James Nachtwey

- - Photographers

I used to think the tension in James Nachtwey’s photos came from the subject matter. Everything he shoots is so intense and scary how could there not be tension? I mean holy effing christ, you’re getting shot at or someone is telling you the horrors they experienced or you’re looking at the results of horrors they experienced and there’s got to be serious drama in any image made, right?

I sent Jim out on assignment once where I knew there was only the smallest percentage of a chance that something dramatic would happen. This is a very bad situation to send a photographer into, because the writer will draw on past events to manufacture drama when it doesn’t occur live which forces us into a situation where the editor wants to pull stock to create drama in the photography (I’m always on the lookout for these “traps” that are created when a writer oversells a story). When I heard nothing dramatic happened on the assignment I was prepared to be disappointed with the images not living up to the eventual rewrite of the story. But, hey wasn’t I surprised to see a couple images leading up to the drama that never happened, filled with tension and impending doom. Jim nailed it.

You see, the subject matter he shoots may be intense but Jim knows what he’s feeling or seeing doesn’t always translate directly to film so he uses the framing, timing and relationships between subjects and objects to create the tension.

Can you feel it?







Talent in Photography

Every month I get hundreds of promos and emails from photographers who have this business nailed down tight. It used to be really easy to spot the bad photographers with their lame promos and weak portfolios filled with blah subjects horribly lit in god-awful locations. Now, I get slick vibrant promos, leather bound portfolios brimming with beautiful prints, websites loaded with perfectly lit photographs of interesting looking people (celebrities even) in fascinating locations. On top of that; the pleasant and personal follow-up phone calls, thank-you cards, Christmas cards, prompt returning of emails and phone calls and a smart peppy studio manager on call 24/7 to handle any request.

Problem is, I can’t recall a single one of them, they all look the same to me. Perfectly executed photographs that make me want to take a nap.

In the digital age where taking a picture requires very little effort and all the professional secrets are laid bare any advantage photographers had from marketing and execution is now evaporating before us.

Professionalism will get you far in this business and even quite profitable but talent always trumps everything. You’re either born with it or you work very hard for many years to develop it. There will never be a shortcut.

I still call the photographer who dropped a memory card off a cliff (only half the shoot) and the one who sent me receipts from Russia stuffed in an envelope with no explanation (it’s very difficult to tell a dinner receipt from a midnight massage) and the one who doesn’t have a website (to busy shooting conflict) and the one who doesn’t return my calls for weeks on end (don’t think he likes me or my magazine much) because when I send them out on assignment they bring back images I could never have imagined.

Sometimes photographers take an “I could have done that” attitude when it comes to talent in this industry, but honestly, you can’t.

Colin Pantall

- - Photographers

I really love these pictures taken by Colin Pantall who I found over in photo rank (here) and he was also featured on Conscientious (here) back in May. I really don’t have a specific need for this type of photographer because the scope of his work is so limited I’m not sure what I would hire him to shoot but I’ll never forget these images. I’m sure something will come up someday and I’ll have no problem remembering him.

That fact is worth noting.



Thanks for the Comments

- - The Future

I found this recently and while I know it applies directly to the Photo Rank website I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to the valuable post comments.

I appreciate the time and effort that goes into creating worthwhile comments to my posts.

Distributed karma

an idea for fixing recommendation systems

This sketch refers to systems where a group of users votes on material created/submitted by other members of the group (comments, links), such as reddit or digg. Therefore it doesn’t apply to movie/book recommendation systems, etc.

Vote-based commenting systems, forums, news aggregators have become widely popular, and are considered prominent examples of the web 2.0 phenomenon. The main assumption is that by collecting the opinions of a large number of people, one can somehow distill information that is meaningful for the individual. (“crowd wisdom”)

The system works surprisingly well for a small community of people, who share similar interests. It is efficient in removing spam and obnoxious comments/submissions, and promoting valuable material.

When one tries to scale such a recommendation system, several problems arise:

  • As the community grows, the quality of the average opinion declines. This doesn’t necessarily imply that most people are stupid. As users see their opinions having smaller and smaller effect, they spend less effort in making educated decisions and taking part in quality discussion.
  • As there are more and more users, the average user cannot remember a significant portion of the community, and the chance of finding material created by someone familiar becomes very small. There’s a much smaller chance for influential people to emerge. Newcomers don’t respect the established hierarchies, there aren’t any expert voices. (“Eternal September“)
  • As the community becomes more diverse, the standard deviation from the average opinion becomes larger, and one can hardly identify with it anymore.
  • It is a small minority of the whole community who votes, and this minority is not necessarily the most knowledgeable, etc. Even if everyone votes, expert opinions aren’t given any weight, opposing opinions cancel each other out. We end up having the average review of anything on the internet ‘3 stars out of 5’.[1]
  • Users can easily game the system, by creating multiple identities (sockpuppets), voting and commenting their own submissions, etc.

