Posts by: A Photo Editor
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.
“Michael Bierut at Pentagram to oversee a sweeping redesign of the 150-year-old magazine.”
“It is still believed to be losing $3 million to $5 million a year.”
Story in the NY Post (here).
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.
If I want to find the best stock in the world I just go to my favorite photographer websites and look at their portfolio and there it is, the top 40-60 photos they’ve ever taken, edited and ready to be published again.
Every once and awhile a designer would come up to me with a layout filled with holes. What goes in those holes, you might ask? Stock pictures of course. My job (and those who worked with me) was to take the layout and find photos that fit in the holes. If there’s a vertical hole next to a headline that says “Volleyball in Kosovo” I need to find a vertical photo of Volleyball in Kosovo. What happens if I find a horizontal photo of Volleyball in Kosovo? Can it be cropped? No, then that’s a problem because turning a vertical hole into a horizontal hole will obviously change the flow of text and suddenly your horizontal hole has the headline “Field Hockey in Gabon,” (this being a package on obscure sports in strange places and all) and now you need to find a horizontal of Field Hockey in Gabon but then what happens if you find a vertical of field hockey in Gabon, can’t you simply flop the stories. No, dumbass they’re ranked. Duh. They have to appear in the order we have them in–until the writer uncovers new information that changes the ranking and throws the whole thing out of whack. And, so it goes, filling in the holes until the final urgent email, “we still need a square photo of Elephant Polo in Sri Lanka and the package ships tonight.”
This is not a rant against Designers who hand Photo Editors layouts filled with holes. I know all to well the source of this phenomenon. The package was assigned at the last minute and the layout deadline is fast approaching and all the text is in so we need to start a layout while the slack-ass Photo Editor finds all the photos and the Editor really likes the configuration we used last year and the production department really needs adjacencies for advertising and don’t forget about the quarter page consecutive ads that Honda bought that need to appear on pages 4,5,6 and 10 of the package (clever bastards hope they paid a premium). Also, we want to add cool icons to aid in navigation because everyone’s using cool icons these days and don’t forget about the 12 sidebars plus a running ticker and what about the maps, do you expect the readers to know where Gabon, Kosovo and Sri Lanka are on their own, we need maps. So, you see designers, I know where the layout with the holes comes from and it’s not about winning SPD Gold just trying to survive the shit storm.
So, I close the door to my office, crank Rage Against the Machine, glare at any intruders, grab my handy stock list (here) and find the horizontals and verticals of all the obscure sports in all the obscure places. Sometimes I even surprise myself and find a really cool photo or agency or photographer that I didn’t know about, sometimes I just weather the storm.
“…part of a revamp the venerated brand has been undergoing since last Fall with reorganizations, repositioning, management changes and new sales programs. Many of the new initiatives are on its Web sites, which have seen traffic soar since early last year. A significant part of the growth has been from user generated content, especially the “Your Shot” area on the National Geographic Magazine Web site, where people submit photos that are sifted by editors and voted on by users. A select few get published in the magazine.
The magazine’s NGM.com site traffic has grown from about 5.6 million page views last January to 22.4 million last month, according to internal numbers provided by the executives. Your Shot accounted for about 14 million page views.” (your shot here)
Via, Jack Myers (here).
Working as a Photo Editor at a National Magazine the monthly low point usually occurs when the editor reviews the layout illustrated with the shittiest photos I have ever seen that were the direct result of hours upon hours of stock searches for a subject that’s thinly covered and being told that, rather then kill the story or run an illustration, I need to look a little further and find something good this time.
“Did it it ever occur to you that the subject you have chosen for extensive coverage in the magazine might possibly be shit and that’s why the photos are shit? No, I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that I haven’t uncovered the one decent photographer who happened to take a picture that makes this subject look good. Maybe I’ll try Flickr or Google.”
And, so I would hunker down in my office with my Stock Photo List (here) and try endless combinations of keywords and search obscure stock sites and try single word searches on Corbis and Getty that would turn up 10,000 images to sift through or sometimes I’d troll the crap stock sites praying for a diamond among the turds and I’d do this until I felt like I’d looked under every rock or completely run out of time.
