• Mary Vignoles Photo

    Mary Vignoles

    Photo Editor
  • Location: Salem, Oregon
    Biography: I am an award-winning professional picture editor who has helped photographers tell their stories and elevate their work, whether it was still images or video. Every photo project, every portfolio, and every collection of photos must have a... read on

My Photo Editor Mind – Photo Story/Projects Pt. 7 Captions

Thursday, November 17, 2016 | News

I believe captions are as important as the images themselves. Yes, you need captions, and you need to include more of what the image is already telling the viewer. Last year, I was fortunate enough to judge CPOY, when we got to the stories category, and they reduced the category to roughly 10 selections,  the captions were read. OMG, it’s amazing what captions can do. In one case, it made the story better; in another instance, it hurt the story. Captions are an additional layer of information that creates a better relationship to the image for the viewer.

Tell me who, what, when, where, and why there is a reason these photos exist. Give me a context to the picture. Tell me why this moment is important for me to see. Don’t duplicate what the picture is already saying. Let’s say, for example, a boy is sitting in a chair crying. Obviously a bad caption is Boy sits in chair crying. A good caption would be John Doe, after fighting with his brother over a shared toy, cries after being spanked. Explain the reason behind the action that is in your image.  

And always, always, always get names; get in the habit of asking for them now. Quotes can also be a great element to add.

One more little note why this is important. No matter where you are publishing…the majority of people who will see your images are word people. At the Los Angeles Times where I worked, when I was trying to persuade an editor to use certain images, I would present them with a photo; before they even looked at the picture, they read the caption. Based upon the caption, they would decide whether the image was good or not. 

Think of captions this way – as a journalist, it’s part of your job. If you want respect, then do your job.



My Photo Editor Mind - Photo Story/Projects Pt. 6 Video Questions

Wednesday, November 2, 2016 | News

My Photo Editor Mind - Photo Story/Projects Pt. 6 Video Questions

A little side note since I seem to be talking about stills: the previous advice can be applied to both stills and video. With a still picture story, the narrative can be what you shot; sequence your images and you can create a storyline, provided you have followed previous direction. With video, usually the interview sets the tone for the narrative, so if you don’t have the right questions, you won’t have the right answers, and it will leave you without a narrative. Let’s take the family whose parents lost their jobs and they are moving out of their home because they lost that too. You can ask, “How did it feel to lose your home,” and the answer is, “Bad, I felt bad, I never thought this would happen.” That is a pretty boring/expected response because the question is boring/expected. Now consider asking a question like, “When you lost your home, how do you think that affected your children?” or “When you received notice you were defaulting on your mortgage, did you ever think you would actually lose your home? Can you give me your thoughts when you first received word the bank was foreclosing on your home? Did you tell your children?”

I suggest writing down questions with possible questions asked in various ways. Rephrase the question multiple times to ensure the answers are what you need. Thinking about (and crafting) the best possible answer will help you create a great narrative.



My Photo Editor Mind – Pt. 5 Let’s Edit

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 | News

If you thought the shooting was hard, this can be the toughest part because you have to take a critical eye to your images and delete, sorry….but yes delete some of your favorite images.

To begin, gather all of your images and start going through them, obviously removing some of the ones that aren’t so spectacular. Think about what you wanted to say when you began and think of the ways the story has changed since. Keep going through the images, slowly removing them, comparing similar pictures, identical images of the same person, doing the same thing. That’s easy enough, right?  

Next we need to sequence the images.

I always think an opening shot is the grabber; I want to know more about whatever it is I’m looking at; this image also has to introduce me to the story; it can be a glimpse of the story. It has to be something that peaks my interest and makes me want to click onto the next photo. I don’t think when you sequence the images they have to be in chronological order, so keep that in mind when you pick your opening image.

Sometimes after I have picked my opening image, I might look for the closing image that sums up the story. So now I have my opening and closing images.

I want a sense of place, who the subjects are, their struggles, their emotions. I want visual variety, details, tight faces. A sense of time if there is one. Think of the transitional images; sometimes peeking in a window can take you inside. Another trick is similar images, one inside one outside. You are telling a story, so think of the words to describe each photo from one to the next, say them out loud, do they make sense in the order you have them?

Once I have a rough outline of the images I want to use and in order, I use Slide Show to run through the images. I don’t have to click through photos, so I can take a step back. It’s amazing how much it helps when you are not actually touching the images but just watching them, seeing how they relate to each other, if the order feels good. Sometimes, I don’t get past 4 frames before I stop it and change it.

