Posts by: A Photo Editor

Pay to Play

- - Getting Noticed

A reader asked me about those cutting edge fashion magazines that require photographers to cover their own expenses and if I really think the magazine is too poor to pay for it themselves. I’m going to need a little help from my readers who’ve worked at one of these magazines (on the inside) to get the straight dope, but I’d say like many things in this industry, it’s the way it’s always been done so people just keep doing it that way. These magazines serve as sourcebooks for the fashion industry so I can see why the competition is so cutthroat and why photographers would shoot something for a loss, the potential upside of landing a major fashion advertising campaign can make you loco. It’s not unlike taking out an ad or spending money on marketing, so as long as it’s an effective way to reach potential clients then it’s worth it.

I also wanted to address the question of photography contests which, I’ll just say right now to make it perfectly clear, all photo editors and art buyers use contests to find photographers and in many ways they’re better then the paid advertising in sourcebooks because you can’t just buy an ad to get in, you have to be selected, so that means the junk is usually weeded out. Plus, I always made the magazine pay for the books so it’s no skin off my back to have one hanging around to flip through once and awhile.

What really pisses people off is they’re not fair. Well, they’re not supposed to be fair. They’re supposed to reflect the taste of whomever is on the judging panel and the point of view of the publication that created it. Also, I think the entry fees bother people (PDN 30 doesn’t have an entry fee FYI) because sometimes it seems like a dummy tax where first time entrants with no hope of getting selected make these things profitable or maybe photographers who don’t fit with the judges aesthetic submit every year but never get selected. You simply can’t do this without an entry fee otherwise everyone and their uncle would submit and it also keeps the dart throwing to a minimum forcing photographers to make a decision and choose their best work and not make the judges do the edit for them.

I use American Photography (here) and SPD (here) to get inspired and see who’s hot and when we’re stuck we usually thumb through them to discover a new approach or a new way of thinking about the assignment we have to make “hey, we don’t have to send Chris Buck to Kansas for several weeks to dig up all the characters in this story, instead let’s get this guy here in American Photography to build a miniature set and make all these funny scenes the writer describes.”

Lastly, I use PDN to find people I’ve never heard of, because well, they always seem to publish people I’ve never heard of. Sure, I think they’re biased in some areas but it’s a magazine and like any good magazine it’s a reflection of the people working there not a reflection of what they think other people will think about them. They also have real pressures from Publishers, Circulation Directors and CFO’s to keep everything running smoothly. I think you will find that publishing 30 new photographers every year that appeal to both mainstream buyers and all your photographer readers is more difficult than it sounds.

Update from inside a small cutting edge fashion magazine:

“While we do generally try to offer some money to our photographers to cover expenses, we have an incredibly minuscule operating budget; I’ve turned in issues where our total photography budget turns out to be less than the usual photo budget per page of larger magazines. This is, in fact, a matter of necessity; we just don’t have that much money to work with so there’s not much room to accommodate huge production costs. Usually our photographers do end up shooting at some cost to themselves, even though we cover film, assistants, food, and the rest as best as we can.

I’d say that the reasons for doing so are two-fold: First, as you said, it’s like taking an ad out for yourself. We’ve taken a chance on young photographers who have then gone on to win top awards for us. They’ve ended up shooting at much larger magazines and for huge advertising
clients. But that doesn’t explain the fact the we continue to draw on those same photographers who are making it and don’t “need” us anymore.

There’s a second aspect, at least to our magazine, that usually accounts for the willingness of photographers to shoot for free. What I generally offer to photographers that I trust is an opportunity to work out somewhat off the wall, non-traditional ideas that might not fit into a more mainstream editorial project. We can serve as a playground for great concepts, adventurous fashion and still-life, and cutting-edge photography. While the downside is that some of the chances I’ve taken end up tanking, the potential rewards–non-monetary as they might be–are pretty great. In other words: no gray background fashion stories.”