Having spent many years working at magazines of a similar genre from time to time subjects we’ve covered before would crop up in meetings and that’s where I could finally say with authority, “I’ve searched for pictures on that subject before and nothing good exists so we should kill the story now or assign an illustration.” This is usually when the Editor or Creative Director decides to do a quick Google image search and finds the perfect photo.
I just checked Media Bistro and 3 major publications are looking for Photo Directors. Business Week, Details and Men’s Health (here). Where did all the DOP’s go?
Here’s my stock photography list. If I’m missing anything good let me know.
Art and Commerce
Glass House Images
Stock That Doesn’t Suck
Independent Photography Network
Syndicated Celebrity Images
Exclusive by Getty Images
Art and Commerce
Management + Artists Syndication
The New York Times Photos
The Canadian Press
The New York Times Agency
UK News Photos
World Picture News
Tass Photo (russia/eastern europe)
Atlas Press Photo
Region Specific- US
Photo Resource Hawaii
Idaho Stock Images
National Park Photographs
Pacific Stock Photography
Yellowstone Digital Slide File
Picturesque Stock Photo
4 Corners (Italy)
Europe Stock Images
Arcapress Photo Agency
All Canada Photos
Images of Nature
National Geographic Images
Terra Brasil Imagens
Nature Picture Library
Joel Sartore Stock
Museums and Collections
Library of Congress Prints
UCR California Museum of Photography
George Eastman House
Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection
National Museum of Photography
Art Museum Image Consortium
Whitney Museum of American Art
The Granger Collection
Royal Geographical Society
AGE Foto Stock
The Image Works
Photo Researchers (science)
Big Shot Stock
If you want to receive an email with posts in them as they go up you can subscribe here or over on the sidebar.
UPDATE: Goes to a search page after you sign up but everything works. You will get a confirmation email to respond to.
Bruce Kramer is the owner of Art Mix in Los Angeles, one of the top photographer agencies in the country. They’ve always been an editorial friendly shop handling several of the biggest names in this industry. When I heard that Bruce was opening a gallery in Brooklyn I had to ask him a few questions to see what was up.
Tell me about your new venture Bond Street Gallery?
I was visiting with a friend Robert DiScalfani who lives on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens and has lived in the area for over 10 years. We were walking around the neighborhood and came across a derelict yet beautiful building and both of us looked through the window and at the same moment said “this space would make a great gallery.” I had the idea of doing a gallery in the back of my mind so I cleaned out my bank account and stated this journey.
Over the last few years we started to receive emails regarding the images from the talent I represent at Art Mix and I had been making sales with very little effort and noticed a trend of younger people wanted a photo of their favorite celebrity and in general a much wider interest in photography.
I recruited Robert to be my partner, he’s been a working photographer for over 30 years who still does platinum prints in his own darkroom. We had the building restored, keeping it as original as possible. It’s a small 3 floor town house with a backyard–very much a different vibe than the large white boxes in Manhattan. Our vision for the space was to make it seem like you are visiting someone’s home or a photographers space where he might have his and others work hung around for inspiration.
The area in Brooklyn where it’s located is changing rapidly yet still has a sense of the past. Many new residents are restoring townhouses instead of buying new and we feel the area, in time would appreciate a gallery that had roots to the past but with a vision for the future.
I started to research photos of Coney Island and came across the work of Harold Feinstein a noted flower photographer who has published many books on subject. As a youth he would walk on the boardwalk in Coney Island with camera in hand and take pictures of one of the most culturally diverse areas in the country.
I continued to research photographs of Coney Island and came across many others who also had great imagery: Bruce Davidson, Bruce Gilden, Harold Roth and Sid Grossman to name a few. I contacted their galleries and I arranged to exhibit their work in the show.
We have plans to continue to exhibit work by forgotten and undiscovered talent from the New York area and around the world.
What skills can you bring over from running a successful photographer agency to running a gallery?
Having run a successful photography agency with varied talent I have developed a strong sense of what I consider to be good or even great photography and the ability to recognize talent.
