Fire All The Photographers

- - Working

Usually when a magazine hires a new Photography Director the first thing that happens is all the photographers are fired. There’s no actual firing because the photographers are all freelancers so there’s usually a transition where the previous Photo Editors shoots are cycled through the system and then new shoots are commissioned with entirely different photographers.

It’s not unusual for a few trusted photographers that align with the Photo Editor’s aesthetic to travel from job to job with them. Also, the Creative Director and Editor will have some favorites and depending on the dynamic at the publication those will find their way into the mix. Nothing really unusual here just the life cycle of the photo industry where everyone thinks they have the photographic solutions to whatever maybe ailing a publication at that particular moment in time (newsstand is down, advertising is down, we need a more upscale audience, we need more upscale advertisers, readers don’t send us letters).

A very different more difficult scenario occurs when a magazine gets a new Creative Director or Editor or both and you have to fire all the photographers you’ve established good working relationships with including all your goto’s. The Editor and/or Creative Director will have had to deliver a critique of the magazine to whomever is doing the hiring and I’ll guarantee that somewhere in that critique will be a discussion of the photography and how it can be changed to fix whatever ails the magazine. My advice to Photo Editors in this situation is to fire everyone and start over. You can bring in some of your favorites but only after you fire them first to show your willingness to recast the photographic DNA of your publication.

Of course, these scenarios present excellent opportunities for photographers with a good sense of timing to get themselves inserted into the regular rotation.

There Are 25 Comments On This Article.

  1. This is why it is good to be nice to everyone you meet when you make most of your $ from Editorial Photography no matter how much you may secretly dislike them. When they move to a new magazine (which happens as the seasons change it seems sometimes) all of a sudden you have a new client! Sure it sucks to not work for a magazine that you shot for nearly every month for years and years, but change can be a good thing.

  2. I’ve found this happens a lot, and unfortunately very often when there’s a dramatic shift in personnel in the higher creative echelons of a magazine it doesn’t go too well. A PE getting fired/leaving and then being replaced by a new PE is one thing, but the disturbing thing I’ve seen is when the new editors or creative directors put a mandate out to cut down on assignments altogether and use more stock! That seems to be happening more and more these days.

    Even more troubling is the trend I’ve seen where PEs I had good solid relationships with would suddenly leave their jobs to go “Freelance” and then would never be heard from again, wouldn’t seem to land at any particular magazine. I think all of us photographers know how easy it is to be freelance and sort of disappear.

    There was a time when I was just starting out where every time I had a great meeting with a really enthusiastic buyer or PE I’d wait a couple weeks, write a thank you note only to find that the company was shut down or the magazine out of business! D’oh. . . We’ve all got the disingenuous “Hope to work with you soon!” notes from our portfolio drop offs. I just wish some of them would’ve been more accurate. Something like:

    “Hope to work with you soon if we’re not bankrupt!”


    “Hope to see you soon on the unemployment line! Oh, wait, you can’t get unemployment because you’re self-employed! Sorry!”

  3. we all go through it. it’s part of the business. new editor/design director/photo editor wants to put their own stamp on the publication so out with the old and in with somebody different. if you’re lucky you eventually get back in. and the people that have been relying on you move on and probably when they are established in a new position. happens in every creative field. but max is right. the reliance on stock, with its oversupply of images and consequent downward pressure on prices, is a bigger problem. every annual report designer I know is now asked by clients to stock photography before the clients will consider commissioning a photographer to shoot something original. maybe I am overly-optimistic, but I think the pendulum will slowly swing in the other direction as clients begin to want better, original work.

  4. should have read “and probably will call on you again when they are established in a new position”.

  5. Nick The Click

    Sing along with me folks, just like Neil Sadaka ” Breaking up is hard to do”.

  6. I think in times of client transition what has helped me best was my reputation and also my relationships with the entire staff.

    One of my oldest clients has gone through three art directors in three years and every time they get a new one there’s always this weird time where they don’t use me as much.

    I find that a lunch or some time to sit down and talk with the new team member makes it better for everyone involved and we all end up making great work together in the end.

  7. Photo editors also leave the business entirely, and obviously that means the end of an avenue for potential work. It means that the flights to NY, post cards, and email promos must be continuous.