Interview with a *Big Shot* Art Buyer

I like to think the discussions we have here about photography and the advice that’s dispensed is fairly universal but I know many of you are thinking “this doesn’t really apply in the advertising market and that’s where I really need to be, because this editorial shit is for the birds.”

Since I’ve never worked on the advertising side of this industry I called up a friend and offered her anonymity if she would speak honestly with me about that side of the business. You’ll have to trust me that this is a good source and I’ll go so far as to say, if you can imagine the biggest advertising agency in the country and the biggest “named” photographers then that’s where she’s worked and who she’s worked with.

[Side note on anonymity: Most corporate employees have to sign an employee handbook when they get hired that forbids giving away company secrets and in general publishing anything that has to do with the company online. They can use any evidence they find that you’ve done something like this to void contracts and avoid paying severance if you’re ever fired.]

I’m always telling photographers not to worry about the design of the promo, portfolio and website and just make it about the photographs because in the end it’s never going to have an effect on you getting hired to shoot a job. I think many of them take it with a grain of salt because they believe that this kind of stuff really helps landing the advertising jobs. Since I’ve never worked in advertising I have no idea if it does or doesn’t but now you can tell us.

Their photos are what’s most important, and then the “presentation” of their photographs. I can expand here, like I like to see one photo per page if it’s their “print” book (i.e, real prints). Otherwise, seeing an editorial spread is acceptable as long as they like the design. If they don’t, then they should just put a print in the book. Their website MUST be designed well, and this is very important for several reasons. One being, it represents their taste level, two, I want to see large images…not a lot of anything else, and three, the site has to be built well to move quickly around it… all very important. It’s how we source and present photographers to creatives (art directors, stylists, clients, etc.) It’s just like anything else these days, how often do you find yourself on line for anything? So, in my opinion, very important.

I think you’re saying with regards to websites, functionality is most important and design should be of a certain taste level.

Yes, that’s what I’m saying…functionality, designed tastefully, Mainly all about the photos.

With printed portfolios do you care if the case is unique or is the plain black fine? I have to ask because photographers always seem to want the physical portfolio to be unique. I don’t know why.

Love Black books…sometimes it’s appropriate to be different, rustic leather Brown if the photographer is let’s say someone like a Kurt Markus, or if it’s a quirky book, maybe white gloss bound leather, you know? But nothing more than that…it’s annoying when the cases are an ugly color. If it’s a good book and I want to work with the photographer, I’ll know where the book is….

How often do you use magazines to source talent? Does the “old saw” about photographers using cheap-ass editorial to promote themselves and land high paying advertising jobs to make a living fall flat these days?

It’s imperative for photographers to always shoot editorially. This is self promotion, because it’s more spontaneous and they can create images without all of the layers in the ad world. There’s less collaboration and more creativeness from the photographer. It’s a fine line…if a photographer only shoots advertising, then they become too commercial…if they continually shoot editorial and ad jobs, it’s a perfect balance. Magazines are where everyone (in editorial and advertising) sources photography. It’s the imagery that’s most current and creative.

Do you prefer working with photographers who have an agent? There must be more benefits to going with an agency in advertising then editorial where I think it matters less.

I probably prefer working with an agent because the agent is not as close to the image making process so it can be less offensive discussing fees with an agent then with the photographer. As far as the difference between editorial and advertising, there should be none, except we all know that ad jobs pay more, so the agents will get involved more, because there’s money to be made.

What’s the promo volume like at the agency? It must be twice that of editorial. 100’s a week?

100 a week? 100 a day!

100 a day! what do you do with all of them?

Throw them out. If I like the work, and the link is on the promo, I’ll bookmark the site…but I don’t keep anything.

What about email promos? Does the spam from the list services bother you?

Yes, and no. There’s less paper promos, more e-mails. I think they should never send on a Monday, maybe mid week, mid day.

Is it helpful if photographers target you based on campaigns you’ve done recently?

