Thursday, June 15, 2017 | News
Every photo project, every portfolio, and every collection of photos must have a beginning, middle, and end to tell a story effectively, and I can guide you along this journey.
With over 15 years picture editing experience, most recently at the Los Angeles Times, I mentored and supported photographers from beginning to end, guiding them as their projects took shape and helping them make their final edit.
Photographers with whom I have worked with have been Pulitzer Prize finalists, RFK winners, and POYi winners.
I will encourage and nurture your personal vision, and I will bring passion to every job I work on. maryvignoles.com
Wednesday, June 14, 2017 | News
I started working with Tariq Zaidi about two years ago, and one of the things that caught my attention was a statement on his website. “Tariq Zaidi (a self-taught photographer) has become one of those success stories one occasionally reads about.” This is true. I swear he has to be one of the hardest working photojournalists I know. One of my favorite images of his is of this Mundari man guarding his Ankole-Watusi cattle herd with a rifle in South Sudan. I equate the strength of this man with that of Tariq. Both strong and determined. His work continues to grow as he explores new ways to tell stories. You can see more of his work at http://www.tariqzaidi.com. Keep up the good work Tariq!
Tuesday, June 13, 2017 | News
Let’s suppose you have shot a story or series of images and are ready to pitch it to a publication, submit it for a grant, or any other thing. You have the edit done and now begins the task of giving your story a headline and a synopsis of what the images are going to tell the viewer. Sounds easy enough. Well, this is the part that can actually hurt you.
Let’s say you shot a story about homeless people. You write your synopsis about the backstory, that an entire group of people has been harassed by the police and physically dragged from the streets in order to clear out the homeless population. You then title it, “Bruised and Abused by Police.” However, your pictures are about the present day population on the streets, how the homeless have come back and their numbers have grown. Hmmm, you gave me an idea of what I might see, people being harassed and dragged from the streets; you put these images in my head, but now when I look at your photos, I don’t see this. I’m disappointed, not happy, you didn’t deliver. The person you are pitching your story to isn’t happy either. Entice me with the photos you do have, the struggles of living on the street, the lack of food and water. Make me care about what you did shoot.
I think it’s really important to be careful what you say about your images; one false move and an editor might have expectations of what he or she is going to see, and if you don’t deliver…Yikes. maryvignoles.com
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.
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.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016 | News
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.
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
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
Wednesday, October 5, 2016 | News
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.