Smiling Happy People

A creative director once told me “I don’t want to hire that photographer for this because no one is smiling in any of their photographs and we need a smiling person in the photo.”

Are you kidding me? Are you crazy? All I have to do is tell the goddam photographer to take a smiling photo. What can be so hard about that?

Plenty, I’ve discovered.

Taste is the mysterious imprint every photographer leaves on a picture, it’s what makes them uniquely yours, it’s the emotional content, it’s your photographic dna. It’s impossible to quantify because taste is the sum result of your life and how you see the world.

The clothes, grooming, background, surroundings, body position, subject selection, moment in time you click the shutter, your connection to the subject, the subjects emotional state based on how you’ve treated them and yes, the expression on their face, are all a reflection of your taste.

There are two types of photographers in this world. Those who shoot smiles well and those who don’t.

Visually Acceptable

Is your photography… Visually Acceptable?

There’s a good discussion in the Fly’n Photographers comments about magazines only hiring from a narrow band of photographic styles that Olivier Laude has coined “Visually Acceptable,” (this also holds true for our writing and design).

There are a few magazines that end up setting the agenda for the rest. They win all the awards, maintain a high circulation and and are packed with advertising. This adherence to certain styles of photography is unavoidable because the decision makers at the highest level see this as a sign of a successful magazine. Most CFO’s couldn’t name a “visually acceptable” photographer if I held them by their feet off the top of our building, but they know what it looks like.

To be successful in the editorial market you need to understand this.

One of my favorite old posts by Alec Soth (RIP his Blog) is: The do’s and dont’s of Graduate Studies (here), Maxims from the chair. From the book The Education of a Photographer by Charles H. Traub. Chair of Photography at SVA.

There’s so much good material to guide photographers in creating their individual style, just don’t try and swallow the whole thing at once.

My favorite line is:

Photographers are the only creative people that don’t pay attention to their predecessors workβ€”if you imitate something good, you are more likely to succeed.

Now, I know my share of photographers who were huge in the 90’s but are now stuck making prints and books of their old famous shots to know, an acceptable style doesn’t last forever, so you’ve got two choices to make.

Either pioneer a new one or get in line.

Define: Professional

I read a great quote from Mario Batali (but suddenly can’t find it) about what makes a professional chef.

He says the difference between an amazing amateur chef and a professional chef is the ability to make that perfect meal 100 times in a row.

That applies to photography too.

Shooting for the NY Times Magazine

A reader sent me a link to a NY Times Magazine piece where photographer Simon Norfolk talks about several of the shoots he’s done (here). There’s good insight to his approach on each story but I love to read between the lines as he tells us about shooting this Sunday’s Perfect Drought story. He describes the photos as “Illustrative of the facts,” for a conventional story where “the pictures sit closely to the text.”

Sure, it’s a job, but handing someone a story and telling them to go shoot all the plot points seems so two dimensional to me. That story should have gone in the newspaper not the magazine.

Fly’n Photographers

A reader asks me about sending people all over the world to shoot jobs when many times perfectly capable photographers are already there. This mirrors another comment about Vanity Fair sending someone from NY to Durham, NC to shoot a picture of a house.

I’ll start with VF. I didn’t see the piece but I’d be willing to bet when they first conceived of the photography they were thinking the house could be the lead image and as is the case with many, many, stories that are handed to me where the events have already taken place the image you think will be the lead never ends up there. In fact my whole strategy in a situation like this is to figure out what CAN be photographed and attach a great photographer who can make something dynamic out of it because the competition is going to be some matter-of-fact AP image or mug shot that may be sensationalist but does nothing to further the story and reads more like evidence. Editors are fine with this.

As a side note, it’s beyond my comprehension why anyone would buy a magazine to see matter-of-fact photography. It’s available everywhere all the time.

With regards to flying photographers from NY or LA to another country it comes down to trust. There’s a formula that my gut calculates for me in situations like this where x is the cost of plane ticket and hotel and y is the chance a photographer already living there whos work you like will fail and z is the cost of a reshoot and n squared is the number of failed shoots that have occured in the last 3 months and p is the current level of trust the Editor and Creative Director have in my skills as a DP. Phew. That a nasty algorithm that, as you may have guessed, works about as good as google image search.