Sure, but we never really know what the concept is next…maybe they should target by brand, like technology vs. beauty vs. cars, etc.

I think photographers get disappointed with the idea that you need to see something close to what you’re trying to shoot in their book before giving them a big assignment but I find it difficult to redirect people away from their established style and I disagree with the idea that a good photographers can shoot anything. What are your thoughts?

A good photographer has their own style and can’t shoot anything. Nor should they want to…because they’re so good at whatever it is that they’ve focused on, that they’re not shooting everything. Take any great legendary photographer, they didn’t shoot everything, they had a particular style, focus, interest, and then made it their own. When you look at these photos, that’s how you know it’s theirs and not anyone else. Photographers reading this should ask themselves “are they passionate about what they’re shooting and do they recognize the difference of their own work compared to someone else?”

Do you think the printed portfolio will ever go away?

I hope not, it’s like a hard cover book. They can’t go away. Prints are beautiful, computer screens are not (They look good…), But there’s still something fine art-ish, museum quality about a print, or print book.

Do you use sourcebooks?

Source books are really helpful to brainstorm….if you can’t remember “that” photographer’s name that you saw or you just feel like you haven’t nailed calling in the right book….they’re really helpful, because it’s like a reminder of who’s out there. I use the source books not only for the actual photography, but just to scan agents names and who they represent. Then I know I’ve called in everyone appropriate for the job, not leaving anyone out.

What do you think about contests like PDN, American Photography, SPD, CA? Are they helpful for finding photographers?

I think these are great and I think they’re getting better. American Photography and CA are my favorites. They can help source….they’re just great as a reminder.

How influential is the client in selecting the photographer for a campaign?

We narrow down and suggest (usually three). At the end of the day, we want them to decide because they’re paying and take responsibility of their choices.

How important is photo-compositing in advertising photography and do you hire photographers who shoot everything “in camera” to work on campaigns that will need load of retouching? Why is there so much retouching going on?

You should ask a photographer this question….they are the ones that are becoming less of a photographer, and more of a computer tech person. I don’t think it’s because the client has asked for this… regarding retouching…it’s obvious….cleaner, prettier, more perfect…sells.

Can you cite any recent advertising photography that you think is brilliant? What are the recent trends in advertising photography?

Brilliant, no. There’s not a lot of brilliant going on unfortunately. Our clients are so involved that the images have become so watered down that there’s no clear direction. We are not allowing for the artist to create our vision. Regarding trends, it’s pretty flat right now. Not a lot of risk taking, may have to do with our current economy. Just a lot of mediocre images.

My readers have been critical of editorial photography directors for hiring from a narrow band of photographers and styles of photography and suggest that if we would somehow remove our blinders we would see all this great work that we’re not utilizing. Is there any merit to a similar argument in advertising photography?

Yes, but honestly, if you’re really hiring the right photographer for the job, that’s what’s so exciting, it’s just right. It doesn’t matter if they are a living legend or a new young gun… they’re just right creatively. Ideally, that’s how I present to the people I need to present to. Otherwise, I will ask what the criteria is from the beginning. Whether budgets, name, style…all things can be considered.

Any ideas on how licensing photos for the web is going to play out? Is it really going to make up for the lost revenue from licensing for print?

Lost revenue? I sense some bitterness. Yes, the internet has changed media buys. It’s become it’s own media, which will allow for similar fees.

Contact Info for Every Media Company in the World

- - Getting Hired

Can be found at (here)… someday… maybe. For now it’s got contacts for a handful of magazines, but since it’s a wiki anybody can add and make changes so eventually it really could contain all the contact info, book drop information, submission guidelines and anything else that might be useful to photographers for every media company in the world.

With this project I have that feeling I use to get when I made an assignment that could either be brilliant or get me fired (love that feeling) and so I want to quickly dispel any thoughts that this could somehow be a bad thing.

First, everyone’s contact info is already available from listing services for a price so I don’t think you have to worry about getting more spam. People already pay good money to do that.

