Photographer Spam

Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief at Wired posts a list of all the people who spammed him this month (here).

I’ve had it. I get more than 300 emails a day and my problem isn’t spam (Cloudmark Desktop solves that nicely), it’s PR people. Lazy flacks send press releases to the Editor in Chief of Wired because they can’t be bothered to find out who on my staff, if anyone, might actually be interested in what they’re pitching.

A photographer who was caught explains himself in the comments.

So, I’m on this list. dan at I’m a freelance photographer in Canada and I shoot a lot of travel stock. I have your email address and 7000 others by buying a list of what they call “image buyers” from a company called Agency Access. They tell me they get these lists by compiling them from questionnaires etc at trade shows and industry events.

and then there’s this nugget

Now, over the years, I have tried calling many of my intended targets but, when your market is magazine and book publishers all over the world and you have 7 to 10000 potential targets this can get expensive and impossibly time consuming. As well, the vast majority of creative buyers don’t even bother returning your phone call. I’ve tried individual emails which gets an even lower response. So, I started sending out stock list updates via a mass emailing and the response has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Yeah, spam wouldn’t exist if it didn’t work. That sucks.

Clients *cough* Bullshit

Your list of clients.

Yeah, I know it’s padded. Not always, but I can tell when it is.

Sometimes, I call the client to see if they liked working with you and they have no idea who you are because it was a stock photo they bought from Getty… not a global advertising campaign that you shot for them.

The idea behind the list is lost if you use it to tell me about every single person you ever sold an image to. What’s the point of that?

Your Website ROCKS

If you’re using live books (here) or something similar the answer is probably yes. I like flash websites because the photos look great, they load in the background and it’s sort of become an industry standard. I suppose there’s a solution to the new problem of not being able to link to a specific portfolio or link around a crappy opener but if not Mr. Live Books needs to get off his ass and solve it.

I really don’t give a crap about your design or goddam logo or witty intro. I just want to look a photos. Fast. The more the better just make sure you have a proper portfolio so I can see if it’s worth my time poking around.

Think KISS in concert not the 4th of July fireworks display. Open HUGE.

Jason Fulford’s website (here) doesn’t follow any of these rules and it still totally rocks.

Doug Dubois Interview

Alec Soth interviews photographer Doug Dubois (here) and posts it on Jorg Colberg’s blog Conscientious (say it 3 times fast). I found this part interesting:

Soth: You’ve also done a fair amount of editorial work. How do you mix that work into your overall practice?

DuBois: Editorial work keeps you on your toes and in shape – the unique stress and pressure of an assignment can offer up some real surprises. The hardest part is to maintain a sense of your own work and take appropriate risks in making a good photograph. You have very little time to work and no time to reflect or go at it again. Some of the best editorial work I’ve seen offer significant contributions to the photographers’ work. Larry Sultan, Mitch Epstein, Katy Grannan, etc., pull this off time and again. The frustrations come from the time limitations and other circumstances that you have to work around– and, of course, a bad edit or layout can defeat even the best efforts.

Your Website Sucks

I can’t seem to get a photographer I like hired to shoot fashion, because every time I send a link to the fashion director she clicks and the opening image pops up and it’s this horrendous, pretentious, model-y shot that’s dripping with cheese.

The rest of the site is littered with solid gold shots but she can’t get past the fact that this photographer thinks the greatest shot they’ve ever taken, the shot that goes on the opener, blows.

Hiring A Photographer

My greatest piece of advice for hiring photographers I learned the hard way. After many failed and boring and misdirected shoots I discovered an axiom I now adhere to. Never hire a photographer to shoot something that’s not already in their book. This is worth repeating.

Don’t hire photographers to shoot pictures they don’t already have the skills to take.

Don’t misinterpret this to mean you need kittens playing with yarn to get a job shooting kittens playing with yarn. And, don’t take it to mean we never try photographers out or take a chance on photographers. We do, just not with the big shoots.

It means I want to see the visual language in your other pictures that will make up my picture. It means playing to your strengths. It means attempting to match the perfect subject and photographer.

I can’t always do this but when I do, it works every time.


When an editor tells me they want better pictures in the magazine the first thing I say to them is, “get me better subjects.”

Creating compelling imagery with mundane subjects is best left to great artists. It’s nearly impossible.

When you’re starting out in this business if your friends, your family or where you live is not interesting go find something that is and take a goddam picture of it.

The subject always rules. I know this because when I’ve got a juicy subject for a story I can have the pick of any photographer I want to shoot it.

Peggy Sirota

The amazing thing about working with Peggy Sirota is the amount of effort and the level of detail that goes into the preparation for a shoot. As soon as she signs on, the phone springs to life with calls about styling, grooming, props, locations and then Peggy calls to discuss ideas, then she calls the subject to discuss ideas, then she calls you back to talk it over again, then you talk to the agent, then the producer calls, then the office manager calls… it’s awesome.

I don’t think many people realize how much effort goes into consistently creating images that look like you just walked by and quickly snapped one (she calls them “elegant snapshots”).


peggy3.png peggy2.png


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 work—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.