Best advice, when you feel frustrated walk away. I find even though I might not be sitting in front of my computer, my mind will continue to think about an image, wondering if I really need it, am I using it because I think it works for a transitional image, but it’s not that strong. I might come back hours later or sometimes the next day.

Now go through all of the outtakes; seriously, all of them. I’ve been so close to trashing photos and then pulled them back into the edit. Maybe at the time it wasn’t what I thought was going to work with my initial idea, maybe I didn’t look closely enough at it. Seriously, everything. I always, always, always do this. Always.

Be patient with the process; you’ve spent an awful lot of time to get these images, now take as much care in editing them.

And if you need help, you know I’m here to help.



My Photo Editor Mind – Pt. 5 Halfway Point Review

Wednesday, October 19, 2016 | News

Let’s say you have decided this is a 6-month project; the halfway point (3 months into shooting) is a great time to assess where you are. Let’s suppose you have been shooting this family who, due to the recession, has lost jobs and their home. Take a hard look at what you have shot. Maybe you have great shots of the mom and dad, but do you have the family together? Is there enough emotion to truly capture their struggles? Is there enough visual variety? Have you truly captured their essence? Is everything shot from the same distance? Have you captured relationships?

Do a rough photo edit to see where you stand. Do you have an opening shot? A sense of place? A closing shot? Is the arc in your story working? Take a critical look at your images now; this will truly help your storytelling in the long run.

For previous post go to maryvignoles.com


My Photo Editor Mind - Pt. 4 Start Shooting

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 | News

So you have your story, subjects, story arc, and shot list. Now you need patience. This isn’t a daily, you don’t have to get an image today; patience is the key. Wait for those moments of depth and intimacy. Get to know your subjects and have an understanding of who they are and then capture their essence, not just what they look like.

Also, I want to be surprised; I want to see something I’ve never seen, or something I’ve seen before, but in a way I’ve never seen it. I want emotion; I want to feel something when I look at the pictures. Take chances, experiment with different angles and lenses, make mistakes! I think my best lessons learned were from my mistakes.

For previous post go to maryvignoles.com


My Photo Editor Mind - Pt. 3 Story Planning

Wednesday, October 5, 2016 | News

I’m going to explain this in simple terms to get my point across about planning. Imagine you are shooting a wedding; whether or not you realize it, you’re probably thinking of the various shots that will complete this story. You need the bride getting ready, the groom walking down the aisle, etc. You might also be thinking about how you can make that walking down the aisle pic look different…hmm, is there a high vantage point? You also might to shoot details of the ring, get a portrait of the bride, and on and on. You know the narrative (we all know the narrative of a typical wedding), so you can think about the different ways and angles to complete the story. Put this all together and you have the makings of a thoughtful collection of images – opening shot, closing shot, details, sense of place, etc.

A long time ago when I was young and foolish, I spent six months covering a story with the idea that if I shot enough rolls of film, I would have a story…automatically! Wrong! I had to learn this the hard way, so learn from my mistakes, don’t be me.

I would suggest you do this when planning your story.  

Going back to the recession family mentioned in Part 2, the parents lost their jobs and because of this they have to leave their home. Think of all the ways you need to tell this story. First, we need a family shot; so begins the shot list. Think of different ways you can shoot this; no I’m not talking about the family portraits framed on the wall; that’s not enough, but maybe they have dinner together, go to church together, or go to the daughter’s softball game together. If you can’t think of different possibilities, then maybe this is a great question to ask them. Now you do this with everything: Where are they moving? Are they apartment hunting, looking online? Are the parents (or older children) looking for work? What are the parts that will tell this story? Once that is done, come up with ten variations on each theme. The point of all of this is to start thinking about your narrative; this is the first step. If you don’t think about your narrative until after you are finished shooting, you might miss some great shots. Of course, there will be surprises and unplanned events you can’t anticipate, but figuring out the narrative beforehand will give you a roadmap to success.

Next week, starting to shoot your story.

For previous parts go to maryvignoles.com


My Photo Editor Mind - Photo Story/Projects Part 2B

Wednesday, September 28, 2016 | News

It’s been one of those weeks, way too much work to concentrate on writing a blog, so instead of rushing to finish my next segment, I am going to have to postpone it a week.  I am sure that will give you more time to do research on your story idea, find your subjects and think about the story arc.

Until next week.



My Photo Editor Mind - Photo Story/Projects Part 2

Wednesday, September 21, 2016 | News

So now you have decided on a topic for your story. Let the research begin! Doing research will help you get a better understanding of your topic, and this will give you ideas about how to tell your story and find out whether the story has been done before. It will also help you focus and clarify the direction and give you an idea of where to find subjects.

