The Role Of The Photo Editor

by Nancy L. Ford
Photojournalist / Utica, NY
Copyright © 1998

            There are many different structures of photo department management, and that difference depends on the individual publication.  A larger newspaper or magazine might have a Managing Editor of Photography and Graphics that supervises a Photo Director who supervises a team of Photo Editors who work with the photographers, page designers and lab technicians.   A photo editor at a larger newspaper might only be in charge of picking the images that go into the newspaper, whether it be local or wire photos from the Associated Press or Knight Ridder.  A newspaper might only have one Photo Editor who does it all, and if they are lucky, they may have an Assistant Photo Editor.   For our purposes here, we will define Photo Editor in the more common, general term.

So what is the role of the Photo Editor?   We can start with:

Discussing the photographer's photo assignments with them to make sure they clearly understand the angle of the story and the types of opportunities that might be available to them on the assignment.
Editing film and critiquing how the photographer approached the assignment.
Sifting through story budgets looking for stories that would lend themselves to great photos.
Attending planning meetings, talking to editors and reporters about the stories and writing up or assisting reporters in writing up photo assignments.
Scheduling the photographers' shifts & juggling photo assignments with their schedules.
Talking to the design desk about the size, crop and the place a photo will appear in the newspaper.
Educating and training staff members.
Motivating the staff and doing annual performance reviews.
Handling complaints from editors, readers or anyone.
Making sure that camera, photo processing equipment and the computers and scanners stay in top working order.
Dealing with money and squeezing blood from a supply budget.  Also writing proposals to obtain new or updated equipment.

                Being a photo editor is one of the toughest jobs in the newsroom.  The position is a combination of many occupations rolled into one:   Photographer, editor, lab technician, mentor, mother (or father), friend, diplomat, brainstormer, accountant, inventory clerk, bargain hunter, systems manager, architect, repair person, traffic cop, coach and cheerleader.  It's all a balancing act which usually leads to burning a lot of energy to make a lot of people happy.  Everyone wants something and they all feel what they want is more important than what anyone else wants.  So in the end, decisions need to be made that are based on obtaining the best looking newspaper for the resources that the photo editor has available.

                Most newspapers have limited resources, which means the photo staff is not as large as they would like it.  Photo editors try to see that the photographer does not have too many photo assignments to shoot in one day so they can spend time with their subjects.  The photo department must supply photos to everyone who needs them:   Metro, Features, Sports, Business/Finance and special projects.

                At the same time, the photo editor must work to keep the photo staff happy by giving them the proper amount of time to spend on assignments, detaching them so they can work on photo essays and giving assignments where they can expect more opportunity than a subject standing in front of something with their arms folded.  The secret to being a good photo editor is not to alienate one person when giving to another.

INTRODUCTION:  Choosing A Career

PART ONE:  Photojournalism vs. Journalism

PART TWO:  Responsibilities and Duties of the Photojournalist

PART THREE:  The Role of the Photo Editor

PART FOUR:  Job Opportunities, Money & Getting Started

PART FIVE:  Preparing the Portfolio

PART SIX:  The National Press Photographers Association

Back to:  Table of Contents

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Home of Nancy L. Ford Photography, Photographer, Photojournalist, Utica, NY, From the heart of the Mohawk Valley, in Oneida County. Nancy L. Ford, former Photo Editor, Staff photographer with the Observer-Dispatch, is now freelancing in Upstate New York, specializing in Editorial, Commercial, and Web Photography. Other services available; P h o t o s @ N L F o r d . c o m: