Ask Anything – Art Buyer Speed Questions

- - Ask Anything

Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.

Amanda and Suzanne– Rob presented us with questions that everyone had asked awhile back when he put out a request on the blog and we were honored to sit down with Kat Dalager, Manager of Print Production at Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis, and review these with her. We thought sitting down with someone who is in the trenches and who is so giving to our industry was the best way to address these. Not only were her answers truly authentic, but so insightful. ENJOY. Thank you Kat!

Who really holds the balance of power in deciding on a photographer –the creatives, the client or the art buyer? (I want to know how much influence the AB has on the decision making process, and how often the client vetoes an Agency’s recommendation — my hunch is that Art Directors have their opinion on who they want to work with and then they push to get that photog approved, but sometimes the client will opt for a “safer” or “cheaper” option)

Overall, the differences in the advertising world over even just a few years ago is the compression that’s happening because of the economy. Art Buyers are often the first to be let go from an agency, which means ADs have to do that work on top of doing the work of the other ADs who have been let go. Time crunches are a big issue, so convenience and efficiency are huge determining factors. On the other hand, slashed budgets also mean that with fewer original shoots taking place, so it’s important for ADs to produce work that can replenish their portfolio.

“Integrated productions” are becoming the norm. The ability to capture “assets,” both still and moving, in the course of one shoot is increasingly important. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the photographer has to capture both still and moving themselves, but at the very least, they must think beyond the traditional print mediums when approaching a shoot. At times they may have to shoot side-by-side or concurrently with a TV production.

The long answer is: it all depends.

There are some ADs who insist on using either someone they know or someone they’ve always wanted to work with, whether or not they are right for the project. It’s quick, it’s easy.

Others absolutely rely on the ABs to do the legwork and bring possible shooters to their attention. More often, it’s a collaborative process, which is what I prefer.

I find that if legwork is done up front and if the photographer meets the budget, then AEs and clients don’t have issues with the photographer selection.

How do ABs really decide on who gets to bid on a job — is there much thought and hunting and researching to find the “right” photographers or (due to time constraints and busy workloads) is it mostly just going back to who they already know (be it the photographer or a Photo Agency)?

There is safety and convenience going with known commodities, but I still spend a LOT of time researching new photographers and new ways to approach shoots in order to fulfull the creative vision as well as the budget. Other factors that influence photographer selection:

* Photographer or agent willingness to work with the AB in finding solutions to tight budgets
* Having capable producers
* Ability to adapt to constantly changing shoot parameters
* Skill set: do they shoot motion as well as still? Can they work side-by-side with a TV crew?

How often does an AB get to recommend photographers to the creative team vs the creative team telling the AB who they like? (Just curious to know how much Art Directors have their finger on the pulse of photographers and illustrators these days as they used to respect these crafts and love working with talented artists as opposed to just bringing in a supplier.)

see first answer above.

At a national level, it’s seldom about just bringing in a supplier. No one wants to come away with shots that aren’t portfolio-worthy, and with fewer opportunities to expand portfolios, no one wants to take that risk with even simple shots. The price of entry is that the photographer is capable of taking decent photographs, otherwise they won’t even be considered.

Again, it all depends on the individual AD. Some are great at knowing who’s out there, others simply rely on the ABs for resources. Sometimes it’s a photographer or agent simply being at the right place at the right time.

In choosing photographers, how often do they encounter the “red car” scenario? (ie trying to find a photographer that has shot the almost exact same layout before — not just any car, but a red car — to reassure or please the client).

I was fortunate that I never worked with creatives that didn’t have vision.

I have heard of this and it surprises me.

I just witnessed this the other day. I swear that the AD chose the photographer based on the number of images that looked the most like her layouts. I certainly don’t know that it was conscious, but it took place nonetheless. It doesn’t happen often, and I have to say that it happens most with less creative ADs.

Who makes final decisions most about photography at your agency?

Please arrange the following in order from those who make the most decisions to those who make the least:

Managing Art Buyer, Art Buyer, Group Creative Director, Creative Director, Senior Art Director, Art Director, Graphic Designer, Print Production

In my experiences, several people are involved in the final decision. In order of “pull”:

Group Creative Director
Creative Director
Art Director (any level)
Art Buyer
Account Service

How much does the Beauty Contest Conference Call play into who gets awarded the job? You call each of the three, and let each estimating photographer walk you through how he/she would approach/plan/tackle the job?

It’s HUGE. Just like director’s treatments, this call defines a photographer’s approach to a project. It’s not all about money, but about how they can make it happen (see above bullet pointed list). The conversation can quickly reveal if a photographer can put together a great website and/or portfolio, but doesn’t have the chops to pull together the shoot.

