Category "Working"

Sir, We’re Not The Taco Stand

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“Sir, we’re not the taco stand” I clearly remember an argument with my editor once where he stood there for half an hour trying to tell me that the shoot budget needed to come down and I tried to explain that no, if he wanted to pay less then we needed to change the shoot not just tell someone to make it less. Explaining it in “real life” terms, that we’re ordering the tenderloin and if you want to pay less just order a hamburger seemed to help.

On a similar note there a new documentary out about writer Harlan Ellison called Dreams with Sharp Teeth. Remember this line from the writers strike:

“I should do a freebie for Warner Brothers? What is Warner Brothers – out with an eye patch and a tin cup on the street? Fuck no! . . . I sell my soul, but at the highest rates. I don’t piss without being paid.”

“The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer.”

NYC Police Operations Order Regarding Photography

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1. Members of the service are reminded that photography and the videotaping of public places, buildings and structures are common activities within New York City. Given the City’s prominence as a tourist destination, practically all such photography will have no connection to terrorism or unlawful conduct. […]

2. Members of the service may not demand to view photographs taken by a person absent consent or exigent circumstances. […]

Full Order is (here). via, Gallery Hopper.

Sports Illustrated’s Slide Show Book

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Sports Illustrated has a new book out on May 5th called Slide Show that examines the actual physical slides from the images that made it into the magazine. They pulled their most famous and iconic shots from their archive of more than 750,000 original slides and photographed the mount with all the writing, marks and then the x-acto cut where the image was removed for scanning. Beyond the obvious rehashing of the SI photo archive for cash I felt a twinge of nostalgia for the transparency on the light table. Don’t get me wrong I couldn’t wait for the day when I wouldn’t have to handle slides anymore (which if you think about it has barely arrived, because I remember lots of slides kicking around the office 3 or 4 years ago), but I remember searching through piles and piles of slide sheets for cover shots or openers and it was just so awesome when you hit the jackpot. Also, it’s amazing to see them turning all these horizontals into vertical covers. They must have had some kick ass film scanners at SI because I remember it being so difficult to get a decent cover that way. I think any hardcore sports photographer or photo editor will find this book interesting.










SLIDE SHOW, which retails for $29.95 U.S./$32.95 Canada (Hardcover), will be available online at bookstores nationwide beginning May 5, 2009 (Amazon link).

Why Would You Quit Working With A Freelancer

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Jonathan a 3rd year photojournalism student at Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication has a Business Practices class taught by Professor, Marcy Nighswander (that’s what I’m told in an email anyways). For their first assignment she asked them to contact photo editors and ask them “to identify why they quit using a freelancer’s services or product.” Basically, Mrs. Nighswander, wants us to ask industry professionals if they stopped using a freelance photographer’s work for some reason such as, and not limited too, a poor professional relationship or lack of commitment.


I think the vast majority of photography that goes on in the world is simply a business transaction. You sell a product, your customers need it, and they will go elsewhere to get it if you don’t conduct yourself in a professional manner. Customer service, good communication skills, contract writing and all manner of business acumen is required in addition to the ability to take pictures.

Beyond that and I think the higher up you you go in the photography food chain the main reason to stop working with a photographer is if the shoot fails or if you or someone in the chain of command above you decides they don’t like that style of photography.

One of the important jobs photo editors and art buyers do besides finding photographers and working out the details of the shoot is determining beforehand if the photographer you want to work with can execute and deliver the shoot in a professional manner. You call them up on the phone, check out their portfolio and marketing material, look at the client list and generally try to get a feel for it beforehand.

Doug Menuez writes on his blog today (here) about the cold hard truth of shooting for the top news magazines in the 80’s:
At a conference in the 80’s I once heard a young photogapher ask Roxanne Edwards at Business Week what would happen if, you know, somehow the film just did not turn out? Response: “Then you would never work for us again.” Sharp, honest, true answer. But seriously, doh! The other editors on the panel from Time, Newsweek, US News all shook their heads solemnly in agreement. The pressure to get world-class images on deadline against tremendous competition was unrelenting, yet it was also what fueled us.

Talented Photographers Are 99% A Pain In The Ass To Work With

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From the wish I’d said it category:

“It is no surprise that talented photographers are 99% pain in the ass to work with. They have strong opinions, are stubborn, reckless, and most of the time have an extremely bad character. But that is simply because they are constantly challenged by a reality that annoys them. Like being assaulted by mosquitoes, all the time. They don’t have an attitude problem, it’s the world that lacks one.” — From that goddam Bohemian.

