What is an assignment?
Assignments are not contests. National Geographic operates two contests each year: the National Geographic Photo Contest and the Traveler Photo Contest, both of which have judges, winners, and rules. Your Shot assignments are built to be different.
Assignments are designed to mimic the process of being a photographer on assignment for National Geographic magazine. Here’s how magazine assignments work:
The editor(s) have an idea for a story they want to publish. They give the assignment to a photographer, who then goes out in the field and shoots. The photographer often brings back 10,000-plus images, only a handful of which go into the story. Throughout the experience, the editor and photographer are working together to make sure the images that come back are in line with what the editor has in mind for the story. The final selection that gets published may not include what were technically the best photos, nor the ones that the photographer or other editors liked the most. Rather, they are the ones that the editor decided worked together to best tell the story. Editors make a subjective choice based on a lot of elements, including the technical quality, how an image portrays one aspect of a larger story, and even the layout that’s available on the page.
When we created this community, we wanted to get as close to that experience as possible. That’s why editors post updates and notes to help guide the submissions. While we know every assignment isn’t right for every photographer, assignments are designed to challenge you and to make you step outside your comfort zone when you shoot. We encourage you to go out and shoot new images whenever possible, rather than relying on what’s already in your archive.
What is a story?
A story is a collection of images submitted by our community and curated by a National Geographic editor. The images come from a variety of members, but they fit together to make a cohesive story.
How do editors select the images that make the story?
Just as photographers do when shooting for National Geographic magazine, editors make choices based on which images best fit the story they’re trying to tell. Their choices may not include the top 10 or 15 most technically perfect photos, but they come together to tell a story.
Note that captions are invaluable to us when editing. They can elevate your image by shedding light on a scene and revealing the personal stories behind your pictures.
Some members of our community have noted that the process is subjective, and they’re absolutely right: It is up to that editor and that editor alone which images they include, just like in a National Geographic story.
The method our editors use to select photos for stories (and for the Daily Dozen, for that matter) is called a blind edit. This means they don’t see who submitted the photo until after the selection is made. A special back-end asset management system called Media Grid is used to review photos. Here’s a picture of what it looks like when they’re doing an edit:
Using this system, editors only see images and captions, and they see every image in full, not in the thumbnail you see in galleries around the site. During a first round of edits, they flag images that they think might be good for the story in order to narrow down the selection pool. They then try out different combinations of photos until they find the set that works together best to tell the story they have in mind.
We don't recommend uploading images in bulk. Take your time and share your best shots. If you delete a shot from your gallery, it will still count towards your weekly upload limit and you won't be able to upload a new one for consideration in its place. We don't recommend deleting and uploading your photos over and over again for consideration. A descriptive caption will also give you a much better chance of being select. As always be mindful of the photo guidelines when it comes to processing your photos; less is more. Your Shot is a passionate, creative community ready to share feedback and start conversations about your images, and the more you engage with other members, the more you'll receive in inspiration.
Tip: Review past Daily Dozens to get a feel for the types of photos we select. You'll notice that they run the gamut in both style and content. Our photo editors like to be surprised and to see things from a different perspective. Be creative. Good luck!
But you don’t really look at every photo, do you?
Meet Davidand Kristen. They are your Your Shot editors, and look at every single photo you upload. That’s about 7,000 per day, for those of you keeping count.
When editors lead assignments, they get a taste of what it’s like to be David and Matt. They edit on a rolling basis, as submissions come in, and can end up reviewing more than 10,000 images by the time the assignment is finished.
Does the number of favorites or comments contribute to the editor’s selection?
The editor can’t see the community’s feedback when they’re editing, so no, these do not influence the published story.
What are the rules for an assignment?
Remember, it’s not a contest! That said, you should start any assignment by carefully reading the description, editor’s updates, and the photo submission limit for the assignment. You can either submit from your gallery or upload a new photo, which will then also appear in your gallery and will count toward your weekly total upload quota of 15. You can see how many photos you have left to submit to an assignment when you click the "Submit" button (you may see, for example, 0/3 or 1/5). Pay close attention to this limit, because once you hit the limit of submissions to an assignment, you will not be able to delete a photo to replace an upload. Just as our editors have to narrow down their selections, we want you to self-edit carefully and choose the shots that you feel constitute your very best contribution to the assignment, so take your time. Some editors may set out specific guidelines for what they’re looking for as they edit, while some might want the community to guide the vision of the story.
What is an editor's update?
