Editor comes to me with an assignment he’s made. Feature profile on this guy who, from what I can gather in the pitch, is a complete and utter bore. Furthermore, he refuses to give more than 10 minutes to be photographed and wants the shoot to take place in his drab suburban home. The editor goes on to tell me because of the story mix in this issue and his belief that this guy is as cool as the writer claims, the portrait needs to be dynamic. “Maybe he could swing from the rafters or jump off the high dive into the pool,” he tells me excitedly (a call to the publicist confirms he will be doing no such thing) “and whatever you do make it cheap we’ve already spent way too much on the cover and fashion and that feature story in Africa.” “He’s only available the day after tomorrow,” he croaks while exiting my office.


Double shit.

Who the hell can I get to take a shot of this guy? Everyone I call is gonna see it’s impossible. He’s a complete troll. No budget for props or grooming or something extra special like a water tank or a fake cannon and no time to build anything.

What. Am. I. Going. To. Do?

I could get all Chris Buck on him but… I know the editor will kill it because he thinks this guy is cool and dynamic not weird and awkward plus… if I burn Chris he’s not going to take my calls anymore.


Wait a minute.

There was that photographer who came by the other day. Very talented. Had a great book but not much experience. Well, maybe he’ll get a nice portfolio piece out of it because who knows if it will ever run. I’ve got his number around here somewhere…


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  1. What about doing a portrait of the guy that gives you a sense of his personality?

    How did we every get into this phase of turning everyone into a circus performer? What does swinging from the rafter or jumping of an high dive into the the pool tell you about the person?

    There are ways to embrace the drab surroundings in an interesting way and still have the portrait be about the person in front of the camera. Too often we learn more about the person behind the camera instead of the one in font of the camera.

    I can tell my own story on my time. When I’m on an assignment my job is to serve the reader.

  2. There is a big thread going on in another photographer forum about source books. So, I thought I’d ask you and this seems to be an appropriate post to do so.

    Where do you find photographers when you need to find someone. I know you have your own list in your head and you get recommendations from other AD/PE/AB, etc. But when not using one of those options, where do you go?

    Are source books worthwhile any more? Which ones? Which web portals do you like (workbook, blackbook, lebook, photoserve)? Ever use google?


  3. maybe it’s my client base, and i do shoot for national magazines, but those are the only kind of jobs i seem to get calls on, it’s flattering to a certain extent in that they trust me to pull a good image out of my ass or i did that once, so now i am the go to guy in a crisis, not the guy for shoots with options, but it’s my job after all to get an image that stands out on every shoot i get, in theory, regardless of the situation, but hearing about jobs with big budgets, grooming, stylists, props, locations and mostly, time…. i dunno what editorial world you people live, but i have had PE’s tell me that exact story before a shoot following by a good hearted, ‘have fun or good luck jonathan.’ it never really occurs to me it could be different….

  4. I feel your pain, as in REALLY feel it personally. It seems that 95% of the time you are really fighting it in the editorial world to get a great shot. I’ve seen so many writers over embellish the story and in reality it’s just not there when you go to shoot it. At least you have a good take on what a photographer is up against on a job like this. I’ve had plenty of shoots where I’ve done the set up using my assistant as a stand in and the shot looks great, totally cool until the real subject shows up and it seems there is just simply no way in the world that you get anything out of them. It happens and I’ve learnt to just roll with the punches and try to work on them gently through the shoot until I get something interesting out of them. It’s a process and it’s a bit like surfing a big wave and hoping you make it out the other end. As in surfing it doesn’t always work out the way you’d like. The best PE’s I’ve worked with really do have a good understanding of the realities we photographers face on certain jobs and usually try to find a good job down the road to make up for it or as a way of saying “thanks”.

  5. ” I’ve had plenty of shoots where I’ve done the set up using my assistant as a stand in and the shot looks great”

    That is hilarious. This happens to me all the time. My assistant is an ex-ballerina, so she has a grace to her that 99% of the subjects don’t have when they get in front of the camera.


  6. I think Annie started it with shooting everyone in their drawers (or teddy, in the case of Linda Ronstadt). Like your ballerina above, I possess an incredble physical grace and ability to pose that many of my subjects lack which, I think, would make me a poser or, more accurately a “poseur” (French). When you get lucky, though, you can get a subject to “do that thing again, that you were just doing before”. See Richard Ford: http://www.rickolivier.com/PORTRAITS_PAGES/portraits_page13.html

  7. I use photoserve to find photographers not in LA or NYC. Mostly use the list of agents I posted for NYC or LA plus the other paper lists I keep.

