The Next Generation Of Photo Editors

- - The Future

I think the way clients and photographers communicate and reach each other and the job of Photo Editor will profoundly change in the next decade. There’s exciting technology to take advantage of and the potential of the internet has barely been tapped by publishers. I wanted to start talking with .com and junior Photo Editors to look at the way they’re using technology and get a feel for what the future might bring.

I met Ryan Schick at the Photoshelter panel in NY a few weeks back and found him to be very well spoken and thoughtful about the industry. Ryan works for Condé Nast’s Portfolio.com as the News Photo Editor where he sources all the daily news pictures and develops larger photo essay projects. He’s young and a .com Photo Editor so I thought he might have a different take on how he finds photographers and how the future might play out.

You seem like a fairly technologically savvy Photo Editor. Is that a generational thing or have you made an effort to incorporate emerging technology into your workflow?

I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a generational thing. I’ve worked with editors who are significantly older that are interested in technology as a device to develop more efficient ways to receive the imagery they need from the photographers in a timely matter. New means of image transportation and tools that enable more efficient communication have always interested me. Email has always been a central tool in my life. Heck, my first email address was 73514,1650@compuserve.com. This was back in 1992 before AOL, Prodigy, and others introduced alphanumeric email addresses.

I’m curious about how you communicate with photographers and your thoughts on how it might evolve.

Instant messenger is a remarkable tool, if properly used. Given it’s intimacy and the opportunity for it to be invasive to the recipient, it requires a certain amount of sensitivity on the users part There are multiple photographers I talk with on a daily basis via IM. Example; I communicate on a daily basis with photographers who are currently working on projects. It’s remarkable to witness a project develop, in real-time, with a photographer who is half-way around the world. Observations and suggestions are easily communicated; picture ordering, toning, and other variables can be done on the fly.

Apple’s iChat video capability is a tool that I still have yet to take to completely. I’m not sure how this will progress in the future, but for the time being I find instant messaging to be an sufficient replacement for email and phone conversations.

What about the ways photographers market themselves to Photo Editors. Books, mailers, email campaigns. Certainly there’s room for change there. The books are so expensive to make and ship certainly we eventually don’t need those anymore do we?

I still believe that photographers might not necessarily need the big-tent image distribution agencies to be successful in today’s market. I’m more impressed by the photographer who has taken the long-term investment strategy of developing personal relationships with his or her editors. There are magnificent tools out there that photographers can utilize to represent themselves and ultimately distribute their material.

I’ve always admired the photographer who updates his or her online portfolio on a regular basis. In a way, I think the digital reformation has made many of the dead-tree portfolio books we’ve grown accustomed to obsolete. I know it’s a tough market for most photographers out there and portfolios are not inexpensive to produce. I’d rather see photographers develop an online portfolio that demonstrates their personal eye toward presentation and detail and put their money back into a personal project that will help them along with an underdeveloped skill-set.

Email distribution and mailers are also objects I’ve taken greater attention towards in recent months. There are several photographers out there, including a young Philadelphia-based photographer named Steve Boyle, who take enormous strides to constantly bring editors attention to their every-growing body of work. Steve’s persistence in developing a visual style of his own is equaled only by his determination to constantly develop open channels to editors. I’m not certain whether or not this is an off-shoot of his efforts in self-promotion, but he seems remarkably well informed in visual trends and even runs several of his tests by me on a regular basis.

This however is not something that he and I fell into overnight. I cite this because I think many photographers take the ‘battering ram’ approach toward self-representation. I cite an example of a photographer who was referred to me by a former colleague and for whom I have an enormous amount of respect for. What started as a recommendation and an appointment to view his body of work turned into a multiple-times-per-day phalanx of phone calls and emails. By the time the actual appointment to meet came around I had frankly grown exasperated by his persistence and for better or worse was uninterested in the actual meeting.

What about a photographers website, do you ever do more than just go and look at the pictures?

I don’t just use a photographers website to look at the work they want to present (ie. putting their best face forward); there is another facet of their site that I’ve grown remarkably fond of. Being a user of Safari, I have a quick-tab on my address bar that currently loads the following personal blogs:

aphotoaday.org
Kirk Mastin
Michael Rubenstein
Jensen Walker
Robert Caplin
Justin Fowler
Mike Terry
Matthew Williams
Tara Todras-Whitehill
Mark Rebilas
Dustin Snipes
Thomas Boyd
Chris Detrick
Rachel Hulin’s ‘Shoot The Blog’
& Redux’s RSS Feed

At current count, I check these blogs and 21 others on a daily basis. Not all of these blogs are updated regularly but several of them, including Matthew Williams’, are well developed because they give you a better idea into the scene the photographer was given and how he executed his coverage. I like being able to see a larger take whenever possible. I think a personal blog can be a remarkably effective tool for a photographer to communicate to an attentive audience. I’m certain I’m not the only editor to regularly check photographers’ blogs, but I think as photographers continue to recognize this as an effective tool of free self-promotion, its popularity will continue to grow.

Certainly in the not too distant future all publications will have .com Photo Editors or the PE will spend much of their time working on the .com side of the photography. With a healthy budget and unlimited pages to publish work how can this not be a great thing for photographers? Why do I keep seeing tiny little photographs on publishers websites?

At Portfolio.com, one of the things we quickly realized was that we could publish additional material that would not have otherwise made the magazine, not due to quality issues but from the finite amount of pages in the magazine delegated to individual features.

