Category "Working"

Spineless Rodale Pulls The Plug On Best Life

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Honestly Rodale it’s not like you fought the good fight or anything. You saw some trouble on the horizon and quickly pulled out a gun and shot yourself in the head.

From the media kit: “Best Life teaches successful men the art of balance. Luxurious yet packed with service, Best Life guides its reader through the many demands of his life—teaching him to manage his finances, nurture his family, care for his health, protect his environment, and still find time to pursue his passions.”

More like: “We created this magazine for advertisers. We don’t give a crap about the staff, contributors or readers. We put all that stuff between the covers to keep the ads from touching each other.”

Look, I get it. These are corporations. The bottom line is the bottom line. It’s just that some of these magazines are starting to look like wall street ponzi schemes.


Choosing Photos

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I got an email from a photo editor this week asking for advice in a situation that he’s found himself in at a magazine. His Art Director is an “old-schooler” where you pick your images based on physical qualities like focus and level horizons. He also has a penchant for sunny blue skies. The editor on the other hand wants the literal translation of the story in pictures and will pick the worst image of the bunch as long as it contains the who, what, when, where, why or how of the story. Top that all off with the fact that the two of them have been around for a long time and tend to use the length of their experience as a way to push their same as it always was agenda.

This situation is a little unusual in that it’s usually only the editor that favors literal images and uses things like the meteorological conditions in the image as a point of argument for or against using something. In the past I’ve always had good luck teaming up with the Art Director to get things past the editor and I made a post awhile back about my techniques for getting new photographers past them for assignments:

1. Gang up. Get the Creative Director to back you in the meeting. “Oh yeah he’s great, I worked with him at my previous magazine and he always delivered.”

2. Shiny Objects. Toss out important people or magazines they’ve shot for. “He shot a feature in Vanity Fair recently.”

3. Padded Portfolio. Print the portfolio shots that back your case. “See, she really gets what we’re trying to achieve here.”

4. Play Dumb. Assign and feign telling them about it recently. “Oh, I thought we discussed that she was shooting this earlier.”

The same sort of ideas work well for getting the images you want published.

1. Stall- I used to find myself in a situation where the editor would end a layout review with “Let’s see if we can top that.” To which I would spend the rest of my time that month not trying top it, because I was perfectly happy with the images we had picked. I also recall a separate situation near the end of my tenure where I had commissioned a heavy hitter to shoot a portrait for the opener of the story. The editor was not pleased with the results because he was expecting… something more literal, so I was tasked with dredging up every little bit of stock that might work instead. I didn’t completely phone-it-in, so as not to arouse suspicion, but I did find it handy to read blogs instead of scour Getty for hours on end.

2. Withholding- The classic technique is to simply leave out the obvious choices. This is like playing chicken: “Is this all there is?” “Well, these are the best.” “Can I see all the images?” “I’m still working on it, can we try these first?” “Ok, but then after this I need to see the rest of the images.” “I have a doctors appointment so it will have to wait.”

3. Showdown- First, you need to lean on the Art Director to include your images in the layout choices for the editor. Looking at pictures in the layout is so much better than on your screen or the light table (sadly only used for printouts now) and brings you one step closer to the final OK. When your variation comes up on screen or is presented you need to fight tooth and nail to defend it. This is where reading books that talk about photography comes in handy. Defending an image by saying “I like it a lot” will get you nowhere. Sometimes, honestly it comes down to a fight where telling them they’re making a huge mistake and the picture they picked blows is your only choice.

4. Build Your Case- Changing someone’s mind about the photography they think is “good” can take months and possibly years of laying a foundation with examples of work you think is important. You need to provide examples and reinforcement of quality imagery in the field. I used to have a huge bulletin board where I would rip pages out of magazines, tack up promo cards and prints of the images they didn’t pick as sort of a massive mood board to the direction I wanted the photography to go. Also, buy plenty of magazines that are using photography well and show them to the editor whenever you get a chance. Anything redesigned by Luke or DJ at Pentagram is always a sure bet.

None of this is easy. Expect your stomach to be doing back flips and your hair to tingle as you try to steer the Titanic away from the ice.

