Not A (Failed) Photographer

- - Working

My joke about all photo editors being failed photographers resonated with a few people and the funny thing is, I get asked by 90% of the photographers I meet if I’m a photographer and I used to tell the truth, that no I don’t take many pictures, but this inevitably leads to a somewhat awkward moment where the photographer wonders how in the hell I got a job as a photography director.

I’ve always known I have a talent for working with creative people and a great eye for photography but it’s astonishing to people that I have no clue how to operate a camera.

I don’t really care how they work.

There Are 14 Comments On This Article.

  1. They’re not failed photographers. Some photographers are poor editors however. Some editors are bad editors too.

    As a photographer who has some degree of success (at least my accountant tells me this compared to his other clients), I have to say my pet peeve is clients who ask to see “everything” from a shoot.

    I understand that a client needs to have some choice in the matter since they’re footing the bill, but the most basic creative decisions a photographer has are where to point the camera, when to hit the shutter and what to select from the resulting images.

    Maybe this is just another side effect of the iphoto mentality of consumer digital photography.

  2. On the flip side though the photographer often has no idea what the image is running opposite to. Sure a range of 6 frames may seem like a generous edit but when you start to look at the ebb and flow of the layout the best shot may not be in the 6 frames submitted. As an editor I certainly do not mind when a photographer edits out the misses (eyes closed, yawns, miss fires, gimpy hands etc.) but when it comes to the bulk of the work I would prefer to see most of the images shot. I often find myself asking for more (and often find myself fighting for it) Agin, on the flip, there are times when I choose and image and the photorgrapher has persuaded me to use another. It is all about being open to each other and without seeing the bulk of the work this openiness cannot happen.

    To say “a client needs some choice in the matter” makes the jobs sound trivial. When you are being commissioned to shoot for someone you are not being hired to do a creative for yourself – it is as you said, the clients money. (though that comment I just made opens up a whole other can of worms regarding fees or more likely, lack of – so let me continue playing devils advocate by assuming the fee is decent and you are not shooting for some startup with no money but good access).

  3. A few times I have found the shot I was looking for not in the photographers edits but in their test shots, whether it be from the subject’s being more relaxed or the photographer not forcing anything as they might in the set up shots. That’s why sometimes its nice to see unedited work. That said, some photographers I trust to send me a dozen shots knowing their tastes will meet my needs and then some.

  4. I find that I have to prod my assistants to get involved more with the process of walking around and staring at walls – the talking about the choices that are made with logistics and location. I always say that the battle to take a great photo is won or lost long before the camera comes out of the bag.

    On the other hand, when you have to make the additional choices after the shutter starts to fire you realize that these decisions are important as well.

    Mark Harmel

  5. Well, if you’re talking about an advertising shoot, I think it’s fine for an editor or art director to choose what they want, but when my name is going next to it, no dice. Unless the editorial industry starts bringing rates up to where they should be (I cannot believe some big-publisher magazines still only pay $350 per page), it’s just not worth it to put myself out there with an edit I wouldn’t otherwise approve. If an editor doesn’t like my edit, they are free to ask for more, but not for “everything”.

    The fact is there isn’t any magazine that has raised contributor rates in line with their ad rates or their ad revenue.

    A writer wouldn’t be asked to submit all their napkin-scribbles with their story so why should a photographer be asked to submit their “test shots”?

    I’d rather shoot for the magazines which don’t pay anything but allow creative freedom than to work for ones that don’t. I’ve never gotten a single ad job from a shoot I’ve done for a Conde Nast / Hearst / Hachette / Time Inc. title anyway.

  6. “All the important decision happen before the shutter is pressed in my opinion.”

    Every decision from start to end is important imho.

    With that, there are some editors I know and trust and work with creatively. Others I give the full edit and make suggestions. Others I’d never trust their judgment, b/c they don’t get it, and they get what I approve.

  7. I try to edit tightly, but never do. For editorial clients, I tend to show more of the take then what I want to, primarily, because I shot too many pictures, trying to cover every possible version that the editor could use and I enjoy the process of shooting.

    Last week, I shot a portrait for a travel magazine, edited tightly to a set of twenty and the first question from the picture editor via email, was, “is there more?”

    I envy the guys who still shoot portraits on 4×5 and medium format film. You don’t shoot as much as when you are banging away on a DSLR.

    I recently started shooting with Leica (again), the M8 and using a rangefinder have showed me down and I don’t shoot as many frames and I did with the Canon’s.

    I trust my eye for editing. If you give a picture editor a weak picture, it can be used. It is your name alongside the image. For me, editorial is only worth it when it is a magazine that can help you career wise.

    I started off in editorial and still love shooting stories. It makes it tough when you get an editorial portrait for a mid-level magazine and they want to treat it as an ad shoot. Often times it is a request for loads of production and variations with no money to make it happen.

  8. Photographer

    I’ve shot editorial most of my career. Many of the picture editors I’ve worked with started out as photographers. Some loved photography but did not want to shoot for clients. Others kinda fell it to by growing from one job to another. I now one senior Illustrations Editor at the Geographic who started out as a secretary, moved into the film edit department and then up to the editing floor. This person knows their stuff. While not a photographer, they know how to nuture talent and have seen what it takes to make a story shine. Another photo editor I know, is a photographer but loves to edit.

    I do not consider photo editors as failed photographers. I trust most of them, some I do not. I feel sorry for the ones who have to deal with stuborn corporate cultures.

  9. As a photographer I dont really care if a photo editor knows a lot about the technical side or has been a photographer himself.
    Much more important is a certain experience in the logistics of production. THAT can make a huge difference and make my life easier. It migth help if an editor has been on some productions himself but not necessarly as a photographer.

  10. yetannotherphotoeditor

    I noticed you changed Photo Editor to Photo Director in a couple of places. I’m assuming this means you’ve been promoted recently? Congratulations.

  11. carpeicthus

    I know a very, very good photo editor who thinks the exact same way. In fact, I sorta wonder if that editor is you. (Although she’s worked with Cass Bird before, I believe, so probably not.)