Shooting Editorial Photography

- - Getting Hired

I gave a lecture last week with Heidi Volpe (former Art Director of the LA Times Magazine) at Art Center in Los Angeles and thought I would highlight a couple things we talked about here for anyone who couldn’t attend and of course to open it up if anyone wants to chime in. The best part for me was meeting so many people who are enthusiastic about shooting editorial photography and also the time Heidi and I spent working on the lecture, comparing notes and just sitting around talking about editorial photography. We both love working with photographers and the process of putting a shoot together and seeing the work published on the newsstand. Preparing for a lecture is a good exercise for anybody working in this field because it forces you to analyze the way that you do things and the process behind your actions and I can certainly see how it would it be beneficial working with a staff and in meetings with editors to have it well thought out.

The first part of the talk we got down into the nuts and bolts of editorial photography and magazine making and I’m not going to rehash the whole thing for you here except for a couple important points that play into the second part of what we talked about.

The office politics and relationship between the DOP, PE, AD, CD, EIC, Publisher and Owner has an effect on the way that photographers are hired and how decisions about photography are made within a magazine. It’s important to realize that there are forces at work inside the publication that can have a weird influence on the photography.

In the very early stages of picking photographers it has as much to do with pacing out the magazine, creating visual variety, making powerful entry points, tackling old stories in new ways, deciding where to spend big and where to save as it does with matching the right photographer and subject.

Everyone keeps a list of photographers that they work off for these decisions and I’ve always organized mine with the front page for every photographer I’ve ever worked with (several columns) then the next page for photographers I want to work with and then several more pages of photographers organized into different categories. Many of these category groups come about because I’m forced to make a list in a category I’m unfamiliar with (cars or beauty) and after spending several days working on a list I want to hang onto it for the next time I need someone in that category. After the lecture I got to peek at another PE’s list who was at the event and saw all the familiar chaos of a list in flux with boxes, stars and highlights and notes running down the side. It’s always a mess till you retype it again.

After getting through the nuts and bolts we settled into a topic I’d like to refine even more if we ever give the talk again that we called “defining your personal style.” Essentially we wanted to get at the things we pickup on in a photographers work that convince us they are the right person for that particular job. It usually boils down to style and/or expertise in the subject matter and of course there are many other little factors that play into pulling the trigger on someone but we wanted to try and connect the dots with the work in the book and the what was published in the magazine. Heidi and I got a good laugh out of a few of our choices because it looks like any monkey could preform the job when someone who shoots swimmers is hired to shoot swimmers. I’m not afraid to poke fun at my profession and always tell photographers to not be surprised when their first assignment is the most obvious choice.

At the lecture Heidi and I whipped though 30 photographers and I think that was a mistake as we really just glossed over them and made it all seem so superficial and next time I would not only drill down into a couple of photographer’s styles (famous and not) but then pick a specific genre and discuss who is on our list for that and why. It really is a good exercise to look at a photographers work and define their style because you find yourself coming up with all kinds of strange words like integrity, crisp, finished and I’m sure it’s different for everyone who does it. So, for someone like Jake Chessum who is a personal favorite of mine I put him at the top of the list for portraits that are unguarded moments. The I would also define him in my head as easy to work with, subjects enjoy him, shoots celebrities, lives in NYC, shoots film, cover, feature, color and B/W. Anyway you get the idea on how it works and we provided 30 examples of photographers and the shoots we gave them. Heidi gleefully pointed out that I had nothing but A-listers in my examples which is hardly a good teaching example, but I had only scanned the A-list tears for my portfolio so that’s what I had to work with. If there’s another chance to do this lecture again I would certainly include more up and comers and unknown photographers.

Heidi had David Drebin as one of her examples and he’s someone who was always on my list of people I would like to work with but never have. His style can be described as shooting lifestyle, caught moments with a produced and or finished look to them (lighting, background, props, hair, makeup, set, casting all feel meticulously done). I would also put him in the category of people who shoot rich and dense color, interiors, lit, lives in NYC, shoots women well. Again you can see where this is going and the kinds of terms we use to describe and categorize photographers.

So, that’s just a quick overview of what we covered and there were a lot of good questions from the audience that we answered as well. Heidi and I really enjoyed the event and it was cool of Everard and Dennis to bring me out for it.

There Are 26 Comments On This Article.

  1. Thanks, Rob… I recently discovered your blog and I’m loving it. It goes well with oatmeal and tea. I’m relatively new to the editorial field… been shooting for NGO’s and such for the past few years. I’ve found plenty of helpful and intriguing info here, and look forward to much more. Enjoy Tucson… try to make it up the Prescott this fall.

    All the best,
    -patrick

  2. Hello Mr. Haggart,

    Having checked out both of the photographers that you linked above, and loving their work, I’d be very interested in seeing more of your 30 selections. I’m always eager to see the work of other photographers who excel in their field and I find it to be a great source of inspiration.

    I’m a big fan of your blog, thank you for your insights!

    -Drayke Larson
    http://photosynthetique.com

  3. Hey Rob,
    great post. i’ve been enjoying your bog for a while now… i too would like to see more of your favorite photographers.
    thanks,
    TJ

  4. Hi Rob,

    That would have been a very informative lecture, wish I could have attended but its a drive from Minneapolis.

    All through school our teachers stressed the importance of picking a topic, cars, portraits, fashion, what ever, and become an expert at it. I have concerns with that but got their point. From your point of view as an editor, is this still something you look for. Can a photographer be great at multiple subjects? You you still categorize him then and how?