Finally, I will say this about the future of magazines and photography. There is no future for magazines that don’t challenge and surprise their readers with original sophisticated imagery. The internet has set the ground floor and if you can’t rise above it, you will disappear.

The Best Photo You Ever Made

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Everyone has a “best photo you ever made” and when you’re getting started hopefully it is continually replaced by a new best photo you ever made, but at some point a picture that you made stands for a very long time (or an essay, book, body of work).

Erik Hersman was blogging from TED 2009 and filed this from a talk Elizabeth Glibert author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and it got me thinking about dealing with not being able to capture lightning in a bottle twice:

Elizabeth Gilbert: Genius and how we ruin it

Elizabeth weaves an insightful story of artists, success and pressure. She asks if she’s doomed. What if she never replicates the success of her past book? Is it rational or logical to be afraid of the work that we were put on this earth to do? Why have artists and writers had this history of manic depressive and mental illnesses? Why does artistry always lead to mental anguish?

“I think it might be better if we encouraged our great creative minds to live.”

“It’s exceedingly likely that my greatest success is behind me. That’s the kind of thought that can lead a person to start drinking gin at 9:00 in the morning.”

Read it (here).

I can identify many photographers by a single image or a series of images but when I talk to them about it they tend to talk about all the flaws in the images or how it was a fluke. I wonder if that’s just a defense mechanism. I suppose there are the popular “best photos you ever made” and the critical version but when you’re just trying to make it the popular one counts the most.

UPDATE: The video just went live.

Hello, I Have A New Post

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For those of you who read this blog on rss or get an email with the post in it you may be reading this now simply because I’ve never written a headline like that or because you have enough trust built over time that there’s usually something worth checking out. But, what if you didn’t know me. What if this was the first time you’ve ever heard of this blog. Would you still have a look?

I doubt it. And, yet I get emails from photographers all the time that simply say “Check out my new photos” or “New website up check it out” and I can’t figure out why you wouldn’t throw in a line or two explaining exactly what’s in there that’s worth checking out. Certainly, if I know you and like your work and I’ve been waiting 5 years for you to update your site then yes I’m headed there immediately but otherwise it just depends on what’s going on the day and the week the email arrives. I’m pretty sure people do it this way just in case I’m not interested in whatever you just took a picture of, so I will click anyway and discover what an awesome photographer you are. But, I know it would be way more effective if you simply said you updated your athlete portraits with a new group of hockey players shot in a portable studio (hey, I need someone who shoots athletes with a portable studio).

If we’re not there already, eventually it will get to the point where it’s just not possible to click on all the emails. I can’t imagine what the volume of marketing email is like now for photo editors and then art buyers get 10 times that, so do us all a favor, tell us about the pictures.

It’s Time To Move On

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Here’s what happens when things get tough at magazines. They pull out all the past successes: the stories, photo essays, packages and the covers (oh god do they ever pull out those big newsstand hits) and go about trying to recreate the magic of the past. It’s a waste of time. The climate has changed, the challenges are different and the readers are different. There’s always been a problem of diminishing returns when you knock off the past successes and then add to that the sapped enthusiasm of those left to execute the unoriginal ideas… it’s time to stop looking back. We need fresh ideas and enthusiasm. We’ve seen an entire year filled with homages to the past and it’s time to get out from under the shadows and forge a new path.

Daily Routines of Creative People

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Working in a creative industry and being self employed takes discipline… or not. It all depends on which school of creative working you come from. Nose to the grindstone or head in the clouds. I prefer serendipitous encounters with inspiration. Gazing out the window (not the 6th ave. and 52nd one so much), browsing the newsstand, visiting the MoMA bookstore and trolling (in the fishing sense) websites but then of course shit gets done when you make lists and hammer away at them all day. It’s a balance I guess. As a side note, producers always seem to be going ten times faster than everyone else but maybe it just appears that way because I’m on a different pace.

Daily routines is a website that chronicles the habits of creative people (here).

Chris Ofili
First, he tears a large sheet of paper, always the same size, into eight pieces, all about 6 by 9 inches. Then he loosens up with some pencil marks, “nothing statements, which have no function.”

