Posts by: A Photo Editor
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.
Keren Sachs is the Merchandising Director of Photography for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in New York City. She got her start as a Photo Editor at National Geographic Kids spent time at the Wall Street Journal and then as an Art Director at Corbis where she refined the more commercial aspect of Photo Editing that she utilizes today.
Keren oversees the photography for all the merchandise at Martha Stewart where all advertising, packaging and marketing is done internally for their 17 selling partners. She produces all aspects of the photo shoots and hires a wide range of photographers to shoot everything from food, wine, bedding, lighting to glassware. She retains long standing relationships with a number of photographers and tries to balance that by seeking out fresh talent as the opportunities present themselves. The company maintains 5 studios in the office and she’s able to spend time on set with all photographers and shoots throughout the day.
I had a few questions for her but I would encourage anyone else who wants to ask something to drop a question in the comments and we’ll try and get it answered.
Tell me about the shooting all the merchandise for Martha Stewart Living. How many photographers do you hire and how many products are you shooting and how many shoots take place each month?
This month we have 6 shoots for over 200 different products. I hire freelance photographers for all of our work. Currently, we have 18 partners so there is a great mix from Home Décor to Food and Wine to Crafts, Flowers, Home Goods and Textiles.
How do photographers get on your radar? What are your sources for finding photographers and then what’s the process for hiring them?
Agents update me on their new photographers or the new work from people I already know. I also do research and spend time on agency and photographers’ sites. Once I find a photographer I will call in a hard copy portfolio if I haven’t seen it already. I bring the books to meetings to discuss photographers with our creative team. I can’t do this the same way with a website. However, one thing I keep noticing with portfolios is that most photographers only put their favorite work in their book—a book of lifestyle images shot outside in a field isn’t going to help you land a job shooting interiors or still life here. The best way to get on my radar is to show me work that is relevant to the work we do. If it is not in the book, I can’t get our creative team on board.
These days I don’t get as many self promo cards as I used to. However a fantastic promo by James Tse introduced me to his work and I just hired him to shoot packaging for our line of food at Costco. I also attend portfolio reviews and events where I can meet with agents and learn about other photographers. I find article’s like PDN’s Who’s Shooting What helpful as well.
We have a core group of photographers who have been with the company for many years and do great work in both editorial and merchandising. Victor Schrager recently shot packaging for our Martha Stewart Collection at Macy’s. He also shot our Martha Stewart’s Cookies Book.
Do you find that shooting products over and over again can become tedious and if so how do you combat that?
The products we shoot are different every season and for every partner. We also have a diverse and talented group of art directors and stylists working on each shoot. Our products tell a story and inspire the consumer. While we do not want the consumer to see the same image over and over again, we do want them to see an image and know that it is quintessentially Martha Stewart.
There’s a fairly well established aesthetic to the Martha Stewart brand so is it possible to introduce new styles of photography?
There is a way to modernize our photography and make it fresh while still keeping true to our look and feel that people associate with the brand. You’ll notice this in our Self Portrait advertisement campaign shot by both Eric Piasecki and Sang An.
I think the value of product photography goes up as buying decisions go to the web because photography is all you have to grab consumers. Has that become a factor yet in the photographers you hire?
Definitely. Our photography a key aspect of our brand online and in print. However, our products must still remain hero while we build brand equity in our merchandise lines. The images have to be strong enough to instantly grab the consumers and make them stop before clicking through to something else. One way we increase the value is by making sure the imagery is lit beautifully and with purpose. You’ll notice this in the photography for our new line at 1-800-flowers.com shot by Travis Rathbone. Too many times I have seen images with beautiful lighting but the product is in shadow. That doesn’t help us sell products and it certainly doesn’t work on the web.
Orphan Works Act of 2008 (Introduced in House)
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the `Orphan Works Act of 2008′.
Hey, it Looks like Sheila Metzner’s got a new website (here) as well, complete with music and slideshows (Caution: If you’re at work make sure the volume is down) so I think it’s safe to say we have a genuine trend here (ok, maybe it started a year ago, I haven’t been keeping up with Sheila and Albert).
It think this is partially about building a fan base and mostly about taking control of your content. All the legendary photographers have content floating around the internet and there needs to be a place to link everything back. Also, when consumers run into your work somewhere and google you to find out more, there should be a place they can go to see more work and other stuff like buying books or getting a lecture schedule or watching a video interview (you can do whatever, once you’ve got the google juice). Let’s hope the trend continues.
