Category "Getting Hired"
There are only 4 things to consider when looking to hire a photographer.
Ok, there’s actually a fifth that’s like a recommendation or an impression we have of you and informs us what it will be like to work with you but I’m leaving that out of this discussion.
When making an assignment several of these variables may be locked down. If the budget is low then the weight of the decision goes to price and certainly location because that can be a big factor in the cost of a shoot. The genre can be wide or narrow depending on how much you want to leave open to chance and interpretation. Color, shoots men or conversely photo journalist specializing in domestic abuse, portraitist who works with older women. And, you either assign stories that match Genre’s or do the opposite to create something interesting (assigning fashion stories to photojournalists and sending fashion photographers to war zones… ok that last one’s probably not a great idea). The style further breaks down the genre into subgroups of similar looking photographs and derivatives and maybe even a few that don’t really fit anywhere.
For most photographers the Genre and Location are locked down and the price is a function of how busy/new you are. That leaves style as the most important factor in how we find and hire you.
Are you leading, following, pioneering or just pain unsure where you stand?
Bar none, showing your book is the fastest way to get a job in this business. If I meet you and like your work, then shake your hand and look you in the eye, it’s a virtual lock you’ll get an assignment. I was such a pushover in this regard that sometimes photographers wouldn’t even make it out of the building before getting a call on the cell phone with a job.
Usually what happens is I’ve got a shoot rolling around in my brain that I can’t quite land and I meet you and even tho you’re not perfectly what I was looking for in this particular story, your work is strong and you’re a nice person so I suddenly really want to hook you up with a job because well, I’m human. And, usually I can trot you over to the Creative Directors office and they’ll have the same reaction as I do “Zoiks Shaggy, let’s get this person a job.”
Getting in the door with your book is not easy (sometimes impossible) and if it was, everyone would be standing in line outside the Photography Directors office holding one of those butcher counter numbers waiting to get their assignment, so you get in which ever way you can. Keep trying, “Hey, I’m in the neighborhood and thought I’d drop by if you have time” or “I’m at the newsstand, saw the latest issue and wanted to drop by and show you my work” or get a meeting with a Jr. Photo Editor or an Art Director or the Fashion Director or the magazine down the hall. Whatever it takes.
If your work is strong and you’re not a complete jackass, show your book in person, it’s the best way to land a job.
Can be found at MediaPhoneBook.com (here)… someday… maybe. For now it’s got contacts for a handful of magazines, but since it’s a wiki anybody can add and make changes so eventually it really could contain all the contact info, book drop information, submission guidelines and anything else that might be useful to photographers for every media company in the world.
With this project I have that feeling I use to get when I made an assignment that could either be brilliant or get me fired (love that feeling) and so I want to quickly dispel any thoughts that this could somehow be a bad thing.
First, everyone’s contact info is already available from listing services for a price so I don’t think you have to worry about getting more spam. People already pay good money to do that.
Second, I think photographers might be worried that by giving away contact info for a client some other photographer will come in and steal a job from them. See the first point.
Lastly, as a Photography Director I would thrilled by the idea that I could tell everyone at once when to drop books, who else to contact in my department for specific things and in general lay down the law on how I want to be reached for work. Wouldn’t you?
Doesn’t that sound like a better way to do business?
I think so and I hope people will use it in the spirit that it’s given, let’s see what happens.
Turning down jobs is one of the smartest things you can do for your photography career.
A reader writes:
“For me it’s been really instrumental in the last couple of years to take shoots that I really think I can knock out of the park, and shoots that feel like I am a good match for to get something great. Also, I make it a point to never go backwards or stay stagnant at a magazine for too long. If I do a small front-of-the-book portrait as a first job or two, and do a great job and they call for more, I usually try not to take it. I try to let them know that I would be good for their bigger shoots, and it’s worked out well that way, working my way up to covers in some cases.
In other cases, I was definitely stuck in a quarter pager mode, and was looking for the bigger front of the book portraits. Turned down the little jobs and never got offered the bigger. Which is a risk I was willing to take to try to get the better stuff. I figure sometimes it’s good to leave a magazine and come back to them with a stronger body of work later.”