James Thurber
I never quite know when I’m not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, “Dammit, Thurber, stop writing.” She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, “Is he sick?” “No,” my wife says, “he’s writing something.”

Anthony Trollope
He required of himself two hundred and fifty words every quarter of an hour. If he finished one novel before eight-thirty, he took out a fresh piece of paper and started the next.

Truman Capote
I am a completely horizontal author. I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.

Finding A Decent Story, Killing Crap and Reaching Your Potential

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If you’re not familiar with Ira Glass, he’s an award winning radio (yes radio) host who presents an hour long show on a particular theme. His podcasts on iTunes are always the most popular and if you haven’t listened to one before they are highly addictive. Each and every one is a lesson in story telling.

I found these interviews with Ira where he talks about what I consider one of the great underrated skills in the creative process. Finding a decent subject. Ira says, “No one ever tells you how hard it is to find a decent story… often the amount of time finding the decent story is more than the amount of time it takes to produce the story.”

Also, It’s not surprising that failure is closely tied to finding great subjects. He talks about getting a subject on tape and discovering that it’s not all that interesting after all and “by killing you will make something else even better live… not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.”
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Failure is an Option

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When I worked at a magazine, every month a couple of the shoots we assigned would fail. Fail to meet our standards, fail to be interesting, fail to capture what we were looking for. Immediately we would need to either kill it and reshoot, kill the story altogether, find pickup to replace it (I worked at a place once where they wanted me to find pickup and make an assignment simultaneously which seemed like a defeatist attitude so I usually just pretended to look for stock) or just figure out a way to run it. What you do depends on how far over budget you are, the number of kills that month, amount of time till you go to press and wether or not you can come up with a solution.

I worked at several magazines where we were told to reduce or eliminate (!) the number of kills (btw, eliminating the kills always amounted to pretending like it was going to run in a future issue and when that future issue never came–2 years down the road–we killed it). Kills have always been a part of making magazines and I would argue an important part of how a magazine is different than a newspaper or a monthly is different than a weekly. When you kill photographs it’s because they aren’t good enough to publish and that means you have high standards. Also, the only way to find brilliance is to take chances. Companies have R&D budgets because doing things the way you’ve always done them will never produce an unexpected bit of genius. You might think the first thing to do in a time of budget crisis is eliminate the R&D budget. This will of course eliminate your edge over the sea of sameness.

There are several reasons why a shoot fails:

1. The editor’s fault: Many times when making an assignment we are dealing with an incomplete picture of the story. Either it hasn’t come in yet or it has and is going back for a massive rewrite. Usually this leaves interpretation of the subject and selection of the photographer with a very wide area to work in. Whether this is bad or good usually depends on if the editor is one of those people who likes to see the important parts of the story depicted in pictures. You can also sometimes get caught in the trap where the editor is focused on a particular paragraph or sentence of a story pitch that may not even be possible to shoot. These shoots are called sandbags and always fail on some level.

2. The Photo Editors Fault: Sometimes I will fail to understand what it is the editor is excited about in a particular story and assign the wrong photographer or send them off in the wrong direction. Sometimes I would be unable to put enough effort into figuring out how to shoot something. I should also point out here a skill that is often overlooked in Photo Editors which is the ability to motivate and lead photographers. Magazines do a horrible job of teaching management skills which is sad because the reality of photo editing is that you’re hiring and managing a ton of freelancers each month and a huge part of managing people is leadership.

3. The Photographers Fault: I don’t think anyone really admits when they think a shoot they just did sucks eggs, because you can never really tell what’s going on inside the magazine and of course I’ve had CD’s and Editors love shoots I thought missed the mark. I remember calling a photographer who just delivered 3 different pictures for us to tell them one was not working to see if there was anything we could do and he remarked that he was just telling an assistant how the picture you love is sometimes the one they hate. Anyway sometimes you can’t make good pictures. Veteran photographers know how to make sure they get a baseline image no matter what.

