Crapshoot

- - Working

I seem to be getting a lot of these last minute shoots lately and I have to say it really puts a kink in my style. I’m more of a “sleep on it overnight and let it marinate a little” than, “see how fast I can make an assignment” type of photo editor.

The biggest problem (besides the fact we’re a magazine not a goddam newspaper) is 75% of the photographers I want to use are already unavailable. If that’s not enough the editor can’t seem to decide if it’s going to be a small or big feature so I’m left in the lurch on what kind of money to spend on this. The kicker is that the subject will be a moving target, traveling between two locations, none of which happens to be LA or NYC.

After reading the writers pitch I decide I want a photographer who can make a strong emotional portrait who is also a photojournalist for some of the fast paced stuff I foresee.

Now, the budget needs to get worked out and normally, I would go all out to get the right photographer for the job because this story has legs and I don’t want to look like an ass if the writer lands the story of the year and my photos totally blow.

I’m gonna play it safe though because the CFO is watching me. It’s the beginning of the year and we’re still negotiating the page rates. If I can find someone I like who’s available in NYC that doesn’t need an assistant and massive equipment budget then I’ll fly them otherwise I’ll check my lists and see who I like at the starting or ending points.

Hope I don’t roll snake eyes.

There Are 81 Comments On This Article.

  1. I’ve been stalking your blog for quite some time now. Its nice to be able to speak your mind so freely. I appreciated your interesting point-of-views on this industry’s hot topics, and I sincerely enjoy seeing a new feed on the reader when I wake up in the morning.

    – Haskins

  2. Are LA and NYC the only place good photogs live?

    I am sure it takes more time for photo editors to find photogs outside major cities but they do exist.

  3. ok I’ll say it…

    what about me goddam it?

    :)

    so if you are negotiating page rates that means they actually change?

    the fact that 75% of the photographers you want to use are already booked has to do with the fact that they are all repped and their pimps have them shooting other editorial assignments they have no business shooting for free essentially which is what they are doing, and in the process the “independents” as we might call them-those who don’t have reps, fall by the wayside.

    The only reason why these rep agencies have 20+ photographers in their stable whom they can’t possibly find work for is to suck as much air out of the industry as possible in their attempt to stay alive. It’s a race to the bottom.

  4. What’s the difference if they are flying from NYC or any other airport? Most shooters that don’t reside in NY & LA most likely own their own gear and could probably provide an affordable gear package fee & don’t need a digital assistant.
    They may use an assistant but the rate is probably much less than big markets since you’re pinching pennies.

    More importantly many shooters that reside outside of the large markets also are versatile in that they need to adapt to many different client types and needs.

  5. APE — C’mon, if all the hot photogs are booked, don’t you think it’s time to start trusting your own instincts about finding other photographers? You’re the expert, you see zillions of images from the universe of shooters — why not have the faith to rely on a less-than-big name? “Because my A__ is on the line,” you’ll say. But what if you’ve tried a bunch of other folks for your front of the book stuff, or elsewhere in your publication? It distresses me that there is so much sameness in publications — every “hot” photographer is shooting for every magazine. No wonder they all look the same!

  6. There are terrific AD’s in other cities (Minn, Dallas, Miami, Chi, Atlanta…), would it make sense – and I know, I really do know how busy you are – to contact them for a sense of how so-and-so works. I know some shooters here in Phoenix who could do a lot if someone trusted them and gave them the creative to work with. I have seen them do it. Consistantly.

    Finding some wonderful work online, and assigning work, is scary I know, but if you could check with a couple of AD’s who used the guy/gal, then at least it may take some of the trepidation down a notch. Or two.

    Just a thought.

  7. When it works well, I am sure you feed off of the rush.

    When it fails, you probably want to bury youself in a hole and crawl into it.
    Great blog!

  8. NYC, LA . . what about Homer, Alaska!?

    This post makes me laugh thinking about business relationships and how drastically different we perceive someone after either meeting them in person, or having even a small transaction with them. It seems that often we imagine everyone is a hoax waiting to be discovered, until we actually discover that they are just a normal person like us. I suppose there are those few people that present themselves to be one thing and turn out to be something entirely different, so the natural ‘fear’ must come from discovering one of those one time in our life.

    If APE had met all the photographers behind the promo cards/emails received this would probably not be a crapshoot since there would be so many qualified professionals available, but instead they are mysteries that are too spooky to uncover when budgets and timelines are tight?

    Or is it really that the demands of the job are such that there really is only a few photographers in the US that would be capable of doing a good work here?

    Fun to hear about the behind the scenes thinking.

