Posts by: A Photo Editor

Discusson on Portraiture Over at Conscientious

- - Blog News

Joerg and Miguel Garcia-Guzman asked a whole swath of the photographic community what makes a great portrait. All the different opinions makes for great reading.

Love this quote from Bill Hunt: “…My own take on this genre, after many years of looking at and collecting photographs, most always images of people, is that portraiture by and large fails to connect the viewer and the sitter in any sort of revelatory and meaningful way.”

Link (here).

More On Sartorialist As A Photographer

- - Blog News

This one was worth the wait. Robert Wright begins his Yale MFA dissertation (kidding) with “The Farmer, The Skilled Tradesman, The Woman, Classes and Professions, The Artists, The City, The Last People and The Sartorialist: an Appreciation or, Its the economy, Stupid.”

Money quote: “…it seems to be “attention aesthetic” is a good way to describe the style of The Sartorialists photographs. The photography only has to be good enough to create and keep your attention. It is not a photograph or a question of fine art but a kind of a conversation,…”

Read it (here).

Inside The Great Magazines

- - Working

I’ll be checking out this series entitled Inside The Great Magazines, Produced by DLI Productions (here). I love it when people talk about how great a magazine is by referencing the photography.

National Geographic

Vanity Fair

Via, Mr. Magazine (here).

Thomas Broening Interviews Art Buyer Jen Small

- - Blog News

A couple highlights.

On using her experience to suggest photographers:
“The art directors I know are not interested in having a photography education. …They want to own the whole process because they have to stand and say I made this decision. And they don’t care about my opinion. It would be naive to think that my opinion is the decisive one.”

On the conference call try-out with a photographer:
“…It is really hard because it boils down to a personality contest. I am sorry but there it is.”

Read it (here).

What’s Really Wrong With Newspapers

- - Blog News

From, Rogue Columnist:

… What’s less noted is how newspapers themselves contributed to the dumbing down of America.

… A startlingly conformist agenda emerged all over: design over content; short, uninteresting (but non-irritating to advertisers) stories, etc. The universe of different tactics, strategies and innovations that a competitive industry would have evolved never happened. The industry became strikingly inwardly focused, insulated from a changing world.

… Leadership collapsed under the weight of these forces. A generation of managers that would go along with these dictates rose, while those with other ideas were pushed out or aside. These surviving managers – of course with honorable exceptions – were singularly incapable of dealing with the historic turning points facing newspapers

Link (via, Boing Boing)

Consultation with Clay Stang

Photography Consultation Demo, Part 6 of 6.
See the other parts here: (1), (2), (3), (4) and (5).

Leslie’s Website
Clay’s Website

I’m pleased to report the consultation session with Clay went really well and I learned a few things about the business that I had no idea about. I think we really did help Clay but as Leslie said in her answers to my questions earlier it’s up to him to make the changes and implement the ideas that were discussed. If you’re a really busy photographer, working hard every day, it almost seems crazy to hire a consultant because they will only give you more work to do.

Here’s the mp3 for those of you who want to listen to the session and get an idea what it’s like.

Here’s the direct link to the audio:
Consultation with Clay and Leslie

For those of you who don’t want to listen to the 55 min. session here are the highlights:

It was a huge relief to find out that these sessions don’t have a lot in common with an Oprah show or Tony Robbins lecture. I was afraid that we would sit around and blow smoke up his ass and then he would walk down the street staring at his navel and get clobbered by a NYC bound bus. We discussed what we liked about Clays work and then what we didn’t like and ways to improve and then we hugged it out (kidding).

First off, filling out a questionnaire like the one Leslie gave Clay is such a good exercise for all photographers and not dissimilar to creating a business plan. Don’t forget you’re running a business. Identifying specific clients you want to target and your dream job gives you targets and goals to work towards.

Clay described his dream job as something that already happened (time for a new one) and was very general about his target markets which Leslie pointed out as a common mistake with photographers. I do think it’s really important for everyone to go after a specific jobs and agencies and magazines and not just throw yourself into the “I take pictures for a living” market.