Case in point: Photographer Michael Christopher Brown developed a magnificent photo essay for our July 2008 edition on the efforts of Chinese authorities to divert precious water resources from farms and villages in the surrounding provinces to fill the expansive fountains that line the Olympic promenade in Beijing. Portfolio editor Sarah Weissman had an initial edit of 30 images from the more than 250 image submitted by Michael. Through their mutual cooperation, Michael and Sarah consolidated his take into 5 images that were eventually published in our print edition. Recognizing the opportunity to develop a more robust online presentation we added an additional 7 images to our slideshow to expand the depth of the visual coverage associated with the online article. (See it here)

This can be a lesson to editors who are currently wary of their own dot-com’s ability to recognize the expansive opportunity they have to present the work that they and the photographers have labored so hard let see the light of day. Given the limited amount of financial resources (read: free) required to publish a slideshow online I would only envision further publications using their dot-com’s in such a fashion for more robust photographic essays online. Many of them already have.

As for the tiny pictures on our site, I wish there was a more effective way to maximize the exposure of multiple stories with large imagery, but from a basic design aesthetic I find that to be quite difficult on a news site.

However, I do salivate over the photographic presentation of Garden & Gun magazine online. Beautiful!

There Are 12 Comments On This Article.

  1. Thank you Rob and Ryan. This is probably the best and most timely interview to date. And who says that this younger generation is lost? He sounds like he’s got his head screwed on just right. I’d hand the baton to him any day.

    I’m already feeling that the traditional website is now “over the hill” — too stagnant and stale. Like it or not, the Blog is where it’s at. New, fresh, and ever changing. I’d love to see a webpage, set up like a grid, with screengrabs from thirty or forty blogs, almost like when you walk into the Circuit City TV area, and you get that grid of TV monitors. A portal for photo blogs, but like Google Reader, but more graphic.

    And yes, you should have seen Garden and Gun open on this 30″ monitor. Wow. But I just can’t get over the title — it makes me cringe. Similar to naming a teen magazine “Foam”. When I think of foam, I think of that weird pollution stuff that washes up on Hermosa Beach, and I think of contraceptive material. Could that be a positive thing? Do you think the publisher ever did a Focus Group on the title? Same for Garden and Gun…

    Excellent feature, Rob. I could have read four times as much.

  2. louder!

    first portfolios got louder
    then webpages
    now blogs are screaming.

    and thats even a good thing?
    I guess it all started with David Bailey
    where is the good old gentleman version of photography

  3. Ryan Schick, if you are reading, I would absolutely love to hear any feedback you might have on this kind of multimedia work from an online photo editor’s standpoint:
    http://www.americandiversityproject.org/2008/multimedia/

    How do you feel about the use of interactive panoramics as well as the use of diptychs/triptychs from a photo editing standpoint?

    I sent this link to Rob awhile ago looking for his expert opinion but have sadly yet to hear anything back.

    Do you think this might be the direction that photo editing projects on the web could eventually take and if so then how long?

    I would love to hear your thoughts.

  4. In total agreement with the above comment…I could have read four times as much. I can’t express how much value there is in one-on-ones with editors. It’s the kind of info I’d have paid grandly for a couple of decades or so ago when I retired from broadcast to pursue freelance writing/photography full time.

    Back then, submissions were albums, slides, or plain white paper queries that included the infamous SASE (stands for self-addressed-stamped-envelope.) Replies took weeks and months. The world turned, but it turned a lot slower and it was vastly more difficult to break down the barriers between freelancers and editorial.

    Early on, I became keenly aware of the need to find a balance between getting a foot in the door and becoming a royal pain. Yeah, I welcome the new modes of getting one’s work seen, and being able to read what is important to the next generation of photo editors is of immense help.

    This blog is becoming a daily read; thanks.

    Meanwhile, I’m gonna re-think my own blog…

  5. A newscorp online mag offered me $50 per image to go along with there stories. Where’s the future in that? The eyes are online, now the money should be.

  6. Ryan’s comment (I think a personal blog can be a remarkably effective tool for a photographer to communicate to an attentive audience. I’m certain I’m not the only editor to regularly check photographers’ blogs, but I think as photographers continue to recognize this as an effective tool of free self-promotion, its popularity will continue to grow) made me think of a comment Debra Weiss made recently. “I do loathe individual persons blogs when they have absolutely nothing to say and are used only as tools of self-aggrandizement.” Isn’t “self-aggrandizement” just another word for “advertising?” Do PE’s and AD’s really want to know what I ate for breakfast or what kind of P/S camera to buy? Or are they looking for “behind the scenes” information, our recent work, maybe images that didn’t make-the-cut or images that never made it into our book?

  7. Don,

    I think you make an excellent point. I can only speak on my on behalf, but I have no real interest in what was had for breakfast. I think we can all agree that a certain level of common sense would identify the primary use (and not abuse) of a personal blog: I do want to see what the photographer has shot recently.

    Please note that the blogs I cited are all extremely professional in their nature – they highlight assignments and personal projects, and some venture into conversations regarding the events and subjects they cover. The more confident photographer would even venture into a public display of introspection.

    Have you checked Vince Laforet’s blog at Newsweek? Earlier this week he posted a remarkably honest conversation about the quality of his work in Beijing one week into the Olympics! Do any of us have any doubts that his willingness to be more introspective and even to engage others in that conversation has not contributed to his success?

    In short, a professional photographer should be prepared to act in just that manner on their own blog – professionally.

    I do think, Don, you hit the nail right on the head in your last sentence. Use your blog to highlight what didn’t make the cut. Everyone can attest at one time or the other to an assignment where the ‘best’ image or images did not make the cut. Use your blog as an opportunity to highlight what you perceive to be your greatest work! This only furthers an editors insight into your judgement towards the quality of your work as a photojournalist.

    Thank you again for all the kind replies. I’m grateful for Rob for the opportunity to have this conversation with all of you.

    cheers, Ryan Schick

    PS. Don, I’ve added your blog to my list. I look forward to seeing your posts.