    Cheers

    John

  5. It’s great to see how real photo editors with a desire to push the envelop handles photography at a magazine. Then there’s the other side of the coin. I work at an automotive magazine, you may have heard of us, we put out a year-end award that the winning manufacturers love bragging about. At our company, a multi-billion dollar publishing conglomerate, they decided it would be better to let all the editors have Canon 30D cameras and shoot the features themselves and have two freelancers that shoot the covers for either of the 25+ automotive titles in the company’s stable of books. Ever notice how many of the american car magazines on newsstands have the same front 3/4 rig shot? It’s the same guy shooting them, for the last 12 years. Every year that we save money on freelancers our publisher (the head ad sales guy who gets to tell the editorial side what to do, if you’re not familiar with that term) gets a nice PHAT bonus. My publisher? He bought a Lamborghini earlier this year with his. What do we get on the edit side of the table? We got…er…Adobe Photoshop & InCopy CS3 on our computers, all the photo editors & copy editors and were given the boot and now the Editor and Sr. Editors get to play the role of both. Hell, the company didn’t even throw us a Christmas party, even though they took away the year end bonus for non-sales people.

    That’s the other side of the inner workings of how magazines operate and what dictates photography. In case you were wondering why in your favorite magazine the same guy’s name shows up in every issue as a “contributor”.

  6. la.photo.assistant

    I was out of town on a gig…is there a video on this lecture ? Would love to see one !

  7. I dont think there is a video. I didn’t see a camera set up at the lecture, but if there is then it would be in the library at art center.

    Thanks for coming out Rob and Heidi, it was way useful and quite informative.

  8. Hey Rob,

    Thoroughly enjoyed the talk, so thanks for sharing. Regarding the presentation of the photographers and considering your audience and the location of the talk, I think a lot of us would have gained more from you presenting unknowns who you chose for a first assignment and why. Choosing to hire Anton Corbijn and Martin Schoeller is a bit of a no-brainer.

  9. One part of the talk covered promotion which got me thinking about the various amateur photo sites like Flickr and JPG. Would you say photo editors or art buyers, in doing their research on a photographer, would be turned off by participation in these sites?

    • @Ryan Schude,

      A lot of A-level, professional working photographers DO play on Flickr, JPG…

      Personally, I think participating on Flickr allows for an EXPANDED VIEW of a photographer’s work; showing off pictures that otherwise DIDN’T make it onto their online/ physical portfolios… NOT BECAUSE it’s bad, but POSSIBLY because of content, personal preferences, ___________, etc etc.

      Only good things can come from showing off great work and Flickr is no exception. Additionally, I suppose it allows for PE’s, AB’s, and XYZ’s to see things they MIGHT HAVE OVERLOOKED from your website the first time around.

    • @Ryan Schude,
      hey ryan! nice to “see” you on this board, how have you been?

      i agree with alan astonish — there have been many times where i’ve clicked on a photographer’s blog and liked them even more. it gave me a more rounded sense of what the photographer’s style was about. also the blog photos are more current, by nature, and i can see what the photographer is perhaps most passionate about. and i always find flickr to be such an invaluable resource for research.

  10. Wow…just discovered you and I have to say great article. Fascinating to see how work may get categorised by editors. Please more guidance, help and advice from the industry insiders! :-)

  11. I like the category of “ungarded moments” or “shots women well” much more then the classic categories. Makes much more sense then sport- news- portrait- fashion- auto etc.

    I’d like to ad that I have sometimes done my best work when I shot things the very first time -with newarly no connection to my book. A few times editors – I suppose out of sympathy – gave me a job which I didnt really have in my book – some of these have turned out to be the best comissions (its not a rule though)

    Also it has happened a lot that I am booked for an aesthetic in my book but editors don’t see that they are asing me to shot it under whole differnet circumstances and on top of it are not giving me any budget to work with. I am supposed to copy “emotional” and “real” of a personal project I worked on for weeks and months with young people in Italy for a portrait of an introverted 80 year old financier. I even can pull it of but at least give me more then 15 minutes, or more then 0 assitent and a 300 $ expense budget including equipment and travel.

    • @Doktor,

      Damn, they gave you $300!?? Consider yourself lucky that it didn’t come all out of your pocket!

  12. Rob and Heidi are experienced photo editors that know the difference between a good editorial photographer and a “I know a” photographer. They comprehend the differences in styles, approach and final product. They also work(ed) for magazines that have real budgets and high expectations. Those “short lists” of theirs are the holy grail to every editorial photographer working today.

    But all to often, the inexperienced photo editors hire the “I know a” or the “I have a friend” photographer. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked to photograph something completely unrelated to my area of specialty. Did they even look at my website? Apparently not.

    Thank you Rob and Heidi for restoring my faith in Photo Editors and Art Directors alike…let’s hope there were a few at your Art Center lecture.

  13. It’s interesting that you mention that Jake Chessum shoots film. Do you see that as a plus? I thought film was pretty much dead, at least in advertising photography, but maybe editorial is different? I’d love to hear you expand on that.

    Thanks!

    • @Smari,

      I’m still shooting film. And numerous other photographers whom I know personally are shooting exclusively with film when doing editorial work.

  14. I like this post. It’s interesting hearing how photo editors think about a photographer’s style. I’d love to learn more details and specific examples on this topic.

  15. Thanks for the great lecture. It was a much needed field trip for our photo department. We read your blog at work and really appreciate having an industry guide specially for photo editors. So much out there is targeted to photographers, it’s nice to finally be focused on. Kudos to Heidi as well.