12 Working With Photographers

This book is about news writing and will stay true to that throughout this chapter. At your first reporting job, you will probably be shooting your own video. If not, you may have slipped into a bigger market and are denying yourself your small-market, dues-paying, respect-earning opportunity to make mistakes somewhere it’s forgivable, and after your leave, forgettable.

In your second market, you will probably get to work with a photographer. Yes, they shoot and edit video but are still called photographers, photogs, or shooters. Why are we devoting a chapter to working with one? Rule Number One. How can you write to video if you don’t have it?

What Is a Photographer?

Photographers are issued a camera, tripod, mics, peripherals, and a station vehicle. They are sent out to shoot video with or without a reporter. If working alone they will ask the interview questions themselves. A non-writing photographer (most of them) will bring, upload, or transmit the video back to the station for a producer, anchor, or reporter to write. Photographers might shoot VOs, VOSOTs, photo essays, or complete PKGs. On several occasions I shot and fed video to a station via microwave from a bureau or my truck. I have also seen reporters log, write, and front a story live with my footage, having never left the station. It is more common for the pair, reporter and photographer, to leave the station together and shoot interviews and b-roll for a package. Usually the interviews come first, with the exception of spot news. You work as a team.

Photographers also run microwave and satellite trucks and all the live gear mentioned in the Live Shots chapter. They set shots up, establish IFB, and run the camera.

Types Of Photographers

The list to follow is short, and a photographer might fit into different classifications depending on the day:


This person is there to put in eight hours of being there and then go home. He will figure out the minimum required to not stand out as terrible or get fired. He exists in other fields besides news. Think Wally from “Dilbert.”

Green and Eager-to-Please

This photog has a great attitude because he’s trying to get a career started and has pride in his work. He lacks experience, though, and needs guidance.

Trained Monkey

Does not bring his brain to work. Shows up and points camera where directed, but does not contribute to story process. The stereotype photographer seen in movies.

Story Snob

This photographer is a highly-skilled artist who takes great pride in his craft. On a good day he can be a great asset and do beautiful work. If he deems that day’s story below his craft, his attitude goes south.

Career Photographer

Tries to do a good job every day. Knows he has to get along with everyone and makes an effort. Some days are better than others, but he will always be prepared and take pride in his work.

Why was this section written with all male pronouns? Because the field is dominated by men. Perhaps this began back when camera equipment was heavier and perhaps it was the work culture. Technology has shrunk cameras and lightened tripods (the good ones are carbon-fiber), the newsroom culture is shifting, and more women are finding jobs as photographers.

Working With, Not Alongside Photographers

Don’t be scared by the types described above; there are ways to work with all of them. The first thing to remember is you are a team. As a photographer, I have worked with reporters who treated me like hired help: They did not help with equipment, involve me in the story process, or ask my opinion. You can simply tell a photographer what to do, but you are throwing away a set of eyes and another viewpoint when you do.

Carry the tripod. Doing so:

  • Shows you are working as a team
  • Frees the photographer to carry a light kit if you are headed indoors
  • Allows the team to move faster
  • On spot news, allows the photographer to just shoot with the camera if things are crazy. If you can set it up, you can get it ready while he gets the camera going.

I cannot stress this enough: If you don’t even offer to carry equipment, you may be considered pompous and treated as such.

The goal is synergy as a team. On your way to the story, discuss it with the photographer. Ask what they think about it, and any ideas they have for creative interviews or standups. Some suggestions might not work, and typically, you’ve studied the topic more than they have, but try to incorporate some of their ideas. I’ve suggested a few ideas that reporters doubted, which is fair, but a few of my ideas ended up on their resume reels.

At the shoot, allow the photographer significant input on where you put people when you interview them. The less engaged or experienced your photographer, the more you can give suggestions; still, you should not boss them around: If you want the ice cream scooper interviewed while he scoops, but you think the photographer might want them up against a wall of the ice cream parlor, say something like, “I thought we could talk to him while he’s working. Can you come up with an artsy shot for that?” Now you have given them a challenge, a chance to use their creativity and come up with their own idea. Had you said, “I want to interview him while he’s working; shoot this on a wide shot” you would have been a dictator (“I want”) shutting down creativity (“shoot this”).