Anton Corbijn is the MAN

Like usual Hetherington got the drop on me about Anton Corbijn’s movie but since he’s finally finished (here) maybe he’ll start shooting editorial jobs again.

What’s it like to work with Anton? Crushing.

Remember the photographer who sends one amazing print after a shoot is done? Anton sends 6 or 12. And, each and every one is the greatest photograph you have ever witnessed.

I’m not even talking about the printing technique. I’m talking about what’s in the pictures. I was shocked to discover, after my first shoot with Anton, that his skills lied not in his powerful style but in his ability to create instant timeless, iconic images.

The crushing part? No matter what 4 or 5 you pick to publish there are 4 or 5 more that are better, sitting in the box.




LA or NY. Pick One.

Attention photographers living simultaneously in LA and NY (sometimes Europe) I know you have a house in one of these towns. Which one is it?

I know, I know, you don’t want to be left out of the jobs in NY or LA just because you don’t live there but honestly, if the budget exists and you are indeed the perfect photographer for the job I will fly you there.

But, when I have a job with no budget to fly or hotel a photographer it would be nice to know where you are.

Lately, everytime I call one of these photographers they’re in the wrong town and I’m suddenly adding a plane ticket to the shoot budget. Aaaaaargh!

Rich Media is a Part of Your Future

In the comments Bruce DeBoer turned me on to photojournalist Pat Davison who has a rich media presentation that everyone has to see called Undying Love (here). It’s NSFW unless you want people to see you blubbering at your desk staring at the computer screen, which I might add I often do but that mostly has to do with budget and page counts not powerful photography.

If you’ve ever met Brian Storm of Mediastorm he will tell you that rich media is a large part of the future for photographers which I sort of buy into and even more so after seeing Pat’s website and again even more after finding out Magnum has something called Magnum in Motion (here) where they produce these types of presentations.

Check out Dennis Stock’s show where he talks about shooting James Dean (here). Good stuff for working photographers.

As much as I enjoy looking at photography without some dude telling me whats going on in this picture and what happened here sometimes I just want to kick back and watch the images go by.

Greatest Job on Earth (my editor would kill me for writing a headline this bad)

Why, in thee hell, does everyone want to become a photographer?

Maybe it’s because if you make it into the elite group of heavy hitters you will become rich, make your own hours and endlessly satisfy your need to shoot pictures.

Land a huge pharmaceutical job? Guess what, you’re going to get paid a $350,000 creative fee.

Tired of working? Block out your calendar for a month long vacation.

Want to be creative? Cherry pick the editorial jobs with cool subjects and assert complete creative control.

Don’t believe me? I have evidence to back every single one of those statements.

It’s certainly getting harder for people to make it in this industry and there’s some nasty shit that goes down sometimes but guess what? I meet with people every week who are having the time of their lives (I know, I know, goddam jerks).

What are you waiting for?


I prefer wallowing in the trenches.

Your Bio

A reader asks:

would you hire a person based only on their portfolio?


would you hire someone that shoots like this..?

if you knew that.. this guy is

17 .

yes.. 17.

Yes, I hire photographers all the time having never met them and sometimes without talking on the phone. I try to be unbiased in my assessment of whether a photographer and subject are a good match based solely on the photography.

But, it's impossible to be completely unbiased and so I usually end up in the personal photos section and then tears and finally the bio section to help me confirm or discredit the decision I'm arriving at.

Your Bio is really important. You may not realize that we're reading your bio's.

Back to Joey. His bio states that he's 17 and not based anywhere (which we all know is a trick so you don't just call him for jobs in his home town don't we photographers-living-simultaneously-in-LA-and-NY). While I'm not really into his photography I'll bet there's a few advertisers out there who wouldn't mind a 17 year olds perspective on their product so I wouldn't discount it either.

W+K Art Buyer

Just watched a video over at PhotoShelter (here) via the Strobist (here) that was taken at one of their town hall meetings where Marni Beardsley, Director of Global Art Buying at Weiden and Kennedy talks about the photography business from her perspective.

It starts out a little slow and takes an hour to watch but it’s loaded with good stuff.

