Photo by: John Yaeger

March 23, 2016 / Photography / Picture This / Spring 2016

Keep your photographers happy, motivated and inspired

Written by Erin Palmer

Photographers. Without them, we would have no yearbook—at least not one people would want to look at or buy. I tell my staff that on the first day of class each year and remind them as needed throughout the year. Photographers are the backbone of the yearbook. Without dedicated photographers, no one’s job on staff will be easy or enjoyable. Here are some helpful tips to ensure happy, motivated, inspired (and—fingers crossed—good) photographers on staff:

1. Value your photographers.
Photographers have to run to all sorts of events, get up in people’s faces, or drop in on classes where they might not know anyone. For some photographers, that can be uncomfortable. They need to know that when they drop off their photos, their hard work is appreciated. Section editors need to constantly thank their photographers for their work, either by sending a text with a pic attached of an awesome shot, writing an old-school thank you note, or thanking them with one of their favorite candy bars. It’s important photographers know they are valued.

Additionally, after every deadline, we celebrate the “Photo of the Deadline” or “Photographer of the Deadline.” We’ll project the photo of the deadline to the staff, or have it printed out and hung up on the walls, and we’ll put it on our
yearbook’s Instagram account.

2. Carry some of the water.
After our photographers have attended X number of games, taken club photos for 80-some clubs, and gone to the brain lab in science, I like to give them a break and offset some of their work load.

When they drop off photos, they flag which ones they think are good. Once the section editors select the photos for their spread, using the photographers’ flagged ones as advice, it is the primary responsibility of the section editors to write the caption. They will seek input from the photographers for the basic facts, such as “Who is this in the picture? What was she doing at this point in the game? What was his reaction after this moment?”

I want the photographers to hone their craft, so I just have them give input on the captions. This way, the section editors can carry some of the water. After all, the photographer already gave up his/her time to take the photo; now, the section editor needs to do some research and contact the student in the picture, or someone on the team, or in the class or club. The photographer’s input provides the lead to the caption, but it’s the section editor’s job to get any necessary additional details. Note, however, on many staffs, photographers are considered reporters and need to get the information and write their own captions.

Picture This image 2

Photographers are the backbone of the yearbook. Whether they are taking photos of sports action, lab experiments or posed groups, let them know their work to document the year is appreciated. (Photo by Shyene Joubert)

3. Help them out with their craft.
I’m convinced all students want to know photography. With Snapchat, Instagram and Vine, students are constantly taking photos. At the beginning of the year, we go over photography basics, such as angles, rule of thirds, cropping and looking for patterns. I have the photographers present on one to two basics — they research, they find models from professional websites and NSPA, they take photos showcasing their assigned basic technique. All students, regardless of position, learn from the photographers. By presenting an aspect of their craft to the other students, they are seen as knowledgeable leaders on staff.

We also hold editing workshops so photographers can edit the photos. If we don’t know how to do something, we’re looking up “how to” on YouTube. Because the photographers are seen as the experts and they want their photos seen in the best light, they are quick to problem solve.

4. Make them famous.
I mean this in the nicest way possible — exploit your photographers! Showcase their work on your yearbook staff’s Instagram and your school’s website. Have everyone on staff share photos on Facebook, have them create their own
photographer profile on Instagram and post photos on fliers around the school. Make them famous!

The more photographers feel the importance of their work — the very thing advisers and staffs heavily rely on — the more motivated the photographers are and the more knowledgeable they will inevitably become because they will start to want to uphold their own standards. Plus, being a photographer on yearbook becomes a niche, a role other students covet, so it helps for recruitment purposes as well.

5. Be creative with some not-so-great photos.
Not all photos turn out well. Sometimes not even one in 1,000. So, you have to be creative. In these situations, I encourage my staff to look at the sidelines, scan the photos for anything interesting or salvageable, anything to make Basketball mod copythe photos work. Here are some examples:

  • Body parts missing? Use what you’ve got. So many of our boys’ basketball photos were blurry, or the players’ feet were chopped off, or the basketball was outside the frame. So, to make our photos work, we chose a non-action dominant photo that included the player’s feet and ball, so our basic standards were met. Then, we showered the dominant photo with lots of action shots. These photos weren’t the best originally, but placed as cutouts, we gained some of the emotional vigor lacking in the dominant photo, covered more players, and it didn’t matter that some of their feet were cut off, or one of their hands was blurry. It’s appealing to the reader. They see plenty of action without the basketball.
  • Look to the sidelines: “Basketball had me like…” The section editor scoured the photos to make something work. Here’s what she put together, and it became one of the favorite pages in the book. She noticed that this player had the best facial expressions while sitting on the bench. The actual focus of the shot was someone else, but designed in this way, that doesn’t matter—at all. No one outside of the staff knew she struggled putting this page together because so many of the photos were blurry. She found something to salvage and owned it.
  • Use what you’ve got: Find a pattern. So many of our golf shots were taken from far away and pretty uninteresting. The section editor had to work with what she had, so she poured over these photos looking for a theme, a pattern, something she could highlight and create cohesion with. She noticed that in the action shots, the players were so serious. Instead of bemoaning that there weren’t any pics that captured the players’ emotion or intensity, she seized the pattern she saw: that they were serious. Here’s how she highlighted to the readers what she saw so they don’t miss it.
Erin Palmer

Erin Palmer teaches English and is in her sixth year of advising the El Diablo yearbook at Hinsdale Central High School in Hinsdale, Illinois. She has taught at the Columbia Scholastic Press Association convention and at one-day workshops for Walsworth in Illinois. Under Palmer, the yearbook has earned All- American from NSPA and a CSPA Silver Crown for the 2013 book.