When National Geographic photographers are on assignment, they have periodic check-ins with their editor to make sure the direction their work is taking is what the editor expects or what will work best in the story. In a Your Shot assignment, an editor's update is published after he or she has reviewed some of the initial submissions. Updates are meant to reflect on what the editor is seeing from the community and to give more guidance. Since the update is based on what has been submitted so far, it may outline what an editor would like to see more of, give tips on how to avoid common issues that members are facing, or provide more clarity based on an interpretation of the assignment that the editor didn't originally anticipate. Since an editor's update may influence your own interpretation of the assignment and your submissions, we recommend submitting strategically. In other words, don't use all your submissions right away when the assignment launches. Look for inspiration in other people's submissions, discuss your process in the assignment comments, and listen for updates and feedback from the editors before finalizing all of your submissions.
What can I do to increase the chances of one of my images being chosen for a Your Shot story?
Because assignments are subjective, there’s no silver bullet to ensure your image will be chosen. Just as it is for a National Geographic photographer, being on assignment is an opportunity to push yourself, test your limits, and learn new skills. Be thoughtful in your submissions, and include thoughtful and detailed captions to help the editor understand what you’re showing.
And remember, the magic of Your Shot is in the incredible learning opportunities around every corner. We’re part of a community of people who love photography. Look to your fellow members for inspiration, advice, and feedback. The best way to get this is to give thoughtful feedback to others—not just generic, prewritten compliments, but specific, helpful advice. Suggest a new angle they may not have considered. Invite a member near you to get together to shoot or critique each other’s work. "Favorite" images that inspire you so you can try out a new idea.
How long are the submission periods?
An assignment is typically open for submissions for several weeks. Once the assignment submission phase closes, the assignment is curated by the assignment editor and published on the Your Shot website as a story. The deadline for the assignment is listed on the assignment page.
I’d like to know why the editor made the selections he/she did for a particular story. How can I hear more about the process behind a specific edit?
Our editors have a series on the blog called Behind the Edit. These posts usually publish shortly after a story comes out, and they give the editors a chance to discuss the stories they’ve published.
Keep an eye on the blog for more Behind the Edit posts, but here's a selection from our archives to get you started:
Behind the Edit: Not Your Average Pet
Behind the Edit: Animals We Love
Behind the Edit: Love Snap
Behind the Edit: The Power of a Smile
Behind the Edit: Family Portrait
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Working With An Assignment Photographer
This handbook was developed by the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) to illustrate the fundamental principles involved during a typical commercial photography assignment. By defining key terms, answering commonly asked questions and describing today’s best practices, it guides you through the entire process of working with an assignment photographer.
This document is also available in a PDF version (16 letter-size pages, one color).
The Right Image for Your Purpose
Photography is one of the most powerful tools for persuasion that the human race has devised. But not all pictures are equally effective. The difference between a great image and a pretty-good image is, to paraphrase Mark Twain, like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. No one can guarantee you a great image for your next project, but you can vastly improve your chances by working closely with a photographer who understands what you need and can bring experience and creativity to bear on solving your problems.
Identifying Your Needs
The first step in planning for photography is identifying what sort of images might best represent your project themes. Are there any specific concepts, product features or benefits you’d like to highlight? Are there areas that require creative problem-solving? What geo-cultural norms and taboos must be respected? If you are addressing multiple demographics (of age, nationality, social stratum or wealth), what messages will you develop for each, and how will you keep them distinct?
At a strategic level, the answers to these questions will be important in finding the right photographer for the job. Then, at a tactical level, you can discuss them further with your photographer before production starts, both to develop specific imaging concepts and to clearly define the assignment parameters. With those, your photographer will be able to provide good time and financial estimates.
Selecting A Photographer
Try to match your needs with a photographer’s strengths. Commercial photographers often specialize in certain types of work, a unique style of imagery or specific geographic locales. They will have both the experience and the equipment to obtain the results you want.
ASMP helps you locate good candidates through its “Find a Photographer” database here, where you can search by photographic specialty and by geographic location. Once you’ve identified a group of photographers, you may choose to visit their web sites, request samples of their work for review or schedule meetings for portfolio presentations. You may also request to see photographs of assignments similar in scope to the project you have in mind.
The right photographer for you should understand your design ideas and be able to communicate them visually. Other factors to consider when making your decision include professionalism, compatibility with your style, and the right mix of technical skills and people skills. Don’t underestimate the value of a photographer’s enthusiasm and experience, as he or she will become an important part of your project team.