He’s not talking about turning down bad money or contracts either just jobs that don’t jive with your career goals.
When you’ve established a relationship with someone shooting small front of book or crappy subjects that no one else wants it’s impossible to graduate them to the big features, fashion or the cover. Try convincing an editor that the photographer who shoots 1/4 pages in the front of the book should shoot this months cover. It ain’t happening.
Also, when I see someone’s work in another magazine that I don’t like, it can take them down a notch on my list. They may have done the job as a favor but I never know the details or difficulties behind the shoot.
So, what’s the best way to turn down jobs? Don’t be the photographer who says “I only shoot fashion or covers” because that’s not going to get you a call back to shoot fashion or covers. The usual method is to be busy during the shoot days and that’s why good agents will never tell you their photographer’s schedule before they hear the job details.
As a Photo Editor it’s important to have a couple photographers who will “shoot anything, anywhere and anytime” because you can always rely on them to get the job done but for most people this is not the way to advance your career.
I’ve had almost all my favorite photographers turn me down cold at one time or another and even though it stings for a couple days in the end I respect them more for not compromising their vision. Some shoots are just never worth taking no matter how much you need the job because if the the results are bad we may not be working together anymore anyways.
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.
Either that or the Arizona sun has completely baked my brain. Either way it’s all good.
A reader asks if it’s better to approach the Associate or Deputy Photo Editors for a book showing or for sending promos because the Director is usually too busy.
I’d say targeting the photo editors under the Director is an excellent plan of action.
I’ve always encouraged all the photo editors in the department to look at as many books as possible to develop their eye for photography so they can experience the process of discovering new talent and then hiring them for a shoot.
In many cases it was easier for me to drop in on a portfolio showing; to look at the book, grab a promo, shake the hand and get out. That’s how I saw a lot of books and photographers I normally wouldn’t have time for with all the stupid meetings I went to everyday.
Eventually, I would get lobbied by the other photo editors to hire photographers they discovered and liked and we always ended up pulling the trigger on a few to see how their discoveries worked out.
And, don’t forget the Creative Director in your promo mailings. Many times they came into my office with the promo of a photographer they were interested in—just don’t leave me out of the loop. I always like to already know who they’re talking about when they bring those in so I look like I know what the hell I’m doing “ah, yes Irving Penn and I go waaay back, I’ll IM him.”
The Agent at AVS (here) weighs in on the important issue of portfolios (So did Jackanory (here) but his is more about your style of photography) and I couldn’t agree more with all the points made. He mentions a massive heavy portfolio that was making the rounds awhile back that everyone remembers but no one seems to recall what was on the inside plus it always makes me think when a book is really over the top that someone is compensating for something.
Black, leather bound (possibly the wax), not too big and not too small with 25-35 pages (guessing since I never counted), embossed with your name. Find it here (link).
I seriously doubt having an incredibly original book would ever get you a job but not having a decent one will certainly be a mark against you. In the end all that matters is the photography.
I’m more of a website person–clearly–so I don’t really need to see a book but the oddest thing happened to me a couple weeks ago. Two photographers in a row came in and their books were quite a bit better than their websites. Must be because they tailored the book specifically for me and now I’m suddenly seeing some problems with the website portfolio.
Before sending the book back I always make sure and huck a promo in the trash. Photographers seem to like that better than my previous practice of not grabbing one.
I received an email from a fellow Director of Photography looking for a photographer who shoots like “so and so” but is less commercial and does smaller productions (you know, 1 assistant instead of 3, that kind of stuff). So I send her a list of people I like and we get on the phone to discuss.
We’re both going down the list clicking on websites and she’s telling me why each one won’t work for this. “Last shoot he did didn’t turn out” and “too static” and “too quirky” and “way to static” and “we use him all the time” and finally heeeeeeeey, who’s this guy he’s perfect.
Well, I tell her he’s been on my list for a year now but I’ve never hired him. And, she literally does the following: Clicks the client list, “good clients, lots of people I respect” and clicks the contact link “great agent, love the agent, solid reputation and tons of great photographers on their roster.”
I’m going to hire him, thanks.
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’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.
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.