‘Ooh, what for? Where?’ They are clearly imagining me reclining on a Caribbean beach as I watch models strut by in next year’s fashions.
‘Level 3 Plastering in Bolton. Don’t leave! It’s exciting!’
But … you’re an editor
Even in this video-focused age, many textbooks still need to include subject-specific images. Most stock photo banks don’t include images of ‘cullamix being applied from the left with a Tyrolean gun held at a 45 degree angle’. You just have to go out and get them.
I managed several shoots in-house, but as publishers’ time and budgets diminish, it’s now common for them to call in freelance editors to do the job. Ordering strangers to pose for the camera isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but it’s certainly a break from lonely desk slavery – and another skill that shows your diverse portfolio to potential clients.
So what does managing a shoot involve?
Well, you’re not in the photos (thank goodness!) and you’re not taking the photos. You’re responsible for getting the right images in the time available. So, as with any editorial job, you’ll be co-ordinating behind the scenes. Depending on the publisher, your tasks may include:
- finding a location and photographer
- recruiting appropriate models
- identifying the images that are needed
- drawing up a schedule
- making sure everyone knows what they need to do
- keeping the shoot running on time
- keeping everyone motivated
- solving problems
- choosing the best shots
- deciding whether to cut or add particular photos, for example if the plasterer in the photos uses a different technique from that described in the manuscript.
It’s all in the planning
Fortunately, I’d ghostwritten much of the Level 3 Plastering book so I knew exactly what images were required. It’s common, however, to come to the book cold. It helps if you know the subject matter and if you can compile the shoot list (the description of the photos that need to be taken) yourself. In any case, you should study the shoot list as soon as you can so any issues can be solved before the shoot starts.
You should also start building relationships with the people you’ll be working with – for me this was checking that the college hosting the shoot had the right tools and materials, ensuring that the ‘models’ appearing in the photos knew what to expect, and renewing my acquaintance with the photographer. Sending them a copy of the proposed timetable is a good way of starting a discussion – even if they respond that it’s not physically possible to get through everything!
It’s key to be realistic about what can be achieved in the available timeframe. You need to build in contingency time for setting up and settling in on the first morning, and for any tasks that overrun. Whatever you do, shoots always take longer than you expect.
Location, location, location
It’s important to make sure that the staff at the location are aware of the commitment and disruption involved. You’ll need to check that all the necessary equipment is there, and encourage them to prepare shots in advance where possible (for example, by running plaster moulds so that they are ready to be fixed to the wall).
Gillian Burrell, a veteran of textbook shoots covering everything from beauty therapy to bricklaying, suggests visiting the shoot location beforehand to make sure the facilities are suitable and sufficiently inspiring: ‘Some older facilities (such as salons with cubicles and curtains that look more like a hospital ward than a salon) and equipment (such as old bricks and paint kettles covered in paint) will neither create aesthetically-pleasing nor inspirational photos.’
Pack your bags
As book shoots take place in the most appropriate (and often cheapest) location the publisher can find, you will have to travel there and stay overnight for up to a week. Ensure the daily rate you are offered covers the inconvenience of going away and includes expenses and mileage. You’ll also need a hotel with WiFi so that you can work in the evenings. Yes, the days are long.
Working with photographers
Good photographers are easy to get on with, put models at ease, are flexible and determined to get the perfect shot. If you’re both staying away from home, it helps if you can chat over a curry, too. My usual photographer, Richard Wilson, has anecdotes that make the life of an editor seem tame.
Working with models
It’s unlikely that the people who appear in the photos will be professional models. They are most likely to be volunteers, often students, who have never been photographed carrying out the tasks you need to show, even if they are experts at their job. They may be a bit self-conscious at first or unsure of what they need to do.
Gillian Burrell advises shoot managers to ensure that volunteers know that they are there for the whole of their sequence of photos. ‘At one particular hairdressing photo shoot held on a Saturday, all the students turned up early and were eager to go so we started taking the shots with them in. After about an hour or so they announced that they had to disappear off to their Saturday jobs – before we’d photographed the whole task!’
By contrast, my recent plastering shoot benefited from a team of experienced plasterers from North West Skills Academy giving up their time to appear in the photos. They appreciated both the value of contributing to the book and the positive publicity for their company.
Is it worth it?
I’ve met interesting people in new situations, helped to create some great images and, most importantly, contributed to books that help learners pass their qualifications and start their careers. What could be more satisfying to an editor than that?
Julia Sandford-Cooke of WordFire Communications has more than 15 years’ experience of publishing and marketing. When not ordering people around on photo shoots, she authors and edits textbooks, writes digital copy, proofreads anything that’s put in front of her, spends too much time on Twitter and posts short, grumpy book reviews on her blog, Ju’s Reviews.
Proofread by SfEP associate Hattie Ajderian.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.