Estimating An Assignment
As a creative professional, you understand the importance of accurately defining the scope of work in order to determine your firm’s design fees. Similarly, in order to prepare an estimate for you, a photographer must have a detailed description of the assignment. Among the considerations are whether the photos will be shot on location or in a studio; what personnel (assistants, models, stylists, technicians, location scouts) and special equipment will be needed; whether permits and clearances must be obtained; and, of course, how much lead time is available.
An estimate typically involves three components:
The assignment description
Pricing: fees and expenses
Licensing & rights granted
The Assignment Description
In addition to an overall description of the project, some of the elements you may find in this section include the number of finished images for each medium, a description of deliverables, and a time frame for completing the assignment.
Assignment photographers are familiar with the main technical requirements of the standard publication media, including magazines, newspapers, annual reports, capability brochures and the Internet. If additional deliverables (such as transparencies, slides or black and white prints) will be needed, or if the images might be cast into unusual media (hologram packaging, bus wraps, backlit signs), be sure the photographer knows about them beforehand.
Digital concerns. In the last five years, all-digital workflows have become the norm, altering every step in the traditional publication process. You will usually get the best result at the lowest cost if your photographer can work closely with your printers, repro houses and layout artists to eliminate any uncertainties about who does what. Some of the key questions are:
- How will the files be used? (Offset press, web site, digital prints, etc.)
- Will the files need to be re-purposed for additional media in the future?
- What is the largest anticipated reproduction size, and what resolution is required?
- How, when and where will the captures be edited?
- Who will be handling color correction, and how critical is color matching?
- Who will be providing proofs, and what type of proofs are required?
- Will there be an opportunity for the photographer to talk to the printer prior to the file delivery deadline?
- Will the files be distributed to unknown printers (e.g., magazines)?
Licensing & Rights Granted
A photograph is considered intellectual property. The photographer owns the copyright to the images he or she creates and has the exclusive right to license their use. Licensing agreements are specific with regard to use and, in general, should answer these three basic questions:
Who will use the images?
How and where will the images appear?
How long will the images be used?
This information may be detailed in the Licensing & Rights Granted section of the estimate or in a separate licensing agreement. It’s important that you and your photographer agree on the scope of the license before photography has begun. Should your project plans change, be sure to discuss them with your photographer.
Under the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, photographs automatically receive copyright protection immediately upon their creation. Absence of a copyright notice does not relieve a prospective user from the responsibility of obtaining permission from the copyright holder. In addition, altering or removing a copyright notice can result in liability under the Copyright Act and several other state and federal statutes.
More information about copyright is available from the U.S. Copyright Officeand from ASMP’s copyright tutorial.
Possession vs. rights. The right to use images cannot be transferred by anyone without the written consent of the copyright holder. If you’ve received photographs without written permission for use, it is your responsibility to secure licensing rights before using them. As a rule of thumb, a good way to avoid any misunderstandings is to contact the photographer before passing along photographs. You should also advise the party receiving the images to contact the photographer directly to secure a license granting permission for their use. Any copying, distribution, public display or creation of derivative works of images without specific permission from the photographer is a violation of Federal copyright law.
Simply having physical possession of photographs, slides, prints, transparencies or digital files does not grant the right to use them.
A license is a legal agreement granting permission to exercise specified rights to a work.
A copyright is a collection of exclusive rights initially owned by the creator of an original work (an image, text, song, design, etc.)
Buyouts and ‘all rights’ agreements. There are legitimate, but rare, circumstances in which you need to possess the full array of rights that a copyright includes. Far more often, you actually have no prospect of ever using all those rights. (How often is the right to print on bubble-gum wrappers in Thailand a business necessity?) Rather, you may simply be looking to lock in future flexibility. Ownership is an expensive way to do it, though. Because the photographer can never again use the image in any way, he or she will have to recoup its lost future value in the upfront fee.
Nevertheless, photographers occasionally get requests for a “buyout” of the image. This is, at best, a vaguely defined concept, but it usually means that the client wants to make a one-time payment and never have to negotiate for further rights. For legal purposes, there are several ways to approach this.
The photographer may sign over the ownership of the copyright via a written document. As with many other transfers of valuable property, such a transfer may be recorded with the government — in this case, with the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, DC.
The photographer and client may execute an exclusive, unlimited-use rights licensing contract. Here, the photographer keeps the tree (so to speak) but the client gets all the fruit.
A third approach is to structure the assignment as a “work made for hire.” In this scenario, the client owns the copyright (along with all legal liabilities) right from the start. Note that such an arrangement is valid only if both the client and the photographer have signed a specific, written agreement before the assignment has begun.