Second, I think photographers might be worried that by giving away contact info for a client some other photographer will come in and steal a job from them. See the first point.

Lastly, as a Photography Director I would thrilled by the idea that I could tell everyone at once when to drop books, who else to contact in my department for specific things and in general lay down the law on how I want to be reached for work. Wouldn’t you?

Doesn’t that sound like a better way to do business?

I think so and I hope people will use it in the spirit that it’s given, let’s see what happens.

Magazines Will Change How They Measure Their Audience for Advertisers

- - Blog News

“The Magazine Publishers of America will propose new metrics designed to convert buyers over the next couple of years to an audience-based model from one based on circulation.”

“…yardstick to measure reader exposure to magazines on an issue-specific basis, broken out by key demographics like age, gender and income; issue-specific engagement with ads based on recall of specific ads; and self-reported consumer purchase intent and action taken as a result of an ad.”

Via, MediaWeek (here).

Jennifer Rocholl- PDN 30

- - Photographers

I emailed Jennifer Rocholl after a few readers raised questions about the similarity between an image of hers and an entire body of work by Jan Von Holleben (here). I actually saw the photo in question in her portfolio several months ago and didn’t give it a second thought because honestly it’s not unusual to see similar work and ideas in photographers portfolios. A former first assistant’s work is actually expected to be very close to their bosses. Not a problem in my mind and even more so when it’s the only image like it in the portfolio.

It really only becomes a problem when you win an award or some kind of recognition and that image is published to represent you as a photographer. That’s exactly what happened with Jennifer and from what she tells me PDN was unaware of Jan’s work as well, when they made the selection.


Tell me about the picture in question.

I shot that picture last May as a portrait of 2 clothing designers called Brown Sound, for Flaunt Magazine. It was a collaborative idea between the 3 of us, and developed that afternoon as we were coming up with ideas.

I was unaware of Jan’s work until last week when he emailed me and I saw his “dreams of flying” series on his site.

So, Jan emailed you after seeing it, what was his reaction?

He asked why I chose that particular image to represent my photography. Actually, PDN selected it out of my portfolio submission. I said I was sorry if he felt I copied his work, but that was not the case as I had not been familiar with him as a photographer or his series. And actually, if I was at all influenced by any images, they would be this fashion story Zach Scott did in 2002 for Los Angeles Magazine:


and this shot of charles and ray eames:


If you develop an idea that’s similar to another photographer’s do you think you should abandon it once you discover the similarities?

If I stopped what I was doing every time I thought I was emulating a form of someone else’s work, I wouldn’t get anything done. Would any photographer, at this point in photo history? Can you imagine if after Avedon, no one ever dared to shoot a subject in front of a white background? Or after Halsman shot his collection of celebrities jumping in the air, jumping was off limits to any other photographer? What if Tom Waits stopped doing his thing when people told him he sounded too much like Captain Beefheart? When I take a picture of the forced perspective illusion of someone standing in the palm of another person’s hand, does this now mean that I’ve monopolized this trick and I’m known as the “forced perspective photographer that shoots people holding tiny people”?

Ultimately, I think there’s a thousand more variables that make up a photographer’s consistent body of work and gets him/her jobs, besides an optical illusion gimmick. I think Jan’s a genius at what he does, the collection of these images is really beautiful and creative, but I don’t think my work and his compete aesthetically or stylistically. He and I have discussed our positions to each other and are both fine with it.

Off topic here but did anyone call and give you a job after seeing the PDN 30? I think that’s the reaction photographers would expect after being featured like that.

No jobs yet.

Ansel Adams Prints at Auction

- - Blog News

On April 11 Christie’s is scheduled to sell about 200 silver-gelatin Ansel Adams prints from a corporate collection in California. It is among the largest Adams collections in private hands.

Via NYTimes (here).