Leslie talked about the best way to do that, which is to find the people who already hire photographers like you. That seems so intuitive to me but I’ve never really thought of it that way. Why go around pimpin’ your style to people who aren’t interested in it. Find creatives, art directors, photo editors and art buyers who like your aesthetic and target them with your marketing material. The best way to find them is the contests like PDN Photography Annual, SPD (society of publication designers), Communication Arts, The Kelly awards, Graphis and Lurzer’s Archive. In a follow up email Leslie says to find projects that make your brain think “I would have LOVED to have worked on that project” and note that “I could have shot that” is not enough. You need to feel that real creative/vision connection.

We talked a bit about some of the problems Clay was having, much of which stems from his specific style of photography. He was feeling pressure to change the style and to use more digital to accommodate the tastes of his local market. Also, Clay has a bit of a dark sense of humor which turned off a few potential clients in his area. The key for him solving these issues is to look for clients outside of his local area and find more that are in tune with the way he wants to shoot. Ok, I know, that sounds like duh, who wouldn’t want clients all over the world but I think he’s at a major crossroad in his career that many photographers face, “Do I change my style to accommodate the local clients that make me money or do I go and look for new clients that like what I’m doing” not an easy decision and certainly one that can lead to disaster if those new clients never materialize. I honestly think Clay can make the jump but it’s gonna take some time and serious effort.

Something Leslie pointed out that I really found interesting was that photographers should use general naming categories on their website. I was really surprised to hear Leslie explain (she has a linguistics background) how people attach meaning to words and when your meaning doesn’t match theirs they get offended. Wow. This is big for me because I’m always saying to people “why are you putting those lifestyle photos in with the portraits and why are you calling those photos portraits when they’re clearly not.” That’s smart. Avoid that conflict of meaning.

Next we got into the actual website and Clay had a few problems with his navigation that we discussed and that he didn’t know weren’t working properly. He admitted to throwing a few random photos into the portfolios to demonstrate his ability to shoot other styles which we both pointed out as a mistake and somewhat of a distraction. If you’re going to demonstrate several styles of photography (not advised) then they all need to be complete bodies of work. I’m not really going to hire someone to shoot a style based on 3 or 4 images.

One more thing Leslie said that I found interesting was that some photos just don’t look good on the web and you should keep them off your website. I think it’s really smart to think in terms of what looks good and not, what am I trying to demonstrate or what jobs am I trying to show off.

Well, I hope everyone finds this useful, interesting and informative there’s certainly more advice in the audio of the session. I really want to thank Clay and Leslie for participating in this very public forum, I know I learned a few things from it.

Consultation Questions

Photography Consultation Demo, Part 5 of 6.
See the other parts here: (1), (2), (3) and (4).

Leslie’s Website
Clay’s Website

Here are the questions Leslie asked Clay to answer before the consultation:

What do you see as your target market(s)?

Commercial and Editorial. Unfortunately PSA’s because there is no money. In Canada the market is fairly conservative and safe, it’s been a difficult fit. My reps are finding it very difficult to convince AD’s that throw a Honda car in the background and you got a great advertisement using my style/look. You really have to spell it out for them.
As for Editorial, I’ve found it difficult to break into, again being in Canada, there is not a ton of options, and those that do exist are fairly conservative.
I have been trying to make contacts at US mags, but I constantly hear that budgets are becoming smaller and it’s really hard to justify flying me out to shoot something when there is already someone there.

Which 3 images are your favorites, and why?

clay1.jpg clay2.jpg

clay3.jpg

At first I went into explaining each of them, but soon found out there is similarities to all of them; story telling. Each image tells a story, and the viewer is compelled to either try and figure it out, or make up their own (I hope). I’m really drawn to photographers like Roger Ballen, Gregory Crewdson, Taryn Simon, and Nadav Kander. I’m also drawn to the disconnect of the subject matter, however this style is what’s killing me (besides PSA’s). It’s a tough sell. I think that’s why I also really respect the listed photographers, they’ve all been able to express their voice and have been really successful without having to compromise their vision.

How do you self-define your work? (for example “I shoot people in their environments, using mostly natural light and do not use digital manipulation”)

Most of my work is people in environments, with artificial light, sometimes a mix of natural and artificial. I rarely use digital manipulation, however I’ve been experimenting with it more and more to try and keep up with the market.

Describe, in detail, your dream project.

Pretty much any Nadav Kander job. It’s funny, my dream job (the only reason it wasn’t is because it was a freebie) happened a few years ago for the Alberta Ballet. I was given carte blanche, and everything was in sync and just came together. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of hard work but what I had imagined had organically come together. The same year Nadav did a similar campaign for the London Ballet, and at the IPA show my images took first place and his was second. I was floored, it was the biggest compliment.