Running a photo agency is very competitive as there are many agencies and photographers and less and less jobs available these days. I’m a firm believer in marketing and advertising which has really been the cornerstone of my business and I intend to bring that style to running the gallery. We are not expecting buyers to walk in off the street, we will go to them. While I’m new to the gallery world I’ve been in the photography business a long time and I’m getting a great response from established art photographers and galleries.
Do you think commercial and editorial photographers should sell their commissioned work as art?
For years photographers commissioned work has been selling in galleries. Penn, Avedon, Bailey, Newton, Outerbridge, Bourdin, both William and now Steven Klein. There have always been and there will continue to be commissioned photographers who are hired for their eye, lighting, sense of style and aesthetic. Even though the images were created to sell a product I feel they are no less art than the photographer who creates images on their own. In fact in some ways I feel the commissioned photographer has a harder job as they often have to work with other people’s ideas and parameters yet still be true to themselves.
How do you pick an exhibition for the gallery?
Picking to photographers to exhibit is not as easy as I thought it would be. I want to show work that speaks to me, that has soul and guts and I do feel I’m a good gauge of talent but I’m trying to view the photography from a non-commercial point of view. Photography was a medium many hobbyist got into and some of them were pretty good. The guy who sold me a car recently asked me what I did and when I told him about the gallery and he mentioned he use to take photos of jazz musicians. Well he certainly did: Miles, Dizzy, Lou Rawls, etc. Joe’s work has a raw quality to it that you no longer find.
I’m trying to dig a bit. I’ve contacted photographer clubs and have sent emails to their members. I’m also attracted to commercial photographers. Many do personal work to balance out the what they have to do to earn a living and I’ve come across some great work.
Do photographers need to decide between becoming an editorial, commercial or fine art photographer or can they be all three?
I don’t think a decision can be made concisely. If you are the type of photographer that has a vision and you stick with it, perhaps adapt a bit to the right and left if need be, remain passionate, your work will stand out. I do believe photographers when starting out are not just working towards a pay check, It’s more about expressing themselves. Often somewhere down the road they lose direction and do as told and stop using the judgment that got them there. All photographers no matter how successful should always be challenging themselves, exploring and experimenting to keep there creative juices flowing. More and more I am seeing photographers successfully working in all areas without compromising. My hopes are I can take an art photographer and get them commercial work and get commercial photographers into the art world.
“We fetishize homes now, in a way that we never used to,” said Todd Eberle, a photographer whose work appears in Vanity Fair and in prominent museums. He has been hired by many celebrities, including Martha Stewart and Bill Clinton, to document their homes and offices. His clients, he said, want him both to memorialize their homes as they really are, and at the same time to “take it to a different level, and somehow improve upon the reality.”
“…Often, the decision to hire a photographer, for fees that can run to $75,000, is made when someone buys an architecturally important house or oversees a painstaking renovation.”
From a story in the NY Times (here).
AVS (AVisualSociety.com) has ranked the the top 5 photographer agencies in 3 categories: fashion, commercial and boutique (here).
Top honors go to Art + Commerce, Stockland Martel and AFG.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was intimidated by working down the hall from legendary Rolling Stone Director of Photography Jodi Peckman. She’s garnered every accolade the photo industry can hand out and her rolodex is the size of a parmesan cheese wheel.
As it turned out my fear was unfounded because she’s a real sweetheart who’s willing to chat at length about working as a photo editor as well as happy to debate the merits of working with any of photographers in this industry.
I thought I’d ask her a few questions:
1. People ask me all the time how I became a photo editor and I’d be willing to bet everyone’s story is different. What’s yours?
Wellllllll… I had a friend who was the assistant to the Art Director here and I used to visit her at work and hang around the office a lot. I was still in school at the time. The Art and Photo Directors got to know me and so I would help out returning film or any small stuff they wanted. At the same time I was also printing photos for the guitarist of the band The Police (he’s a photographer). The Photo Director (Laurie Kratochvil) asked me if I wanted a real job, so she sent me to a photo agency where they hired me to file photos. I ended up working there for quite sometime and eventually left to hang out with my brother who lived in Italy. When I returned Laurie asked me if I wanted to work at Rolling Stone on the Random Notes section. I said yes, and I’m still here.