Towards a solution:

1. Karma.

A first idea would be to have a score of how reputable a user is (karma), then let the karma influence the weight each vote of the person carries. If the votes themselves generate karma for others, this…

More at Sunspot Software (here).

I’m a Photographer

- - Photographers

Alright people, it’s almost Thanksgiving and I want to make sure you’re prepared to meet your aunt’s sister in law’s son who is also a photographer because you know how it is these days saying you’re a photographer is like saying you breathe air.

But, here’s the deal, you need a shit load of talent to become a “working photographer.” A shiiiiiiiiiit load. There is such a massive gulf between amateur and professional photography it’s really quite improbable how people can make the jump. I guess that’s the good news for pros. The bad? Enduring your new amateur photographer friend’s endless string of questions about camera type and file treatment and technique then the viewing of vacation photos on the ipod or blog or photo sharing site and then in my case the inevitable “if you ever need photos from the
Vesna Festival in Saskatoon Saskatchewan Canada, I was there last year and have a thousand shots.”

I’ve got nothing against amateur photographers and I’m more than happy to engage them in conversation about the business but this website is for working photographers, people who aspire to become working photographers, photo editors and art directors. I don’t give a crap if you hang out on flickr or myspace or zooomr because there’s plenty of good stuff happening there as well. But, if you come here to hang with us it’s to engage in conversation about working as a photographer at the highest level.

See you after the break.

Crushing it in the Local Market

- - Photography Business

One of my readers who works at PDN thought the recent discussion about doing time in NYC or LA, for 2 or 3 years, then moving where you want and mopping up would make a good magazine story. I agree. Based on the comments I’d say it’s the hottest topic we’ve covered so far.

So, let’s do PDN and ourselves a favor, so we can see a real reported and fact checked story on this. If you’re one of these photographers or happen to know one you can rat out send an email to: dwalker100 (at) comcast (dotz) net.

The Book AKA The Portfolio

- - Getting Hired

The Agent at AVS (here) weighs in on the important issue of portfolios (So did Jackanory (here) but his is more about your style of photography) and I couldn’t agree more with all the points made. He mentions a massive heavy portfolio that was making the rounds awhile back that everyone remembers but no one seems to recall what was on the inside plus it always makes me think when a book is really over the top that someone is compensating for something.

Black, leather bound (possibly the wax), not too big and not too small with 25-35 pages (guessing since I never counted), embossed with your name. Find it here (link).

I seriously doubt having an incredibly original book would ever get you a job but not having a decent one will certainly be a mark against you. In the end all that matters is the photography.

I’m more of a website person–clearly–so I don’t really need to see a book but the oddest thing happened to me a couple weeks ago. Two photographers in a row came in and their books were quite a bit better than their websites. Must be because they tailored the book specifically for me and now I’m suddenly seeing some problems with the website portfolio.

Before sending the book back I always make sure and huck a promo in the trash. Photographers seem to like that better than my previous practice of not grabbing one.

The “Business” of Photography

- - Photography Business

Don’t know how I missed this comment from the “Crapshoot” post but It’s really good and worth bringing up front.

BRRRRRR wrote:

It’s admirable to think it could all be about the images, and it’s inspiring to think of the art world as a model. But this is about business, and business doesn’t work that way. Look at most of the content that goes into these stories or ads or whatever the assignments are: it’s silly crap to begin with. How can the hullaballoo that surrounds it not contain a degree of silly crap?

It’s pretty easy to sit outside the big markets and complain about how incestuous they are. Then you step into those big markets and you realize they contain whole universes. The competition is fierce. No, talent does not always rise to the top. But professionalism often does. A temperament and a capacity for managing the business environment, the clients and their often wacked out notions, peers, reps and agents, editors, the egos of all concerned, so on and so forth — and then on top of it to get shots: that’s what will get honed in those contexts. You don’t have to like it; hell, many of the people who go through it don’t *like* it. But most of those who manage to negotiate it one way or another will acknowledge they got something out of it, and that it made them “better” in some sense of the word.