It is almost always more cost-effective to license just the rights you will actually use. Licenses can be written to provide coverage for any current and future needs without requiring transfer of copyright, exclusive unlimited usage or a work made for hire agreement. By discussing your real needs and concerns with your photographer, you can license any and all appropriate uses without adding unnecessary expense.
A photographer’s estimate typically has two components:
There are two kinds of fees: Photography and Licensing. Some photographers combine them into a single number for presentation purposes (and some clients prefer to see them combined), but they are distinct in principle and are differently affected by changes in the assignment description.
Photography Fees (sometimes referred to as Creative Fees) reflect the experience, creativity and vision that the photographer brings to the assignment, along with the complexity of the project. Issues such as the total number of finished images needed, scheduling, site logistics or the need for specialized skills or equipment can affect the overall Photography Fee.
In addition to the actual time spent behind the camera, there will be fees that cover a photographer’s pre-production and post-production time. Depending on the complexity of the project, these may be included in the photography fee or listed as separate production fees. Pre-production tasks commonly include client meetings, site visits, set building, obtaining props, acquiring wardrobe, etc. Post-production tasks commonly include returning a work area to its original condition, prop returns, image editing and selection, digital enhancement, client meetings and preparing images for final delivery. Travel and weather delays can be factors, too.
Licensing Fees (sometimes referred to as Usage Fees) reflect the value of the usage for each image in the assignment. This is determined by a number of considerations, including how widely and for how long the images will be viewed, reproduced and distributed. Typically, the more extensive the rights, the higher the fee.
It’s just like the ads on television. Ad slots during the Super Bowl are expensive because the game has a huge audience. Ads on a local cable program cost relatively little, but not many people will see them.
Another issue is what degree of exclusivity is required. In addition to their immediate value, images can have ongoing value as stock photos, in coffee-table books, for historical research and so on. For many photographers, their library of licensable images creates an ongoing income stream. If the photos from an assignment must be kept off the market for an extended time, the license fee must be higher to offset the lost future earnings.
In this article, some of the words concerning rights and licenses are used in a narrow, technical sense. The PLUS (Picture Licensing Universal System) Coalition has developed an online database of definitions for most of the common terms used in photo-rights licenses. It's a valuable resource for everyone.
To obtain the best value at the outset, negotiate the rights license based on your currently planned needs, but also secure a price for additional rights that you might want in the future. This approach lets you pay as you go while minimizing budget uncertainty.
Itemized expenses may include charges for assistants, stylists, models, photo finishing, special equipment or prop rentals, travel, costs for location access, extra insurance — it all depends on the job. Expenses for analog (film-based) photography typically include consumables such as film, processing and supplies.
For digital photography, it is customary to bill per-image charges for format conversions, color and tone adjustment, digital retouching and file delivery. Because the technology is relatively new, industry customs and standards for digital photos are not widely understood. ASMP’s web site hasadditional explanatory material to help you and your clients in the planning and budgeting process.
Advancing Your Image
The photographs you use are a reflection of your company’s products and services. They affect how the marketplace perceives your business. While there will always be someone willing to photograph your project for less, what may initially appear to be a bargain can easily turn into an expensive problem when the resulting images do not meet expectations. Obvious pitfalls include legal liability for inadequate model releases, printers’ surcharges for color alterations, confused licensing language and missed deadlines. More subtly, the images may simply lack pizzazz. In the long run, commissioning a qualified professional photographer is an investment that can save time, money and frustration. The right professional photographer increases the perceived value of your company and its products or services.
Tips For Controlling Costs
If your needs outweigh your budget, don’t get discouraged. Here are a few ideas to relieve the pressure on your budget.
Be frank with your photographer about what you must have and what is optional, and be open to alternative approaches that could reduce the cost. Sometimes, small changes in the specifications — hiring fashion models vs. “real people,” the size and complexity of sets, the number of products shown together — can mean big differences in the cost of shooting. In every case, good upfront communications will mean a more focused shoot that takes less time and delivers the desired imagery.
Review the license terms you are asking for. Although it’s natural to want very broad rights, you may be spending more than necessary. A better approach is to license only the rights that will actually be required now and, if later you need more, license it then. Of course, it’s smart to negotiate the price for future rights now.
If location shots are required and the schedule has some flexibility, look for a photographer who does “package tours” in which the travel expenses are shared by several clients. (You could even call your peers to see if they want to join you in setting up a package.) The creative and licensing fees aren’t affected, but production costs could be dramatically lower.