Why do some ABs not like to share who else is being considered for a job? Do they understand why it’s something we like to know? Personally I have never understood this but have found when they won’t divulge the information it is because the playing field is not even.

Because it can come back to bite us because there are many unprofessional professional photographers out there. I’ve heard of several instances where the rep or photographer actually called the other photographer and reamed them out for undercutting them or to dig for information. In turn, that creates bad feelings with the photographer which can impact the shoot. As you know, much about shooting is psychological and putting a photographer in a bad place before even clicking the shutter can be extremely detrimental.

There are also some ABs who feel these conversations between photographers can lead to price fixing behind the scenes. (Note: I personally don’t feel this way, but if I ever heard that one of the bidding photographers contacted the winning photographer and gave them a hard time, I would never bid with them again.)

Talent is obviously not the only criteria. Others could be:

1- security (you hire that studio because you know them, have worked with them before, or they are renowned, so a. you know the job will be done in full respect of time and budget and b. if not, no one will ask you ‘why the hell did you hire them?’)

2- money (they are good and not too expensive)

3- additional services (large studio just around the corner, e-capabilities such as real time ftp posting or high class capabilities in formatting, retouching, and digitally enhancing the pictures)

Do you agree with this point of view? If so, can you order this list?

1- This is true because reputation in this business is key. On big campaigns there is a lot of money riding on the photographer and the studio so production is so crucial. So when a photographer has a great reputation with that, buyers will want to work with them.

2- I have heard of big names offering lower fees these days.

I think it would be in the order you have it.

Why do art buyers worry more about having eight people from the agency on a shoot that only requires an art director and an account executive? Why so much focus on saving money on the creative but blowing up the budget making it a vacation for the agency.

Dear God, if photographers think that taking two weeks away from my family to live out of a suitcase in a hotel room, work 20 hour days and miss the school play for the third time in a row is desirable, then I don’t know how to answer this.

Not to say that there are some people who are not good at their jobs and do not function very well during shoots, but exactly as you describe, each person serves a role. I can’t help with the production if I am taking care of the client. Would the photographer prefer that there’s no one there to keep the client occupied and away from looking over their shoulder? Any art producer worth their weight is an essential liaison between the photographer’s team and the agency’s team.

Where do they most often look to find talent for assignments? Workbook, WB online, At-edge, At-edge online, Photo Serve, Archive, CA, PDN? PDN online, Blackbook, Altpick, etc?

I save links. We look everywhere. Workbook, photoserve and still some print. Award shows are good, and many are international and don’t apply to us.

What’s the best way to gain your trust?

Be totally honest!!

What are some red flags that someone is not being professional or trustworthy (credibility and ethics).

When someone tells me they can do something that they can’t or have never – it will hurt my credibility.

More answers from a casual conversation of questions:

Photographers are always complaining about right and usage, what do you have to say?

It makes me laugh when a photographers says that they don’t give away rights – but let’s be honest – I have seen many photographers bragging what they don’t do – but I have negotiated many photographers to a rate that goes against what one’s preach.

How much does region influence your decision to hire a photographer?

Doesn’t have anything to do with us. When you are at that National level. If you are regional client is can matter. We shoot out of the country a lot (opposite seasons) – and we are taking a lot of American photographers out of the country.

Talent pools – are there good talent pools outside of this country (example South Africa).


Is being bilingual important.

It helps, but if you are not, be sure your producer is.

Who negotiates Video – Broadcast or Art Buying ?

I work together with Broadcast producer to blend numbers (but if falls under broadcast to follow procedure like unions) – blending consolidates costs – so it’s efficient.

Is print dead?

We don’t call it print anymore. We call it still imagery (used in interactive, printed media, etc…) and motion.

Are you using still from motion?

Shooting with a red camera – drag stills from it. A recent job I was able to blow up a still from a red camera at 1,000% and it held up beautifully (in store size). Red camera is a very high def video camera.

Virtual Electronic portfolios – how do you feel about them?

People love that personal attention. Use the subject line wisely – example “Shoe Photographer” so it connects.

Portfolios on a iPad?

I have not seen it but I can’t wait. Customization of the cover will be able to be branded which will allow your presentation to wow.

How do you feel about the idea of an Universal Estimate form?

I wouldn’t mind that at all. I have always encouraged it – the ASMP form is a wonderful form. I love BlinkBid too.

What looks are popular, dying and what looks would you avoid?

really punchy is dying

I wouldn’t avoid anything else

The NON produced look is a classic

Funny will be classic as well – as long as the context fits.

Other trends you see?

Total Library buyouts are very popular these days.

How often are you buying stock?

Sometimes- the reason I would use it would be because of lack of access to a specific location.

Are willing to take a chance on someone fresh?

