The Digital Journalist
Letters from Central America:
It Ain't Dance Fever But...

by James Colburn

March 2006

How can you tell a photographer what you want?

It's tough for editors sometimes because you don't want to say "I'd like this portrait to be in a sort of Rolling-Stone-Vanity-Fair style" because your photographer might leave his or her own creativity at home when they go out on the assignment and do a portrait in exactly that style. Sure, it might look good but it'd be a little soul-destroying for the shooter and an unhappy photographer is, well, an unhappy photographer.

If you were to say "a nice black-and-white environmental portrait" an editor might be thinking something a little Cartier-Bresson-ish while the photographer is thinking something a little Helmut-Newton-ish and those 'ishes' aren't really the same, or close. So how to communicate?

You might want to try music. Music is a very visual medium and I've often found that most photo people are heavily into it. When you're driving home at night through rain-swept streets watching the wipers rock back and forth doesn't a Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett song seem to pop into your head? If you're sitting back with the music blasting at home doesn't it seem to stir up little images in your mind? Music can be so powerful that it can make you burst out laughing or break down in tears. Sometimes you might even worry about a song. I hope that my daughter never, ever, listens to Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart" and really understands it. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think I'm the only one that this happens to.

If you're an editor you might try finding out what your photographers are listening to and even borrow a CD here and there. If you're a photographer you might want to offer to lend your assignment editor your favorite music of the month so that when you mention "Big And Rich" or "Green Day" or "Mozart's Mass in C Minor" you won't get a totally blank stare looking back at you.

Then, when you (Mr./Ms. Editor) want to pitch something to your photographer you might say, "Can you think of U2's 'Beautiful Day' (or Brad Paisley's 'Mud on the Tires') when you're making this shot?" The shot that comes out will probably not be what you visualized but it may give the photographer a bit of a prod or some inspiration that will help them to do a better job with the picture.

Just a thought ...

Oh yes, one more thing.

Travel Tip of the Month: While most middle- and low-end motels offer free WiFi or Ethernet broadband service to their guests, it seem as though the folks that run many high-end hotels want to screw their customers out of an extra $10-15 per day for high-speed Internet access. If you're one of the many people who travel with an Apple Airport Express and you're staying at a Hyatt or a Hilton on someone else's dime, you might think of plugging things in and establishing a WiFi network of your own called "Free Wifi" or, perhaps, "F*** Hilton." It won't make anything cheaper for you but somebody else on your floor might be able to take advantage of it while you're out taking pictures.

© James Colburn
Contributing Writer