Photo Editor

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Photo Editor


The purpose of photo editing is to improve the quality of visual communication. This is especially effective when dealing with stories about foreign countries that many people do not know how to imagine. Photo editors review, evaluate and choose appropriate photographs for publication and coordinate the activities of staff photographers. They usually advise copy editors on which photographs to use in a publication.

Photo editors usually specialize in a particular type of publication, such as books, magazines, newspapers or manuals. Working with book editors and novelists, for example, they may suggest photography additions or even take a photograph of the author to put onto a book jacket. Photo editors may supervise photographers covering topics such as sports, business, entertainment, fashion, food, photographs, design and graphics.

With the advent of digital cameras and photo editing software, the photo editor's job has become very computerized. Computers also play an important part in the publishing process allowing people to manipulate images and add color and other features. However, in news photo editing, editors cannot abuse these programs by altering reality to create potentially newsworthy pictures. News photos are meant to depict reality and people will know if the photo is altered and an editor will lose credibility. Furthermore, libel suits may come against photo editors who manipulate photos to fit the story. In art magazines, journals and other non-journalistic publications, pictures may be enhanced or altered by photography editors, however, audiences will recognize this as an artistic technique and not mistake the pictures for reality.

Photo editing has become a highly specialized profession which involves esthetics and a good eye. They are responsible for the assisting work of photographers, the visual pleasure for readers and the headaches for publishers and chief editors. Photo editors also work for large corporations, website developers, governments and non-profit organizations, producing regular newsletters and publicity documents. These days, photo editors are doing more and more contract, or freelance work for a wide variety of organizations. One assignment could be for a newspaper, while the next for a children's charity organization.

Photo editors often have supervisory responsibilities in addition to their editorial responsibilities. They are usually the people in charge and are ultimately responsible for seeing that everything gets done before deadlines including deciding which photos they want to publish. Photo editing also involves acquisitions, developmental work, stylistic editing, and research. Some also coordinate the design and layout of a book, magazine or newspaper, including any accompanying pictures, graphs or charts which are to appear.
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  Interests and Skills  
Photo editors must have a talent for and love of photography, art and esthetics. They must have the ability to work with people and independently, while making informed, logical decisions. They must be able to criticize effectively, while taking criticism as well. Editors must love to read and marvel at the idea of improving photographic images and style.

They must have a sharp eye for detail as photo editors will be held responsible for any flaws left in a photograph of a printed text. They should have an instinct for recognizing patterns, creating categories, and organizing ideas, be willing to question assumptions, theories, and facts and most importantly have the ability to recognize what is missing in content, image or presentation.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Evaluate photographs for publication
  • Confer with photographers and others regarding revisions to photos
  • Plan layout or format of copy and photos according to printed space
  • Plan and coordinate activities of photography staff and ensure deadlines are met
  • Plan coverage of upcoming events and assign work
  • Negotiate royalties and payments to photographers and freelance photographers
  • Specialize in particular subjects or in particular types of publications
  • Plan the content by suggesting story ideas weeks and months in advance
  • Take photographs and even write accompanying articles and editorials
  • Depending on the industry in which they work, photo editors may spend most of their day alone or working with many different people. Newspaper photo editors work in loud and hectic surroundings. Photo editors often work long, irregular hours with longer hours required to meet deadlines. Some newspaper photo editors work nights in order to get the news into the next day's paper. Freelance photo editors are more able to set their own hours.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Photo editors work for publishing firms, magazines, journals, newspapers, radio and television networks and stations, and by companies and government departments that produce publications such as newsletters, handbooks and manuals. Many photo editors also work on a freelance basis.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Competition for photo editorial positions is intense and most jobs go to qualified people who already work in the field as photographers. Nevertheless, all photo editors must start somewhere and getting as much experience and published photography is the best route to take. Photo editors must be willing to take entry-level positions and work their way up to positions of editor-in-chief or production editor.

Newspaper photo editors will advance to positions with increased supervisory responsibilities. Accordingly, the opportunity to work at a larger newspaper is often seen as a promotion. Since photo editors have such a wide range of experience within the print and publishing industry, they may choose to work in marketing, public relations or any other communications-oriented field.

  Educational Paths  
Photo editors are usually required to have a bachelor's degree in journalism, English, communications or a related photography arts discipline. Several community colleges and universities offer post-graduate editing and publishing programs, usually ranging from one to two years. A working knowledge of media law, and computer word-processing and page layout programs is also recommended.

Several years of experience in photojournalism, photography, publishing or a related field is usually required. Most employers value experience and reputation over other credentials, so it is recommended to take photographs for newsletters, magazines, or brochures for organizations in your community. Many such groups welcome volunteers. This is valuable experience as aspiring photo editors will have the opportunity to look over someone's shoulder and test their aptitude, skills, and inclination towards this career.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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