Thanks for the tip Robert Wright.
Albert Watson has a new website (here) at least I think it’s fairly new, last time I checked was a year ago when I tried to hire him and felt like a fool for leaving urgent messages for a very last minute cover, then of course when I finally got his wife on the phone he’s in Europe for a month and booked on jobs as far as the eye can see. Nevertheless Jodi @ RS told me he’s an incredible sweet-heart and still works harder then an art school grad on their first assignment so I thought what the hell I’ll see if he’s up for it. The first portfolio on the website has 186 images in it. Not recommended that any art school grads try and pull that off.
and law making in general over at Photo Business News and Forum (here).
I was planning on spending some time looking at the Orphan Works Bill eventually but it appears that I may have missed the boat. Here’s a notice I received this morning:
UPDATE: It appears that the ASMP and PPA are in favor of the bill. Here’s a quote from an email I just received “Making a decision to support any Orphan Works Bill isn’t easy. However, both PPA and ASMP, the only two organizations representing photographers that have actively participated in these discussions, have determined that opposing the proposed House bill would place photographers at greater risk. We believe that supporting the House bill will prevent us from ending up with a law that is far worse.” Visit the ASMP (here).
Here’s the email from the APA:
BREAKING NEWS, May 7, 2008 – The House is meeting today 2:00 p.m. Wednesday, May 7, 2008, 2141 Rayburn House Office Building markup of H.R. 5889, the “Orphan Works Act of 2008”
This means that if you oppose the House Bill as it stands, it is extremely important to make your voice heard before that meeting begins.
At this time, it is understood that the House believes that photographers and other visual artists including their trade associations are in agreement with the current bills. APA opposes both the House and Senate bills as written.
Please take a moment to be heard via a prepared letter of your choice, or by including your own reasoned thoughts in a professional courteous manner.
This link (here) will allow you to be heard.
Scroll down about half way to see “For Photographers”.
It is important to be heard. It is your future.
ORPHAN WORKS LEGISLATION IS BACK!
APA’s Position on the Orphan Works Act of 2008
From the onset, APA has been actively engaged in the effort to help solve the orphan works dilemma. We made public our support for the crafting of an amendment that would permit use of verified, i.e. true, orphaned works for certain uses, by way of procedures that are clearly defined in the statute or regulations, while retaining remedies for use by copyright owners in the event of abuse.
APA, in seeking to represent the best interests of its members, takes the position that the legislation offered in both bills — S.2913 and H.R.5889 — does not achieve the goal as we believe was originally intended, and instead provides a distinct road map for the infringement of contemporary works by living artists worldwide. If left unchanged, this legislation has the potential to destroy the businesses and livelihoods of thousands of photographers, other visual artists, as well as the collateral small businesses that serve the industry, and are dependent on, creators.
Therefore, APA is asking its members and all concerned individuals to take action by writing your members of Congress to voice your concerns. PLEASE go to this resource page on Orphan Works for sample letters (scroll down for the photographers’ letters) and the ability to automatically contact your specific members of Congress. Great thanks to the Illustrators’ Partnership for making this site available.
The full text of is available as a pdf download (here).
And both the House and Senate versions of the bill are available as pdf downloads on the APANational.com homepage here
Be informed. Be involved.
APA National CEO
APA National President
Not me personally so let me explain.
The National Magazine Awards were last Thursday (here) and the big winners for photography were Gourmet (overall photography), National Geographic (photojournalism) and Vanity Fair (photo essay). I’ll also include Wired who won for design in this group of Ellie (the statue) bastard children because you see the National Magazine Awards are put on by the American Society of Magazine Editors. Yeah, Editors. Up until 2004 there was only one award for photography and then I guess they decided the photography might have something to do with the success of magazines and added photo essay and then photojournalism last year. It’s their award so I guess they can do whatever the hell they want. The only thing I find obnoxious is the editor going up on stage to collect the awards for design and photography.
Now, this Friday we have the SPD awards given by the Society of Publication Designers (here). Yeah, Designers. This is another gala affair where the winners are announced and in the categories where photography is concerned the Creative Director or Design Director will go up on stage and collect the award for you. Not as bad since we work closely with the design department and certainly their contribution to the layout of the photography makes a huge difference. But, if you think photography not surrounded by great design and typography will win an award, think again.