I really enjoy hearing other photo professionals corroborate my thoughts about the industry and so I wanted to highlight some of the points she makes that I agree with.

1. She hates micro stock. It’s crap.

2. Cold calls suck. I’ve always hated getting a cold calls and they don’t really get you any work.

3. Email is the best way to communicate.

4. Promo cards still work.

5. All that matters is the photography. Book, promo, email, website, coffee shop wall, magazine and whatever medium you can think of it’s all about the photography. Marketing matters little. If a creative finds a great photograph on Flickr she’s not afraid to go get it.

6. She loves Terry Richardson.

7. Treat people fairly and don’t work with assholes.

8. If you don’t support photographers and advocate for great photography we’re all out of a job.

9. Editorial and personal projects keep your work fresh.

10. General every day job frustrations like creatives asking for photographers who won’t work with us or looking for stupid concept stock photos or being asked to put shoots together last minute with a tiny budget.

Thanks for posting the videos Photo Shelter.

Hello Sye

Got an email from Sye Williams. It’s the usual email blast with a message like “check out my new work” and I’ve had him bookmarked as someone I’d like to work with for a while so I click and check out his work again.



Solid stuff, really good photographer but heyyyy what’s this video here.


Gotta say watching that video made me want to hire him even more.

(click images for links)


Just got a fashion shoot in. There was a sheet of paper for each setup with a dozen cut contacts 0f 6×4.5, 6×7 in B&W and color plus… 35mm. God, I hadn’t realized how long it’s been since I’d gotten 35mm contacts and how much I love seeing them. It’s as if that’s a cutting edge format now… I mean who the hell shoots 35mm neg? It’s so tiny.

Three cameras for every setup… that’s cool.

PS- One photo on each page had two stars and another had one and the rest had none.

PPS- Only one photo had two stars and a sun drawn around it.

New Book

Holy crap, does everyone suddenly have a new book to show? I’m flooded with calls for book showings and drop offs not to mention people visiting from all over the country.

Must be that slow time of year when everyone gets itchy to drum up work.

Unfortunately, it’s also the time of year where I’ve completely blown my budget and I’m working on the smallest issue with the least amount of assignments (January).

It’s hard to get motivated to meet with all the photographers looking for work when I currently have none to give.

New Jr. Photo Editor

A reader alerted me to the hiring of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend as a Junior Photo Editor at Playboy.

Link to Page Six.

The new PE is quoted as saying:

“I think readers are sick of seeing the same cookie-cutter blondes,”

I can tell you from experience (not at a skin mag) that the reason all those “cookie-cutter blondes ” appear in the magazine has nothing to do with the photo editing and everything to do with Hef’s taste in women.

Can’t wait to see how long she lasts promoting “real” women to that crazy old man. The problem has always been that rich old men control the distribution of content not that the public prefers the content they deliver.

This will change.


MaryAnne Golon Interview

John McDermott just sent me a link (here) to his interview with the very talented DOP at Time, MaryAnne Golon. Very informative. Thanks John.

Here’s a couple great quotes:

What makes a good picture editor?

That’s a difficult question. I suppose, being a jack-of-all-trades, but above all knowing what is a good picture and what is a bad picture and why. You’d be surprised at how few photo editors working in the business today can actually make that distinction.
You need to be incredibly organised and you have to be able to juggle many different things at once. You have to be a friend, a psychiatrist, a fix-it person and a sales person. You have to know sales because you have to sell to everyone all the time. You have to sell editors on stories and pictures, and you have to sell photographers and agencies on assignments. When I’m told that editorial people have no idea about sales I just laugh out loud because selling ideas and garnering support is about 80% of what I do. Jim Nachtwey always refers to us as his champion and without a champion or a guardian angel you’re in big trouble in this business.


So a lot of that editing process has shifted to the photographer?

Yes. And I think a lot of photographers are very pleased about that because before they didn’t have any reasonable level of control over their work. They’d just send in the unprocessed film and then it would be, “Oh my God, why do they always pick the wrong picture?”. How many times have we heard that! But it’s also created a much bigger workload for the photographers and I think it’s almost been crushing for them. With the new technology they’re not only photographers but they’ve had to become editors and technology specialists too. What I think they should be focusing on is what they’ve always focused on – taking great pictures.