Blue Devil of the Week: Behind The People Behind The Camera

Imaging Specialist Bill Snead embraces the teamwork that keeps Duke Photography sharp

As Duke Photography's imaging specialist, Bill Snead helps make sure every picture is perfect.
As Duke Photography's imaging specialist, Bill Snead helps make sure every picture is perfect.

Name: Bill Snead

Position: Imaging Specialist, Duke Photography

Years at Duke: 13

What he does at Duke: Bill Snead doesn’t click the shutter when Duke Photography takes its pictures, but his personal touch is on almost every one.

Snead’s multi-faceted role has him helping photographers with gear, aiding them in setting up photo shoots, digitally editing images and ensuring photo orders are filled.

“All of that is just part and parcel of the larger picture of supporting the photographers,” Snead said. “… They’re the conceptual artists, all the nuts and bolts stuff is what I’m there for, getting them from Point A to Point B so they can nail the photo.”

What he loves about Duke: "Like a lot of folks, my educational and experiential background is all over the place – photography school, religious studies degree, decades in commercial printing, color management, drum scanning, archiving, process control etc. Cool thing? I get to use almost all of this on any single day here. … I’m able to switch gears and do something different several times a day. I love that. And wouldn’t have it any other way."

A memorable day at work: Snead’s favorite day at work comes each August when the first year class gathers on the lawn in front of Lilly Library for its group photo. It’s a long day. Five 60-foot lifts holding lights and cameras, have to be moved into position. Grids must be drawn in the grass to make sure each student is in position to form the numerals of its graduation year.

With students in position and – if they’re lucky – dusk painting the sky in vivid colors, Snead will be fighting his fear of heights and running a light from one of the lifts as the photos are taken.

But the effort’s worth it when the image captures the exuberance of a new Duke class.

“They’re all together and there’s this great energy, this vibe,” Snead said. “It’s new to them. And that’s probably the first and last time they’ll all be together until graduation. So it’s a big deal.”

A special object/memorabilia in his workspace: Snead keeps a metal cowbell behind his computer monitors. It was given to him as a joke by Duke Photography colleague Brent Clayton. It’s an homage to a classic Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Will Ferrell.

“Every image needs more cowbell,” Snead said.

First ever job: In high school, Snead worked at a printing shop in his hometown of Buffalo, New York. One of the more memorable aspects of the work was melting lead and tin in order to form small, metal letters for the press.

Best advice received: When a friend told him to “look where you want to go,” it was in the context of how to avoid obstacles while riding a motorcycle. But Snead has found that adage useful elsewhere.

“That’s been a decent metaphor for navigating other tricky spots in my life and career,” Snead said.

Something most people don’t know about him: While most of his co-workers know that Snead is passionate about motorcycles – he owns six – they may not know that he’s also a record-holder.

In 2014, Snead set a national land speed record for motorcycles in the 650P-PP class while racing at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. Snead hit 95.32 miles per hour.

“It was a blast to do it,” Snead said. “A very expensive cross off the bucket list, but it was a hoot.”

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