  9. @ Robert: Haven’t met any of these repped photographers who shoot for free. The page rate is actually the amount I’m given per page for photography this year. I can spend it on stock or assignment.

    @YAP, Zev and Don: I don’t have the time to find new people plus, I happen to like all the photographers I use. Plane ticket’s not that expensive anyway.

  10. wow, that sounds stressful. and your mag sounds like a monthly. I used to think quarterly magazines took too long to put out, but the more I learn, the more I think it’s better. or, you could trim down on the content and have less, but really good photos.

    or, unless you use the same photographers all the time, which sort of makes sense for fast-paced publications, now that I think about it.

  11. as a fellow PE, i’d like to defend our lovable Photo Editor:
    despite what most of you commentators seem think, YES… the photogs in NY/LA ARE BETTER… better trained eye, work more often, asses have been kicked by (sophisticated) clients & therefore they know how to bring your images home for you each and every time – therefore allowing you to keep your job!
    95% of the non-coastal photos are very commercial, inexperienced and usually soft. and sometimes blah.
    This is not to be harsh. I understand that the “aesthetic of the moment” is something that takes time to catch up with. and so unless you’re already shooting it or assisting someone who is, or already in the industry, it is difficult to sense what it is.
    Of course there are those photogs who are inherently timeless and stylish… but those are the shooters who are usually booked.
    finding those who are not is a time-consuming effort, and not usually a possibility for last-minute shoots.
    sorry to tell it like it is – but give our guy a break.
    you’re just mad because you know he’s right!!! send your finely tuned BOOK – not a lame ass promo, which is probably only a badly printed, teeny reflection of your best work anyway (right?).
    xo

  12. sounds like money’s not really the problem, if you need it it’s there for the right story and right photographer. availability is something else again. that the photographers you like are busy is a good sign. I’d be worried if they weren’t busy. but we come back to the same old story: art buyers, art directors and picture editors, even the ones who want to take risks and do something different or try someone they like but haven’t worked with before, are ultimately forced to cover their butts first and so they choose the photographers they know will deliver, even when they might prefer to go with someone new. I sympathize, as people’s jobs are literally on the line. but I wish you and others in the same boat were given (or made to feel as if you have) a little more latitude, a little more freedom to experiment and even to fall short in trying to do something great. where, if not in editorial work, is that possibility going to exist?

  13. laquisha – Honestly – I don’t usually take a confrontational stand on blog posts but while some small amount of what you said may be true some of the time, your statement – “the photogs in NY/LA ARE BETTER” – is a really stupid general statement to make.

    It got the hairs on the back of my head to nearly jump off my body. I’m going to graciously shut up now.

  14. Robert Karpa

    Here’s what I’d do if I was a PE at a major magazine. I’d look for 4 to 6 great photographers whose work I admired and who were probably emerging talents to some degree or another. I’d look for people who I could develop a long term relationship with. I’d be looking to cherry pick the brightest and best talent; photographers who could bring a style and look with them that would help to establish me as a genius PE. Then I’d start developing them. I’d be watching their backs and making sure that they had the budget to do their jobs properly. I’d pay them a good solid rate but not a “star photographer” rate. But they’d get a lot of assignments and maybe a listing on the masthead and a chance to really develop a great career. And they’d be my discoveries. Oh yeah, I’d still hire the stars to do the covers and celebrity stuff and play that game as much as the budget would allow. But these photographers would be my workhorses and they’d add depth and originality to the magazine. As time went by they’d get a chance at a cover or a celebrity feature. Inevitably due to a mixture of talent, big media exposure and a few celebrity pics thrown in some of them would become photographic stars and I’d have the hot line to them. Is there a downside to this strategy?

  15. laquisha – fully agree with you, and I am a photog. the only exception is someone that has made it in an A market (and I mean made it) and then moved later to a B market.

    It is that much more difficult in NYC/London?Paris, and if you make it in those places (sans trust fund, please), you are indeed better than most.

  16. Robert how are you?

    That is the ideal you bet. The big downside is when those kids become great others will come knocking. Then they are too busy and you are back to the original problem…which keeps one looking for new talent which is part of the fun of course.

    laquisha – Alec Soth, Colby Katz, Mark Zibert, Robert Frank, William Egglestone, Todd Hido, Birthe Piontek, half of the Apostrophe roster, Erika Larsen…a short list of all the great photographers that are not based in those two centres – there are plenty others out there as well…saying the photogs in LA and NY are better leaves out some pretty darn good names. Sure you work more in the big city. Sure you work for more assholes in the big city but having a look that is of the moment is not what necessarily makes a great photographer.