Ass in Seat Mentality

- - Working

I find the corporate workaholic mentality of, the longer you spend at your desk the better the product will become, utterly ridiculous and literally, ass-in-seat. The best ideas I ever came up with occurred on a morning run in the park in Connecticut not sitting in my office on 6th avenue or any office anywhere for that matter.

Jason Calacanis CEO of Mahalo started a raging debate over in the tech world with a line in a post about how to save money running a startup (here) that said “fire people who are not workaholics…” since revised to “don’t love their work.” He proceeded to get a good shredding from tech bloggers and my favorite response came frrom Signal vs. Noise (here) entitled “Fire the people who are workaholics!”

If your start-up can only succeed by being a sweatshop, your idea is simply not good enough. Go back to the drawing board and come up with something better that can be implemented by whole people, not cogs.

The business world is changing and it’s becoming harder and harder to find talented cogs. Corporations need a business plan that attracts whole people if they want to be around in 10 years. Well, that is unless you’re making cogs… cogs are still good for that.

Seamus Murphy

- - Photographers

One of my all time favorite photographers has no agent, no website, doesn’t send out promo mailers, no logo, isn’t in any of the sourcebooks, not listed in the free workbook phonebook, has never called to see if I’ve got anything for him and if I hadn’t scoured the web and made a few phone calls years ago I would have no clue how to contact him (you have to email me if you want his info).

Sometimes I get tired of talking about marketing and business because the reality is I really just like looking at pictures and I get a real buzz out of sending photographers off to take pictures and wish I didn’t have to deal with any of the other shit and I know photographers just want to take pictures so I thought I’d take this opportunity to say that if you want to be like Seamus Murphy and work hard to develop your craft then go do it.

A reader points out: …”Yours is probably the most helpful blog I have ever come across, however your insights make the whole industry sound so strategic. Your blog makes it sound as if us photographers all have to be walking on egg shells so as not to step on any toes. Hey! We’re the ones producing the actual pictures!”

Yeah, I hear ya buddy. There’s something I really enjoy about photographers who could give a flying rats ass about marketing themselves to me.

If you want to just go out take great pictures, I will find YOU. That’s my job. That’s why photo editors exist. If it were easy the editor could do it.





Art Buyer Blog

- - Blog News

’bout time. Heather Morton who hails from Toronto and claims the lonely title of the only *Freelance* Art Buyer in Canada has a much needed addition to the photo blog world (here). As a bonus she’s got a follow up interview with Clay Stang about the consultation we did here.

Your Website on the iPhone

- - Websites

Apple announced yesterday that the iphone will not support flash (here).

A reader asked me awhile back about optimizing websites for the iPhone which I immediately dismissed as ridiculous and then, what do you know, I was out of the office later that day and tried to access a photographers contact info by going to their website on my palm phone because I didn’t have it in my database and couldn’t do it because of the flash so I thought ok, maybe there’s something to this.

In the larger scheme of things nobody will ever receive or lose a job based on the ability of their portfolio to render on a palm phone or iphone but more and more I find myself using google as a phone book instead of carefully entering photographers contact info into my database like I used to do.

It looks like a company called MoFuse (here), (TechCrunch report here) has a free and paid solution to the problem I’m just not sure how well it works with image galleries.

The PDN 30

PDN just announced their annual 30 photographers list (here) which always proves to be a valuable resource for photo editors looking for new talent or to validate someone they’re interested in working with. Unlike the other juried competitions this one is unique because PDN seems to make a real effort to introduce (drive) new talent into the system. I’ve personally used it to cherry pick photographers when the list comes out or to go back over several years worth when seeking some inspiration after getting bored with my own list.

It’s interesting to note in the editors letter that all the selections were made online this year which makes me wonder if printed portfolios are finally starting to fall out of favor.

They have a free event in conjunction with the publication of the list March 10th from 6:30-9 at Parsons with a panel discussion featuring 4 of the 30 photographers, Amy Lundeen, Photo Editor at Budget Travel and Fiona McDonagh, Photo Director at Entertainment Weekly (details here).


