Photo Editors - Picking out the winners

by : Mick Spencer

Ever struggled with the task of deciding which of several negatives to have printed? If you think you've got problems, you should try being a photo editor for a major news organization. Not that I'm in that position, but I know someone who is.

The next time you're puzzling over a 30 exposure roll of negatives, deciding which ones you want printed, you might feel better if you consider the job of a press photo editor at a top magazine.

These people often handle up to 400 rolls of film each day on a big event, painstakingly selecting the few key photos the public will see in the finished magazine or newspaper.

At the same time, they are looking for pictures to meet special requests from newspapers and other magazines for photos of the hometown hero in action, whether it be the Olympics, or the World series, or any other event taking place.

Just take a second to do the math, and you'll quickly get the notion of the task in hand. - 200 rolls of 36 exposure film comes to a possible 7200 negatives to be inspected.

And a key role all photo editors learn early is that they must look at every negative, since the off-beat, prize winning shot may be hidden in a string of routine photos.

Many editors say they cannot spend more than 5 minutes on a single roll of file, so how do they manage to handle all that work?

First, the photo editor and the assignment editor have to study the event, understand what it's all about, and have a clear picture of what is required. If it's something like a national political convention, they must have a clear idea of the personalities and the issues, so that the pictures chosen will pinpoint the proper highlights.

They rely too, on the notes from the photographer attached to the films sent in. They may point out that the reel covers a record breaking performance, or perhaps includes a great shot of the candidate.

That roll then gets priority handling in choosing negatives for printing, so that the key shot is pulled out quickly - but each frame still has to be viewed - just in case. In these days of motorized and digital cameras, it's not unusual for photographers to turn in a string of 15 to 20 shots on one specific moment.

In such cases, the photo editors look for the face of the winning contestant to see which frame shows the action and best expression. Eyes are a key point too - are they open or closed, looking happy or sad etc. Sometimes these little things make all the difference between a winning shot and a loser.

Once the shots are processed, it's then a case of storing these images for future use. A lot of the time, they will never be used again, so they are usually discarded immediately. The winners and maybes will need to be archived, and then edited to make them perfect for the final print.

This is where the digital photo editor software comes in - and the process is handed over to the technical department. Most media companies have high end packages, that can do untold things to photographs that you'd never believe.

From a great photo with poor quality lighting, or serious red eye problems, a good can turn that into one of the best images you've ever seen of award winning quality.

Because let's face it, if the weekly sports magazine had photos of your favorite hero with half his (or her) face grayed out by bad light, or had red eye like the devil in End of Days, you probably wouldn't be too impressed.