Posts by: A Photo Editor
A friends daughter dropped by the office for a little career advice a little while back. She recently graduated from college with a degree in the arts and is interested in becoming a photo editor.
(Okay, first off I find it fascinating that someone would choose photo editing as a career path. Aren’t we all failed photographers? Ha, ha, industry joke.)
She landed an internship at a magazine’s photography department which is the obvious first step and it sounds like a good job because they’re understaffed so she will have many duties not usually given to interns… unlike the boring shit I make our interns do: sending out tears, returning art and calling PR flacks for photos (editors idea).
Anyway, my whole point here is that I came up with a few tips for any aspiring photography editors out there:
1. Develop your eye for photography. Unless you were born with the golden eye you need to edit tons of photos because wading through all the crappy images to find the gems is what develops your eye for what makes a good image. It’s also helpful to track images from your edit to the final printed product so you can see which images make the final cut… unless, your editor and/or art director suck and then all the great images never make it on the page but that’s another story.
2.Keep a list of editorial photographers. You need to begin learning the names of all the great editorial photographers and try and keep track of the various shoots they’ve done over the years. This means visiting the newsstand and writing down the names of photographers who’s work you like. If the only photographers name you know is Annie Leibovitz, who by the way is under contract with Conde Nast, you’re up shit creek because you will never land her to shoot a 1/4 in the front of the book. I’ve tried. It ain’t pretty. The list of top editorial photographers is not long and you should know who many of them are.
3. Work on your institutional knowledge of photography. Being able to recall the photographers who shot Demi Moore in the last 5 years is valuable, not only if you need to find pickup images that aren’t in circulation but also to help inform how you will photograph her for the story you’re working on. Also, as an aside, editorial story meetings generally devolve at some point into a pissing match where people try to outdo each other with their knowledge of who wrote or shot this and who’s cool and what has appeared where… etc., etc. Rapid fire name dropping is a great skill to have (just don’t be that annoying guy who does it all the time).
4. Develop relationships with photographers. In the end, you will be hired to work at a magazine based on your relationships with great photographers. Not everyone can work at a glamorous magazine with massive budgets and movie stars to take pictures of and so you will need to develop relationships with photographers, especially when they are young and hungry, so that later on you can rely on them when you’re in a bind.
There’s more but by this time I think she was completely bored out of her mind. Oh well maybe she’ll try and become a photographer first.
I’ve just been informed by a very reliable source that, for high end fashion and beauty the client will book a retoucher before the photographer… (jaw hitting floor) are you kidding me?
Furthermore, they went on to say that if you actually printed an unmolested image in one of these magazines everyone would go screaming out of the room. This retouching business has gotten to the point where normal beautiful women look hideous next to these frankenbarbies.
Now, I work with a lot of photographers who retouch and frankly I’m starting to get concerned with the rising cost of shooting high end digital. With a digi tech on set and all the rentals plus the retouching with match print the digital can take up half the shoot budget.
That would be fine if the result was actually better than film. Perfect but not better.
Whenever there’s an event I need to cover there’s usually a conversation where I’m told “so-and-so” photographer will already be there or that we can pick up photos from the wires and I know the scene below looks ridiculous with all these photographers shooting the same thing but I have to tell you I always get better photos when I send my own photographer.
Maybe I just think they’re better because I had a hand in the process.
I totally dig Burnett.
An associate tells me what it’s like to shoot with the provocative Mr. Richardson.
Art Direction for Terry was a question of what he wanted to do…and we pretty much let him go.
I was really nervous to meet him, you know he’s too cool for school and I felt a bit like “the man”, but he’s a total sweet-heart while at the same time guarded. He’s a celeb unto himself!
He talked about the Lohan shoot and I asked how he had gotten her to crawl across the mirror, an obvious reference to cocaine. He smiled and said it was all about throwing so many things at the subject that they didn’t have time to say no. Which I think is his genius, no matter who he’s shooting he can convince them to be a little wilder and that’s why I love him.
Nice. Thanks for the insight.
I dig Terry’s work. He makes compelling pictures without the aide of expensive cameras, film and retouching (not always of course) through a strong point of view and a connection to his subject.
Terry Richardson Photoshoot
I’ve never really liked it when I call an agent and the photographer is booked so then they push someone else on me at the agency who’s available on those dates.
It’s like, what the hell? You think it’s as easy as just calling a photographer, any photographer, and giving them an assignment? This is what I’ve been training for. I made all these lists and visited websites and spent days thinking about it and you’re gonna throw a name out there like it’s no big deal. Jesus, I’ve picked the perfect photographer for this assignment and no one can possibly fathom what I’m trying to achieve here.
Well, as it turns out, lately I’ve been hiring a few photographers this way and of course as you’d expect the results are the same. Amazing photos by people who are not yet as popular as some of the famous names in the business repped by the same agents.
I guess this is an advantage to being at an agency with a well known photographer. As long as know-it-all photo editors will listen to your agent.