    Also, many times use American photography (the book) website and PDN 30 and PDN photography annual. SPD sometimes and LE Book rarely.

    Once saw a photo director on the train ripping pages out of the source book to remember photographers he liked.

    Most of the older PD’s are still very much analog. I’m very much more digital. Obviously.

  8. >>

    You touch upon something that’s always seemed like a factor in doing Editorial. There seem to be (at least) two types of jobs out there — “the good jobs”, usually the major stories in the issue, that usually involve flying a New York photographer to where the story is, and then, “the quarter page stories”, where there’s no money and it’s a small story, and then the PE calls a local guy and tells him what to do.

    Since I’ve lived in a B-Movie City most of my life, the calls I would normally get were usually the latter — they always started out the same: “Uh, we’ve got this story in an upcoming issue, and the subject is in Nashville/Memphis/Atlanta/Dallas/Louisville, (fill in the blank with the closest regional city), Can you shoot a portrait for us?”.

    At that point, I usually ask what the story is about, and if it sounds interesting, I continue the phone call, (unless it’s a WFH magazine, and I immediately end the phone call).

    It just seem like the only assignments worth doing are always given to the NY guys. Yet another reason to move to Park Slope.

    If the magazine starts in with their list of “how they’d like it shot”, I end the phone call also. It’s just a delicate dance, when the fee is $500 plus… You gotta bring something else to the table.

  9. I agree Mark. If an editor tells me they want the front of book photography to get better I say give me full page photos and don’t put any type on them.

  10. It’s like Matt Mahurin, Dan Winters and Chris Buck get the jobs because of who they are, and do the job in their own style, and the guys in the smaller cities get the jobs because of where they live, and because it’s cheap to drive to the subject, and they get told what to do.

    There are two completely different sets of rules.

    The goal is to be Matt Mahurin or Dan Winters.

    Can you imagine some PE calling up Matt Mahurin and saying, “Uh, we’ve got this GREAT story, and this really fun middle manager at a hedge fund, and we’d just love some really bright, happy colors, and we’d love her swinging from a chandelier”.


  11. Mark, I agree that the object is to become a known style entity like Matt and Dan, but even doing dept. pics for Texas Monthly and other publications I still was just simply given the subjects name and number and told “Go do your thing”. I think the short end of the equation comes from the lack of seasoned and experienced PEs that don’t have the comfort level to allow this to happen. Not to knock our host, but can you name one University that issues degrees in Photo Editing? Nancy McMillen and Kathy Marcus along with the King himself, DJ Stout knew what to look for and what their comfort levels were when it came to trusting photographers to deliver something unique, but allowed for creative expression without parameters. The distillation of styles, Octabanks, ring flashes, digital and the sheer exponential increase in photographers haven’t helped either. I also firmly believe that it’s the photographer’s responsibility to know their clients and either accept the parameters and kick some ass or decline and know that the phone will ring again for an opportunity to collaborate with a visually compatible client.

  12. Back in the day I did a 20 second shoot for Fortune. Yeah, it was crap and I couldn’t get it off me. My advice to anyone would be to turn you down cold.

  13. I don’t know about everyone elses experience but, the situation above seems to be the norm more than the exception. And yeah, it’s a pain in the ass but, that’s your job. You make due with what you’re given. And i think in the end it hopefully will make you a better photographer. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out and you might end up having a photo published you’re not too proud to have your name attached to. And that sucks but, that’s part of the challenge I think. It becomes more about psychology than photography. How can you get this person to let you in almost instantly?

    Look at Ben Baker’s work. Look at the people he’s photographing. He has 10 minutes max with a lot of those people I’m sure. Especially political figures but, you sift through his portfolio and he has amazing pictures of these people. Moments that seem like he has known these folks for years(Warren Buffet’s photo stand out especially to me). That’s not luck. He knows what he’s doing and he knows how to get people to relax.

    I think more than anything it’s about knowing how to communicate with people and building a rapport. More about establishing a comfort level for the subject than exquisite lighting or anything else.

  14. put him by a window and capture what you see.

  15. I couldn’t understand some parts of this article The Sandbag, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

  16. no matter how terrible people act, we don’t have a right to judge them. We are just to express our minds, and don’t have to pay attention what other people look like, what’s their real face. It doesn’t matter for me, if someone will say anything about me, I know what I really deserve, and what kind of person I really am.

  17. What came to mind and who always inspires me is Irving Penn’s and Rembrant light concurring with Steve Winik. I still can always return to the simple portrait and let the person be as they are. Whatever happened to the classic and timeless simplicity of that? I just tried it myself recently when given a window of fifteen minutes and it always takes me back to what I love about people and photography :)

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