I think that finding a subject for a story can be one of the most difficult parts of a photo story. Many, many years ago I wanted to do a story on college women and binge drinking. I needed to find a subject who went with the story I had been researching; I knew I wanted someone of legal drinking age, so I went to bars to find a subject .… and got turned down repeatedly until I found a woman who agreed to be photographed. Rejection is part of the process, and there can be a lot of it; you need patience and perseverance, but the payoff will be worth it. A great subject can make a story.

Finding subjects can be difficult. I’ve recently been asked where to find subjects for a story. Well, if you have done your research, you might have heard of an organization that serves your topic, but consider support groups and social media too. Find out where the people you want to focus on gather. Let’s suppose I couldn’t find my college student at a bar. Well, I could go to the college campus, find out when parties were being held, talk to students, or find out where the women’s dorms are. This is a lot of footwork and knocking on doors; again, this is probably one of the hardest parts of doing a story.

After you have found the subject for your story, you have to ask yourself, “Now, do I have a story or a situation.” “What?” you might ask. “What’s the difference?” Let’s say, for example, you are working on a story about the recession. You have a family where the parents have lost their jobs (it already happened). That’s a situation. But then you find out they are losing their house too, and they are moving out of their house because they can’t afford it. Now you have a story. Now you have a story arc. There will be results from them moving out of their house and those results will be your photos. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that dramatic; it can be more subtle, but you need an arc.  

Just wanted to say again, finding subjects can be the hardest part of your story, so if you do your research well, find a great subject and make sure you have an arc, you will be setting yourself up for success. 

Next week, starting to shoot your story.

If you missed part 1, it’s on my blog at maryvignoles.com.


My Photo Editor Mind - Photo Story/Projects Part 1

Wednesday, September 14, 2016 | News

I’ve been talking to a lot of photographers lately about photo projects, so I thought I would do a multi-part series blog post on the subject. By no means will I cover every aspect, but here are a few things to consider.

There are so many aspects to doing a photo story, but let’s start out with why do you want to shoot one? What do you want to say? Is it a trend story? Does it have a news angle? Or is it something you want to shine a light on? If you don’t have a story in mind, I always think the more personal the more universal. Pick a topic that you care about. You will probably be more invested in the story.

I’m not trying to be funny, but ask this of yourself honestly. Are you doing a story because really successful photographers do stories and you think you should too? As I’ve said before, there is a place for all types of photography in this world, so be true to yourself.

How long should you spend on a story? I know people who spend years, and I know people who spend a week. Think about the way you shoot, and ask yourself if you’re the kind of person who gets bored after a week. There’s nothing wrong with that, but maybe a really long-term project isn’t right for you. If you don’t spend 2 years on a massive and complex story, are you a bad photographer? Goodness no. Depending on the topic, a well-shot and well-planned one-week story can be just as hard-hitting as a year-long story.

As both a photographer and photo editor, I’ve always been drawn to longer term projects. I like getting completely immersed in a story, the same reason I choose novels over short stories. I never read short stories. They lack the intimacy I require to be immersed in a topic, but that’s just me.  

Set yourself up for success! You don’t want to start a story, and then after a month, you are no longer interested and quit. You might feel like a failure, so be mindful of who you are and what you can accomplish. With the success of completing a task comes confidence in yourself.  

Next week, finding a story subject.



My Photo Editor Mind - How I Edit Photos

Wednesday, August 31, 2016 | News

Thought I’d pass this along to anyone who has struggles with editing their work. You have to break down an image and look at each separate part and how it adds to the whole. A good image talks to me; it’s telling me a story, so I look at the elements that either support the message or detract from it; and so it begins. For me, it’s a process. I first will look through all the photos to get a sense of what I have to work with. Next, I go through and tag the ones I feel in my heart, the emotional connection. Next, I start ripping them apart, looking for the faults in a photo. Composition – is it composed well, are limbs cut off, is there an awkward space in the image? Lighting – after all, what is photography but painting with light? Is the lighting so bad it takes away from the moment, or does it pull me into the moment? The background – is it distracting or enhancing the photo? Are the subjects in the photos drawing me in or drawing me away from the story of the image? Next I compare similar images. Which is better? Is the problem in the photo able to be cropped out? Was the lens choice appropriate for this picture? I then go through all the images I have not chosen because it’s always good to take a second look. 