2. You’ve been a Rolling Stone a long time and I know there’s huge advantages to working within a specific genre having spent my entire career working with outdoor sports and athletics but how do you stay excited and challenged by the subject matter?
The best part about working here is that really it’s not just a music magazine. The range of what we cover is pretty big. We’ve got movies, TV, internet, politics, sports, crime, foreign and national affairs, environment and more. So, I don’t really see it as one genre. That being said, I’ve had to reinvent the job many times over. Coming to the same office, same desk, same everything for this long can get pretty weird and repetitive. The people around here change so that’s good and new photographers crop up all the time. I’m a creature of habit, so staying put suits my lifestyle (I eat a hamburger almost everyday).
3. One of the biggest challenges for me as a Photography Director was hearing, “you can’t hire that photographer” or “we’re not going to run that photo” and not taking it personally. How do you deal with it?
When you’ve been someplace this long you don’t really hear that too often. I guess they figure I know the magazine pretty well by now and fortunately my opinion holds some weight.
4. Do you still look at promo cards? What about promo emails?
Don’t really look at them. Well, I look at them of course, when they come in, but they rarely relate to anything we do here. Seriously, I get photographers who shoot babies and food send stuff all the time. I try so hard to open all the emails, and there are hundreds, but it’s not always realistic. There’s just not enough time. I feel terrible about that and I always promise myself I’ll try harder.
5. I found I didn’t have enough work for even my core group of photographers let alone adding new ones to the list. Do you still add new photographers to your list of people to hire?
We do. Not too many cover shooters tho.
6. Any predictions on how the photography industry will look 5 years from now? How about the magazine industry?
Ahhhh, magazines and newspapers will be around forever. I’m not too good about predicting the future, I’m livin’ in the moment all the time.
These next two questions come from an aspiring Rock and Roll photographer and reader of my blog.
7. In music photography, more so than other kinds of photography, people are willing give away their work for free or in exchange for access. Even musicians ask for photos in return for access. Magazines and festivals also seem to be trading access for photos. An example is the SPIN correspondent program, (here) How do you make a living (or at least part of a living) in that kind of atmosphere?
They’re giving you better access so you should be able to make better pictures. Better pictures should lead to more work. I worked here for free and so do our interns. We end up hiring half the people who are interns.
8. What is the best way to for a photographer to get their foot in the door at Rolling Stone? What assignments should newcomers approach (i.e. festivals)?
Being a concert photographer is brutal. So much competition. Find something special you do well and different from the others and work on an interesting and unique portfolio.
9. I always loved seeing the contact sheets from a shoot for the first time and in many ways that was better then seeing something printed in the magazine. What’s your favorite part of being a Photography Director?
Well it isn’t opening the box of photos. I’m always too nervous. Looking at pictures is so interesting and inspiring, and I really like photographers. I meet interesting people all the time. It’s creative and I feel that I am a part of what makes Rolling Stone what it is and how it looks. I feel so so lucky to have fallen into this job.
10. If you never got a job at Rolling Stone what would you be doing right now?
I’ve run quite a few sporting event photos over the years but I’ve never really contemplated what goes into making one so I decided to join a friend shooting a week long sports event. My initial reaction after the first couple days is… ARE YOU FNG KIDDING ME. Where the hell did all these people with cameras come from? I shit you not, I saw soccer moms with 600mm Canon lenses. What the hell are you going to do with those photos? Put them in your scrapbook? There were literally thousands of people shooting pictures of every single person, place or thing you could imagine. I guess I’ve spent all my time sending people to events and buying stock photos but never attending to see what goes down. You photographers can certainly put up with a lot.
After my initial shock with the camera toting public I realized half these people are actually sporting press credentials representing all kinds of magazines, newspapers and even blogs. I’m all for shooting original pictures but if everyone is standing in the exact same spot shooting the exact same thing I’m not so sure I see the point.
The bottom line is, access is everything, which is not really news to anyone but reinforces the idea that bringing your personal vision to photography is the key to making it.
Hollywood is not the place he had imagined as a child – forget spontaneity and pass that BlackBerry. “You know, one of the things I probably romanticise most is the freedom that photographers had before it became such a marketing and advertising machine.”
Read it (here).