with my colleague Kenny Irby, we tried hard to help gain/earn more respect in newsrooms for editorial designers, artists, and photographers. In many circles these fine folks were quickly coming to be known as “visual journalists,” but not quite everywhere, so in one of our seminars we started a string of “Things to never say to a photojournalist.” Here are 13 of mine, and in the comments field, many more from blog followers. Have your own? Add to the growing list of great suggestions in the comments field, below. If you think your newsroom could use a gentle reminder that “language counts,” feel free to post near the water cooler as well. (Also check out the companion post, “22 things to never say to a designer.”)


(Published at www.ronreason.com/designwithreason/
Compiled by Ron Reason with help from friends – make sure to read the newest submissions in the comments field, below!)

1. “Are you just a photographer, or do you write, too?”
2. “And this is my photographer, Bob Smith.” (Said by reporter introducing himself to the person he is about to interview.)
3. “We need to fill this page, get one of the photographers and tell them to go find something.”
4. “All we need is a head shot.”
5. “Is there anything else?” or “You got anything better than this?” (to which one possible answer might be: “Yes, but today we only edited the third best.”)
6. “Is that person in the story?”
7. “Don’t you have a picture of the person in the lede?”
8. Any reference making distinction between “the photographers and the content people.”
9. “At the baseball game tonight shoot me a vertical, I already have the page laid out.”
10. “The story’s written. We just need somebody to snap a picture of this guy.”
11. “Here is what we’d like you to shoot for the lead photo. Now, for the secondary…”
12. “No, you can’t come on the interview. The subject will never open up with a photographer around.”
13. “Try to get a good picture. We need a centerpiece.”

In reviewing these I have to laugh at some of the stuff my photojournalist friends have put up with. My admiration goes out to the fantastic photo teams I worked with for years at the St. Pete Times, and later at clients including The Dallas Morning News, Boston HeraldOrlando Sentinel, The Standard in Nairobi, Kenya, the East Bay Newspapers group of weeklies out of Bristol, RI (Richard Dionne, Jr. – one of the best!) and other strong photo papers I’ve helped redesign around the world.

Have your own “thing not to say to a photojournalist” that you don’t see above? Submit in comments below, or email ronreason@gmail.com – thanks!

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  1. ‎”My photographer” still has to be the worst, even now. I said it once, 22 years ago, and boy did I learn my lesson. Thank God.

    But it should be noted that the tables can really turn. Ever see what the photogs say when they’ve been working on a project for months and NOW they “need a writer” to just, you know, knock out a text block? Something to replace the “lorem ipsum” text that’s already on the double-truck layout?

    PS: photog (and photo ed, and layout artist) all really hate it when you come back (after 40 minutes of initial reporting) to announce to that the subject of the lovely photo spread has a criminal record in three out of four surrounding counties.

  2. Judy Stark

     /  April 19, 2011

    * “Stand right here on this spot and point the camera that way and take the picture.”

    * “You’re not getting enough of my draperies/furniture/floral arrangement in the picture” (said by a designer at a showhouse shoot).

    * “Here, we need to get this person and this person and that person in the picture — guys, come on over here and be in the picture.”

    * “Can you send me some free copies of the picture?”

  3. “Did you get the first and last name of all 50 of the people in the shot? We need them.”

  4. From a cop or anyone who perceives themselves to be in authority: “You can’t make a picture of that!” To wit: http://stretchphotography.com/blog/2011.03.31/popo/

  5. “Don’t use any tricks or get creative like you guys like to do.”

    “Everything already happened so we’re asking him to do this.” or when I show up and talk to the subject, “wait, so the reporter asked you to do this for me? When do you normally do it?”

    “The reporter said you’d just take one picture in about 5 min.”

    The worst is when everything in the story has already happened, and it’s a great story that you know you could have turned into a nice photo package, but no one communicated to the photo department.

    Being treated more like a in house photo service rather than journalist and collaborators.

    “Could you stand right here and get this this and this all in focus at 9pm… oh, you say you need some lights to do that… oh, we should have talked earlier so you could have planned… oh…”

    “Can I see it… ooo, she’s not smiling right.” Thanks, now the subject is self-conscious, uncomfortable and doubting me.

    “This marathon photo of the 30 people running, what’s there names?”

    “Here hold this up and smile… ok, you can take the picture now.”

    Get to a shoot, “But the reporter said you weren’t going to a take my picture, just my stuff and home.”

    But the absolute worst is, as stated already, “my photographer” not even a name, just “Here’s my photographer, he’ll take your picture now.”

    That all said, I must say there are some good ones out there and some of my best work has come from building strong collaborative relationships with reporters.

    We end up liking to work as a team, we both produce stronger packages for better play, we share the reporting and news gathering, and we respect each other.

  6. Carl

     /  April 24, 2011

    This attitude is why the job ‘photojournalist’ is going the way of the dinosaurs. Newsrooms are switching to found footage on Twitter, blogs and Flickr not only because that’s faster, easier and cheaper, but because they are fed up with your egos and attitudes.

  7. Katie

     /  May 9, 2011

    “Wow. That’s a great picture. You must have a really nice camera.”

  8. The best one? The first week of my internship after college, the reporter asks, “Did that picture come out?” Um, no. I just spent four years and thousands of dollars to take pictures like you do … auto exposure and hope.

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