Keren Sachs Director of Photography for Merchandise at Martha Stewart Living OmnimediaKeren Sachs is the Merchandising Director of Photography for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in New York City. She got her start as a Photo Editor at National Geographic Kids spent time at the Wall Street Journal and then as an Art Director at Corbis where she refined the more commercial aspect of Photo Editing that she utilizes today.

Keren oversees the photography for all the merchandise at Martha Stewart where all advertising, packaging and marketing is done internally for their 17 selling partners. She produces all aspects of the photo shoots and hires a wide range of photographers to shoot everything from food, wine, bedding, lighting to glassware. She retains long standing relationships with a number of photographers and tries to balance that by seeking out fresh talent as the opportunities present themselves. The company maintains 5 studios in the office and she’s able to spend time on set with all photographers and shoots throughout the day.

I had a few questions for her but I would encourage anyone else who wants to ask something to drop a question in the comments and we’ll try and get it answered.

Tell me about the shooting all the merchandise for Martha Stewart Living. How many photographers do you hire and how many products are you shooting and how many shoots take place each month?

This month we have 6 shoots for over 200 different products. I hire freelance photographers for all of our work. Currently, we have 18 partners so there is a great mix from Home Décor to Food and Wine to Crafts, Flowers, Home Goods and Textiles.

How do photographers get on your radar? What are your sources for finding photographers and then what’s the process for hiring them?

Agents update me on their new photographers or the new work from people I already know. I also do research and spend time on agency and photographers’ sites. Once I find a photographer I will call in a hard copy portfolio if I haven’t seen it already. I bring the books to meetings to discuss photographers with our creative team. I can’t do this the same way with a website. However, one thing I keep noticing with portfolios is that most photographers only put their favorite work in their book—a book of lifestyle images shot outside in a field isn’t going to help you land a job shooting interiors or still life here. The best way to get on my radar is to show me work that is relevant to the work we do. If it is not in the book, I can’t get our creative team on board.

These days I don’t get as many self promo cards as I used to. However a fantastic promo by James Tse introduced me to his work and I just hired him to shoot packaging for our line of food at Costco. I also attend portfolio reviews and events where I can meet with agents and learn about other photographers. I find article’s like PDN’s Who’s Shooting What helpful as well.

We have a core group of photographers who have been with the company for many years and do great work in both editorial and merchandising. Victor Schrager recently shot packaging for our Martha Stewart Collection at Macy’s. He also shot our Martha Stewart’s Cookies Book.

Do you find that shooting products over and over again can become tedious and if so how do you combat that?

The products we shoot are different every season and for every partner. We also have a diverse and talented group of art directors and stylists working on each shoot. Our products tell a story and inspire the consumer. While we do not want the consumer to see the same image over and over again, we do want them to see an image and know that it is quintessentially Martha Stewart.

There’s a fairly well established aesthetic to the Martha Stewart brand so is it possible to introduce new styles of photography?

There is a way to modernize our photography and make it fresh while still keeping true to our look and feel that people associate with the brand. You’ll notice this in our Self Portrait advertisement campaign shot by both Eric Piasecki and Sang An.

I think the value of product photography goes up as buying decisions go to the web because photography is all you have to grab consumers. Has that become a factor yet in the photographers you hire?

Definitely. Our photography a key aspect of our brand online and in print. However, our products must still remain hero while we build brand equity in our merchandise lines. The images have to be strong enough to instantly grab the consumers and make them stop before clicking through to something else. One way we increase the value is by making sure the imagery is lit beautifully and with purpose. You’ll notice this in the photography for our new line at shot by Travis Rathbone. Too many times I have seen images with beautiful lighting but the product is in shadow. That doesn’t help us sell products and it certainly doesn’t work on the web.

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  1. Hi Karen,
    Great to hear from you and learn about all you work on at Martha Stewart Living. I was wondering if all your photographers (other than location) shoot in the Martha Stewart studios? And, have you had much resistance from them or has it created a better work situation for everyone?
    Thanks for your time!

  2. Thanks for an excellent interview. Keren is one of the most gifted and multi-talented people I’ve met in the creative field. Her understanding of brand and business strategy, combined with a critical and creative eye make her not only an excellent judge of the right photographer for the right job, but also an asset to the art direction team before a shoot ever takes place.

  3. Rob, great interview. As someone who aspires to shoot food and products, I’ve always found MS to be a constant source of inspiration. Their photography is top-notch.

    Karen, thanks for the insights. So, if one doesn’t have an agent, is the best way to get on your radar simply an email or promo in the mail? Keep up the great work.

    – Ed

  4. Great Info! Would love to see even more of these with a slant to Advertising and Commercial Photography.

  5. Liz,
    The majority of our shoots do take place here in our studios. We have a great space and a fantastic design and fabrication team that can build just about anything for us. I have not experienced resistance from photographers – most are happy to shoot here.

    Photographers without agents usually contact me via email or mail. I think a promo in the mail is best. If it is good, I’ll hold onto it. I do receive promos via email but I prefer to have something in my hands like a self promo card. Either way is better than a cold call!

  6. I agree with Jason above. Great interview, and more like this, with different slants, would be great. As a photog, this really helps figure out where and how to spend marketing dollars trying to get attention from art buyers and photo editors.

  7. Great interview APE, and Keren, thanks for the candid responses! It’s always interesting to hear about a great company, and the people behind it.
    My question Keren: When selecting a photographer to hire, how do you make the connection from their portfolio to the MSLO brand. I looked at some of the work and know some other photographers who shoot for MSLO, some are obvious connections, some I would not have put with the MSLO brand.

    I am trying to figure out how to market more efficently. I have been approached and hired by companies that at first glance you would not think to be a good match, but then we discuss the shoot and we realize we are a perfect for each other. I am looking for more insight into this process of finding the perfect match. If the photographers portfolio doesn’t directly reflect your brand, what insight do you have, to know if that photographer will be a good match for you?
    I want to know if I may be marketing to narrowly.

    Thank you

  8. Hi Keren,

    Would you mind sharing more about your background/education? Where did you go to school, what did you major in, etc. What would you recommend for someone looking for a job like this?

    This was an excellent and very informative interview! Thank you!

  9. William,
    Thats a good question. It might not seem like some photographers are a natural fit but when reviewing portfolios I consider many factors including lighting. If I see different types of lighting showing that the photographer can work in varied conditions and achieve beautiful light, I know that he or she can can shoot to our needs. We don’t always go for the photographer you’d expect for our company, but we select the right photographer for the given project to help us achieve the most for our brand. My advice is to be in touch with those you wish you to work for and show them your very best work that fits the types of products they create and sell.

    I graduated from the University of Michigan with a BFA in photography and a BA in American Culture. A well-rounded education with a strong focus in photography will help anyone in this industry succeed. My understanding of business and art has been tremendously beneficial.

    Thanks for all of the great questions.

  10. Thanks for the great response Keren!
    I will put it to work!

  11. Dear Keren Sachs,

    Westchester Art Workshop of SUNY Westchester Community College is in the process of creating a certificate in photography. We have a photography department that include both traditional film and digital technologies. We are looking for volunteers in the professional community to help us develop our certificate program. A few meetings and email correspondence to help ensure that we graduate students with tools they will need to enter the field is what we are hoping for from the people who know what skills a prospective employee should most possess.

    Please contact me if you think you may be able to help.

    Thank you.

    Best regards,

    Debora Fitzgerald
    914 606 7504

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