What I should be writing about today is the award ceremony tomorrow night (in between the two so, the Wired photo eds can spend the week in NYC) put on by some society of picture editors where nominations were made and envelopes will be opened announcing the winners of the best covers, portraits, still-lives, photojournalism, fashion, fine art and lifestyle that magazines published last year.
I know we’ve got the PDN Photo Annual and the American Photography book but I’ll be honest with you, I’ve sent a few all staff announcements about landing photography in those books and it’s just not as impressive as WINNING something (“we were selected”). There’s also the Lucie awards but I’m pretty sure that’s just photography in general and more along the lines of lifetime achievement, judging from the ages of the recipients.
So, here’s why I have such an enormous problem with the lack of awards for magazine photography. Awards actually make magazines better. It balances out the commercial pressures and gives you extra incentive to do things you wouldn’t normally do. These awards are incredible resume builders for photo editors and marketing tools for publishers. I’ve put my neck on the line a number of times because I knew the results would not only be great but also might bring in an award or two. An award for Photo Editing would also reinforce what we already know, “the success of certain magazines with advertisers and consumers is directly tied to the quality of the photography.” The CFO needs to know that.
Patry Copyright Blog points us to this 67 1/2 page treatise on The Happy Birthday Song:
“‘Happy Birthday to You’ is the best-known and most frequently sung song in the world. …However, it is almost certainly no longer under copyright, due to a lack of evidence about who wrote the words; defective copyright notice; and a failure to file a proper renewal application.”
“It also reveals collective action barriers to mounting challenges to copyright validity: the song generates an estimated $2 million per year, and yet no one has ever sought adjudication of the validity of its copyright.”
Read all of it (here).
Steve Frye. In a sidebar in the current issue of Publishing Executive titled The State of the Printing Industry Frye drops this bomb:
I think we need to change our philosophy of what a magazine is. We are no longer a cheap means of dispensing information, and that’s what we were until the Internet came along. Now we are an inefficient and expensive means of distributing information. … We need to reinvent ourselves as a luxury item that people want and are willing to pay for. And until we change our own image of who we are, we’re going to find out that our vendors are gong to change it for us. Because, right now, postage is a premium. Paper is a premium. Soon printing will be a premium. How long can we buy at a premium and sell at a discount? We can’t.
Via, Michael Turro (here).
In general pitching stories, that aren’t photo essays, to the Photo Editor is not a bad idea. Everyone on staff at a magazine can contribute to the line-up so the Photo Editor can get something made if they’re in the mood to take it to the right people and make sure something gets done about it.
Here’s a little hint though: The absolute fastest way for photographers to get a story made is to approach a writer that the magazine uses on a regular basis (don’t ask front of book writers if you’re pitching a feature story for chrissake’s) and if they’re interested in your idea ask them to pitch their editor. You’d be surprised how many good writers are looking for good ideas. I’m assuming your idea doesn’t suck, not always the easiest for people to determine on their own.
Let me just repeat something that’s very important here, find a writer that the magazine already uses or would be interested in using. There is no better way to kill a good story idea you may have than to attach a writer nobody wants in the magazine. You’d also be surprised how often this happens.
Now, if you want to go through the Photo Editor there are three ways this can shake out, in order of effectiveness:
1. The Photo Editor passes along your email to the appropriate department head and lets them respond if they want to.
2. The PE will follow up with the section or features editor to see if there’s interest and act as a go between with the photographer.
3. The PE will help craft the pitch and take it directly to the Editor or pitch meeting and try to get a green light for the idea. Depending on the magazine, if there’s interest in the story it will usually get sent back for clarification on certain points the Editor is concerned with or a writer who the magazine likes working with will be sought before a green light is given. This is the deadly yellow light and can cause stories to hang in limbo for months or even years.
It can really add to your workload as a Photo Editor to start pitching story ideas but it’s also extremely gratifying to see something go from a pitch to printed pages and I’ve alway found it to be some of my most memorable work.
I consider myself a pretty good stock researcher. Mostly because I’ve done so much of it and partially because I like doing it (exceptions here and here). This is what I think makes someone good at stock research: The ability to identify great images as thumbnails, a massive list of agencies to search (here’s mine), persistence and keyword zen.