    It also points to the old adage of not have all your eggs in one basket. It’s kind of like an investment portfolio. If you become to reliant on one area, or one publication, or one corporation (as I currently am), then it’s time to re-balance. Over reliance on one source for more than 25% of revenue can lead to disaster.

  8. My advice to Photo Editors in this situation is to fire everyone and start over. You can bring in some of your favorites but only after you fire them first to show your willingness to recast the photographic DNA of your publication.

    You mean…. throw photographers who have worked their asses off for you under the bus so you can keep your two bit cubicle job…..dont ya?

    Nothing like a little loyalty.

  9. get over it, everyone works their ass off. loyalty to out of work photo editors hardly benefits anyone. plus, I just think it gets stale after awhile and people need to move on and try new things.

  10. Right…but your motivation wasnt change YOU wanted… it was sucking up to your new boss and keeping your job instead of standing up for the shooters you believe in….and for standing up for yourself and your judgement.

    The new boss want all current shooters of THE LIST …. you snap to it and live to see another paycheck.

    I dont agree w/ you about the getting stale comment either. I’ve been shooting for some client for 15 years … I still get as nervous before every shoot as I did on day one. Only a bored, fat, shooter lets it get stale.

  11. I’m not sure a total scorched earth/start over with a blank page solution is the best approach. but rob is right: everybody works hard in this equation and editors can be under pressures we photographers never hear about that go into their decision making. try to remember that when somebody hires you it means a lot of sombody elses, including those who may have been shooting for that editor previously, are NOT doing this job. YOU are. most of us have been on both sides of this one. all you can do is make people want to hire you by doing great work and being easy to get along with. again and again.

    I find that most photo editors are well-informed, hard working and fair, and always under pressure. but-just like photographers-some can have a an exaggerated sense of their own importance and degree of competence. understandable, perhaps, when you consider how much power and influence they have as gatekeepers. of course, if that editor is hiring you then it doesn’t matter.

  12. Mario, I’ll assume you’re a freelancer and unaware that the photo editor works for the magazine and is not an independent contractor and that means they work for the Editor, Creative Director, CFO, Owner… so if people want to change things because it’s not working it’s their job to make the changes. I prefer to stand up to a certain level of photography not defend photographers nobody likes to my death. As far as you comments meant to belittle working in an office for the man… I don’t anymore.

  13. Nick The Click

    I think that it’s best for everyone to assume that it’s inevitable that rollover is going to happen. Loyalties will remain regardless of who’s at the helm. It may not be getting assignments from the exact same pub, but referrals from people who move into other sectors or different magazines due to that new command are worth their weight in gold and not resting on one’s laurels, who ever she is, happens to be good growth incentive. Just think, who’s your daddy and then dad marries a new wife and you are suddenly at the bottom of the food chain. Entitlements are anomalies in this industry, so adapt, and develop new outlets for your work, our industry thrives on it. It may not be fair but most people need a little external motivation anyway. Assume every job may be your last and all you have to leave with is the kick ass job you just did.

  14. Change is good (though may not seem so at the time) and change is constant. In any field. Can’t the PE leaving and either several loyal photogs following, or ‘firing’ the photogs, just cause a wholesale change to the vibe of a publication? Intentionally or otherwise? Shouldn’t that be minimized if possible – if that’s not wanted that is. Are there cases where the new PE will try and keep the roster of photogs because of that? Not being on the inside, I am curious.

  15. @Kevin: “It also points to the old adage of not have all your eggs in one basket”

    Always sage advice.

    @APE: “I just think it gets stale after awhile and people need to move on and try new things.”

    I think photographers should see this as an opportunity to hit the news stands and refresh their list of PE contacts. Chances are, there’s something fresh and exciting happening that could be a good break, and you’re missing out because you’re too comfortable.

    Down times are a chance to refresh and try new things. When the stock market is down, everything’s on sale. When the magazine industry is struggling, that’s when fresh and new publications have a chance to break in, and new photographers have a chance to get noticed by publications in transition. Keep your glass half full. =)

  16. Change is absolutely good for both parties. I was on contract for many years for Mens Journal in the mid-90’s, and it was wonderful for me and them. A new editor came in and he wanted to change the look. That is a completely understandable move on his part. That is why he was hired, his job was to change the look.