What else are you doing for your marketing? (Mailers, emails, etc.?)

I’m terrible for marketing. I came from a small market and a lot of the people in the industry are my friends, so it was easy. Since I’ve moved to Toronto I’ve been doing mostly email promos, which I think, the same as mailers, are only successful if they are seen. I’m not a big fan of traditional marketing – but I’m told it works (especially by my reps). The main objective is to get people to your site or call in you book. That image has to be pretty amazing to get a PE or AD to take a minute out of their busy schedule, let alone take a look at your work. Also the industry is changing with Youtube, Facebook, etc. and there is a number of ways to get your name out there. Enter a contest that gets you a free photo consultation – that seems to be pretty good exposure.

How do you select your targets?

Mostly award shows and PE’s and AD’s at magazines. I try and find people that I respect and hope that we’ll have a similar aesthetic and either call them or email them. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Because I don’t have an American or European rep, I feel that I’m pretty limited to the fairly conservative Canadian market. My biggest fear is that I find the older I get and the more responsibilities I have, the more safe my work is getting. To be honest, I feel like I’m starting to get somewhat confused because I’m starting to feel that I’m going to have to change my look in order to get work or continue to struggle. So my approach, is changing to conform with my industry.

Why did you choose to be a photographer?

To be honest, I wanted to be a sculptor or a furniture designer but thought photography would be an easier way to make a living. A close family member has been very successful in photography, so I thought it would be an easy transition for me. In the city I was living in it was fairly easy. I worked my butt off and struggled to find my own voice but photography just came naturally. Now it’s all I do, all I think about and it’s my life. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Photography Consultant- Leslie Burns-Dell’Acqua

Photography Consultation Demo, Part 4 of 6.
See the other parts here: (1), (2) and (3).

I wanted to ask Leslie (Her website here) a few questions in advance of the consultation demo because, to be honest, I know nothing about her profession. This whole project came about on a whim. I was quizzing Leslie to see how she goes about consulting with photographers because I get asked to do it once and awhile and I thought, why not let the readers in on this conversation and luckily she agreed.

Why did you decide to become a photography consultant?

Cause Wal*Mart said my teeth were too good. <giggle>

Seriously, when I was repping I got lots of questions and as the
forums came into being, I got even more. I realized just how many
photographers were in need of good info and help, so I started
consulting. It quickly became clear that I had to make a choice
between repping and consulting, because there was the potential for
conflict-of-interest as I get intimate knowledge about my clients’
businesses which I could use against them if one of my photographers
was up for a project against them. I chose consulting because I could
help more people. It was a cut in pay, at first, but the satisfaction
of helping so many others made up for it.

Are there any myths about the profession you would like to expel?

The consultant profession? Well, I’d have to say the biggest one is
that any of us can fix your (any particular photographer’s) business.
We can’t do a damn thing beyond offering our best advice–it’s up to
the photographer to act on the information s/he gets. If the
photographer doesn’t work the plan I make for him (her), if s/he sits
on it and never makes the changes needed, nothing will happen.

What can photographers expect to get out of a consultation?

Continuing on the previous answer…whatever he or she is willing to
put into it. For me, each client is different and each project is
different so the expectations and deliverables vary greatly. I think
that generally speaking, a photographer should get a better idea of
her/his goals, where s/he is in relation to them, and concrete steps
to help get them closer to those goals.

What kinds of changes have you seen in your profession as a result of the digital revolution?

To answer that would take a book! :-)

Short answer is that when I started in the creative industries,
clients hardly had email and websites were things a few geeks had.
The portfolio was the most important marketing tool for a
photographer and it cost so much to make because of the prints, with
postcard mailers (and other print mailers) de rigeur and sourcebook
ads pretty much necessary. Now the site is the most important tool,
portfolios are much less expensive and printed on (good) Epson
printers, print promos have changed with email ones becoming as
ubiquitous, and print sourcebooks aren’t used much at all anymore
(though their web “versions” are).

All this, combined with the technology enabling pretty much anyone
the ability to make a decent image, means that low-end photography is
now off-shored like any commodity and the projects remaining are now
going to the right photographer, rather than just some “good enough”
guy with the technical know-how to use a good camera.

