Same Cover Different Mag

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Time and Esquire Covers

Daryl Lang over at PDNPulse catches Esquire running the same Platon shot of Obama that Time did 6 months ago (here) and asks:

We wonder how the Esquire editors failed to get an exclusive Obama portrait for their cover. Awesome type treatment notwithstanding, are they honestly satisfied making the same visual statement Time made six months ago?

Daryl let me count the ways:

1. Platon didn’t tell them it was the same cover that Time used. Probably didn’t go down this way but it’s not unusual to be told after the fact by photographer (or stock agency) that they assumed I knew. Usually someone on staff (copy editors are good at catching this stuff) will recall the previous cover as it’s going around the office in a round and we’ll have to make a last minute swap.

2. Obama’s camp didn’t give the photo department enough time or agree to their conditions for the shoot. Again, probably not the case since Esquire has pulled off it’s share of 5 minute cover shoots so it could be that there were other scheduling conflicts. Also, when you’ve done your stock research beforehand you know you’ve got to beat the best stock cover you can find so if the photographer you’ve agreed on, the time limit and location don’t lead you to think you can do it, save the $20,000 for something your audience really cares about, like getting a photographer over to cover the Burma cyclone and don’t just shoot a variation of the 5 min. cover with a different suit on.

3. The writer or fact checker asked questions that caused the PR Director to use the Cover shoot as ransom to make changes to the story. You always save the hard questions and fact checking the difficult quotes till after all the reporting is done and the cover is in the can. If you don’t they can hold the shoot as ransom to make changes. If that happened here, Granger likely told them to go to hell and so went the cover shoot.

4. Esquire had a different cover they didn’t like that much and Obama clinched the nomination as the magazine was in the final week of shipping, so they found the best stock available and grabbed a story they’d been preparing for months hoping the timeliness would make up for the obvious duplication.

5. Only PDN will notice so who gives a flying rats ass.

There Are 35 Comments On This Article.

  1. To elaborate on my comment, the wrinkles in his jacket are different. Also, the Esquire photo seems to be taken from a lower angle and he has an extra set of dimples in the Esquire photo (obviously airbrushed out on the Time cover)

  2. I don’t think they’re different. That wrinkle would have been taken out on the Time cover because it competes with the main coverline. Also, the angle might appear lower in the Esquire version because of the 3D type treatment.

  3. yep, you can tell from the angle on the lapel/collar, the shape of the distant elbow, and the highlights on the tie that they are not identical shots. The Article still makes sense, as it is talking about visual impact, and I had to squint in a side-by-side to make sure they weren’t. But… I’d put money on the fact that the two frames were taken moments apart.

  4. That photo dept is too smart to let no. 1 happen.

    Agree with number 2 plus I think the relationship between the two camps is pretty good considering they run him on the cover all most as much as they run Clooney.

    Number 3. Unless they got some real dirt this is not really an option. The Cover line is even propping him up (I haven’t picked up the issue yet so I cannot say for sure if they truly do love the guy – but they are leading me to believe so with that head)

    Option 4 – if so, ouch. Someone’s head is rolling.

    5 – Sadly, too true.

    What concerns me is that TIME’s retouching makes his suit look better (less boxy, tighter fit) Isn’t style Esquire’s bag?

    And yes David, they are the same shot.

  5. From the PDN article:

    Congrats to Platon for scoring two major, major covers with the same shoot (his archive is syndicated by CPI).

    They do say “shoot” and not “shot”.

  6. OK…beyond all things. CPI says the original was shot in January 06. Two plus years ago?

    I am leaning towards number 4 now!

  7. They are two different shots, probably taken seconds apart…

    Platon: *click* Good – now relax. *click* Great – now look a bit more to your right. *click* etc.

    Overlay the covers on top of each other and blink them (turn the top layer on and off) or turn down the opacity of the top layer, and you can see that though they are very similar, Obama is more relaxed in the Time cover. He appears to be grimacing a bit in the Esquire one, and his shoulders are tighter with his folded arms higher. His face lines up nearly perfectly, however.

    Regardless, it doesn’t really matter WRT the arguments above as they are so similar as to be identical unless you take the time to look at them in Photoshop as I did…

  8. @7…

    I agree on the suit. I think the TIME cover looks better… You’d hope that Esquire would have fixed that… it seems like elementary retouching, really. They did a nice B/W conversion tho…

    I think the drop shadow they gave him in Esquire is what in part makes it seem like it was shot from a different angle. In any event, the shots are the same. Post production can do a lot in fooling some people on these things… in which case I guess you could say they were somewhat successful……

  9. Nice one Mark. And, now I can say with confidence to my editor that “No, this photograph has never run before.”

    or sometimes I would ask a photographer if the photo had run before and the answer was “No …[long pause comparing the cost of this sale vs future sales], but something similar did run.”

