Here on the HSW team, several of us are working photojournalists with decades of time served in the industry. With a wide range of sizes of media publications that we’ve worked for over the years, from small weekly papers to large wire service operations, one thing that doesn’t change is how we deal with our editors.


HSW’s Faculty and Director of New Media Aaron Lambert, also a working photojournalist, gets “detained” by a Santa Barbara County Sheriff deputy while covering the Michael Jackson trial in Santa Maria, CA, April 1, 2005.

While it can be adversarial at times, we often have to take the higher ground and do what is best for the publication and its readers  …  OK, we try to take the higher ground, but we usually still duke it out verbally with our editors. It’s quite simple: they just don’t get it. We’re the boots on the ground while they are sitting in their padded office chair, eating bon bons and drinking flavored coffee, taking a break only short enough to berate the photographer over their “apparent ineptitude” to actually capture a photo.

Well, at least that’s how we see it. In reality, they take a break from chain smoking and downing donuts long enough to berate us over our “apparent ineptitude” to actually capture a photo.

Regardless, communication between the photogs and the editors is crucial. And while we’re out on the street, sweating and hustling the shots, and they are in the office, air-conditioned and cool, we do have to explain as quickly and succinctly as possible what the situation is like there on the assignment.

The staff over at the Chicago Tribune compiled a Top 20 list of Code Phrases used by photojournalists to communicate with their editors exactly what the current situation is on the assignment.

And they nailed it.

1. “I’m standing here with the organizers and they told me the event happened last week.”
Translation:  I’ll go get some coffee while you find out whom to yell at.

2. “The reporter still doesn’t know what angle he’s going to take.” 
Translation:  Just get me out of here before I end up shooting 300 pictures that won’t see the light of day.

3. “Everyone has left except for the janitor and me.”  
Translation:  Trust, me, I’ve worked this assignment into the ground and there are no more pictures to be made. 

4. “The mom hasn’t arrived yet.” 
Translation:  The situation hasn’t emotionally peaked, so I’m not leaving.

5. “I’ve already shot 5 assignments, I haven’t eaten lunch and I need to find a bathroom.” 
Translation:  Don’t even think of giving me another assignment.

6. “There are more news media here than protestors.”
Translation:  We’re not going to publish this, are we?

7. “I have a lot of strong pictures from the memorial service and I’m the only one here.” 
Translation:  Please don’t send me to the gravesite because I’m feeling like a total creep.

8. “If you need me to send pictures now, I’ll have to leave the event because I can’t get a wireless signal.”  
Translation:  If something shows up on the evening news tonight that I missed, I don’t want to get in trouble. You make the call.

9. “The subject wants to know what I want him to do, because he’s here just for me.”
Translation:  Who set up this assignment, and how am I supposed to salvage this?

10. “It is a total media horde out here.” 
Translation:  If I can get any pictures at all, they’ll have microphones and TV cameras in them.

11. “I hope you have good space in tomorrow’s paper.” 
Translation:  I have some awesome pictures. 

12. “I’m drenched, I’ve been driving around for hours and I haven’t seen anything special.”
Translation:  Please tell me that one of the other photographers looking for rain pictures has found something good.

13. “I have no idea who I’m photographing here or why.” 
Translation:  Could you please explain what this is all about?

14. “They want me to sign a contract, giving them rights to our photographs.” 
Translation:  I’ll happily leave; just tell me it’s ok.

15. “This whole thing is a total set-up for the cameras.” 
Translation:  I know, I know, shoot a few pictures to cover myself, and then leave.

16. “It all happened so fast, I only was able to make a couple frames.”
Translation:  I didn’t have enough time; so don’t even ask about video.

17. “I have to be somewhere after work today.”
Translation:  I can’t work overtime so please don’t give me that assignment in Timbuktu.

18. “All the other media were leaving when I got here.” 
Translation:  We totally got smoked. 

19. “Elvis has left the building.”
Translation:  Our main guy is no longer here.

20. “I got the money shot.”
Translation:  I got the picture that we needed, so relax…