Soth: You’ve also done a fair amount of editorial work. How do you mix that work into your overall practice?
DuBois: Editorial work keeps you on your toes and in shape – the unique stress and pressure of an assignment can offer up some real surprises. The hardest part is to maintain a sense of your own work and take appropriate risks in making a good photograph. You have very little time to work and no time to reflect or go at it again. Some of the best editorial work I’ve seen offer significant contributions to the photographers’ work. Larry Sultan, Mitch Epstein, Katy Grannan, etc., pull this off time and again. The frustrations come from the time limitations and other circumstances that you have to work around– and, of course, a bad edit or layout can defeat even the best efforts.
Posts by: A Photo Editor
I can’t seem to get a photographer I like hired to shoot fashion, because every time I send a link to the fashion director she clicks and the opening image pops up and it’s this horrendous, pretentious, model-y shot that’s dripping with cheese.
The rest of the site is littered with solid gold shots but she can’t get past the fact that this photographer thinks the greatest shot they’ve ever taken, the shot that goes on the opener, blows.
My greatest piece of advice for hiring photographers I learned the hard way. After many failed and boring and misdirected shoots I discovered an axiom I now adhere to. Never hire a photographer to shoot something that’s not already in their book. This is worth repeating.
Don’t hire photographers to shoot pictures they don’t already have the skills to take.
Don’t misinterpret this to mean you need kittens playing with yarn to get a job shooting kittens playing with yarn. And, don’t take it to mean we never try photographers out or take a chance on photographers. We do, just not with the big shoots.
It means I want to see the visual language in your other pictures that will make up my picture. It means playing to your strengths. It means attempting to match the perfect subject and photographer.
I can’t always do this but when I do, it works every time.
When an editor tells me they want better pictures in the magazine the first thing I say to them is, “get me better subjects.”
Creating compelling imagery with mundane subjects is best left to great artists. It’s nearly impossible.
When you’re starting out in this business if your friends, your family or where you live is not interesting go find something that is and take a goddam picture of it.
The subject always rules. I know this because when I’ve got a juicy subject for a story I can have the pick of any photographer I want to shoot it.
The amazing thing about working with Peggy Sirota is the amount of effort and the level of detail that goes into the preparation for a shoot. As soon as she signs on, the phone springs to life with calls about styling, grooming, props, locations and then Peggy calls to discuss ideas, then she calls the subject to discuss ideas, then she calls you back to talk it over again, then you talk to the agent, then the producer calls, then the office manager calls… it’s awesome.
I don’t think many people realize how much effort goes into consistently creating images that look like you just walked by and quickly snapped one (she calls them “elegant snapshots”).
The Secret to Selling your Vacation Photos (here).
What’s sad is people buy this crap.
A creative director once told me “I don’t want to hire that photographer for this because no one is smiling in any of their photographs and we need a smiling person in the photo.”
Are you kidding me? Are you crazy? All I have to do is tell the goddam photographer to take a smiling photo. What can be so hard about that?
Plenty, I’ve discovered.
Taste is the mysterious imprint every photographer leaves on a picture, it’s what makes them uniquely yours, it’s the emotional content, it’s your photographic dna. It’s impossible to quantify because taste is the sum result of your life and how you see the world.
The clothes, grooming, background, surroundings, body position, subject selection, moment in time you click the shutter, your connection to the subject, the subjects emotional state based on how you’ve treated them and yes, the expression on their face, are all a reflection of your taste.
There are two types of photographers in this world. Those who shoot smiles well and those who don’t.
Is your photography… Visually Acceptable?
There’s a good discussion in the Fly’n Photographers comments about magazines only hiring from a narrow band of photographic styles that Olivier Laude has coined “Visually Acceptable,” (this also holds true for our writing and design).
There are a few magazines that end up setting the agenda for the rest. They win all the awards, maintain a high circulation and and are packed with advertising. This adherence to certain styles of photography is unavoidable because the decision makers at the highest level see this as a sign of a successful magazine. Most CFO’s couldn’t name a “visually acceptable” photographer if I held them by their feet off the top of our building, but they know what it looks like.
To be successful in the editorial market you need to understand this.
One of my favorite old posts by Alec Soth (RIP his Blog) is: The do’s and dont’s of Graduate Studies (here), Maxims from the chair. From the book The Education of a Photographer by Charles H. Traub. Chair of Photography at SVA.
There’s so much good material to guide photographers in creating their individual style, just don’t try and swallow the whole thing at once.
My favorite line is:
Photographers are the only creative people that don’t pay attention to their predecessors work—if you imitate something good, you are more likely to succeed.
Now, I know my share of photographers who were huge in the 90’s but are now stuck making prints and books of their old famous shots to know, an acceptable style doesn’t last forever, so you’ve got two choices to make.
Either pioneer a new one or get in line.
I read a great quote from Mario Batali (but suddenly can’t find it) about what makes a professional chef.
He says the difference between an amazing amateur chef and a professional chef is the ability to make that perfect meal 100 times in a row.
That applies to photography too.
A reader sent me a link to a NY Times Magazine piece where photographer Simon Norfolk talks about several of the shoots he’s done (here). There’s good insight to his approach on each story but I love to read between the lines as he tells us about shooting this Sunday’s Perfect Drought story. He describes the photos as “Illustrative of the facts,” for a conventional story where “the pictures sit closely to the text.”
Sure, it’s a job, but handing someone a story and telling them to go shoot all the plot points seems so two dimensional to me. That story should have gone in the newspaper not the magazine.
A reader asks me about sending people all over the world to shoot jobs when many times perfectly capable photographers are already there. This mirrors another comment about Vanity Fair sending someone from NY to Durham, NC to shoot a picture of a house.