Turning Down Jobs

- - Getting Hired

Turning down jobs is one of the smartest things you can do for your photography career.

A reader writes:

“For me it’s been really instrumental in the last couple of years to take shoots that I really think I can knock out of the park, and shoots that feel like I am a good match for to get something great. Also, I make it a point to never go backwards or stay stagnant at a magazine for too long. If I do a small front-of-the-book portrait as a first job or two, and do a great job and they call for more, I usually try not to take it. I try to let them know that I would be good for their bigger shoots, and it’s worked out well that way, working my way up to covers in some cases.

In other cases, I was definitely stuck in a quarter pager mode, and was looking for the bigger front of the book portraits. Turned down the little jobs and never got offered the bigger. Which is a risk I was willing to take to try to get the better stuff. I figure sometimes it’s good to leave a magazine and come back to them with a stronger body of work later.”

He’s not talking about turning down bad money or contracts either just jobs that don’t jive with your career goals.

When you’ve established a relationship with someone shooting small front of book or crappy subjects that no one else wants it’s impossible to graduate them to the big features, fashion or the cover. Try convincing an editor that the photographer who shoots 1/4 pages in the front of the book should shoot this months cover. It ain’t happening.

Also, when I see someone’s work in another magazine that I don’t like, it can take them down a notch on my list. They may have done the job as a favor but I never know the details or difficulties behind the shoot.

So, what’s the best way to turn down jobs? Don’t be the photographer who says “I only shoot fashion or covers” because that’s not going to get you a call back to shoot fashion or covers. The usual method is to be busy during the shoot days and that’s why good agents will never tell you their photographer’s schedule before they hear the job details.

As a Photo Editor it’s important to have a couple photographers who will “shoot anything, anywhere and anytime” because you can always rely on them to get the job done but for most people this is not the way to advance your career.

I’ve had almost all my favorite photographers turn me down cold at one time or another and even though it stings for a couple days in the end I respect them more for not compromising their vision. Some shoots are just never worth taking no matter how much you need the job because if the the results are bad we may not be working together anymore anyways.

Annie Leibovitz and the Queen

Here’s a fascinating video of Annie Leibovitz photographing the Queen from a BBC series entitled Monarchy: The Royal Family At Work (here). What I find interesting in photo shoot videos is not the 11 assistants or the lighting setup but watching the photographer interact with the subject. When assigning portraits of celebrities or famous people one of the biggest considerations besides “can they make a stunning portrait in 10 minutes” is “can they get the subject to do something interesting.”

I see pictures of some famous people and they always look the same and the pictures are always boring but the reality is that some subjects are really difficult to work with and unwilling to accommodate the photographer. They treat photoshoots like torture. The subjects can also be terribly guarded and afraid that we’re trying to take something unflattering or out of character and so they only allow certain emotions, clothing, backgrounds and props in the photograph.

The decision is usually between 3 basic types of celebrity photographers. “Named” photographers are great because the subjects and publicists will respect the name and body of work and grant more leeway with the subject because of their reputation within Hollywood. The disadvantage is that it’s hard to take the famous photographer out of the picture and so the subject sort of shares the frame with the photographer. Studio/Publicist friendly photographers have good working relationships with the decision makers and this can make the planning and logistics easy because they’re all on the same page from the start. Working with one of these photographers can guarantee several hours of time with the subject which means lots of setups. The downside is that these photographers need to maintain their relationship with the publicists and they won’t do anything that might piss them off. Tenacious photographers get ideas in their head they won’t let go of and are willing to push the subject to achieve the picture they want. The only problem can be that your 10 min. shoot could turn into a 1 min. shoot if everyone gets upset.

Annie really shows her tenacity in this video when she immediately tries to get the Queen to remove her crown after deciding it doesn’t look good in the first shot and not giving up on an original request request to shoot the Queen on horseback inside the state apartments. She brings it up at the end of the shoot as the picture she’d really like to take, laying the groundwork for next time.