Meet My Photographer

Written by Andrew Marshall

Posted on 15 September 2010

When I first started out as a feature writer, I often took my own photographs. It earned me extra money, but I hated heaving around all the gear and found it tough to concentrate on reporting the story. I got good enough to realize how bad I was, and how long and hard even a truly talented photographer must toil to produce remarkable work.

Photo by John Stanmeyer/VII

Now that I’ve painstakingly sucker-cupped my way further up the media skyscraper, I almost always work with photographers. Some are assigned to a story I’ve already pitched, but usually we will conceive, pitch, do, and sell the story as a team.

Professional photojournalists are going through tough times right now, and I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best. Along the way, I’ve learned the many rules that writers must observe when working with photographers. Here are just two:

Rule #17. Never, ever introduce them to interviewees as “my photographer.” This is like saying “This is my toothbrush” or “It won’t bite.” The photographer is neither goods nor chattel. On the rare occasions I’ve been assigned a photographer I don’t like, I’ve been tempted to try the variation, “This is the photographer of my idea,” or even the succinct but withering, “This is a photographer.” Weirdly—because I’m sure I deserve it—no photographer has ever introduced me as “my writer.”

Rule #2. Always try to stay out of their frame. (And not only stay out, but—with an increasing number of stills photographers now shooting video—shut up, too.) This rule is especially important if you are white, shaven-headed and halfway up an erupting volcano in Indonesia. I did a story for National Geographic magazine with photographer John Stanmeyer which involved covering a mystical Javanese ritual held to appease the ogre thought to live at the peak of Mt Merapi, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. It was a rare event and I was anxious to stay out of John’s way. I invite you to click on his photo above to enlarge it, and play “Where’s The Wally?”


  1. Roland says:

    Yeah… pretty nice looking guy… but the wrong type in the wrong place!!! Well Andrew I believe you have been photoshoped in… cheers

  2. John Vink says:

    When not enlarged: you’re in focus and shining bright…
    When enlarged: you were copy-pasted…

  3. Andrew Marshall says:

    Pasted? Pasty, certainly . . .

  4. John Vink says:

    Copied pasty becomes smudgy.

  5. Stuart Isett says:

    We should start a gallery.

  6. John Stanmeyer says:

    Have more Where’s Waldo Marshall if you want to start that gallery, Stuart. And no, he wasn’t pasted in. There’s a whole collection of head poppings from this event…they are absolutely brilliant, the highlight of our Merapi summit journey.

  7. Nick Nostitz says:

    Hi John, why didn’t you throw Andrew into the volcano? ;)

    The best part is when writers carry their own cameras around…and especially when they are much nicer than our cameras…

  8. julia says:

    really good laugh. teary. thanks.

  9. hotli says:

    Hahahahahah…. funy wall e

  10. keith says:

    like a grain salt in the middle of the pepper! see you back here in PH andrew! :-)

Leave a Comment