    “I understand that the “aesthetic of the moment” is something that takes time to catch up with. and so unless you’re already shooting it or assisting someone who is, or already in the industry, it is difficult to sense what it is.”

    wow – simply wow. two words: internet and newsstands.

  17. where do the following photographers live?: andy anderson, kurt markus, brian lanker, terry heffernan, arthur meyerson, clint clemens, mark tucker, lee crum, jamey stillings. answer: not in NY or LA. and what about Chicago? definitely some great people there.

    while NY certainly is home to the lion’s share of talent(I’m not so convinced about LA) photographers who measure up to the best available in those two cities reside in places like Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, DC, Miami and a bunch of other places.

  18. I can understand the desire of a PE to see that the photographer in question has “made it” in one of the larger markets, but there are also many folks, myself included, who were doing pretty well, in a place like NYC, but wanted to live elsewhere. On that note, the folks who hired me before still do, no matter that I no longer live in one of the Big Cities, so I think there is hope from outside, but I met most the PE’s in NYC, so it really does depend. It seems from judging from some of the other shooters out there, that if you are good enough, you will get work from outside, it is just harder. The big markets do keep you on your toes, but I am not sure that always produces a “better” photographer.

  19. When I said shoot for free what I meant was: either of: sometimes I would get “flat fee” ie a total budget, I could decide how to spend the money. The more I spent on production the less I ended up with in fee. This was for front or back of book stuff. So the bigger I make the production, the more I am working for free. But the bigger I make my production the more it looks like the well and the happier you are. Which leads to B: The other way to look at it is that on a page rate of 350 plus expenses, no A list or high B list photographer should be bothering to shoot this stuff, but they are doing it essentially “for free” relative to the amount of experience they bring to the picture and what that would command in advertising or corporate work. They are doing it because their reps are asking them to do it. they are doing it for tears. Tears that they don’t really need, and wouldn’t need if they weren’t repped and hadn’t been languishing along with the other 20+ shooters the rep reps and can’t really find work for. So they do the front of book portrait to keep their hat in for when the good stuff comes up, to show they are “game” and it makes you look good….to the detriment of those photogs who actually made a living shooting all that front of book/back of book stuff. Not everyone is going to make it on to the A list.

  20. Look at it this way: do we really think if you have two photographers with similar styles or work, similar experience levels, and one is repped and one is not, do we really think the repped photographer is better? Of course not, However, it does provide endorsement for the photo editor who can say, so and so is with so and so…etc, it validates the choice. It is safer. In the last 10 years reps have exploded-agencies have ballooned and you can’t say to me that anyone has gotten any better, it has just become the modus operandi. And the idea of reps being involved in editorial is something new, in the past they wouldn’t bother because it represented such an insignificant amount of money compared to the real prize, advertising. Now they will take anything.

    But I can’t really blame the reps or the editors, they are only responding to the increasing conservativeness of the business, something that has come on in the last 7-10 years, it started with the aol buyout of timewarner, and the loss of advertising dollars to the internet, but there is no small media any more, all these media companies are traded on the stock market and the pressure for them to deliver double digit percentage increases in profit has been steady for a while now, so the pressure to deliver a commodity product has never been greater. So editorial is now largely about merchandise and not about content. And that is why it looks the way it looks and why those who get hired get hired (ie they make the merch look good) and any idea you had about editorial being about ideas or expression had better check again.

  21. I think I mentioned in a previous comment post: “All politic is local” which essentially means that local politics and politicians will set the pace and the agenda for what is discussed or appropriate. They will dictate the ideas, trends and names they need to achieve a zenith of their own making and it ain’t no democracy, unless you think the market speaks that way. (Please do not take my use of the word “politician” literally, expand the word to photographer, editor, art director, fashion plate….).

    So, let’s see, where is the big media industry and the bitches who work in it, NY, LA, London, Tokyo and Paris ( bitches here refers to that decidedly contemporary term of endearment, not an insult, hip hop really, jive talkie….).
    If you want to set the pace, move to either one of these cities or work locally or personally, which is where you should concentrate your efforts anyway. If it’s glory and “offices” you are seeking, keep moving to the cities mentioned above before or after you’ve understood this.
    Once you are there, nothing much will have changed, you’ll still need to campaign. Remember Louis the fourteenth, he created the Court so he could keep an eye on mischief, who do we think we is to believe differently. To reach the centre, and stay there, you will have got to kiss the King’s frilly ass every day. If you do not have the stomach for it, plug your nose or follow Voltaire’s lead and remember that’s its not about them, its all about “your garden”.
    There is talent everywhere you look these days but those who make it big are often the opportunists, true narcissists, the illuminated (I do not mean that pejoratively), and the nimble footed (that can mean any number or things, really, some are more flexible because they start out with money, talent, charm, alabaster skin, engorged penises, you name it…..).

