I like to think the discussions we have here about photography and the advice that’s dispensed is fairly universal but I know many of you are thinking “this doesn’t really apply in the advertising market and that’s where I really need to be, because this editorial shit is for the birds.”
Since I’ve never worked on the advertising side of this industry I called up a friend and offered her anonymity if she would speak honestly with me about that side of the business. You’ll have to trust me that this is a good source and I’ll go so far as to say, if you can imagine the biggest advertising agency in the country and the biggest “named” photographers then that’s where she’s worked and who she’s worked with.
[Side note on anonymity: Most corporate employees have to sign an employee handbook when they get hired that forbids giving away company secrets and in general publishing anything that has to do with the company online. They can use any evidence they find that you've done something like this to void contracts and avoid paying severance if you're ever fired.]
I’m always telling photographers not to worry about the design of the promo, portfolio and website and just make it about the photographs because in the end it’s never going to have an effect on you getting hired to shoot a job. I think many of them take it with a grain of salt because they believe that this kind of stuff really helps landing the advertising jobs. Since I’ve never worked in advertising I have no idea if it does or doesn’t but now you can tell us.
Their photos are what’s most important, and then the “presentation” of their photographs. I can expand here, like I like to see one photo per page if it’s their “print” book (i.e, real prints). Otherwise, seeing an editorial spread is acceptable as long as they like the design. If they don’t, then they should just put a print in the book. Their website MUST be designed well, and this is very important for several reasons. One being, it represents their taste level, two, I want to see large images…not a lot of anything else, and three, the site has to be built well to move quickly around it… all very important. It’s how we source and present photographers to creatives (art directors, stylists, clients, etc.) It’s just like anything else these days, how often do you find yourself on line for anything? So, in my opinion, very important.
I think you’re saying with regards to websites, functionality is most important and design should be of a certain taste level.
Yes, that’s what I’m saying…functionality, designed tastefully, Mainly all about the photos.
With printed portfolios do you care if the case is unique or is the plain black fine? I have to ask because photographers always seem to want the physical portfolio to be unique. I don’t know why.
Love Black books…sometimes it’s appropriate to be different, rustic leather Brown if the photographer is let’s say someone like a Kurt Markus, or if it’s a quirky book, maybe white gloss bound leather, you know? But nothing more than that…it’s annoying when the cases are an ugly color. If it’s a good book and I want to work with the photographer, I’ll know where the book is….
How often do you use magazines to source talent? Does the “old saw” about photographers using cheap-ass editorial to promote themselves and land high paying advertising jobs to make a living fall flat these days?
It’s imperative for photographers to always shoot editorially. This is self promotion, because it’s more spontaneous and they can create images without all of the layers in the ad world. There’s less collaboration and more creativeness from the photographer. It’s a fine line…if a photographer only shoots advertising, then they become too commercial…if they continually shoot editorial and ad jobs, it’s a perfect balance. Magazines are where everyone (in editorial and advertising) sources photography. It’s the imagery that’s most current and creative.
Do you prefer working with photographers who have an agent? There must be more benefits to going with an agency in advertising then editorial where I think it matters less.
I probably prefer working with an agent because the agent is not as close to the image making process so it can be less offensive discussing fees with an agent then with the photographer. As far as the difference between editorial and advertising, there should be none, except we all know that ad jobs pay more, so the agents will get involved more, because there’s money to be made.
What’s the promo volume like at the agency? It must be twice that of editorial. 100’s a week?
100 a week? 100 a day!
100 a day! what do you do with all of them?
Throw them out. If I like the work, and the link is on the promo, I’ll bookmark the site…but I don’t keep anything.
What about email promos? Does the spam from the list services bother you?
Yes, and no. There’s less paper promos, more e-mails. I think they should never send on a Monday, maybe mid week, mid day.
Is it helpful if photographers target you based on campaigns you’ve done recently?
Sure, but we never really know what the concept is next…maybe they should target by brand, like technology vs. beauty vs. cars, etc.
I think photographers get disappointed with the idea that you need to see something close to what you’re trying to shoot in their book before giving them a big assignment but I find it difficult to redirect people away from their established style and I disagree with the idea that a good photographers can shoot anything. What are your thoughts?
A good photographer has their own style and can’t shoot anything. Nor should they want to…because they’re so good at whatever it is that they’ve focused on, that they’re not shooting everything. Take any great legendary photographer, they didn’t shoot everything, they had a particular style, focus, interest, and then made it their own. When you look at these photos, that’s how you know it’s theirs and not anyone else. Photographers reading this should ask themselves “are they passionate about what they’re shooting and do they recognize the difference of their own work compared to someone else?”
Do you think the printed portfolio will ever go away?
I hope not, it’s like a hard cover book. They can’t go away. Prints are beautiful, computer screens are not (They look good…), But there’s still something fine art-ish, museum quality about a print, or print book.
Do you use sourcebooks?
Source books are really helpful to brainstorm….if you can’t remember “that” photographer’s name that you saw or you just feel like you haven’t nailed calling in the right book….they’re really helpful, because it’s like a reminder of who’s out there. I use the source books not only for the actual photography, but just to scan agents names and who they represent. Then I know I’ve called in everyone appropriate for the job, not leaving anyone out.
What do you think about contests like PDN, American Photography, SPD, CA? Are they helpful for finding photographers?
I think these are great and I think they’re getting better. American Photography and CA are my favorites. They can help source….they’re just great as a reminder.
How influential is the client in selecting the photographer for a campaign?
We narrow down and suggest (usually three). At the end of the day, we want them to decide because they’re paying and take responsibility of their choices.
How important is photo-compositing in advertising photography and do you hire photographers who shoot everything “in camera” to work on campaigns that will need load of retouching? Why is there so much retouching going on?
You should ask a photographer this question….they are the ones that are becoming less of a photographer, and more of a computer tech person. I don’t think it’s because the client has asked for this… regarding retouching…it’s obvious….cleaner, prettier, more perfect…sells.
Can you cite any recent advertising photography that you think is brilliant? What are the recent trends in advertising photography?
Brilliant, no. There’s not a lot of brilliant going on unfortunately. Our clients are so involved that the images have become so watered down that there’s no clear direction. We are not allowing for the artist to create our vision. Regarding trends, it’s pretty flat right now. Not a lot of risk taking, may have to do with our current economy. Just a lot of mediocre images.
My readers have been critical of editorial photography directors for hiring from a narrow band of photographers and styles of photography and suggest that if we would somehow remove our blinders we would see all this great work that we’re not utilizing. Is there any merit to a similar argument in advertising photography?
Yes, but honestly, if you’re really hiring the right photographer for the job, that’s what’s so exciting, it’s just right. It doesn’t matter if they are a living legend or a new young gun… they’re just right creatively. Ideally, that’s how I present to the people I need to present to. Otherwise, I will ask what the criteria is from the beginning. Whether budgets, name, style…all things can be considered.
Any ideas on how licensing photos for the web is going to play out? Is it really going to make up for the lost revenue from licensing for print?
Lost revenue? I sense some bitterness. Yes, the internet has changed media buys. It’s become it’s own media, which will allow for similar fees.