Art, or voice, or vision, or whatever you want to call it, happens as an accident in this world. Everybody in the business is interested in it to some degree, but it’s rare that any of them get the chance to foreground it. Someone else’s expectations are always driving the car, and someone else’s credit card is always putting gas in the tank. Getting the job done — whatever the job is perceived to be by the ones who are paying for it — becomes priority one. Time matters; familiarity with the game matters; proximity matters; track record matters. You can’t blame people for minimizing risk when that’s part of what they’ve been explicitly charged with doing by the guys who put bread on their tables.

Also, the fact is that there are so many people working in those big markets that you often don’t *have* to go outside them. I guarantee you there are 20 young photographers in Brooklyn who don’t just know Nebraska (or wherever) but actually grew up there, and are willing to fly there tomorrow and work for a song. They are as hungry as anyone else, and a few of them might prove to be as talented. It may be vicious, but it’s also real.

Someone earlier nailed what may be one of the best strategies: do your time in a big market, endure it, get your game on, then take it to a smaller market and clean house. I have a good friend who did exactly that last year, leaving NYC after several tough but productive years and going to a smaller market, where he’s not just surviving but thriving, in part due to all he picked up.

Hiring New Photographers- In Action

- - Getting Hired

I received an email from a fellow Director of Photography looking for a photographer who shoots like “so and so” but is less commercial and does smaller productions (you know, 1 assistant instead of 3, that kind of stuff). So I send her a list of people I like and we get on the phone to discuss.

We’re both going down the list clicking on websites and she’s telling me why each one won’t work for this. “Last shoot he did didn’t turn out” and “too static” and “too quirky” and “way to static” and “we use him all the time” and finally heeeeeeeey, who’s this guy he’s perfect.

Well, I tell her he’s been on my list for a year now but I’ve never hired him. And, she literally does the following: Clicks the client list, “good clients, lots of people I respect” and clicks the contact link “great agent, love the agent, solid reputation and tons of great photographers on their roster.”

I’m going to hire him, thanks.

Ahhhh Much Better

- - Websites

Finally found a wordpress theme I like.

Sure, they’re all free but there’s a ton of crap to wade through… hey that sounds just like… oh, nevermind.

Brigitte Lacombe

- - Photographers

You know what I love about working with Brigitte Lacombe (here) besides dropping her impressive (lovely sounding too) name in meetings.


That’s right. No one is allowed in the room with Brigitte and the subject. No client hovering, no hair person attending to errant hairs, no makup person blotting the brow, no stylist fussing the collar, no caterer tapping emails on the blackberry, no producer yapping on the cell phone, no agent cleaning fingernails… no goddam distractions.

Can you tell?





2 Billion Photos on Flickr

- - Photography Business

… and they all… not going to say *it*.

TechCrunch reported a couple days ago that Flickr reached 2 Billion photos (here) and the lucky winning photo is:

Taken by Yukesmooks, who’s flickr page can be found (here). This photo evokes the famous cliché that I am sworn as a member of the professional photo community to never utter (unless I am dying). I think as a randomly selected image it perfectly represents the average of what you will find in the collection.
They are also reporting that Facebook has 4.1 Billion photos on their site. Blap.

What does it all mean? I just decided 5 seconds ago (really, I changed my mind as I was writing this) this is a good sign for professional photographers. It means people love photography and it means the photography business will be booming soon and talented professionals will be needed to shoot advertising and editorial for all the magazines (or websites) these photo lovers will buy. And, all the companies that sell cameras and photography equipment will need endorsements from pros and need multi-million dollar campaigns shot to support the boom. And, people will buy books and visit websites and click on ads that have great photography. How can it not?

Don’t you think Yukesmooks wants to become a better photographer? I think old Yukie does and would now be willing to put some money behind that quest. What if the 2 billionth photo had been something great and not just a photo of wood against sky. He’d be selling tons of merchandise and making money.

More on Photo Rank *on the sidebar*

- - Getting Noticed

If you’ve ever submitted a photo and spent $45 or more on a photography contest and never heard back from them and thought to yourself “what the hell is wrong with those people” and “just who are these cranks they hired to judge it anyway?” Well, now you can submit a photo, your portfolio or a body of work to be voted on for free and see exactly, who all the cranks are and maybe you’ll get a comment or two back and maybe photo buyers will stop by and cherry pick photographers the same way I do when I visit contest sites.

Feel free to do whatever you want there, ask a question, submit something for constructive criticism, point out something in the news, whatever works lets just keep it in the realm of professional photography. If you put something up you’re not happy about just send me an email with remove in the subject line and I’ll delete it. I’m also going to delete any content that’s not related to photography along with the spam. Let’s see if this leads anywhere.

A New Feature

- - Photographers, Websites

I thought it might be interesting if I created a place where people could submit a story or their website or a photograph and let their peers vote and add a comment. I’m calling it photo rank and it’s in the sidebar and (here).