4. The Budget’s Fault: It’s no secret that magazines try to accomplish more with less and cutting expenses can lead to a shoot’s failure. Eliminate pre-production, producer, shoot time, assistants, wardrobe, hair, makeup, casting, location scouting, props and you will see a difference in the pictures. You’re simply leaving more to chance when you don’t button up a shoot with these things in place and you have to be willing to redo it if luck is not on your side that day. I should also note that showing a portfolio to the editor where the pictures took $20,000 in production value to create and then handing them $5,000 to get it done will certainly lead to disaster.

A failed shoot is no big deal and if a photographer has done other sucessful shoots for you in the past it’s easy to move on but if it’s the first time shooting they’re probably not going to get a second chance no matter who’s fault it is. Failure is a part of the creative process and it’s a big part of making something great and unexpected. Without it you’re just mediocre.

PR Can Be Effective With Decent Photography

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I’m amazed at how much effort goes into writing press releases, calling editors, staging events and how little thought goes into the photography to go with all of that. If only these companies knew how many meetings I’d sat in on where the first question after a story (or product) is pitched was “what does it look like” and then depending on what “it” looks like the story is either made or not. Get a clue people, the better the photography, the more coverage you will receive in magazines. In general this translates to spending more on photography.

I really feel like we’re headed in a direction where the PR/Advertorial images are going to have more legs than advertising because it’s something people feel like they can report on and share. Smart companies will commission several different kinds of shoots and release them to the different communities that are interested in talking about their product. If the photography is great then the conversation will travel far. This of course is good for photographers and bad for magazines (maybe photo editors will work commissioning editorial shoots for PR efforts). Magazines can’t survive on press releases, they need insertion orders to go along with them. Over the last decade as the advertising revenue has continued to tighten there’s been a slow draining of the trust consumers have with magazines, because the coverage things receive can be correlated to the advertising (with some notable exceptions of course.) Honestly, when was the last time you saw a real review of anything? Online probably.

So, when you get right down to it, reaching consumers with your message will eventually be about friends passing along a recommendation and they will be the one saying “yeah, but what does it look like”.

Interviewing Candidates For A Magazine Job

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There’s something strange about the magazine business, in that the people working at magazines are very good at editing or designing or copy editing and generally very bad at the very basics of running a business. Skills like leadership, managing people, managing budgets, running meetings and conducting interviews are not why most people have the position they do at a magazine. There was no learn by example happening at the places I’ve worked and most of my job interviews amounted to a casual conversation. It wasn’t until I interviewed at a big clothing company once for a job photo editing their catalog (didn’t get it) that I got hit with serious interview questions. Luckily I had a feeling it was going to happen and found this list of common questions (here) which I used to prep all weekend.

After that experience I realized how useful good interview questions are for gaining insight into what it might be like to work with someone. I feel like the point of the questions is not what your answer is so much as it is how you go about answering it and most important is that you have some kind of game plan for your career. There’s nothing worse than someone saying they have no idea where they want to be 10 years from now. Sure, it’s impossible to know but you have some kind of plan don’t you? Here are the questions I started asking all the candidates in the face to face interview:

Tell me about yourself.
Why do you want to work here?
Why do you want to leave your current job?
What are your strengths?
What are your weaknesses?
Do you have any experience with portrait, still life, outdoor sport, documentary or lifestyle photographers?
How do you handle pressure and stress?
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
What experience do you have working with stock photography and agencies?
What production experience do you have?
What makes you the best candidate for this job?

Pretty basic but I loved the range of answers I would get from something as simple as “what are your weaknesses.” From brutally honest to very long pause followed by disjointed thoughts to text book slick.

My weaknesses? Disdain for athority, don’t follow the rules very well, can’t stay on budget and I spend way too much time looking at pictures instead of actually working. If only they’d asked.

Pickup the Dang Phone

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When I worked as a Photo Editor I never answered my phone. I’m sure eventually at some DOP job down the line I would have finally gotten an assistant to answer it for me. There’s two ways to go about this in the photo department of a magazine and if you choose to answer the phone whenever you can, you’ve got to be direct with your callers so you still have time in the day to still do your job or you can only answer it when you’ve got time to talk. There’s a difference though between being direct and just trying to get rid of callers you don’t know. Heidi reminded me of that at our Art Center lecture when she said “If someone would call and say they loved the magazine I would ask them, what is it exactly that you love.”