Yes. If I believe in the photographer – I am happy to educate them on our usage or what we need.

Social Networks?

I use Facebook and Twitter. A lot!


We do it in house – but we might use the photographer depending on their skills and the project.

Digital capture vs. RAW?

We don’t use raw…we use cleaned up images. If we do a library we expect no clean up.

What’s an experience with working with a young or fresh talent?

I was once working with the photographer on an estimate and after talking I knew he was not as skilled in production and was not ready just yet for that level. I was honest with their newly signed rep.

Favorite type of e-promo?

File size is small. I don’t want to scroll down and I won’t. Remember I am on a laptop.

Website – if a site takes 20 seconds to upload?

I will bail – I don’t have time – be smart.

How do you feel about template sites?

Template sites like aphotofolio, livebooks and neonsky are perfect. Some flash sites that are difficult to navigate or slow to load don’t work for me.

Portfolio showings?

You need to have a NAME to get portfolio showings (meaning – a large showing with more than one person). I can’t book individual meetings often, because – this is what I am looking forward to an iPad. PDF portfolios – one thing about that I want to note – on a website I can click on what I want to see…when you have a controlled electronic portfolio other than a website a thumbnail view on the First page should be thumbnails of what is in the book – so I can see what I am about to view – because if the first 6 pages isn’t what I want to see – I know something is in there, because I saw it on the thumbnail page first.

To Summarize: After spending time with Kat, we agreed, you can never stop learning (as we learned new things today as well) and you have to be open to hear and absorb how quickly the market changes from day to day.

If you want more insight from Amanda and Suzanne you can contact them directly (here and here) or tune in once a week or so for more of “Ask Anything.”

There Are 37 Comments On This Article.

  1. I give up. I thought I was intelligent. Clearly I am not. I am the idiot and these other idiots are actually the intelligent ones. I thought life was about skill and craft and uniqueness and talent and vision and hard work. It turns out it is not.

    It is about having the ability to spin more shit about stuff you know almost nothing about but convince the world you do.

    I am not even sure I am on planet earth anymore. Maybe this is Kpax?

    I think its time to put down the camera, make a tin foil hat and change my name to Francessca.

    • @Dan, Hmmm. I am no expert. I am merely a photographer (relative newbie) trying to figure out how to make a living doing what I love.

      Maybe I’m wrong about you Dan, but you seem like a fellow who’s standing in front of a closed door hoping and waiting for someone to open it up and let you in. The door is not locked. Open it up (it is quite possibly stuck, it may take some effort) step in and TELL everyone on the other side of your skill and craft and uniqueness and talent and vision and hard work. It’s the only way they will know.

      The old saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is only half right. It’s NOT what you know, it’s what you know AND who you know.

      Get to know people my friend. That’s the key.

      That’s my two pennies. Take them for what they’re worth :)

    • @Dan, Life is about having a positive impact on the people around you. Skill, craft, uniqueness, talent, vision and hard work give you something of value to offer. Wrap in in tin foil scrawled with a nasty note if you must but don’t blame the industry if they are more receptive to the individuals who have also put a lot of skill, craft, uniqueness, talent, vision and hard work into their packaging and delivery. Sure, sometimes the contents don’t live up to the presentation but it’s rare indeed that contents exceed the presentation.

    • @Dan said:
      “I thought life was about skill and craft and uniqueness and talent and vision and hard work. It turns out it is not.

      It is about having the ability to spin more shit about stuff you know almost nothing about but convince the world you do.”

      Yes, it’s both. Who has stated or implied that you don’t need hard work and talent and vision and uniqueness? You need those things AND you have to market yourself. Many years ago the competition was much less fierce. Today there are one zillion photographers trying to make a living. Do you have “spin” or otherwise market/advertise/jump through hoops to get hired? Of course.

      Or maybe I’m missing your point–perhaps you could be more specific about what was said here that you take issue with.

  2. Thanks Suzanne and Amanda,

    Great to hear your insights and experience. Yes, skill, craft and vision get you in the door – passion and hard work keep you in. I just came back to the west coast after a week in NYC with half a dozen agency ABs and another six magazine PE portfolio meetings with both my print book and the iPad in hand as a supplemental portfolio. I have to say the iPad worked really well after going through the print book first…

  3. Rob, Suzanne and Amanda – Thank you for taking the time to better equip me for service to the industry. There is so much to learn. Your efforts to shorten the process for many of us are sincerely appreciated.

  4. (Quoting from post: “* Skill set: do they shoot motion as well as still? Can they work side-by-side with a TV crew?”)