  10. @11

    They look different because they tweaked it differently. Liquify and Lens Correction can create the same effect easily, and did. In a matter of seconds really… it just depends on who is doing the retouching and what their “vision” is…

  11. No, Myles, I think David and Jesse are right. Close enough to be effectively the same, but the Esquire shot is slightly lower angle and slightly further away – unless one of them did lots of strange and very subtle photoshop moves on it, which would seem odd.

    As far as Obama goes, for him its a kind of brand reinforcement.

    It has been painful watching the race from over here in the UK, I can tell you. Many people are really rooting for Barack, yet there remains a kind of doomed feeling that McCain is going to win anyway, which I think comes from us having just watched 8 years of Bush.


  12. hmmm… I dunno. They are a bit different. I’m still not overly convinced tho. Either way, Platon made some loot off the same (or very similar) image. He’s probably thanking his syndication reps in any event…

  13. john mcd.

    Good for Platon for making more money off the original shoot. If Esquire doesn’t mind running a close similar to Time’s cover that’s their business. They’re not really competitors and it’s a good picture. And while Platon may be a little on the short side, I don’t think that’s why he tends to shoot looking up at people. It’s a choice, just like his lighting, wide-angle lens use and post-production technique. I just heard him speak at the World Press Photo awards weekend in Amsterdam. He won an award for a Time cover of Putin that looks like an over-processed passport picture. The pictures from the Putin shoot which did not make the cover were, I thought, a lot more interesting. Platon is a very entertaining speaker, to say the least, though I do think it’s time for him to come up with some new tricks.

  14. anon - sorry

    there are only a handfull of portrait shoots of Obama out there.
    Time’s gotten two Obama covers out of the Platon shoot if i’m not mistaken. Then Newsweek’s Obama shoot by Nigel Parry shoot was recently used by Fast Company. Terry shot him for Vibe. There are a few more strong shoots all of which, if used would look very much like what has already ran (or just not right for Esquire). That being said, I don’t think Esquire had much of a choice considering Fast Company (w/ Nigel image) came out just last month.
    Hey Obama, you’ve got my vote, so now give us some love, man.

  15. butterbutter

    they are 2 different shots. same photo shoot.

    i’m surprised that the Time image seems retouched, and the Esquire one doesn’t. facial wrinkles, younger on the Time cover, etc….

    Seems like it would affects Time’s credibility…. it’s assumed Esquire would retouch.

    i don’t think either magazine could afford the buyout exclusivity.
    it’s a strong image. treated differently.

    still works either way. neither mag should be embarrassed.

  16. I’m with #5 on the list, but now that it’s become a big whoop-tee-do I’ll weigh in, because obviously many of us do give a flying rat’s ass for some reason.

    My money is on BOTH a different image and retouching on BOTH shots.

    Time retouches like crazy. And bad over-retouching at that. They were the ones who got nabbed altering O.J.’s mug shot.

    My guess is the images are BOTH retouched. The difference is, Esquire uses better retouchers.

    The Time image is obviously retouched. You think Barack’s suit really is that wrinkle-free with his arms crossed? The images look like they’re too close in head position to have had someone pop in between frames and de-wrinkle the suit and the snap another shot.

    And sure you CAN take the Esquire version and liquify the outlines to match the Time one, but why would Time waste their money (and their Time) to have a retoucher make those little changes. I can’t see the editors saying “OK now change the angle of his left wrist slightly, bring his shoulder down and make his butt look bigger and let’s extend his fingers on his right hand so we see just a little bit more knuckle”.

    The Esquire image is also retouched, but their editors have a better eye for what to fix while keeping the photo believable. Looks to me like they narrowed his hips to reduce the perspective of the Platon-lens, applied some curves tweaks in the conversion to B/W, removed the Platon-vignetting on the background and added a drop shadow behind his right shoulder. They probably did more, but like I said, they’re better than the Time art staff and know what to fix and what not to fix.

    I still don’t really give much of a flying rat’s ass about retouching in something like this since everyone does it anyway, but if I saw both of these on the newsstand, I’d be more likely to buy the Esquire, so I guess the publishers at both magazines should take note and staff their art departments appropriately.