My favorite was always when the editor would come stomping into my office all up in arms because the photographer had made all kinds of unreasonable demands on the writer and/or the subject. And, at first I was concerned but then I’d investigate and maybe the subject wasn’t told there would be a photo shoot (a magazine is pictures, words and design you want to write a book go somewhere else) or possibly the writer expected a photographer to follow in their shadows (we need time with the subject to make great pictures) and more likely it’s because creative people are difficult and demanding and it’s not like your writer isn’t a neurotic basket case on deadline, the photo shoot is our deadline. Get over it.

Stephen Shore Video

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What I guess goes through my mind when I’m taking a picture is I’m thinking wordlessly about how all these elements relate to each other and I’m thinking again wordlessly about finding a balance that I look for a point that seems central to the picture and when I find that point that tells me where to stand and where exactly to aim the camera.
— Stephen Shore

A work can hold a lot of different things at once. explore the medium, explore perception and explore other psychological levels. I think all these levels operate through work at the same time so I don’t feel like I need to limit what I’m doing, that I can hold all these things.
— Stephen Shore

Omnicom Group’s Bad Terms For Photographers And Producers

So, it appears that Omnicom Group doesn’t want to be responsible for paying vendors if the client hasn’t paid them. It certainly seems to be the trend these days where citizens are held responsible for corporations that can’t pay their bills but an advertising agency eliminating their traditional role as financier for advertising campaigns maybe signals an impending overhaul of the way business is conducted. It seems like some kind of insurance may be required to pull off a big budget shoot in the future.

Here’s the media alert ASMP sent out:

Omnicom Passes the Buck

It has been brought to the attention of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) that the Omnicom Group, the world’s largest advertising agency holding company, has changed its terms and conditions in an effort to limit their agency liability and in so doing transfer that liability to independent photographers and producers. Basically, by disclosing their agency status and for whom they are acting, the advertising agency is only liable to the extent that their client has specifically paid them for any amounts payable to you. Additionally, ASMP has been informed that reps are being told that there will no longer be any advances on assignments.

These new policies are most probably the result of the market and governmental pressures experienced by major corporate clients such as GM who in their effort to avoid bankruptcy are now prioritizing their financial obligations and will make payment according to those priorities. In other words, some suppliers will be waiting significantly longer to be paid depending upon the client’s priorities. That being the case, agencies do not want to be left on the hook for reimbursement of monies expended on behalf of their clients, especially where the fear of bankruptcy exists.

These terms and conditions are simply not in the best interests of photographers, producers or clients. This action, clearly taken in anticipation of increasingly difficult financial conditions is a unilateral effort to shift the burden onto those who are least prepared to bear it. Should an independent photographer of moderate means be the banker for a Fortune 100 company? By eliminating their customary role as intermediate financier, agencies are removing value from the value-added chain, and that will ultimately lead to an overall dampening effect on commerce.

Meanwhile, there is no incentive for the agencies to make photographer friendly changes to their terms and conditions as long as photographers are willing to accept the current terms. Notice of these changes should be included in your blogs and discussed on related lists and social networking sites. The issue needs to become viral and requires significant support from key photographers in order to gain traction and effect change. If it is business as usual for the agencies, then nothing will be accomplished.

ASMP would recommend that photographers include in their paperwork a statement making it clear that there will be no grant of copyright license until all related assignment invoices are paid in full. Images should be registered with the Copyright Office immediately upon completion of the shoot and prior to first publication and/or possible infringement so that in the event that legal action – a last resort – is needed, recovery of statutory damages and court costs will be possible.

In addition, the Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP) recommends the following:

“If an agency’s internal policy insists upon these payment terms (sequential liability), the production company should:

a) Make sure the advertiser (“client”) also signs this agreement. If it is a rider, the terms of payment and the full contract price should be added to the rider.

b) Be provided with the advertiser billing and contact information.

c) Copy the advertiser on all invoices.

d) Notify the advertiser of payment due as soon as terms of the contract (payment dates) are not met by the agency.”

As a possible course of action, since the agencies are shifting liability to their corporate clients, perhaps photographers should consider approaching the clients directly for advances and or other payments prior to the beginning of the assignment.

Ultimately, this is a case of the supplier beware!

Eugene Mopsik

Executive Director, ASMP

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.