When it comes to shooting b-roll, tell the photographer what you’d like to write about and let him use his noggin to figure out how to best show that with video. If there is a particular shot or two you want, go ahead and ask, but don’t get carried away.


Standups are your chance to try multiple takes and new ideas to show how creative you are. When I shoot reporters’ standups, I ask them what they want to say, then I try to make it as visual as I can. If needed, I will ask them to alter their scripts to fit the visuals better. The two of us can get very creative with standups, but only if we work together, not as reporter dictating commands to photographer. I can get my camera rolling and composed in fewer than 10 seconds, or I can take longer and make you look better—your choice.

If you need multiple takes to get your words right, don’t worry about it; we’re used to it. In a top-20 market I once shot 20 takes for a reporter. A coworker of mine shot 30 for the same guy. Anything fewer than 30 is no biggie to us photographers. If you’re taking more than 30 you should probably practice more on your own.


Often Promotions or a producer will ask for on-camera teases. Might as well involve your photographer in this as well. Work with him on the visual element and how well the tease works. I drove my bureau reporters (same person every day) crazy when I asked them what their tease was. Often I would say, “That’s a summary, not a tease,” and we could then work out something better together. I left my camera on the ground until we worked out a better version. It took more time and effort to collaborate, but we came up with some good teases together.

When the news director hears a good tease, she credits the reporter, not the photographer. That’s OK with us, but you should thank us when we help synergize.

After the Shoot

Now that the interviews, b-roll, stand-up, and teases are shot, it’s time to start piecing your story together. Ask the photographer what his best shot is for an opening (even better, do this during the b-roll shoot). Ask about good closing shots, too. Photographers will shoot better if they know their video is being counted on for specific needs. Ask if there are any sequences or NATS you should be aware of. Really log the video. Look at the shots. Too often, great shots are not written to, and thus not used in editing, because the reporter did not see them. Between asking the photographer and looking for yourself, this shouldn’t happen.


Review your script with the editor, whether it be the photographer who shot with you or an editor. Communicate what the shots and sequences were  intended to be when you were writing, while following Rule #1. As a writer, I am often surprised by what editors come up with that was not what I was writing to. As with a photographer, do not dictate and shut down the creative side of the editor’s brain.


Tell your photographer and/or editor what really helped today. Phrase negative feedback as positively as possible: “I really liked your sequence of the police blocking the street; I was hoping we could’ve spent more time on the racers passing by but I didn’t have enough shots of them.” As you share feedback before or after, use language like, “I want us to win an Emmy,” and not, “I want to win us an Emmy,” or even worse, “I want to win an Emmy.” If you ask any special favors, like an aircheck dubbed off, pay them with a treat. Money is not appropriate, but gummy bears in an edit bay are priceless.

Averting Technical Problems

Do not insult photographers by asking them directly if they’re missing something. There are better approaches for these people you’re building a working relationship with. It’s better with today’s color viewfinders, but still some photographers forget to white balance their cameras. This can happen among the experienced and rookie in small and large markets. Instead of asking, “Did you white balance?” which is an insult, ask, “What temp did you get?” You can even make a game of it, seeing who can guess the Kelvin temperature of the light closest. If the photographer you’re assigned has a problem with low or high audio levels, don’t ask if it’s distorting, ask what dB it is. If you’re concerned about lighting, ask if you can help set a light up; you are now offering a solution, not pointing out a problem. Does the photographer skip his tripod on spot news? Tell him you’re worried the police might make you stay far back on this one, and offer to carry it.


Most photographers will try to do a good job. The more you work together, the more you’ll know how they shoot, and they’ll know how you write. All of the suggested questions in this chapter will pare down as you develop chemistry and trust. I have been part of some great teams where both knew what the other was thinking.

Technically, the reporter also works as the field producer and determines the direction of the story.  You’re the boss. Work with photographers instead of trying to boss them around and you’ll do a better job in everything, including Rule #1.


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