I was working on the US presidential elections and something came to my attention that is worth mentioning here.
When everything was still slides and film, your cut-off time for stopping shooting was whenever the labs would accept the last bath or whenever the last flight was departing to where your agency was, or both. But it had nothing to do with the event itself, especially if lasted a long time ( think election night, for example. It should still be fresh in your mind). More or less, from a place like Chicago, all photographs would get to an editor’s desk the next day at the same time. Everyone had the same window for shooting, if they wanted to be the first on the light boxes of their favorite editors.
With digital, the speed of delivery has become an even more essential part of the selling process. So much so that even if you have a mediocre image that arrives just before a deadline, it will be published, as long as it is the only one around. As more and more images come in from different sources, the more the value of that image drops…and is replaced by better, late arriving images.
So, the later an image gets to a photo editor, the better it has to be in order to be chosen to be published. We then get a curve that looks like this:
A quickly delivered bad image has equal chance of being published as a long delayed great image. Thus a poor ( in talent) photographer can hold up to a greatly talented photographer as long as he transmits his images faster. At least, for a while.
Take the game of “Petanque” or “Boules“. The first one to throw his Boule will always be the closest to the Cochonnet or Jack, in English. A skilled player that comes after, will not only be able to push the Boule out of the way but also be the closest and eventually win. Just like news event photography.
With a slight twist, however :
In photography, it will not matter how great your images are if you miss the deadline of a publication. The winner, the published image, will, in theory, always be the best image that arrived before the deadline. Not the first one, but the best. In theory.
So, it so becomes, that what news photography is eager to capture, time, also becomes an instrument of its succesful propagation. Managed well, time can be a photographers best selling tool, regardless of his/her talents.