Switching Careers To Photo Editor

I get asked once and awhile for advice from people established in one career intent on switching to try and become a photo editor. This can really be a difficult move because you can’t go intern for seven to zero bucks an hour which, as I’ve written before (here), is the traditional method of landing a job in the photo department of a magazine.

First off any photographers or people who’ve worked closely with photographers will be in a good position to step into an entry to mid level job. I’ve had good luck in the past hiring photographers for their ability to spot good images. Sending them off with a list of holes we need filled from stock agencies always resulted in a good pull and less work on my end culling everything down. Also, as you can imagine photographers can be very buttoned up with the details of any shoot you give them to manage and really try to give the people they’re working with any advantage possible with budget, access or time with the subject. This always results in better photography. So, if you’re not a photographer looking to make the jump working with one in some capacity will give you good experience that easily translates to photo editing at a magazine.

The only other way I can think of to get some photo editing experience is to start your own magazine. It’s actually not as hard as it sounds and the experience of dealing with all the aspects of magazine making from the budget to the printing and distribution make you an excellent candidate for hiring. When I was working with photographers in Jackson Hole I saw 3 people start their own local magazines and then go on to land jobs as editors at national magazines. The photographers I worked with actually published a couple local magazines which gave me my first taste of the whole process. Anymore, I think you could do something entirely online at a fraction of the cost and still have something great to show potential employers. The key to this path of course is finding talented photographers to work with on a minuscule budget. You have to create something that has value for them as a promo or tears so they can use it to land jobs too in a mutually beneficial relationship otherwise there’s no way to create something worth showing off. I  would also think it would be possible to do some great work with stock this way and certainly learning how to navigate the keywords and find the gems will give you great experience.

I’ve looked at quite a few resumes and from the prespective of someone who used to do the hiring the key is having experience working with photographers and sourcing stock photography. You can do both of these things without having to intern at a magazine.

There Are 13 Comments On This Article.

  1. Jamie Klingler

    The agency route is also not always a bad one… Although it wasn’t originally my intent to go from vendor to client, I went from selling celebrity portraiture with Corbis Outline to becoming the photography director of a magazine buying a lot of what I sold for 7 years. A client I had a long standing relationship with, gave me the opportunity and it has been great. Was pretty daunting at first, but having worked with amazing photographers and portraiture over the years, as well as a ton of negotiation experience, the leap wasn’t as hard as I expected. 7 years at Corbis definitely meant I knew our competitors agencies inside out and then learned the rest as I went along with an art team that has been incredibly collaborative, so it has worked.

  2. I would probably enjoy photo editing myself but only if there was some kind of interactive multimedia element involved with the job.

    Does that help one become a photo editor in today’s market, having extensive multimedia editing experience?

    Common sense would tell you that it would but something tells me not necessarily. It seems they’ve traditionally been treated as completely different positions.

  3. Very inspiring. I work as a Photo Editor and I love my job.

    Started my career in photography and then work as a designer at a magazine.

    This is the perfect job for me because I understand both viewpoints.

    ~ Carol

    • @Carol Lieb,
      how did you transition into the editor position? I want to be where you are, and i don’t know how to get there. Can you give me some direction?

  4. What about switching from a magazine art department position to the photo department? Would that be an easier move, do you think?

    • @Anon,
      It would but somehow I think it would be difficult to give up the final say in the use and design around the photo. You see AD’s who handle the photo editing too more often.

  5. Ah, one of my favorite topics!

    I can tell you, from a big agency art director’s point of view and the founder of a niche magazine, that Rob is right on all fronts.

    I think it’s safe to say, also, that an agency art director position is probably a good line item on the ol’ resume for a photo editor’s position – as a functioning A.D., you’ll probably have enough experience under your belt in researching, hiring and working with photographers to toss your hat in the P.E. ring. While you might still have an art buyer working with you for budget negotiations and contracts and junk like that, you can probably learn that aspect of the job in a reasonable amount of time.

    It’s hard to beat starting your own magazine for experience, but you’d better be in love with magazines first – I mean, you’d better look at yourself in the mirror every morning and be able to say to yourself, “Self, you’re just not fulfilled…there’s just an empty hole in your soul that can only be filled up with a small, indie magazine publishing business run from my dining room table…

  6. I can relate to the starting your own magazines. I did just that about eight years ago. Two high gloss 30-50 thousand circulation and one newsprint. I was the photo editor and a photographer.

    I can’t tell you how much I learned. It really gave my career a boost. We had success, but, ultimately I lost money on the ventures.

    No regrets, I’ve honestly made it back many times over . My name became more well known and I received opportunities that still offer fruit today.


  7. I was lucky enough to start in Picture Editing by falling into it when that was still possible. Worked the front desk at a picture agency, and when I left there, someone I’d worked with at the picture agency was on a newspaper pic desk and needed someone to do returns. It went from it being a one off to two mornings, then two days a week. When a picture researcher job came up they offered it to me and that was that. But after ten years, I’ve gone the other way and into agenting. The digital equivalent of returns, doing the mark-up and so forth can still be a good way in with UK mags and I really respect hard working, and interested work experience people. I think at any stage in your life, it can be worth taking a weeks holiday from your real job to try out working in picture editing and seeing if it is what you think it is…and at least then you’ll have made some good contacts.

  8. Working as a studio manager at a high end LA rental studio was the first time I worked directly with art directors and photo editors. But being in LA and not wanting to relocate limited the amount of available photo editing jobs. So I worked in the marketing departments of two national magazines before I landed a photo editor position at a teen magazine. Now I work in online publishing art directing photo and video shoots and managing a research staff.

    I think having multi-media experience is a huge asset, especially online. Even at the large company I work at, it’s critical to wear many media hats. As for starting a magazine to acquire PE experience, that seems out-dated in the current publishing world. I would say start a blog or site and get the same experience and more exposure.

  9. Tony Franklin


    My name is Tony and I have been working at Target for six years. I studied photography at The Academy of Art in San Francisco and graduated with a design degree at The Art Institutes International. My marketing and advertising background is primarily in visual assets including brand management, project management, and photography art direction. As my career advances, I’m interested in opportunities to enhance my experiences as a photography editor.

    I was wondering if you knew of anyone I can contact that might see my talents as a fit in their editing department?



  10. Im 16, and I have just applied to sixth forms/college for my a-levels
    I have chosen to continue with english, business studies, geography and ict (diploma) and I am also taking part in photography workshops to go on to complete a photography a-level. I would love to work in the advertising industry, say with magazines and photographers, and wondered what type of skills and information are involved in becoming a photo editor. Where could I get in, and how could I start?

    If you have any information, please feel free to reply to my email
    Many thanks x