I always had a hard time being direct because I did enjoy a good chat about photography and because I had so much sympathy for the cold callers. At the beginning of my career I used to work for photographers and many times I was the one who had to cold call Photo Eds and Marketing Directors some of whom would pickup the phone and express all levels of exasperation and irritation then exclaim how they didn’t have time to talk about this right now and I thought, “well, then why did you pickup the goddam phone.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to get the caller straight to the point and photographers should be prepared for that. I was just never any good at it.

Look Out For That Cliff

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The timing of a nuclear meltdown on wall street and uncertainty as advertisers try to find a strategy online could not be worse for magazines:

Ad spending across the major U.S. media fell at its steepest rate since the industry’s last recession in 2001, according to new data released this morning by ad tracking service TNS Media Intelligence.– Report Here.

Maybe instead of a slow painful decline we can quickly hit the bottom and start implementing strategies for a recovery and rethink the priorities of printed magazines.

Here’s a strategy:
Time magazine has more than 3 million readers in print and currently does 82 million page views online, and president and worldwide publisher Ed McCarrick thinks the brand can “easily do 200 million page views” online in the near future. “We must be constantly innovative to earn audience back each day,” said McCarrick, who delivered the opening keynote at the FOLIO: Show here today.

Online advertising revenue currently accounts for about 10 percent of overall revenue at Time and is projected to grow by 57 percent in 2008 and another 35 percent to 40 percent in 2009, according McCarrick.

While McCarrick thinks online will eventually account for 30 percent to 35 percent of overall revenue, “offline revenue is still the big engine.” Still, one medium is leveraged with another. “We’re putting together a multifaceted approach and it’s no longer clean in terms of one media being separate from another.”– Story Here.

Here’s a rethinking of priorities:
From an interview with John P. Loughlin, executive VP and general manager for Hearst Magazines (here); listen to his mantra people:

“Clearly, the challenge given the current economy is convincing consumers that magazines as an impulse purchase are worth every penny. For publishers, it’s a double whammy. Publishers are under enormous cost pressures at the same time that unit sales are down, but it’s critical that we not react by diminishing the quality of the physical product or magazines’ content value proposition for the consumer.”


“The challenge for our magazine editors, and for all of us involved in maximizing our magazine sales, is to provide and convey that compelling value proposition to the consumer.”


“Which comes back once again to my point that magazines must provide even higher perceived value to the consumer, maybe even more so during this economic turbulence.”

Here’s web marketing guru Seth Godin on selling products to consumers:
Godin’s overarching theme is simple: Companies can no longer rely on mass-media advertising to sell average products to average consumers. Instead, they must create remarkable products and services and let consumers do the marketing themselves to generate a buzz. In the “new marketing” landscape that Godin chronicles, the balance of power has shifted from companies to consumers, thanks to TiVo, spam filters, blogs, and YouTube (GOOG). — Interview here.

What If Your Still Camera Also Shot Great Video?

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Vincent Laforet emailed me about this new Canon camera that supposedly shoots high quality video (his blog post here) because he thinks “It has the potential to change our industry.” My only thought was that other than the convenience of no longer having to carry a video and still camera, it seems rather insignificant to me.

Sure, I think in certain applications where you are gathering news the addition of video will be valuable, if not a requirement and certainly video will be nice to fill out an online magazine story. But, if you want to reach your audience using video then there’s nothing revolutionary here, you’re producing TV or a movie (and might need the equivalent budget with sound, editing and graphics).

And, the more I think about it the less dominant I feel video will be online because it’s just too slow when it comes to communication. If you’re offering the reader a headline with a lead photo and a story along with a video clip, audio clip maybe and picture slide show. The most hits will go to the headline and lead image and everything else follows depending on the time and interest of the viewer (headline writing is an underrated skill in the media world).

So, when I think about sending photographers out in the field armed with cameras equipped with video I can think of very few instances in the past (lets pretend magazines could even handle video for a second) where I would want the best shot they took to be on video. Now, I suppose if you can just pull a frame out of the video and deliver it that way you’d be okay, but the still frame moments seem to be rarely the same as the video moments on a shoot, so I’m not so sure about that.