  17. warmdriver

    It’s weak for any National Magazine Award winner or nominee to insult its readership pasting previously and recently published images on its cover. There are a hundred fantastic images of Obama shot every single day, and since these magazines are clearly open to retouching and silhouetting, I have to conclude that the cult of Platon’s personality — meaning the fact that his name is attached to the image as opposed to that of some basically nameless press shooter, had something to do with the choice. Great business.

    Nothing against, Platon. He’s great. For whoever suggested he needs a new trick, I say he’s a commercial photographer, and as long as his clients are buying, why would he change the recipe?

    My question is for Rob: Have you ever posted five justifications for why a photographer may have failed on an assignment, with the last disclaimer being that it’s OK since nobody cares?

    The good guys “never fail” isn’t the answer I’m looking for.

  18. @20: I couldn’t agree more and that’s all pretty much what I was thinking.

    Having some pretty amazing retouching done to our own covers, I can’t imagine spending the time and money to make the inconsequential moves on the same image that would make them the same, yet retouched differently, final product. Esquire’s image must be the next frame from the same shoot.

    And for whatever reason it happened, the Esquire cover is so much more impactful than the other that it just about doesn’t even matter. Almost.


  19. The Time cover from 6 months ago is “The Contender” and the current Esquire cover is essentially “The Winner.” Is that not the subtle difference you guys are talking about? I think they convey different things for different reasons. Talking about which one is better is missing the point.

  20. @22: C’mon, ‘driver – you think a magazine celebrating its 75th anniversary this year has become such an exceptional title by making a habit of copying a cover image of any kind?

    There’s a really interesting story behind this and I, for one, would love to know what happened and learn a thing or two in the process. This was no accident and I’d be willing to bet my ’73 F250 that David Granger did not sit there with the preview copy and the issue of Time and was all, “SHEEEEEEEEEEEEit! How come nobody SAW THIS?!? I want someone’s ASS!!”

    This was a calculated move and the options were weighed. I’d love to hear what the other ones were…


  21. Both TIME and NEWSWEEK have covers on Obama with images that aren’t from official portrait, set-up sessions this week. So maybe Team Obama has stopped sitting for cover shoots.

    Also, even if these images are from the same shoot, the TIME cover contract has been violated. When you shoot an image for the cover of TIME (and its used), you actually enter a joint copyright ownership agreement with the magazine. Which means you basically agree to never sell the image again for use on the cover of another magazine (at least in the U.S.), and you waive all reprint fees so that the magazine can reproduce their own cover without having to pay the photographer each time they do so (especially for advertising rates).

    In the past the cover contract was non-negotiable, regardless if you were just a photographer or a real artist like Andy Warhol or David Byrne (for commissioned covers, not pick-ups). Maybe that has changed.

    Regardless, I like Callie Schell’s and Charles Ommanney’s covers a lot better from this week anyway.

  22. Perhaps the real story is why Esquire and Obama’s people could not schedule a proper shoot. When I assisted, I worked with a photographer that shot for Time on a regular basis. We had many last minute jobs and jumped on a plane prepared for ten minutes with a subject. On the other hand, good for Platon for making the sale.

  23. Maybe this shows how disconnected we as photographers are from reality. Answer #5 is absolutely true. If the news stand sales are good…

    I doubt any of the readers of Esquire feel insulted (unless they’re photographers who pay way too much attention to what runs on other magazine’s covers…). I wouldn’t have ever known. Of course I don’t shoot celebrity portraits, so I couldn’t care less.

    The point is the average reader will care less than I do, and I don’t care.

  24. warmdriver


    Rob, I’m not a photo editor. But as I said, I am a fan of Platon’s work, in the right context.

    I stand by my contention that on any given day, there is something shot of Obama that could be equally graphic and compelling. If the potential president of the USA isn’t worth a major magazine — an arbiter of cultural taste and trends in its heyday — sourcing out that image and figuring out how to make it rock as a cover, that’s a sad statement indeed.

    It doesn’t take a journalist to see how the shift toward fifteen-minute celebrity-photographer sittings with celebrity-politicians has sacrificed opportunity after opportunity to create truly relevant stories that give back something beyond and in addition to surface sheen. And this from someone who loves surface sheen.

    However, when it comes to learning something about people who may very well have a significant impact on my life, the last thing I want is to have the over-sized “personality” of a fantastic commercial photographer (usually meaning his wide-angle lens or post-processing methodology) standing between me and the subject.

    So what we have here is an ok-to-really good cover, featuring a recycled photograph that tells us absolutely nothing we didn’t already know about its subject. The magazine industry is giving itself awards when it might well be exploring how it is culpable for its readership’s migration, and the erosion of its relevance in the larger discussion. It’s too easy to blame it all on technology.

