Neil Harris is a photo editor for CNNMoney.com. Working strictly online diverges from traditional editing for print, and Neil eloquently touches upon these differences as well as noting the challenges behind what makes a money site POP.
As an editor who deals with handouts, what do you consistently see as lacking within these images? Consistently well executed?
I hardly know where to begin! I use many different types of handout images - from companies, governments, tourism offices, and individuals, and each type of source presents different problems. The most obvious thing lacking in most handout photography is any technical or aesthetic sophistication whatsoever. At worst, incorrect exposure, poor use of flash, awkward and/or mindless composition, and weird photoshopping are all commonplace. Even when the images are made by someone who knows how to use their camera, the next step up isn't much better. Most CEO headshots are comically, numbingly formulaic - so much so that I'm always thinking to myself that a good edit of them might make a brilliantly cringe-worthy book. As you move along the spectrum to more polished photos, however, technical skill is primarily exploited to dress things up and sell them, so there is something about the transparency of the work of complete amateurs that at least feels more honest.
Many of your images are coming from magazines-- how does the website add an additional spin on the imagery for the site?
The most common way for us to do something extra with the images is to make a "gallery" of more photos than could fit in the print version (usually 8-12 vs. the 4-6 that might appear in print) and try to either draft them into the service of telling the text story, or allow the images themselves to drive the gallery while drawing out points or ideas within the story. The people who run the site like this because instead of just getting one click every time a reader looks at a story, they get ten or twelve clicks as a reader navigates through the gallery. Occasionally the stars align and we have the opportunity to really tell the story in a different way with a multimedia piece - typically an audio slideshow. This requires a lot of good material to work with, a weighty and/or exciting topic, and a lot of production resources, but as an editor, that unique end product is always very satisfying. I think as websites and their advertisers begin to take a more sophisticated view of what constitutes meaningful web traffic, we will start to see more of this type of content.
Has financial media been lacking in terms of photography? What would you like to see as an editor visually within financial journalism, and what do you do at CNN to represent traditional financial photography online?
I'm not sure I'd say it's been lacking - Fortune has been around for decades, and has been known for much of that time as one of the standard bearers of magazine photojournalism. Photography on financial topics is also extremely difficult to make because of access issues. It's also very difficult to make interesting - for the most part, a photo from the floor of the NYSE yesterday doesn't look that much different from one last week, or last month, and it tends to oversimplify what's going on. Most financial stories involve things that are more or less intangible (stock prices, bonds, derivatives, transactions, credit default swaps, TARP, interest rates, etc.) or invisible (private meetings, phonecalls, emails, documents), which necessarily means that people like me have to rely on photos of the people involved, or stock photos to illustrate an idea or a metaphor. The most compelling images in financial journalism aren't typically the most traditionally "newsworthy" - they come out of examining what effects the decisions of corporations and governments have on the lives of normal people - employees, citizens, and consumers - and the world around us.
When you're looking for stock photography, what are some of the images that you notice time and again are omitted from stock sites?
Great question. The single biggest frustration for me is finding an image as a vertical when I need a horizontal, or vice-versa. It sounds stupid, but websites almost always have strict, standardized thumbnail sizes which all existing images must fit inside. Photographers should always make horizontal and vertical versions of every setup, and editors should consider including at least one of each. The second thing I don't see enough of is objects shot on a white background. This is meat and potatoes for the photo editor, because it's easy to control and manipulate those images, make silhouettes, put them together with other images, and most importantly, illustrate an idea with a simple item or figure without excess noise. This actually ties into a bigger approach to stock photography that I'd like to see more of. Too often someone starts with a poor idea and then tries to make it work with over the top execution. The best stock images start with a really strong, clear idea (perhaps with a few variations on it) and then execute it in a way that is simple and subtle. Most of the time when a photo is used, the context will come from the written piece, which makes versatility a stock image's strongest trait.
Have you looked at Slideluck to try and find photographers to hire for the site or make recommendations to other editors for work consideration?
In my current job, I don't have the luxury of hiring very many photographers, but I do consider every Slideluck a great opportunity to get exposed to new photographers, new work by people I know, and multimedia features of work I may already be familiar with, as well as to observe the audience reaction to what's on the screen. I love the eclectic mix of stuff that is shown, regardless of whether the style or subject appeals to me or not. But I would never go just to collect names of people I might want to hire. In fact, I consider Slideluck a perfect end unto itself. Good photographers are as concerned about finding a forum to connect with their audience as much as snagging their next paying gig, and Slideluck brings good photographers together with a sophisticated, captive, appreciative (and vocal!) audience. That's the essence of creating a healthy photographic community.