    I was going to refrain from commenting, as this seemed to turn a little too Jerry Springerish for my taste, but since restraint isn’t one of my better qualities why not trow my 2 cents into the fray. ” who took my man, bitch….?”

  22. Jason Lindsey

    Wow, You have to be better to make it in a large market? That is crazy.

    I shoot national editorial and ad campaigns all the time and I live in the middle of a corn field in Illinois. I thought it was all about the photos.

    I have to stop now before I say something I shouldn’t.

  23. R. Wright- You nailed it. It sucks but it’s true. APE said it the same thing in a round about way- THE CFO is watching.
    While in the photographers myopic POV it’s about the pictures, the bottom line at large organizations, is well- the bottom line. I teach photo as an adjunct @ RIT and decisions are ruled by the bottom line. When I was a shooter at a large film manufacturer it WAS the bottom line. These places are run by MFA’s & accountants. Not knocking it, it just the truth. I’m not saying individuals at the org’s are mindless Borg working for the collective but they only have so much slack before they called on their decisions.

  24. it’s not the best economy for photographers right now and CFOs don’t tend to understant artist’s rates. you get what you pay for.

    but… have q flash, will travel! :)

  25. the idea that it’s all about the good photos is naive. and this is one thing you learn (quickly) working in a big city: that there is much much more to it than just taking good pics. as was pointed out, its politics.

    Names like Robert Frank, Alec Soth, and Eggleston…yeah, the fine art worlds really not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking editorial.

    look at GQ this month: Nathaniel Goldberg, Roger Deckker, Andres Overgaerd. Those are some swinging dicks of the fashion world…it’s a different level. (I commend GQs photo editor. Even if Deckker’s spread sucked, he’s still a good name (back to the main point: that’s what counts.)) and then you have the tier even above those guys: the Sorrentis, Meisels, Kliens, Testinos, Webers, Lindberghs, Penns, Roversis, Simms, Inez and Vinhood…

    end of the day, if you live and work around the big boys, you’re cool. and people in this biz love cool, want cool, pay for cool

  26. I wonder how many photography students read this blog, and how many are saying to themselves – “what the hell did I get myself into?” ..

    When I read this blog I ask myself why would someone want to do this for a living? It’s gets outright silly sometimes. The traveling, money spent on equipment, money spent on promos that get thrown away, the insecurity, the ridiculous subjectivity all this so that, for editorial, you can get net what – $500, $750? You can get that at Starbucks with health insurance.

    There is such a mixed message. Shoot for your own style, shoot your way – yet make sure your stuff kinda looks like this dude because this dude is what’s hot right now, but still be original. It’s one thing if you’re some 20-something hipster living in BK with 2 roommates and a metrocard, but if you’re a grown-up with wife, kids and mortgage or aspirations for such how can you handle this life?

  27. So …. anon … what I’m understanding you to say is that the NYC and LA photographer’s aren’t necessarily better image makers, but more accurately, they are politically better positioned.

    Now that’s a statement with which I can get behind.

  28. anon-The fine art world is no different, or the priesthood, or the…… for that matter.

    Life is about politics. Wether we choose to play or not is a matter of character or necessity and any other nonsuch abstract concepts….. As the Bible says to Spanish priest and the Iranian gynaecologist : “study Primatology and thy shall learn how to succeed…”

    Here is one of the Dictionary’s entry for Politics, sounds familiar:

    6. use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, as in business, university, etc.

  29. “There is such a mixed message. Shoot for your own style, shoot your way – yet make sure your stuff kinda looks like this dude because this dude is what’s hot right now, but still be original.”

    Yup – that’s about right.

  30. Bruce, yeah, essentially that’s it.

    But some of that translates into making better images. It’s a generalization. But the guys in NYC, London, Paris, and etc, (not really so much LA imo), are likely ruthless and unreasonable in getting what they want. This can translate into more reliable work. again, in general.

    anon2, you have to do it b/c you love it. and even love usually isn’t enough. family money helps a lot.