    The reason this cover may be borderline-important to us — your audience, Rob — is because it sets in to relief just how outside-the-process (of life) so much of editorial photography has become. If I’m Granger/Iacoi I negotiate deals with every major primary contender’s campaign honchos — early in the game — to embed young, fresh photojournalists — not celebrities — in each organization, and leave them there until each candidate falls, or makes it to the finish line. I know in this climate that’s almost an impossibility, but I’m not sure the magazines themselves aren’t at the root of the problem. Anyway, that’s something we’d follow, and something that would actually add to the process. Again, I’m not the photo editor, but there must be three young-ones somewhere — with striking convictions and modern aesthetics that can take flight and still stand out of the way of telling a story — and their six months might not end up too much pricier than Platon’s single image re-use fee.

    Maybe it was all because of Cathy Ryan and her crew — I’m not sure. But she experimented early with juxtaposing photographers and subjects that normally wouldn’t be viewed in the same context, and to often groundbreaking results. Unfortunately her experimentation may have spawned an era of style overwhelming its own substance, and there is definitely something lost, no matter how visually compelling. Look, Ryan McGinley’s Oscar portfolio for the Times Magazine was one of the most beautiful editorials I’ve seen in a very long time — I believe it’s a keeper, and maybe a classic — but those are actors.

    And no, when Irving Penn was asked to do something similar fifty years ago — say, shoot Winston Churchill (did he?) — I’d argue that in that era — where a major photographer’s voice was more distinct and the general din was 30 decibels more quiet — the potential contribution to the “conversation” was more relevant. Plus, he was Penn.

    Life magazine contributed to the American dialogue, played a role in the fabric of our popular discourse. Things “look” better now, are more reliably dazzling, and shoots are incredibly sophisticated and the art has evolved in startling ways. Any good art director or photo editor sees Alexi Brodovitch or George Lois when he/she looks back over his/her shoulder, and I guess wants to hit it out of the park. But somehow, as techniques have evolved and budgets have eroded — and what’s left of those budgets been repositioned even more unevenly toward the feature-well superstars — the sense of discovery we associate with the photography that made us want in in the first place — that look in a subject’s eye that truly … reveals — has largely disappeared. I know there are a lot of reasons, and it isn’t remediable in any simple way, but it is sad.

    So whenever important photographic opportunities are squandered by any of the few institutions that may still have the fire-power to represent, it makes me angry, and I think it should make all of us angry.


    Yes, I agree there may be a story, and I’d be interested in hearing it. But if Esquire holds itself up to the same standards it demands from any of its first-chance front-of-the-book photographers with miniscule budgets, I am inclined to believe that this story must hinge on how the magazine dropped the ball. But if you hear something, let us know!

    p.s. I smiled when I read that you referred to me as ‘driver.

  25. butterbutter

    Yes, to whatever 30 said, but I stopped reading after the 2nd paragraph.

    Getting a shoot with Obama now is very difficult. He’s really non-stop in his campaign.

    I don’t think there was a breach of contract with Time, since they are not the same photo. Does the contract include similars from the same shoot?

  26. I don’t think that anyone will ague that the rigidity of corporate magazine making and the pressures of newsstand and advertisers is making magazines better.

    Esquire has a cover treatment they’re using so they can’t just go grab any image and stick it on the template. It doesn’t work. We can’t turn back the clock on how covers have become slick ads with a strategy for attracting consumers. If your covers don’t sell on the newsstand guess what? You’re fired.

    Esquire has a 75 year track record so charging them with hypocrisy for not adhering to the same standards they impose on the first time front of book photographers seems like quite a stretch to me.

    It’s crazy how complicated it’s gotten behind the scenes and all the people involved in the decision making so I can imagine it was much easier to be creative and take chances back in the old days or hell with a magazine like the NY Times that’s isn’t even sold on the newsstand.

  27. warmdriver

    Point taken.

    I believe it is more frustrating than ever. Day in – day out, I can appreciate why magazine staffers would choose to — or even be compelled to — work with the brand-name pros running the smoothest productions. It’s easier and frankly more fun, and whatever happens, a superstar’s name is attached to the results.

    If it wasn’t about politics — magazine politics — I still believe there had to be a way around recycling this shoot, which judging from how close or identical these frames are, was probably pretty spare to begin with.

    There; that’s a short(ish) post.

  28. Isn’t Platon one of those down to earth approachable types? I mean he teaches workshops Right?

    surely SOMEONE could get his side of the story on this one?