    Can you go deeper into this topic? Are large agencies actually hiring the still photographers to shoot the Stills, and then also direct the Commercial too? Or are the Stills guys simply shooting Stills only, but maybe on the same Set, on the same day, but doing the stills version their way, later in the day, with their own strobes, lit they way that they’d like to light it? Or, are they being forced to shoot on the TV set, being forced to shoot their Stills lit by the same HMIs or Tungstens that lit the TV set?

    I simply cannot get my head around the fact that any large numbers of Stills Photographers are also doing the TV and the Stills too. It is a massively different Skill Set. Can you speak to that in any detailed, real-life way? Thank you.

    • Kat Dalager

      Contact me through Suzanne or Amanda and I’d be happy to share specific experiences with you.

      • @Kat Dalager,

        What is this — an eighth-grade playground? The first ones are free, but then, after that, you gotta come over to your house, and go down to your basement, and pay for them? Or is this that Web 2.0 that Mr. Haggart always talks about, in action?

        Just kidding! It’s a joke. Relax. I just thought everyone was here to learn together…

        • Kat Dalager

          LOL! It’s pure laziness on my part. It’s so much easier to chat than it is to respond with lengthy text. I’m getting used to 140 character or less, you know.
          p.s. For you I’d charge double. Hey, wait: double of nothing is still nothing…

          • @Kat Dalager, still photography is not stills- it is the print version from the TV production- same talent, maybe some what the same set- but print (now referred as still). This is usually shot on a separate day just uses the same talent. Photographers who can shoot motion (broadcast or moving) are valuable to be able to keep it with the same artist. No basements allowed- and everyone should play nice on the playground!! hehehehe

  5. John Powell

    Curious about defining some terms in the article.

    really punchy is dying….. what is really punchy?

    I am assuming this is the edgy, over sharpened look which is very unflattering for skin?

      • John Powell

        @Kat Dalager, Thats good… I hate that look. Nothing like pore intensification!

        • @John Powell,

          I always felt that look would go the way of pastels, big hair and shoulder pads

          I know a few people whose portfolio is composed almost entirely of that style too. Kinda feel sorry for them…

  6. “Managing Art Buyer, Art Buyer, Group Creative Director, Creative Director, Senior Art Director, Art Director, Graphic Designer, Print Production…”

    A lot of people involved just to create a little image. All with very fancy titles on their business cards.
    The REAL creative person in this row is the photographer.

    Connect the client with the photographer and send the rest on vacation (paid or unpaid) to get them out of the way

    and …. ” I had a dream …”

    I just try to visualize how (e.g.) Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ would look if all these ‘creative managing people’ above would have been involved …


    And I try to imagine a cartoon featuring the ‘modern contemporary photographer’ armed with a printed folio, a notebook, iPad and maybe an assistant rolling in a beamer ….

    Anyway, it doesn’t matter because all the decision makers will HAVE NO TIME to look at your stuff ….
    Indeed, they don’t have time to their stuff …


    Maybe to put the beloved RED cam on a tripod, enable ‘auto recording’, go for a beer and let the model-staff act in front of the cam … Thereafter extract your stills

    Btw, are there still models around ? How old-fashioned is that !

    Silicone-Androids+cgi-clones+photoshop(-disasters) seem the way to go (at least when looking at many of the pictures produced) …

    Welcome in the world of …. ?

    • @Reinfried Marass,

      I’ve worked with some fantastic ADs and CDs and this comment is a discredit to yourself.

      Deflate that ego a little bit and maybe you’ll spend more time working, and less time posting BS on the internet.

  7. The ability to pull together your own production is a big big plus. I started out as a producer in a studio that shot lots of ad work. Contacts and resources!

    This would come in handy later as a starting freelancer whose budgets were too low to hire someone who actually had “producer” written on their card.

  8. I read the whole thing, and the only thing I can say is, mind-blowing! I can’t imagine thinking so much about photography, and I thought I had quite an opinion haha.
    But a lot of info! A lot of things I’d never thought of before.
    Thanks, I will sure use a few tips.

  9. @Kat Dalager, still photography is not stills- it is the print version from the TV production- same talent, maybe some what the same set- but print (now referred as still). This is usually shot on a separate day just uses the same talent. Photographers who can shoot motion (broadcast or moving) are valuable to be able to keep it with the same artist. No basements allowed- and everyone should play nice on the playground!! hehehehe

  10. I recently came across a Thea Schrack autographed photo several palm trees with rock landscapes around them. I am trying to determine if this would have any value and who to contact.

    Thank you.

  11. i have a origanal arthur sarnoff paiting entitled scrached at dawn and i percested at and auction packed inside and rv and i was wondering the value of this peice if it is the origanal and we do think it is do to the apearance of the peice

  12. Hi all, I would lke to know if someone can advice some Masters or courses which can be useful for an Art Buyer. Any advice ? Thanks