Landing an Assignment: Things to Consider
by D.K. Bhaskar
The common question that is often asked, “Who do we approach for getting an assignment?” The (mis) conceptions about assignment photographers always intrigued me, first as I was setting my feet on the loose sand; and, later in fascinated understanding of the vivid thoughts of the human mind. It was like you may have a special pen to write the lyrics of the song or a guitar to play that tune. Here are some finer points that could help anyone trying to get an editorial assignment.
Create compelling pictures
Trust me, there is no magic to it. You need to consistently keep observing and thinking to create new pictures. Build your work consistently and edit them to secure your name in front of the editors. A few shots here and there are not going to get you any attention. It is an extraordinary commitment to keep shooting and building a decent portfolio. Be aware of what kinds of images are routinely getting published in the publications that you desire to reach. It is important to visualize your image on a constant basis and I can’t stress enough about your passion. In modern times, it is a good idea to follow works on websites such as Aperture, Photo District News, etc. and follow their blog and how they showcase the new talents.
Body of Work
Your work is a reflection of your commitment to the profession and the editor/art director who will be hiring you for an assignment. Showcase and share your work with a few established people or on the web and get reviewed. It is a good feeling to get critically evaluated rather than obsessed about your images. All of us have personal favorites, yet the editor/art director will be looking at something different and your work should be able to speak that language and communicate instantly. Most often the editors look for consistency in your work. You can be very creative, but consistency with quality and reproduction capability of a particular style is very important.
I can’t emphasize enough on this. It helps a great deal when you get proactive and pitch a story with a good research behind it. Editors need to visualize the content and if they can get convinced as a good fit, you will automatically get the call. Get some quotes on those working on the topic and demonstrate your ability to get under the skin of the story. Editors don’t necessarily look for a set of photographs all the time. Your enthusiasm should be seen in your pitch.
Campaign and advertise
You need to put your name out there. You need to hustle first to get in front of the editors. Agreed, you have an unriveled passion, a keen eye for photography but you still need those dollars to trickle in for sustainability. There is no one else better to tell your story than yourself. With the digital world, you have more ways than one to share it. Social media plays a major role, so get savvy in words and actions.
Understand your work/assignment
When you get a chance to engage with the editor/art director, speak confidently of the subject you are going to cover. If you are handed a story on the Augusta Canal conservation story, you should have an idea to fulfill the expectations. In most cases, you will have known what subject you will be covering and it gives that confidence to the editor if you can share some interesting anecdotes, stories, or personal thoughts about the canal. Most often the editorial will convey your personal interest in the project through your pictures. If you have concerns about certain types of work, be up front and keep the editor aware of it. Don’t give them surprises. In cases where there will be an assigned writer, try and discuss their thoughts on the story line. There could be a tangible interest that could help you get that special picture.
Contract and Budget
Ethics and business acumen is a key strategy of your longtime work relations. Understand your contract clearly and discuss with the editor their expectations and deliverables. You don’t want to be a pain in the end for having been selected to work on the assignment against 10 other prospective individuals. Shrinking budgets and reduced operations are definitely playing a key role in the field of assignment photography. It is in your best interest to establish a long relationship rather than look for a one-of assignment.
One of the key elements of assignment photography is delivering on time and as proficiently as you can. Excuses – such as I am still editing, not covering up the deadlines, oh, I screwed up the shoot – are going to seriously harm your reputation. The editors always hands over the assignment to you under great pressure. Agree upon the medium of delivery – via the Web, DVD, etc. and do your best to stick to the deadlines. Captioning and key wording is an art and will help the editor understand and connect with the pictures instantly.
Always remember a golden rule – “Be passionate about your images, but don’t be obsessed about it!”