Photo editors are responsible for the look of final photographs to be published in a book or periodical or that are posted on the Internet. They make photo assignments, judge and alter pictures to meet assignment needs, and make sure all deadlines are met. They work for publishers, advertising agencies, photo stock agencies, greeting card companies, and any employer that relies heavily on visual images to sell its products or services.
Photo Editor Career History
For as long as photos have been in print, photo editors have been needed to evaluate them and delegate shooting assignments. In the early days of photography (the late 1800s), the jobs of photographer and editor were generally combined. On the staffs of early newspapers, it was not uncommon to have a story editor evaluate and place photos, or for a reporter to shoot his or her own accompanying photos as well as edit them for print. However, the need for a separate photo editor has become apparent as visual elements have become a larger part of print and online publications, advertisements, and even political campaigns. The trained eye and technical know-how of a photo editor is now an essential part of newsroom staffs and corporate offices everywhere.
Photo Editor Job Description
The final look of a print or online publication is the result of many workers. The photo editor is responsible for the pictures you see in these publications. They work with photographers, reporters, authors, copy editors, and company executives to make sure final photos help to illustrate, enlighten, or inspire the reader.
Photo editors, though knowledgeable in photography, generally leave the shooting to staff or contract photographers. Editors meet with their managers or clients to determine the needs of the project and brainstorm ideas for photos that will meet the project’s goals. After picture ideas have been discussed, editors give photographers assignments, always including a firm deadline for completion. Most editors work for companies that face firm deadlines; if the editor doesn’t have pictures to work with in time, the whole project is held up.
Once photos have arrived, the editor gets to work, using computer software to crop or enlarge shots, alter the coloring of images, or emphasize the photographer’s use of shadows or light. All this work requires knowledge of photography, an aesthetic eye, and an awareness of the project’s needs. Editors working for a newspaper must be sure to print photos that are true to life, while editors working for a fine arts publication can alter images to create a more abstract effect.
Photo editors also use photo stock agencies to meet project needs. Depending on the size and type of company the editor works for, he or she might not have a staff of photographers to work with. Stock agencies fill this need. Editors can browse stock photos for sale online or in brochures. Even with purchased photos, the editor still has to make sure the image fits the needs and space of the project.
In addition to working with photos, editors take on managerial tasks, such as assigning deadlines, organizing the office, ordering supplies, training employees, and overseeing the work of others. Along with copy and project editors, the photo editor is in contact with members of upper management or outside clients, and thus he or she is responsible for communicating their needs and desires with other workers.
Photo Editor Career Requirements
In addition to photography classes, take illustration and other art classes to develop an artistic eye and familiarize yourself with other forms of visual aids that are used in publications. Math classes will come in handy, as editors have to exactly measure the size and resolution of photos. To be able to determine what photo will meet the needs of a project, you will have to do a lot of reading, so English and communications classes are useful. Last but certainly not least, computer science classes will be invaluable. As an editor, you will work with computers almost daily and must be comfortable with art, layout, and word processing programs.
While not required, most large and prestigious companies will want editors with a college degree in photography, visual art, or computer science. Employers will also want experience, so be sure to get as much exposure working on a publication as possible while in school. Other options are to go to a community college for a degree program; many offer programs in art or computer science that should be sufficient.
You should also be more than familiar with photo editing software such as Adobe PhotoShop, Apple iPhoto, Corel Photo-Paint, Procreate Painter, and Jasc Paint Shop, just to name a few.
In addition to technical know-how, you should also be adept at working with people and for people. As an editor, you will often be the liaison between the client or upper management and the reporters and photographers working for you. You need to be able to communicate the needs of the project to all those working on it.
Exploring Photo Editor Career
To see if this career might be for you, explore your interests. Get involved with your school yearbook or newspaper. Both of these publications often appoint student photo editors to assist with photo acquisitions and layout. You should also try your hand at photography. To be a knowledgeable and successful editor, you need to know the medium in which you work.
You could also try to speak to a professional photo editor about his or her work. Ask a teacher or your counselor to set up a meeting, and think of questions to ask the editor ahead of time.
Photo editors work for any organization that produces publications or online newsletters or has a Web site with many photos. This includes publishing houses, large corporations, Web site developers, nonprofit organizations, and the government. A large percentage of photo editors also work for stock photo agencies, either as staff photographers or as freelancers.
Photo editors often start out as photographers, staff writers, or other lower-level editors. They have to gain experience in their area of work, whether it is magazine publishing or Web site development, to be able to choose the right photos for their projects.
Photo editors advance by taking on more supervisory responsibility for their department or by working on larger projects for high-end clients. These positions generally command more money and can lead to chief editorial jobs. Freelance editors advance by working for more clients and charging more money for their services.
Earnings for photo editors will vary depending on where they work. Salary.com reports that in June 2006, the median expected salary for a typical photo editor was approximately $56,384, but it ranged from less than $48,955 to more than $65,202. If the editor is employed by a corporation, stock photo agency, or other business, he or she typically will be entitled to health insurance, vacation time, and other benefits. Self-employed editors have to provide their own health and life insurance, but they can make their own schedules.
Editors typically work in a comfortable office setting, with computers and other tools nearby. Depending on the workplace, the environment can be quiet and slow, or busy with plenty of interruptions. Deadline pressures can make the job of photo editing hectic at times. Tight production schedules may leave editors with little time to acquire photos or contract work out to photographers. Editors may have a quick turnaround time from when completed photos land on their desk to when the publication has to be sent to the printer. However, unless the editor works for a daily paper or weekly magazine, these busy periods are generally accompanied by slower periods with looser schedules. A good photo editor is flexible and able to work under both conditions.
Photo Editor Career Outlook
Photo editing has been a popular and in-demand field for many years. More and more companies are relying on Web presence, complete with engaging visuals, to sell their products or services. Photo editors will also always be needed to help create a polished look to a printed publication, selecting just the right photos to deliver the right message to readers.
Though computers have revolutionized the way that photo editors work—bringing their work from paper to screen—they have also caused some problems. Improved software technology now makes it possible for virtually anyone to scan or download an image and alter it to any specifications. However, most professional publications will still hire photo editors with expertise and a trained eye to do this work.
For More Information:
- National Press Photographers Association (NPPA)
- Professional Photographers of America
- Associated Press Photo Managers