Austin Peay's Priority List: Advising on Prioritizing

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(photo illustration by Taylor Slifko, APSU, text by Taylor Slifko and Beth Lowary, all photos by Taylor Slifko except where noted)

Dinners, receptions, grip and grins, oh my!

How does a small team, and in most cases one person, juggle the needs of an entire university and still have time for their own projects? The answer is defining priorities and setting a precedent within your university (and lots of coffee).

Making the Priority Guide

In 2014, an administration change did away with a broken photography chargeback system. Chargeback was never mean to create revenue here, but was implemented as a safeguard to filter out frivolous requests by attaching a value to our time. The amount charged never seemed to be a hurdle for anyone internally, and the paperwork involved meant even more time was spent on photo requests outside of our own strategic goals.

Beth Lowary (former university photographer) needed a different solution to keep requests from growing out of control. With a quick query on UPAA and advice from mission-based programs like Baylor and Ken Bennett’s focus on priorities, the next step was made clear. In order to rein in frivolous requests, you need to create a definitive guideline outlining how you spend your time to best meet your office’s mission and strategic goals. For Austin Peay, the highest priorities were university recruitment and marketing materials, major events and notable guests, and news and public relations initiatives.

Specific priorities were then divided into three levels. Each level clearly states the type of requests and who would handle them. For example, level 1 requests are always photographed by APSU staff. Levels 2 and 3 are assigned to students or freelance photographers. These freelancers are paid out of the department requesting the service.

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(screenshot from APSU website) Austin Peay's published priority guide

Campus Reaction

Our priority guide has been extremely effective in helping people across campus start to think harder before submitting a request. For most, it’s a matter of not fully understanding the scope of what we are responsible for, and the guide provides that perspective.

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Level 1 (Recruitment image)

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Level 1 (Newsworthy)

Having read about all we’re responsible for on the macro level, it’s harder for someone to argue that their colleague’s retirement party is worth spending money on a level 3 freelancer. Maybe that person realizes that they can capture what’s needed with a point-and-shoot or cell phone.

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(photo by Denzil Wyatt) Level 2 (Student events)

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Level 2 (Student events)

We’re fortunate to have skilled student workers who can handle most any request. The key to relationship building while keeping priorities is never really saying, “No.” Instead, we’re saying “I (as the full-time photographer) am unavailable for that, but here are some other ways we can help you get what you need.”

As with most things, this model is not always perfect, but can be easily evolved or adapted.


Make sure your rules and requirements for each level are clearly stated. One thing you don’t want to happen is someone finding a way to twist their event into a higher priority category. To prevent this, make sure you are specific and have done your research on what events you are listing. If you are new to your position, I would recommend getting a seasoned team member to help you write it and list events.

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(photo by Benny Little) Level 3 (Grip and grins)

Also, make sure that you’re taking full advantage of the time allowed to really focus on your craft and the photographs that matter. An award-winning scenic taken on a free afternoon that could’ve been spent photographing new science lab plaques is excellent ammunition for proving that you are the expert and the best judge of how your time should be spent for maximum impact for the university as a whole.

See Austin Peay State University’s priorities list here:


“I'm positive I just lost an electron. Better keep an ion that.” Blog stories/ideas/jokes welcome any time, email editor Matt Cashore at