    I did not really get fired, they just did not renew my contract. Maybe I did get fired………bastards. They can’t, I’m freelance! Best thing that happened to me, no ill will. I just moved on. It’s business!

  17. @ Mike: There’s always that fear with the publisher that change will signal to the advertisers that something is wrong but it always turns out to be unfounded. Staying the same is a great way to follow your audience to the grave but if you want to capture new readers you’ve got to change with the times. I’m not saying PE’s shouldn’t work with their favorite photographers I’m just saying they should be open to new ideas and approaches from their new colleagues and bosses and the best technique to demonstrate that is to show your willingness to recast the model. Just bring your favorites in after tweaking things a bit.

    I’m always surprised at how little photographers understand the politics of working for a corporation. Sure, if you’re George Pitts or David Friend you just stand your ground or get a new job if this one doesn’t work out. Everyone else must play the game.

  18. The whole photography business sounds so scary. No wonder somethings telling me to just chill back and try to do what I do best. If things will happen for me one day, so be it – but my sanity is way more important!

    Great interview in PDN!

  19. @Rob
    Interesting you mention the challenges of working for a corporation. I’ve done time at ad agencies, in small outfits where I was the sole creative and even in a marketing role at Apple Computer. I won’t say I’m an old hand at that lifestyle but I totally know where you are coming from. I just couldn’t handle it anymore.My friends think I’m crazy as I struggle to get things off the ground, as I scrimp and save to buy more gear and pour every ounce of my energy and money into my business. Pressure on what people pay for images, copyright stress, learning from scratch how to do things like accounting etc. all pile on a lot of worry. It’s tough. Certainly, this audience is the last that needs reminding of this fact. Everyday I wonder if maybe I should just go back to some cushy job where I could just draw a paycheck and leave the stress to someone else but then I remember how good it feels to sweat and work really hard on assignment you care about, deliver great images and have that work acknowledged with cold hard cash or even better, when another human being displays emotion in response to an image you’ve captured.

    For my part, I actually like the idea of things getting shaken up within magazines every so often. Gives opportunities for all involved to learn something new, to grow. Who knows, such a situation could help me get my own career to a place I’d like it to be. I get bored easily, change is something I’ve always welcomed.

  20. There is good and bad in every situation. A few years ago, a travel magazine I was a contributing photographer to underwent a sea change. They bean counters fired the best editor they ever had and then started the slow downward spiral into royalty-free photography and lots of ads for condominiums in Miami Beach.

    There were four contributing editor photographers and a slew of exceptional shooters who gave this magazine their best.

    What happened finally was disgusting to me. The Art Director got very sick, so much that she was in the hospital for the better part of the summer. Her number two saw the opportunity to jump ahead in the corporate world that this magazine had become. He took over while she was sick, got their ear of management and managed to have her demoted upon her return from the hospital. The little snake then got the magazine to start saving money by going RF instead of assignments and “letting go” of the contributing photographers and editors. It was never a big money maker for me, more a chance to shoot stock, enjoy some great locations and work with people who appreciated my photography.

    The bothersome thing about the jerk who took over the magazine was he cloaked himself in the good-old-boy, Texas Baptist, clean-living wonder boy who would save the day. He was vicious in how he gutted the magazine and his betrayal of the people who originally gave him a starter job guarantees him a very special place in art directors hell.

    I can understand him wanting to have a clean slate, no problem there. But not earning the position and demoting the person who hired you while she was suffering from stomach cancer is beyond the pale.

  21. Any magazine that thinks cheaper photography is the solution will fail. You can’t compete with free. The only content worth buying on the newsstand is original, can’t be found anywhere else.

  22. Rob,

    Very upfront and honest article. One of your best. Don’t agree with the comment “Any magazine that thinks cheaper photography is the solution will fail”, though. Everyone who visits your blog can probably count on both hands and both feet magazines who think “cheap pictures” IS the solution.

    Keep up the great work!

  23. “I’m always surprised at how little photographers understand the politics of working for a corporation”

    Not something I had really thought about but think I need to, would like to hear more on that.