I go over the images quite a few times, deleting images with each pass. If this doesn’t help you, I can.  maryvignoles.com


My Photo Editor Mind - The Way I Edit

Wednesday, August 24, 2016 | News

I was talking to a client recently and sensed that he was somewhat hesitant as we were talking about his work. After a few more minutes, he finally said that he was afraid that my honest approach was going to turn into me ripping him (and his work) apart, breaking him down and building him back up. This is not the way I edit and coach. I remember as a photographer having that happen to me. It put me in a funk for days, and the recovery period was so long. Days would be lost in me thinking about my future. Eventually, I’d pick myself up and go and improve, but the editors that were really helpful didn’t crush my dreams and spirit. Nor did I lose days on self-loathing. Maybe that’s why I edit like I do now. I am honest but feel that by building on what a photographer does well not only strengthens the photography, it builds confidence, and with confidence comes positive thinking and success and general improvement in all aspects of photography.  

Let’s face it. For the most part, photography is not the best paying job out there. You are in this profession because you love it and bring a lot of passion and dedication to it. Different photographers have a different take on the world. You bring your experiences to the table. In the world of photography, there is a place for everyone. So go get ‘em!


My Photo Editor Mind - Toast Crumbles

Wednesday, August 17, 2016 | News

Why is it that the best blog ideas come at the most inconvenient times? Most of my ideas come to me right before I go to sleep or when I’m in the shower. Not the best places to take notes. I’m not one of those people who can sit in front of a computer and write either. As soon as I sit down, writer’s block sets in, I get a headache, start sweating, and … nothing. Not a single thing comes to mind. Is it the intimidation of having enough words? Can a sentence be a blog post? I’m better bouncing my ideas off someone, talking specifics, talking about a photo project, a way to improve a story, a direction, a style. So I’ve resigned myself to the fact that all my blog ideas will come mid-shampoo or that I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, reach for the notepad on my night table, groggily scribbling, only to find the next morning that I’ve written something that looks like “toast crumbles.” What are toast crumbles? Is that my handwriting? Oh well, I guess I need to step away from my computer for a while. 


My Photo Editor Mind - Feed your soul

Wednesday, August 10, 2016 | News

When it comes to doing freelance work, let’s face it, there is a lot of work, that, well let’s just say pays the bills. It can be mind-numbing, but you do it because you need the work. I do this type of work too. It’s not warming my heart or filling my soul, but it’s paying the bills. Freelance work is an interesting business: one minute you’re so busy you can’t see any end in sight, the next it’s so dead. So when these dead times roll around, instead of wondering and fretting when your next job will come, find some time to feed your soul. For me, in comes in a variety of ways; I love to cook. My latest fascination is sous vide, the art of cooking in water. I never thought this would be interesting until I went to a restaurant in Portland and had sous vide halibut. OH…MY….GOD…..yes I meant to say it with pauses; it was the best fish I ever had. Maybe for you it’s that photo story you’ve been meaning to get to, the one calling your name. A story where you can use your mind and creativity, and answer the question why you are taking photos to begin with. You know if you need to narrow down an idea, I can help you with that. Whatever it is, just remember, you have to feed your soul.


My Photo Editor Mind - Shoot me Now

Friday, August 5, 2016 | News

One of the major advantages to working at a newspaper or any other company is tech support. At the Los Angeles Times, it was David Muronaka and Jason Neubert who were always so helpful with any sort of problem. I have to admit, maybe I was a bit lazy, didn’t try to figure out what was wrong, just asked them. I can’t do this, this won’t work, can you figure this out? So now here I am working for myself, and I have a problem. I can’t post my blog on Facebook like I do every week. Twitter is working, LinkedIn is working. What’s going on with Facebook? I reload the page, restart the computer, damn it that didn’t work; okay I guess I have to do some problem-solving. 

 I disconnect, connect, read, troubleshoot, read some more. Okay, now I've been doing this for over an hour (seems like four). Finally, I get it to post, but I reposted my blog and now I have two, but I still can’t just hit the share button. Oh god, I have to read more. I have to admit, sometimes when I try to figure some tech problem out, I can’t even understand what they are asking me to do. I admit Squarespace is pretty good; I need those visuals they provide. Now I'm losing my patience. Afraid I might take my frustration out on the cats. I’ve disconnected and reconnected the account; what does “Impersonate page” mean? WTF. Wait a minute I can’t even see that. I guess this is one of the downsides of working for myself. Damn, when I was at the Times, I should have paid more attention. 