Keyword zen is the most important part.
The majority of searches begin with a laundry list of different places and things and people and events and activities that I need to find images for. To make it easier I break that down into a list of keywords I want to search, so knowing what makes a good keyword is critical.
Ok, this is the least helpful part of this post: I don’t really know how to explain what makes a good keyword, because it’s like talking wookie, it’s a special stock researcher language all it’s own and until you get in there and do it for a bit and experiment you can’t possible know the structure of a good keyword sentence.
Ok, this might be helpful: A good trick I’ve learned is to just drop in and browse (I call this trolling… as in trolling for sharks) with a couple keywords then when you find an photo you like, check and see what keywords they’re using and use those to head down that path to see where it leads. Another technique I use is to start with the most constrictive set of keywords first (zero hits is the goal) and then start backing out till the results are too much then head back in to the sweet spot and do a search.
The weirdest trick I’ve ever discovered was several years ago when I was looking for a photo that I swear didn’t exist (at least in any semi-publishable form) and was getting nowhere fast so I decided to try misspelling the words. It was like unlocking a secret door and discovering a room full or abandoned pictures, gathering dust, just sitting there waiting to be discovered wondering why nobody ever visits. At 11pm in an empty office in the middle of midtown Manhattan it’s feels like you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole.
Heather Morton made a cool video about a photography project Derek Shapton is working on (here).
125 blank pages of edit with an additional 85 pages of ads (yeah, it’s a dream but we still gotta turn a profit).
A line-up with a wide mix of interesting subjects to assign: far away places, inspiring people, beautiful objects, crazy ideas, elite sport, humor, conflict, mystery.
Complete autonomy with the selection of photographers and final images.
An unlimited budget to get it done (not because I want to spend stacks of cash just because I don’t want to think about the budget when it comes to approach on a subject).
I’ll shoot everything except events, action and landscapes. I like to use pick-up for action and landscape because they’re so condition and weather dependent, but I’ll shoot it if there’s nothing available that I like.
Working as a Photography Director means the decisions about who I hire will be heavily influenced by 3 important groups of people (since I have autonomy from co-workers in this dream): the competition, the audience and the advertisers. Thinking about this bigger picture and articulating to everyone how our photography serves those groups is a big part of my job.
When I look at the competition the first thing I always do is identify their core group of photographers and try to stay away from hiring within that group. If I want to bump someone out of their group I can hire them on a regular basis and usually the competition will stop using them (that is unless they don’t consider my magazine competition). I’ll also think about their overall use of photography and come up with way to differentiate what we’re offering the advertisers and audience. If they use heavy lighting and conceptual images to get ideas across I’ll try for more available light and real subjects as a marked contrast when we cover the same subject. This is even more important on the newsstand where I firmly believe in hiring a couple photographers to shoot all the covers to create a distinct style that readers can pick-up on month after month.
I have a couple goals when it comes to hiring photographers with the advertisers in mind. First, create an environment where they want to be seen. This can involve hiring photographers out of the same pool of talent they draw from and when possible, using those photographers in a way, because of client constraints, they can’t. Next, I feel it’s important to challenge the aesthetics of the advertisers in some of the shoots you commission. If advertisers wanted to hang out with a bunch of sycophants they would just make their own magazine. Including challenging or controversial photography in the mix ensures that advertisers understand you know your audience better than they do and you’re willing to do things they wouldn’t to reach them.
The number one goal with the audience is to present a range of photography styles that will keep them engaged, entertained, challenged and provide fresh entry points into the stories. I think it’s a huge mistake to do to much of any one style of photography so keeping the mix lively is a priority for me. For the average reader presenting challenging imagery over and over turns reading your magazine into homework and needs to be balanced out with pictures that entertain and surprise.
Now, keeping all those factors in mind I can begin to make assignments for the issue. The story mix is never ideal so pieces that would normally have a similar approach running in the same issue need divergent styles from within a genre to avoid repetition.
So, there you have it, the brass ring that photo editors everywhere reach for every month, the perfect mix. Throw in budgetary constraints. overbearing owner, a late breaking assignment, stories suddenly dropping out or any number of curve balls and you’ve got a real mess to figure out. The amazing thing is that I’ve come close to grabbing that ring several times in my career. It always keeps you coming back for more.