I hear Alessandra Petlin is working on several big editorial projects. Repped by Rob Magnotta at Edge she’s been on my list for awhile now but it appears she’s blowing up. Go ahead and publicly shame me if she’s been hot since PDN 30’d her because I’m not exactly working on cutting edge shit here… if you can tell by my photographer posts so far. And, yes I realize she’s shot for the NY Times magazine since like, forever.
Oddly, it was a writer who made a strong recommendation and that convinced me I had to find something worthy ASAP.
It’s tough getting new photographers past the editor on big shoots. There’s several techniques:
1. Gang up. Get the Creative Director to back you in the meeting. “Oh yeah he’s great, I worked with him at my previous magazine and he always delivered.”
2. Shiny Objects. Toss out important people or magazines they’ve shot for. “He shot a feature in Vanity Fair recently.”
3. Padded Portfolio. Print the portfolio shots that back your case. “See, she really gets what we’re trying to achieve here.”
4. Play Dumb. Assign and feign telling them about it recently. “Oh, I thought we discussed that she was shooting this earlier.”
(I should note here that we don’t always run photographers by the editor it just happens from time to time)
Yes it’s true. Everyone. All the top editorial photographers take bad photos.
They just don’t show it to me. Ever.
Thing is… I know everyone takes bad photos, it happens and it’s not a big deal… I just don’t wanted to be reminded of it when I’m looking for a photographer.
The promo, website and portfolio are all places where the possibility exists for you to remind me that shoots can sometimes turn out bland and then I suddenly get the feeling that the shoot I was about to hire you for will turn out bland.
I think I know why you do it. You don’t have enough material yet or you want to show me how you can shoot portraits, food, B&W, color, holga, photoj, etc…
I want to live in a fantasy world where every single shoot is perfect. The best photographers let me.
I love seeing your personal photos.
It’s usually the last place I visit on a photographers website and I have to make it all the way through the portfolio and tears without clicking out but then… to see the photos of your wife, kids, friends, vacations, birthday parties, breakfast, house, neighborhood is so absolutely pleasing to me and confirms your love of taking pictures and your need of an assignment so you can enjoy all these things.
It makes it personal.
Editor comes to me with an assignment he’s made. Feature profile on this guy who, from what I can gather in the pitch, is a complete and utter bore. Furthermore, he refuses to give more than 10 minutes to be photographed and wants the shoot to take place in his drab suburban home. The editor goes on to tell me because of the story mix in this issue and his belief that this guy is as cool as the writer claims, the portrait needs to be dynamic. “Maybe he could swing from the rafters or jump off the high dive into the pool,” he tells me excitedly (a call to the publicist confirms he will be doing no such thing) “and whatever you do make it cheap we’ve already spent way too much on the cover and fashion and that feature story in Africa.” “He’s only available the day after tomorrow,” he croaks while exiting my office.
Who the hell can I get to take a shot of this guy? Everyone I call is gonna see it’s impossible. He’s a complete troll. No budget for props or grooming or something extra special like a water tank or a fake cannon and no time to build anything.
What. Am. I. Going. To. Do?
I could get all Chris Buck on him but… I know the editor will kill it because he thinks this guy is cool and dynamic not weird and awkward plus… if I burn Chris he’s not going to take my calls anymore.
Wait a minute.
There was that photographer who came by the other day. Very talented. Had a great book but not much experience. Well, maybe he’ll get a nice portfolio piece out of it because who knows if it will ever run. I’ve got his number around here somewhere…
I was checking out Thomas Broening’s blog and read something that made me laugh. Photographers pretending to be very busy shooting all the time when talking to each other. Some sort of primal chest thumping.
Well, I’ll just flat out admit that sometimes when calling a photographer or rep and I find out their schedule is wiiiiide open from here to eternity I get a bit crestfallen thinking “why isn’t this guy getting any work, what does everyone else know that I don’t?” Lame, I know but it crosses the mind.
A reader asks: 1. what’s the big deal risking a shoot on someone new when you’re only paying them $350-$500? 2. What’s up with those crap rates?
1. If you include all the expenses (assistant, rental, film and process or digital fees, travel, cell phone, messenger, insurance, tips, cab fare, and misc) a one day shoot is easily over $3500. Add to that the availability of the subject and the looming deadline plus the fact that for every failed shoot the editor and creative director give you enormous stink-eye… well it turns into a little more than just $500 out of the budget.
2. The rates. I actually inherited them and while I will agree they’ve been stagnant for many, many years the expenses have gone up considerably and… this is a big and, the theory has always been that you get your clips in editorial and make your money in commercial. Uh, maybe that’s a very bad assumption on the part of photography editors.
Anyway, there should be a better pricing structure for editorial photography. The way writing works and commercial photography works is the better you are the more you get paid. I should be able to pay established photographers more and unproven photographers less.
So, I decided to activate a twitter account (on sidebar) as an experiment. As annoying as it probably is to know what someone is up to every moment of the day it might be useful as a business tool so people know when you’re at the office in a meeting or have gone home for the day.
I guess it doesn’t do anyone much good if I remain anonymous but I wanted to see how hard it was to keep up.