I’ll start with VF. I didn’t see the piece but I’d be willing to bet when they first conceived of the photography they were thinking the house could be the lead image and as is the case with many, many, stories that are handed to me where the events have already taken place the image you think will be the lead never ends up there. In fact my whole strategy in a situation like this is to figure out what CAN be photographed and attach a great photographer who can make something dynamic out of it because the competition is going to be some matter-of-fact AP image or mug shot that may be sensationalist but does nothing to further the story and reads more like evidence. Editors are fine with this.
As a side note, it’s beyond my comprehension why anyone would buy a magazine to see matter-of-fact photography. It’s available everywhere all the time.
With regards to flying photographers from NY or LA to another country it comes down to trust. There’s a formula that my gut calculates for me in situations like this where x is the cost of plane ticket and hotel and y is the chance a photographer already living there whos work you like will fail and z is the cost of a reshoot and n squared is the number of failed shoots that have occured in the last 3 months and p is the current level of trust the Editor and Creative Director have in my skills as a DP. Phew. That a nasty algorithm that, as you may have guessed, works about as good as google image search.
What’s it like to work with Anton? Crushing.
Remember the photographer who sends one amazing print after a shoot is done? Anton sends 6 or 12. And, each and every one is the greatest photograph you have ever witnessed.
I’m not even talking about the printing technique. I’m talking about what’s in the pictures. I was shocked to discover, after my first shoot with Anton, that his skills lied not in his powerful style but in his ability to create instant timeless, iconic images.
The crushing part? No matter what 4 or 5 you pick to publish there are 4 or 5 more that are better, sitting in the box.
Attention photographers living simultaneously in LA and NY (sometimes Europe) I know you have a house in one of these towns. Which one is it?
I know, I know, you don’t want to be left out of the jobs in NY or LA just because you don’t live there but honestly, if the budget exists and you are indeed the perfect photographer for the job I will fly you there.
But, when I have a job with no budget to fly or hotel a photographer it would be nice to know where you are.
Lately, everytime I call one of these photographers they’re in the wrong town and I’m suddenly adding a plane ticket to the shoot budget. Aaaaaargh!
In the comments Bruce DeBoer turned me on to photojournalist Pat Davison who has a rich media presentation that everyone has to see called Undying Love (here). It’s NSFW unless you want people to see you blubbering at your desk staring at the computer screen, which I might add I often do but that mostly has to do with budget and page counts not powerful photography.
If you’ve ever met Brian Storm of Mediastorm he will tell you that rich media is a large part of the future for photographers which I sort of buy into and even more so after seeing Pat’s website and again even more after finding out Magnum has something called Magnum in Motion (here) where they produce these types of presentations.
Check out Dennis Stock’s show where he talks about shooting James Dean (here). Good stuff for working photographers.
As much as I enjoy looking at photography without some dude telling me whats going on in this picture and what happened here sometimes I just want to kick back and watch the images go by.
Why, in thee hell, does everyone want to become a photographer?
Maybe it’s because if you make it into the elite group of heavy hitters you will become rich, make your own hours and endlessly satisfy your need to shoot pictures.
Land a huge pharmaceutical job? Guess what, you’re going to get paid a $350,000 creative fee.
Tired of working? Block out your calendar for a month long vacation.
Want to be creative? Cherry pick the editorial jobs with cool subjects and assert complete creative control.
Don’t believe me? I have evidence to back every single one of those statements.
It’s certainly getting harder for people to make it in this industry and there’s some nasty shit that goes down sometimes but guess what? I meet with people every week who are having the time of their lives (I know, I know, goddam jerks).
What are you waiting for?
I prefer wallowing in the trenches.
A reader asks:
would you hire a person based only on their portfolio?
would you hire someone that shoots like this..?
if you knew that.. this guy is
Yes, I hire photographers all the time having never met them and sometimes without talking on the phone. I try to be unbiased in my assessment of whether a photographer and subject are a good match based solely on the photography.
But, it’s impossible to be completely unbiased and so I usually end up in the personal photos section and then tears and finally the bio section to help me confirm or discredit the decision I’m arriving at.
Your Bio is really important. You may not realize that we’re reading your bio’s.
Back to Joey. His bio states that he’s 17 and not based anywhere (which we all know is a trick so you don’t just call him for jobs in his home town don’t we photographers-living-simultaneously-in-LA-and-NY). While I’m not really into his photography I’ll bet there’s a few advertisers out there who wouldn’t mind a 17 year olds perspective on their product so I wouldn’t discount it either.
Just watched a video over at PhotoShelter (here) via the Strobist (here) that was taken at one of their town hall meetings where Marni Beardsley, Director of Global Art Buying at Weiden and Kennedy talks about the photography business from her perspective.
It starts out a little slow and takes an hour to watch but it’s loaded with good stuff.
I really enjoy hearing other photo professionals corroborate my thoughts about the industry and so I wanted to highlight some of the points she makes that I agree with.
1. She hates micro stock. It’s crap.
2. Cold calls suck. I’ve always hated getting a cold calls and they don’t really get you any work.
3. Email is the best way to communicate.
4. Promo cards still work.
5. All that matters is the photography. Book, promo, email, website, coffee shop wall, magazine and whatever medium you can think of it’s all about the photography. Marketing matters little. If a creative finds a great photograph on Flickr she’s not afraid to go get it.
6. She loves Terry Richardson.
7. Treat people fairly and don’t work with assholes.
8. If you don’t support photographers and advocate for great photography we’re all out of a job.
9. Editorial and personal projects keep your work fresh.
10. General every day job frustrations like creatives asking for photographers who won’t work with us or looking for stupid concept stock photos or being asked to put shoots together last minute with a tiny budget.
Thanks for posting the videos Photo Shelter.