I was looking for a program that would allow people to submit portfolios to me on this blog and came across this free software called pligg. I can’t believe how many features it has and I have no idea if it will prove useful or just more of a time suck. I loaded all the photographers I’ve written about to get things started. See what you think.

Finding New Photographers

- - Working

There is nothing better in this business than finding and hiring new talent and getting back an amazing shoot. Nothing. Conversely there’s nothing worse than a failed shoot from someone you just hired for the first time. Ahhhhhh the highs and the lows. I probably hire 2-8 new people every issue… whaaaaaaaaaa, 2-8 N.E.W.? That’s right people, a regular shooter gets 2-4 assignments a year, that’s just how I roll.

The process for finding someone new can get a little “CSI.”

The method that requires the least amount of effort is to poach someone from a magazine I respect. That’s too easy, so if I really want to earn my paycheck I put together a case based on available evidence that tells me if a photographer is able to deliver the results I’m looking for.

It all starts the first time I see a photograph I like taken by someone I’ve never heard of (this is actually somewhat rare). I write the name down on my list and begin collecting evidence. A name can go on the list and it could be years before I’ve built enough evidence or found the right project that triggers an assignment so there’s a lot of names in various stages of case building.

The evidence: Your book, website, tears, clients, awards (American Photography, PDN photo annual, SPD), personal work, promo card, story in PDN, blog, photo I saw published somewhere, a story I heard, our meeting, someone dropped your name, the Creative Director likes your work, the editor knows your name (possibly a negative), one of my jr. photo editors likes your work, the changes in your book since the last time I saw it, you have photos in my coffee shop, the phone message you left, the email you sent that was interesting and personal, another DOP told me you rock, your handshake is solid, the email with a new tear I think is cool, you care about my magazine (not just the cover and fashion), a gallery exhibit, and a photographer who is your peer recommended you.

That’s a ton of evidence to consider but in truth since I don’t write any of this down it really just adds up to an overall feeling about someone. There’s a trigger in there somewhere but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you what it was.

For someone like Kathy Ryan at the New York Times Magazine who keeps lists of fine art photographers (among other endless lists) the trigger is likely a combination of a solid subject-photographer match, growing acceptance in the fine art community and being relatively unknown in the editorial market. If any of those are way off the assignment doesn’t happen.

I will leave you with this as it pertains to how I see blogs fitting nicely into this picture here on out. It is so exceedingly rare that a photographer I respect and work with would recommend to me another lesser-known photographer that every time it’s happened I’ve gone and hired the recommended person and the results have been nothing but positive.

Technology is Turning Average Consumers into Freelance Photographers

- - Photography Business

Into the annals of jackassery goes web startup gosee4me.com which proposes to have amateur photographers lowball each other for the chance to shoot an “object, structure, or physical location on the planet.” The press release is priceless as pure comedy. In a typical bloated web 2.0 style of over-hyped photo bullshit they provide a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

(openPR) – Inexpensive Digital Cameras Along with Innovations on the Web
Allow the Average Joe to Make Some Money on the Side –

Not long ago, the qualifications to be a freelance photographer were to own an expensive camera and possess the technical knowledge to manipulate shutter speeds and aperture settings in order to take good pictures. Although commercial quality images are still captured by professional photographers, the advent of inexpensive, sophisticated digital cameras along with new innovations on the web are allowing anyone who can push a button to earn a little extra cash.

These amateur photographers are snapping pictures of the multitude of objects and locales they encounter in their daily activities. The service they are providing as a whole is to photograph everything and every place on earth – a task so immense that all of the world’s professional photographers together could not possibly achieve.

The need for photos of almost everything imaginable is being driven by our fast paced society that has grown accustomed to obtaining information on-demand. Even the huge collection of photos available through Google’s image search function is not adequate when very specific images are required.

Where there is a need, there is a business opportunity. Innovative new web services are meeting the demand by harnessing a vast network of amateur photographers. For example, a service named GoSee4Me (www.GoSee4Me.com) provides photos of any object, structure, or physical location on the planet. The service is inexpensive because amateur photographers bid against each other to provide the photos, driving the price down to a level that is affordable in almost every situation.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a digital image is worth a thousand Gigabytes in the Information Age. Amateur photographers are providing those digital images, and they are being paid for their efforts.

Press Contact:
Josh Rothman
P.O. Box 1983
Tustin, CA 92781

GoSee4Me is a privately-held web service located in Irvine, California. The company provides the first and only service that connects people who need photos of remote objects with other people who can provide those images inexpensively.