Running The Best Photo

- - Working

Well, of course, everything is cool when the photographer and magazine are aligned because there are two goals with selecting a picture for a story. The first is running an image that serves the story. Something that is surprising, insightful and arresting, an attention grabber that will get the consumer to read the headline, then deck, lead and finally the entire story. The second goal is an image that serves the photographer well. Something they’d want their photo credit next to, that they can use as a tear sheet, that will land them more jobs.

Balancing these two goals is an important part of photo editing because when you throw everyone else in the mix… the editor wants an image to match his clever headline, the writer wants an image to match that crazy moment they’ve anchored the whole piece on, the EIC wants something that looks different from all the other lead images running this month, the Publisher wants to make sure it’s not something the advertisers can complain about in a pitch meeting, the designer wants something that works with the layout they’ve been designing with dummy photos waiting for the real ones to come in… things can get a little crazy.

When the goals of the magazine cause you to select an unflattering image or use images in a less than ideal manner then you’ve got a problem on your hands.

I have had my head completely chewed off by agents, a few photographers and one gallery when I’ve let the magazine’s goals stomp on the photographers. There’s usually an unspoken rule when working with a certain group of photographers “we do this for the clips.” Because, “the money is laughable, the subject has no resale value, the embargo’s are long and the contracts are ridiculous. Get us a good clip or it’s not worth the time.”

Building the trust of talented photographers is the only way to get amazing pictures on your desk in the first place.

There Are 10 Comments On This Article.

  1. Amen. It’s true that I do my best work
    for photo editors where trust is mutual. One of my favs are the PE’s at Fast Company. I think the mag as a whole does a great job of paring images with stories but further, we have a good rapport when concepting and trading ideas before the shoot. They help me research my subject and can share the angle of the story I am shooting for (this is surprisingly not always the case). I go into their shoots feeling able to have fun because I’ve done my homework. When I have the magazines trust and partnership, its easier to get the same from my subjects.

  2. Some years ago, I allowed a small regional startup magazine to use some of my landscapes for a story they were doing. From the sample they showed me of the magazine they had 1/2 page photos. They kissed butt to get photographs for free, with the idea the photographer would get some high quality tears.

    With my photos, they cropped two photos into a round format and another had text over it. They had cropped, or “messed” with all the photography in the magazine. I hadn’t really done any work so wasn’t all that disappointed. Things happen. There were photographers who did some work for them on a promise of good tears, and future paid work once the magazine got off the ground. They were pretty upset.

    The magazine didn’t make it past a couple of issues. Really, it was just sad for everyone involved.

  3. A magazine I worked at used to complain that the writers did all their best work for a competitor. Our magazine was a job to them the other was for getting more jobs.

  4. Reads like this is why I visit this site first every day. It’s evidence that you care about the art and you get it. From a photographers perspective it’s nice to know that someone gives a damn.

    Right on.

  5. This is one mantra I’ve carried over from my advertising days: Take Care Of Thy Vendor.

    Without the photographers we’ve come to rely on (and I’d like to think vice-versa), we’d be nothing.

    And, though we fall flat on our faces sometimes, I can sleep on my back at night knowing that we do our best to take care of the artists who choose to work with us…

  6. @4 – Today, I re-learned the lesson of always searching for your next job the hard way. A BIG assignment that was all set to go got pulled at the last minute because the company can’t afford it. The word came down to stop everything. For me, this was big enough to pay for the next 4 or 5 months of my living. Plus, I could get some new equipment I’ve wanted.

    I haven’t been looking for any other jobs because this one was so big and taking a bunch of my time. Plus, I’m kind of in the middle of relocating to California. Makes me wish I had kept looking for that other job.

    Sorry about being so personal but I’m kind of shell shocked right now. I went from doing great to being broke in a few minute phone call. Well, I’m now free to do that other shoot…..I just need to find it.

  7. Clif Page

    Aphotoeditor said:

    “Building the trust of talented photographers is the only way to get amazing pictures on your desk in the first place.”

    Words well spoken for any publication.

    I work at a small-to-mid-sized newspaper, and I try to send photographers out with the idea that a book about Elliot Erwitt once placed in my mind that a photographer should look for pictures that fulfill the request, and then look for photographs for himself. Interesting photography happens when the visual journalist is allowed to see and respond.

    I would much rather edit a bunch of really good photographs down to one well-played photograph than run bad photographs just because we have to do something.

  8. I recently wrapped up three years as a photo editor at a music magazine, and reading your post gave me flashbacks. I always did my best to include our photographers’ preferences in our edits (at least to a certain degree). The most frustrating thing, however, was when one of our Art Directors would crop an image with no regards for composition. And it happened in every issue he worked on. Instead of asking me for another horizontal shot/option, for instance, he would just take one of the vertical shots that we really liked and lop off the bottom half!