  31. Kvetch TwentyTwo

    i understand the frustration, but there’s no fighting it. several of the guys here have nailed it — it’s a big part Perception; sometimes even more than reality, but oftentimes, the reality is there too. the new yorkers do deliver.

    ironically, when i moved to new york, i spent a lot of time in cabs, on the way to la guardia, heading out to the midwest to shoot a job. when i lived in the midwest, i couldnt’ get hired by the same magazines that were now sending me to the midwest. so go figure. but new york does keep you nervous; nervous in a good way. bombarded by killer work, all day long.

    at some point, if you want it bad enough, you got to suck it up and write the check for brooklyn. otherwise you risk hitting that grass ceiling. hard to bust through. yes, you’ll always have the kerns, and the fiscus, and the andy anderson, and the inbetweeners, who’ll be working in a zip code that doesn’t begin in a 1 or a 9. but let’s be honest — those guys are kicking ass in a very individual way — they have a clearly defined vision. wouldn’t matter where they lived; they’re going to be sought out. but you let some guy like a geof kern start shooting softbox-one-stop-hotter-than-the-sky-location-portraits, circa 1995, and he’d quickly fade into the woodwork just like many of the other guys in dallas.

    frederick broden, or kern, or mahurin, kretschmer, and a handfull of other guys doing that modernist style — who else in the entire country are you gonna call for that look? they’re the specialists. they’re doing something that you can’t find just anywhere.

    so i guess it is partially where you live, but much more, what you bring to the dinner table. but you can’t blame it on your zip code if you’re not working. but sometimes it can help; like it or not. sometimes there’s not a lot of logic in all this, but at some point, you’ve got to surrender to the truth about perception. because no one guy’s ever going to change it.

    and if you think editorial is crazy, try the fine art world. you pay a hundred grand in student loans, all in hopes of getting out and working for free, and maybe getting a show, and then maybe selling a few prints, and the gallery takes 50% of that? WTF is that about? but you’d never read that in alec soth’s blog, because it’s just too close to the quick, to actually admit.

    yes, it’s a crazy business.

  32. sweet jesus in a jet car! you guys are really going to town on this. my post was more of a bitch about last minute assignments but I see there’s a little pent up frustration over the NYC photomafia. this is certainly worth addressing but as several contributors have hinted at it has more to do with economic theory, politics and perception instead of who is best. Probably worth exploring more in future posts.

  33. Being on the editorial C list I have to laugh at this a bit. There is a big prize for those that succeed in reaching for the brass ring and shooting the best covers, celebs, cool stories and all the pirate booty that goes with the show.

    Would I if I could? Without a doubt. This blog and a million forums talk about the economics & hard ships of making a living as an editorial shooter, unless your one of the charmed & full of grace. Kudos to those that are kicking ass. I get the occasional bone up here but my meal ticket is the ad & commercial market. Way less effort and much more should I say, worthwhile. MY point is at some point the chase gets old. I’m shutting up now.

  34. Thanks to this blog, I feel like I finally get to see the magazine assignment from the PE’s point of view. I think that for many assignments, there are more than enough shooters who can deliver, however, when faced with a deadline, you can understand the PE’s need to get someone they know and have worked with before.

  35. I did quite a bit of editorial and I’m reading this blog (this particular one) and all the average photographers (hey it’s true) are all pissed off and the truth is most are only this much better than the 1.00 stock. That’s the real reason they are not getting the job in question or any other job like it.

  36. hear.. hear..

    many many fish in the pond, and many many ponds. some ponds attract the biggest fish, and consequently bigger fisherman.. erm.. you can decide who’s the fish and who’s the fisherman, but certain pond has the statue of liberty.

  37. Peyton Brady

    It would almost seem as if the whole dynamic of Doing Editorial has now changed — due to reduced budgets, and an overflow of great talent. Probably in years past, photographers actually made a living doing Editorial; actually paid their rent and put food on their table. People considered themselves Editorial Photographers.

    But now, it appears that most of the photographers who are getting the “back of the book” stories are simply using Editorial to keep their spark alive, to get their name out or keep it out, and they’re using it as an advertising vehicle, directed to ad agency art buyers, in order to procure Advertising work.

    Some people do Modern Postcard or WorkBook; some people do ESPN Magazine — costs about the same, at the end of the day, if you’re using much Production Value at all in the editorial.

    The real question is: what jobs are the last-generator editorial photographers now shooting, since the ad guys have taken over editorial? The deck is certainly being reshuffled.

  38. BP thinks it is great that APE only hires shooters from NYC and LA. Who really wants to take the time and try and find new talent in the great swaths of the middle of the country? Jonas Karlson, Norman Jean Roy and Chris Buck. There really is no need to look beyond photographers we all know and love. What we reallly don’t need to see in magazines is something unexpected.Who needs that?

  39. I’m basically with Laquisha…

    Sure there are good photographers outside of NYC and maybe one or two in LA who don’t do cheesy work, but point is the market for good work is 95% in NYC.

    The main thing here is the big photographers are brand names and you guys who are griping are not. Face it – would you rather drink a coca cola or a generic cola? I see you reaching for the coke. Would you rather drive a BMW or that chinese knockoff at the Frankfurt auto show? The BMW.