The good side of this is that talented, creative photographers can
live anywhere and get projects with clients across the globe; that
is, they don’t have to be a “just” a local guy with limited success
or move to NYC for any chance at significant success.

Please note that I said “talented, creative photographers.” That’s
important.

Copyright Overhaul

- - copyright

Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing fame has a story in the Guardian (here) yesterday about distinguishing between cultural and commercial uses of copyrighted material. He makes a good case for creating an exception in the law for low end cultural use of copyrighted material, stuff that goes on everyday that’s tolerated by everyone because there’s really no benefit to going after violators. Of course, this would never be a problem if we didn’t have the internet to distribute all this material to millions of people.

Through most of copyright’s history, we had two de facto systems: industrial regulation (governing what big companies did with each others’ stuff) and folk-copyright (the rules of thumb that most of us understood to be true).

[...] We need to stop shoe-horning cultural use into the little carve-outs in copyright, such as fair dealing and fair use. Instead we need to establish a new copyright regime that reflects the age-old normative consensus about what’s fair and what isn’t at the small-scale, hand-to-hand end of copying, display, performance and adaptation.

This makes sense to me for a couple very important reasons. Your average citizen doesn’t understand or care about copyright and when an overhaul comes in the form of either a vote or some type of legislation we’re going to have a hard time convincing people that they shouldn’t do what they’ve always done. Also, giving up low end fan violations will prevent the erosion of fair use and keep other less desirable uses from getting in that door.

A commenter on Boing Boing (here) pointed me to this excellent article published in the February, 2007 issue of Harpers (here) by Jonathan Lethem.

It’s worth noting, then, that early in the history of photography a series of judicial decisions could well have changed the course of that art: courts were asked whether the photographer, amateur or professional, required permission before he could capture and print an image. Was the photographer stealing from the person or building whose photograph he shot, pirating something of private and certifiable value? Those early decisions went in favor of the pirates. Just as Walt Disney could take inspiration from Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr., the Brothers Grimm, or the existence of real mice, the photographer should be free to capture an image without compensating the source. The world that meets our eye through the lens of a camera was judged to be, with minor exceptions, a sort of public commons, where a cat may look at a king.

[...] A time is marked not so much by ideas that are argued about as by ideas that are taken for granted. The character of an era hangs upon what needs no defense. In this regard, few of us question the contemporary construction of copyright. It is taken as a law, both in the sense of a universally recognizable moral absolute, like the law against murder, and as naturally inherent in our world, like the law of gravity. In fact, it is neither. Rather, copyright is an ongoing social negotiation, tenuously forged, endlessly revised, and imperfect in its every incarnation.

The bottom line here is that it’s not going to be long before we see either legislation or a court ruling and photographers need to do whatever they can to achieve the best possible outcome.

Photographer Website Design

- - Getting Hired

So, the other day I cranked through 145 websites in about 3 hours for the consultation demo and then I had a conversation with a magazine art director friend about how we look at photographers websites in obviously different ways (design vs. photo) and I realized something: Design and layout has a powerful effect on me. Right off the bat, before I even look at the first picture, the design is working on my brain.

So, here’s the nut, I’ve looked at tens-of-thousands of websites and it’s very apparent that certain photographers (of a similar feather) hang together. If you’ve got a Travel & Leisure design happening like so many of the photographers that T&L assigns then I’m already putting you into that category. Take it one step further, if I’m the Photography Director at T&L I’m used to seeing photography surrounded by a specific type of design so if the photographs you present me already look like they belong in my magazine… voila, one hurdle down 99 to go.

My proof:

Frederic Lagrange

Morgan and Owens

Hugh Stewart

Bobby Fisher

Amanda Pratt

David Nicolas

Martin Morrell

John Huba

Andrea Fazzari

Either that or the Arizona sun has completely baked my brain. Either way it’s all good.

Vanity Fair Exhibition- No Shortage of Hyperbole

- - Blog News

Next month sees an exhibition of 150 of Vanity Fair’s defining images open at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

If Hollywood is a dream factory, then this magazine is its ethereal brochure.

[Vanity Fair editor] Graydon [Carter] commands a serious loyalty and that filters down to the photo department. They are so down to earth and straightforward.

To all intents and purposes, Vanity Fair is not just a window on the dream, it is the dream.

Via, The Independent (here).  Thanks John.

I just barfed on my shoes.