My Photo Editor Mind - Getting to know you

Thursday, July 14, 2016 | News

I get asked all the time where should people submit stories to? My answer is always the same, “Who do you know? Who do you work with?” When I was at the Los Angeles Times, photographers sent me photo stories all the time. They might have been very good, but I don’t know you and it’s a matter of trust. Recently, scrolling through Facebook I came across a story that seemed rather odd and quite sensational. I checked the sources and was unfamiliar with them. Reading further about the subject, I found the article was wrong. So how does that affect you? I don’t know you, I have to trust you. I have to know you are showing me the truth. Cultivate relationships, and if you don’t know someone where you want to be published, find a way to get to know them. I was recently looking at the New York Times portfolio review and the list of reviewers was an incredible who’s who list of photography. Did you apply? Workshops, conferences, you know that old saying about networking and that you need to do it. Network.

One other thing to consider; know who you are selling to. Don’t send a story that is a year old when you know the publisher is only interested in current news. Cultivate relationships, and if you don’t know someone where you want to be published find a way to get to know them.


My Photo Editor Mind - School is in Session

Tuesday, April 26, 2016 | News

The best part of my job as a freelance picture editor is that I get to learn. When I decided to go from a photographer to a picture editor, I thought I would miss the travel and the opportunity to see new places and meet new people. But what I found was that my opportunities grew tenfold. With every photographer I work with and every photo I edit, I get to be a different person with a different point a view, imagining the world with a different perspective. 

My clients are constantly teaching me about people and places I had very little knowledge about. And because I have always enjoyed becoming fully immersed in a story, learning all there is to know, I get emotionally involved. Their stories – your stories – are my stories. In fact, I find myself reading novels and doing research so I can keep up and have a better understanding. Recently, in my head, I’ve been to Kashmir, Papua New Guinea, and South Africa.

Would I like to tell you about the other places I am currently learning about? Yes, but then I’d be going against my promise that I don’t talk about photographers’ stories until they are published. And I never share story ideas from one photographer to another.

Anyway, thanks for letting me share in your adventures.

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My Photo Editor Mind – Photo Stories – Visual Novels

Friday, April 8, 2016 | News

One of the biggest mistakes I see on photo stories is a lack of sequencing that makes sense. Remember, you are telling a story, and it has to have a beginning photo that sets the tone about what the story is about or who it’s about. It should also be one of your strongest photos. Then, you have to have a middle and an end. Next, take me along the journey of this story, whether it’s a person or town or an event. Make the sequencing make sense; subjects can’t be inside, then outside, then inside; you need to consider photos that are transitional. Help me understand where they are going and why. It’s always easiest to sequence like a day in the life; start in the morning, then go to night. Or start at an event and then take me through the process of how that event is dealt with. Consider the arc of the story; where is this positioned in the sequence? Good single images are great, but to make a photo story really sing, you need a solid storyline just like a great author does in a novel. If this doesn’t make sense, or you are having trouble, you can always contact me for help.  maryvignoles.com  Image title

My Photo Editor Mind – Your website can make or break you

Wednesday, March 23, 2016 | News

I’ve been editing a lot of websites lately, and the thing I’ve noticed is many photographers are not showing the best of themselves. When I worked at the Los Angeles Times, I often hired freelance photographers from all around the country. I needed to find someone quick, in a place where I didn’t know a photographer, and it was always a last minute request.  

Looking at a photographer’s website, I am forming a decision, good or bad within the first three images I view. I might get to 5 or 10 images if you’re lucky, and I’m either calling you or moving on. It’s brutal, but it was my reality. Those first few images should make me want to see the next one, want to make me want to explore your projects, so it’s your job to make me want to look.

How do you do that? The best of the best of the best should be the first photos I see and at the top of your site. Is your strength sports, or projects, or videos? Whatever it is, move that to the top spot. There are no rules on how a website should list your images, so move them to suit your strengths. A tighter edit is always best. You know the saying “less is more.” Make it so I move on to the next set of images.  

If your photos are good, I move onto the “About You” section. I want to know how long you’ve been working and for who, and that you can deliver what I need. So I don’t want to read about your hopes and dreams; I want to know how long you’ve been working, where you’ve been working, and for who. Keeping it simple is best. If you feel the need to tell me more, bring that into the second paragraph. 

One last thing, your phone number and email should be easy to locate and in multiple spots.

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My Photo Editor Mind - Where have all the relationships gone?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016 | News

I think the one thing I miss about working at a newspaper is the relationships that grew out of it – from photographers to page designers and everyone in between. So sitting in my home office alone facing my computer isn’t quite as enjoyable. My cats are not very talkative, they kind of sleep all day, though one always stays in my office while I’m working. Once the work started coming in, the relationships started to build. Maybe it’s because I'm on the phone, but I swear I’m telling people things about myself I don't normally share in person – and they are sharing their lives with me. Even though the conversations start with the images, the conversations take off from there. I feel I’ve had great “life” conversations. I think this may work out after all. Image title

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