    Would you rather hire Dan Winters or some guy on this blog who implies he can do a good Dan Winters imitation? Duh. Guess what the answer is.

    So if you’re in a “B Market” (actually a corn field in Illinois isn’t even a “B Market” – it isn’t a market at all unless your ad campaigns are for the corn farmers you live next door to) don’t get bitter and gripe here – just do like Alec Soth or Colby Katz or Shelby Lee Friggin Adams and get your ass out of Minneapolis or the Appalacian mountains and get your ass accepted into Magnum or the permanent collection at the MoMA or the Whitney or wherever so you can get recognized in an “A market”.

    Otherwise, don’t gripe that you’re not getting jobs from a client in an “A market”, whatever that is.

    Even Skrebneski has lost a bit of his relevance – the most recent non-local ad on his website is 6 years old. What does this say about his relevance to the non-local market?

    Oh yeah, and to get back to the original point of PE’s post – yep, those last minute jobs sure do suck. I just did a Monday shoot where I had to produce the entire thing in one day on a Friday before everybody left for the weekend. That sucked but that’s part of the job.

    If you don’t like it, go live in a corn field where the market isn’t quite as competitive.

  40. Peyton hit on one of my peeves, what are these big time shooters doing in editorial in the first place (since they are all in workbook too) I’m so sick of seeing the cool editorial jobs go to the same people doing the cool ad jobs. I remember when I was assisting asking guys I was working for how they got there start and they all said ad guys they worked for would toss them editorial jobs all the time. Well I know when I made the break about 6 years ago that wasn’t the case, I was on my own. I remember when you needed a rep to get ad work now you need one to get a $300 editorial job take a way the reps fee and your assistant is making more than you are. The pool of people who get jobs is shrinking all the time. Personally I wouldn’t be able to make it with out the “w” word, from which I work half as much and make twice as much, go figure.

  41. OK ok ok ok… so to nip the corrections in the bud: 95% of the market for good work **in the US** is in NYC.

  42. What’s the “w” word? Am I missing something?

    You do editorial to keep your book fresh so you can GET those ad jobs which subsidize your editorial “habit” and to try out new ideas for ads.

    Ever notice how some of those Italian Vogue shoots Meisel does look a lot like the ad campaigns he shoots a season later?

    Hmmmm… (sound of wheels turning)

  43. Bobby- I am to presume that your are talentless, just like the rest of us? Right? You are correct, I read this blog because I am talentless. You got me and the rest of us there, dammit…!

  44. i first assist an editorial/celebrity photographer based in NYC, though we travel almost non-stop. we talk about/read the blog from all over the country and it’s such a great forum for discussion. though at times it seems the same questions/disquietudes arise no matter what the topic: nyc/la vs. smaller markets. i’ll save my assistant up and coming photographer moves to nyc speech for another time, but i thought i would share a story…

    it’s friday afternoon and we get a call to shoot in LA. nothing is confirmed until saturday. need to produce a shoot for monday from an airport. find assistants, gear, hair and make up, locations have to be approved by the publicist before the shoot. oh yeah you get about 30 minutes with the subject. and the story is a pretty big deal.

    fly to LA on a Sunday, scout locations with no time to get a permit, and it has to be near the subjects hotel, sweet talk the lady manager at blockbuster the morning of so you can park your RV in their parking lot, get kicked out of your first location before you start shooting, move to the backup spot and finally the shoot gets rolling. the police show up to cite us just as we wrap and the subject leaves.

    from the PE’s point of view, it’s good to know you flew someone there from NYC who you trust to handle the situation. the photos turned out amazing, everyone was very happy. often times its not what amazing image you can create out of nothing, but rather what you can make out of the circumstances. that experience, which i’ve been a part of first hand over and over, confirms my decision to move to NYC as the right one…

  45. Blockbuster Manager

    Ladies and Gentlemen, this blog is now getting quite interesting. Listen to the words of “the assistant”; he/she speaks the truth. and from real-world experience. I know it sounds nutty to fly a crew from NYC to LA, when there are plenty of competent celebrity guys who could pull this off, but trust me, “the assistant” does not speak with forked tongue.

    Now we’re getting into the meat of this discussion. It’s about hiring a crew that’ll certainly bring home the bacon. And it’s about hiring a crew that shows up in my Blockbuster lot carrying green hundreds. Now we’re talkin.

  46. A non-celeb shooter

    Now comes the interesting part. Is all “editorial” celebrity or “fashion” stories? Is it always a stepping stone to an ad campaign?

    If you look at this discussion, the terms “editorial photographer” and “celebrity photographer or fashion photographer” are interchangeable.

