What is a picture editor, anyway?

Is it me, or is this really nuts?

I was depositing some checks at the bank the other day and the teller I often deal with asked me again what my company - One28 Media - does. I said the company is me and that I’m a picture editor and photographer. To which he responded, “Oh, you must know photoshop inside and out.” His assumption was that a picture editor takes a pile of pictures and color corrects them.

Another person, who does web and high end video development and production, told me that he never knew there are people who do what I do until he met me. He too had only run into picture processors.

And a recent sportsshooter.com posting asked for links to picture editors, which brought a slew of links to people who tone or color correct pictures - and one suggestion to talk to me.

Calling someone who processes pictures a picture editor is like asking for a painter and having a guy show up with buckets and ladders or thinking that a NASCAR driver would make a fine cabbie.

Toning pictures is certainly a valuable skill, don’t get me wrong. But it is frustrating that two words (picture editor) can be applied to two so totally different things.

Wikipedia says a picture editor is someone who picks pictures for publication, which is an equally diminutive representation of what a skilled picture editor can do.

I was giving a talk to Jim Berry’s students at the Portland Art Institute last week and asked them what a picture editor is or does. Their responses were similar to Wikipedia’s definition, though they did talk a bit about how a picture editor can help photographers. And it was a fun night.

So here’s my definition of a picture editor: A picture editor is someone who helps photographers and photography reach their potential.

That’s a pretty simple definition but a very complex thing to execute. A good picture editor helps photography reach its potential before, during and after pictures are made.

Before pictures are made, an editor helps the photographer focus the effort by asking questions, responding to ideas, challenging the photographer to go beyond what he or she is thinking, suggesting different approaches and helping with logistics.

As pictures are being made an editor can be a sounding board, someone to whom you can air your thoughts and get feedback from. An edit as the work progresses can streamline and focus what you’re doing, saving you time and anxiety while elevating what you achieve. Photographers can get stuck in a rut while making pictures; an editor pulls you out of the rut.

A trick is also knowing when the work is done, especially on more complex bodies. An editor can help by focusing the work from the beginning and adjusting with the story as it develops so there is a clear understanding as it progresses to completion.

Editing the work into a form - a slide show, web presentation, book, gallery or portfolio presentation - happens as an extension, a conclusion of all the rest of the process.

A good editor can take an existing body of work and edit it into a cohesive presentation, of course, but the true potential of working with an editor happens when you work together from inception.

And reaching potential is what it’s all about.

The difference between a picture story and a photo essay

An interview with me on Photoletariat