I’m reminded of people who are writer/photographer and how at a certain level in this industry you do one or the other better and the result is always better when you put your efforts into one or the other not both. I think the same will ring true for photographer/videographer.

The Dangers of Oversold Stories

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Assigning photography to oversold stories is a very painful lesson to learn in this industry. All stories are sold to some extent, because no one is sitting around in a pitch meeting carefully outlining all the reasons why something might not work but some bear the onerous distinction of an idea that only looks good on paper. The subjects who are sold as good looking, young, healthy and fit are actually quite flabby and boring. The conceit the whole thing hangs on was more theory than fact. The Shangri-La like location is criss-crossed with power lines and it rains every single day.

Early in my career, I’d blissfully go about making assignments to match stories without even a peep in the editorial meeting, assuming all the while that the editors fully grasped the difficulties that might be encountered and that they had an inkling what the person, place or thing they just assigned looked like.


I quickly discovered after a series of meetings where crappy pictures were delivered to match the crappy story and I was left holding the bag, that it was my job to investigate the realities of what was being pitched. I unfortunately turned a few photographers I liked into persona non grata as I bumbled along handing out steaming piles of shit, expecting gleaming diamonds in return. A few figured it out or lucked out but many like me got run over by the fertilizer truck and had to take a lump or two to realize what was going on.

I quickly developed a method in meetings of questioning the kind of pictures we might get in return if we made that assignment and challenged the editors to confront this reality: great stories aren’t just words, they need great pictures to go along with them otherwise they’re just plain crap.

Outdoor Sports Photographers

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UPDATED, Outdoor Sports Photographers List.

Some of these guys have moved on and most can shoot more sports than I’ve listed but all will blow your mind with crazy action or travel photos.

Jackson Hole, WY
Wade McKoy– Skiing
Andrew McGarry– Climbing
Chris Figenshau– Skiing
Greg Von Doersten– Climbing, Skiing
Greg Epstein– Skiing
Jimmy Chin– Climbing
Gabe Rogel– Climbing, Skiing
Jeff Diener– Outdoors
David Stubbs– Outdoors
Jonathan Selkowitz– Outdoors

Cody, WY
Bobby Model– Climbing

Northern, CA
Amy Kumler– Surfing, Travel
Dan Patitucci– Climbing
Bill Stevenson– Skiing
Corey Rich– Climbing
Desre Pickers– Kayak
Christian Pondella– Skiing, Climbing
Jeff Pflueger– Kayak
Chris Burkard– Kayak
Jerry Dodrill– Climbing

San Francisco, CA
Martin Sundberg– Windsurfing
John Dickey– Climbing
Val Atkinson– Fly Fishing
Rod McLean– Outdoors

Southern, CA
Steve Casimiro– Skiing, Adventure
Kevin Zacher– Snowboarding
Embry Rucker– Snowboarding
Danny Zapalac– Snowboarding
Art Brewer– Surfing
Jim Russi– Surfing
Tom Servais– Surfing
Robert Brown– Surfing
David Troyer– Surfing
J. Grant Brittain– Skateboard
Scott Soens– Surfing
Jack English– Surfing
C&J Turner Forte– Travel
Tom Carey– Surfing
Chris Straley– Surfing
Mike O’Meally– Skateboard
Scott Pommier– Skateboard
Jon Humphries– Skateboard
Atiba Jefferson– Skateboard

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Running The Best Photo

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Well, of course, everything is cool when the photographer and magazine are aligned because there are two goals with selecting a picture for a story. The first is running an image that serves the story. Something that is surprising, insightful and arresting, an attention grabber that will get the consumer to read the headline, then deck, lead and finally the entire story. The second goal is an image that serves the photographer well. Something they’d want their photo credit next to, that they can use as a tear sheet, that will land them more jobs.

Balancing these two goals is an important part of photo editing because when you throw everyone else in the mix… the editor wants an image to match his clever headline, the writer wants an image to match that crazy moment they’ve anchored the whole piece on, the EIC wants something that looks different from all the other lead images running this month, the Publisher wants to make sure it’s not something the advertisers can complain about in a pitch meeting, the designer wants something that works with the layout they’ve been designing with dummy photos waiting for the real ones to come in… things can get a little crazy.