    I’m glad I know how to shoot a real person and make them interesting or even more, to tell the truth of the situation. Or, god forbid, shoot a landscape without a crew of people to back me up.

    Seriously, has editorial become all about the production and celebrity? Do stories not count at all any more, or are they just fodder to sell more celebrity pics or advertising?

  47. The subject that started this post is not a celebrity. The first photographer I found that I liked for this didn’t live in NY or LA but was booked. Luckily their Agent has a good stable of people and had someone who photographed an entire book on a subject matter very similar to the reason for our story on this ordinary person. I suppose I could have found this book and photographer if I’d had more time to research the story.

    It turns out the subject started to get cold feet about hanging out with a photographer. They wanted the photographer to take a picture and get out which in my opinion would result in crap photos. All I had to do is send a link of the photographers work to the subject and after he saw that they truly understood what was going on with this person he agreed to hang out with the photographer.

    Oh yeah, photographer lives in NYC but thats not why I picked him.

  48. I’m not sure I get the assistant’s point. The illustrated circumstance sounds like a better decision would have been to hire a local photographer who had a ready crew and locations.

    Just for the record – the NYC snobbery doesn’t bother me a bit. I grew up in Long Island and worked in NYC for a short period. I get it. We all have decisions to make about our desired lifestyle, but I also think us “outsiders” need to push you guys to examine your shortcomings: “hey, want to do a shot on the beach” – come on down, I know people, places and a good time.

  49. Permits in LA take time..a couple days for street, even more for parks. If you know the right people, this can be expedited, but finding out about a Monday AM shoot on Friday afternoon doesn’t give anyone enough time to permit, local or not.

  50. Hey Jackonary – that was an attempt at humor. Maybe using frequent flier miles wasn’t so outlandish as to convey the levity I was after….

  51. “…someone who photographed an entire book on a subject matter very similar to the reason for our story on this ordinary person. I suppose I could have found this book and photographer if I’d had more time to research the story.”

    Conceptually wouldn’t that activity be the what you want/should do to find a great match of photographer to story. But I’m sensing PE and colleagues are to busy parceling out and managing assignments that finding exactly the right photographer has been pushed way down the priority list. Consequently PE and AD’s and other creatives develop sufficient chops (tricks) to keep a lid on everything and keep everyone happy until someone who hasn’t shortcut this process shows up and blows them out of the water with the next new vision/style.

    For better or worse not all work gets treated equally and this case may be one in which APE has deemed it worthy of a quick solution. Lets hope that other assignments get more attention or we all be looking for some cardboard and a corner to stand on.

  52. the assistant.

    “I’m not sure I get the assistant’s point. The illustrated circumstance sounds like a better decision would have been to hire a local photographer who had a ready crew and locations.”

    LA is interchangeable with any city a shoot happens to be. The point was more about trusting someone to bring it home, knowing it’s a tricky situation.

  53. I did a job for Newsweek for which they needed a local with local connections. I recognize it’s a one-off (I’m not rep’ed yet) but NYC is the black hole where all the wanna-be’s, almost-was, are-now’s and the entire spectrum gravitate towards.

    Truth is though, New York is no different a market from anywhere else, it just has a higher population. Go to your biggest local manufacturer, and if you’re lucky they use a local shooter. Chances are, he’s not as good as you, but he knows the CEO, CFO and a bunch of other people. He will continue to get the work because he’s mustered time and again, and that is more worthwhile then anything else when money is the bottom line.

    Just to announce it, the brass ring, ladies and gentlemen, is money. And like all busiensses, it takes money to make money. And the single most concentrated economy in the country, period end of story, check your last census, is New York City.

    So when I feel that I have elevated my craft, I have made my initial contacts and enlarged my penis, I will move to the big apple and I will do my best to get a bite. And if that doesn’t work, hell, I’ll print my own money doing senior portraits.

    APE- I hope one day we meet, and you’ll smile having read this, and I’ll make a fool of myself hunting for work. Do you actually meet photographers face to face?

  54. I’m often hired for last minutes cleaner jobs when others have already effed up. Do I like it? No, I could produce much better pictures with time for planning and preparation, and it always helps to do the casting and scouting with my own resources rather than make do with what is already there in an already half effed up production. But then I am hired because people know I can produce something which at a very high chance is at least passable.

    Professional photography is not always about the best image in the world.
    It is about to be able to really deliver with a clear line about what it will
    cost and how long it will take.

    “Can you do this for sure?” is what most of the guys ask after
    being in a rut. Guarantee to deliver or bail out.

