Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An RV convention? Ok, but what's the story...

(to see the published story, click on the post title)

(images posted are some of my favorites that didn't run)

One of the first real jobs I got after my initial New York trip was from Popular Mechanics. The assignment: we want you to go to Salem, Oregon to shoot an RV convention. Though I was shooting the story that particular summer, it wasn't slated to run until the following summer. The convention meets once a year and in order to have the story for next year, they needed to have it shot the year before. I was told by the photo editor that it was like a "Pimp My Ride" for RV's; and that is what she was told by her editor.

I was to meet up with the writer when I got there and go around and scout out things on the first day and shoot the next two days and fly back the next morning.
I took an afternoon flight and got to location late afternoon and met up with the writer, a young enough guy, but it was clear to me that he definitely had done this kind of thing before. We walked around the convention and talked with everyone we could and explored numerous RV's. The thing was, there wasn't really any particular story yet, so I had absolutely no clue what I was going to shoot. Mark, the writer, and I talked about what would make for interesting photos and interesting writing as well. The one thing I can tell you is that this certainly was not "Pimp My Ride" for RV's. Photographically speaking, the RV's weren't all that interesting and Mark felt the same. However, after talking with Mark I came to understand a couple things:

  1. There a bunch of cool buses here, that people have converted into "RV's".
  2. Popular Mechanics readers are very into the D-I-Y thing, and if we found several folks who had converted the buses on their own that would make for a more interesting story.
Now, we had found several folks who had converted or built their own buses. Not only did those buses make for much more interesting photo opportunities, but those people also made for a lot more interesting portraits from my point of view.

That night I emailed the Photo Editor explaining that this convention was not as much "Pimp My Ride" as it was a hot rod show with a lot of DIY folk. And also, that the tricked out details of the RV's were pretty much limited to flatscreen tv's, but the buses, they offered some great and idiosyncratic details. Well, she called her Editor, and that Editor called Mark, and at breakfast, Mark told me we were on to shoot the bus drivers. Mark and I went through our notes, narrowed it down to our four favorite folks and I shot for those next 2 days.

A couple things I'd like to note in case any of you ever find yourself in a situation where the story is not locked down and the original idea you thought you were supposed to shoot isn't happening...

  1. You may feel pretty nervous when, at the end of the first day, you are really not sure what the hell the you're supposed to shoot, but you know you've got to shoot something cause all of the money you've estimated is pretty much already spent. Well, however you feel, when you communicate with your Photo Editor, keep everything positive and offer what / where you think the story might wind up going. The last thing you want to do is freak out the person who just hired you for the first time and is trusting you to pull through or it's their ass. Also, if things have changed from the original idea, if you let your photo editor know, they can let their editor know, then everyone is on the same page.
  2. Be actively involved with the writer. If the story hasn't been written it is actually up to both of you to work together to come up with something interesting, from both a photographic and a written standpoint.
  3. Shoot a lot. I mean a lot. These are open ended stories and the photo editor is trying to create a visual story from your photos. You'll want to get interesting portraits, all of the details, and have a good opener too. With stories like this the magazine really has no clue how it will wind up laying out best, so the more you can provide the better you'll look.

Turns out the story didn't run when I thought it would. Something else I learned---it doesn't mean they don't like the story, just cause it didn't run. These are major magazines, with major advertising interests, and they've got competition from other magazines as well. There are so many reasons why a story may not run (advertisers' interest, current events, someone else just ran a similar story, etc.) and you're best bet is to just to keep in touch with the photo editor. Often, it's said that no news is good news, so if your photo editor tells you that he or she likes the story, that's more than enough to know you did a great job. And, maybe, they'll run story down the line, after you've finally stopped even thinking about if and when it'll ever run--like they did with this story.

1 comment:

ebony dee cheyne said...

love your work! Great reading, very funny and not to mention totally true!!!!