When the goals of the magazine cause you to select an unflattering image or use images in a less than ideal manner then you’ve got a problem on your hands.

I have had my head completely chewed off by agents, a few photographers and one gallery when I’ve let the magazine’s goals stomp on the photographers. There’s usually an unspoken rule when working with a certain group of photographers “we do this for the clips.” Because, “the money is laughable, the subject has no resale value, the embargo’s are long and the contracts are ridiculous. Get us a good clip or it’s not worth the time.”

Building the trust of talented photographers is the only way to get amazing pictures on your desk in the first place.

Who Should We Put On The Cover?

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In my career I’ve gone from “let’s see which of the stories we have this month will make a good cover” to “we’re going to call every single A list celebrity that has a movie this month till someone says yes” and then of course, task some writer with throwing a story together in a week or less. The cover of the magazine was the single source of more anxiety, stress and nightmares than anything else I’ve ever worked on. There was always a deadline looming and unreturned phone calls to publicists, a photographer to figure out, location, wardrobe and then what will he be doing on the cover, it was always just hanging out there for weeks on end waiting for a date, time and place to land so the rest of the pieces could be jammed in.

I’m sure it’s quite a different experience working at GQ, VF or Time where the celebrities and politicians have heard of your publication and are actually interested in appearing on the cover. I’ve always been in the hapless position of pitching a publicist and providing material to actually prove we’re worthy enough for a celebrity to grace us with their presence.

The importance of the cover image, coverlines, background, expression, wardrobe is at an all time high these days because advertisers need some sign of the health of a magazine and newsstand sales are a decent indicator because consumers are free to decide what purchase to make that month. Except everyone is trying to game the system so the coverlines, subjects and many times the photography have turned into such predictable garbage, because everyone is using the same handful of words and subjects that have proven effective at capturing eyeballs.

Who should we put on the cover? How about someone who actually wants to be there and that the audience cares about. How about someone we can spend some time with a write a meaningful story and take interesting pictures of. I look forward to the day when magazines can return to serving their audience and not the newsstand. Until then you’re stuck with 109, free, biggest, hot, ultimate, travel, toys, secrets, great, perfect, best, sex, abs, weight-loss, getaway, new, insider, easy, delicious, shortcuts, paired with a celebrity you keep seeing over and over on the covers of magazines.

An Endless Stream Of Photography

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The stream, it’s more like a fire hose really, so whatever you do don’t try and take a drink from it. I found these two posts by Liz Kuball (here) and Robert Wright (here) on the sheer volume and mediocrity of photography on the web quite interesting. Interesting because there’s a side to this business that normally only Photo Editors and Art Buyers are privy to. The volume and desperation of an enormous group of aspiring somewhat professional even sometimes highly professional photographers that those on the hiring side of this equation are exposed to on a daily basis. The mountains of promos, the book drops, the phone calls and the stock. Oh, god the stock, let’s not even get into the stock photography here, because that’s a pile of shit you’ll never get through with a grain scoop. Backhoe maybe, shovel never.

Anyway my point here is that there’s so much going on in this business that’s not worth paying attention to. I’m not even talking about the amateur stuff that’s gone from the shoe box to flickr or on the personal website either, I’m talking about photographers who make money shooting shit.

David Alen Harvey has it right when he says, “all of you are now in a position to show your work in a way i never had nor did anyone in my generation have..the net….right here…right now… this forum…if you go out and do the work, you will be seen by more potential Medici’s than i have seen in my entire career….yes, yes (i can hear the excuses already) there are more of you…true….but in the sea of photographers out there , i still see about the same number of “supertalents” as in years prior…more people taking pictures, but few doing it in a special way….but if you are “special” there are also way way more opportunities…and so so much room for invention….i swear, i have never seen so much room!!!”

You’re seeing what I’ve been looking at since I started in this business. The volume of noise is loud but the signal is the same as it has always been, clean, pure and tranquil.

Listen for the signal.

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