    And yes, last minute shots involve money man to kick it at some point or another. I involves guerilla tactics hit and run style because you have no permit (no time for it) and it involves to be very fast in setting up and folding down. Getting a permit and everything together in weeklong preparation and drive there with one assistant like picknicking is giving you more profit than improvising and hiring people and stuff on the spot, not to speak of bribery. The latter surprisingly enough often without proper tax deductable receipt….

  55. I would love to hear more about your page rates and how much they vary from year to year. I had no idea thats how it worked. How much do they vary from mag to mag inside a publisher?

    Great Blog. Thanks.

  56. I work at a very large American magazine and if you want to understand how and why decisions are made, here’s the answer: It’s high school all over again.

    Everything is politics, everything is about making yourself look good in the eyes of the people higher up on the corporate ladder. So of course you’re going to want photographers from the cool cities like NY, London, and Sidney.

    There are some non-NY shooters who are used, but they tend to live in places like Vail or Ojai and only get used for special projects.

    It’s all about image. Do you have the right hair, do you have art directors up for weekends at your casually stylish farm in the Hudson Valley, do you dress head to toe in slightly beat-up Prada?

    If not, it’s time to make some changes.

  57. It’s admirable to think it could all be about the images, and it’s inspiring to think of the art world as a model. But this is about business, and business doesn’t work that way. Look at most of the content that goes into these stories or ads or whatever the assignments are: it’s silly crap to begin with. How can the hullaballoo that surrounds it not contain a degree of silly crap?

    It’s pretty easy to sit outside the big markets and complain about how incestuous they are. Then you step into those big markets and you realize they contain whole universes. The competition is fierce. No, talent does not always rise to the top. But professionalism often does. A temperament and a capacity for managing the business environment, the clients and their often wacked out notions, peers, reps and agents, editors, the egos of all concerned, so on and so forth — and then on top of it to get shots: that’s what will get honed in those contexts. You don’t have to like it; hell, many of the people who go through it don’t *like* it. But most of those who manage to negotiate it one way or another will acknowledge they got something out of it, and that it made them “better” in some sense of the word.

    Art, or voice, or vision, or whatever you want to call it, happens as an accident in this world. Everybody in the business is interested in it to some degree, but it’s rare that any of them get the chance to foreground it. Someone else’s expectations are always driving the car, and someone else’s credit card is always putting gas in the tank. Getting the job done — whatever the job is perceived to be by the ones who are paying for it — becomes priority one. Time matters; familiarity with the game matters; proximity matters; track record matters. You can’t blame people for minimizing risk when that’s part of what they’ve been explicitly charged with doing by the guys who put bread on their tables.

    Also, the fact is that there are so many people working in those big markets that you often don’t *have* to go outside them. I guarantee you there are 20 young photographers in Brooklyn who don’t just know Nebraska (or wherever) but actually grew up there, and are willing to fly there tomorrow and work for a song. They are as hungry as anyone else, and a few of them might prove to be as talented. It may be vicious, but it’s also real.

    Someone earlier nailed what may be one of the best strategies: do your time in a big market, endure it, get your game on, then take it to a smaller market and clean house. I have a good friend who did exactly that last year, leaving NYC after several tough but productive years and going to a smaller market, where he’s not just surviving but thriving, in part due to all he picked up.

  58. BTW I am an art director in a completely unrelated field (ie not magazines), and I think it’s worth noting that we’re seeing a tremendous increase in last-minute work as well. I haven’t quite puzzled out why yet, though I think the volatile economic climate is an obvious guess. Clients are waiting until way late in the game to pull the trigger on projects. Sometimes this is because they’re being put through more rigorous approval processes themselves (ie, the CFOs are watching, more closely than they were even 2 years ago). Anyone attached to a big corp is not spending as freely as they were. It’s crushing, but things are tense now and you can’t say no. But yes, it does reduce your capacity to do put together a more interesting project, and it does increase your reliance on known quantities.

    And no, nobody but the bean counters likes it.

  59. Wow, so if I move to L.A. or New York City, I’ll become a good photographer? You gotta love the diversity that you’re seeing coming from those two cities–oh, I’m sorry, the ONLY two cities in the entire country. No wonder 99% of magazines are crap and all look the same.

  60. AaronfromQueens

    Photographers move to LA or NYC from all over the world to compete for these jobs. Can you really blame photo editors for looking within the local pool since it is a very large pool of talent that holds some of the hardest working and most talented photographers in the world? Don’t cry because Conde Nast didn’t come looking for you in Iowa. Thousands have already come from Iowa to be closer to Conde Nast.

  61. Ferd McMillian

    So you need quality shooters? I hear there are a bunch working over at VH1. Apparently they let one go every Sunday night. Maybe you should consider one of those washouts.