Category "Working"

Bonus Time

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The end of the year is when corporate people start to think about bonuses and so far I’ve been lucky to work at companies that give them out. The problem has always been that the formula to determine who gets them and how much they get is a closely guarded secret. I have uncovered evidence that it’s loosely based on this top-secret formula: The bare minimum we can get away with where employees only grumble and don’t actually quit. I think back when media companies were setting new highs the bonuses were probably pretty good but now that the new highs are old lows it’s perfunctory at best.

This also reminds me that many photo directors and editors get a bonus for hitting the budget at the end of the year that can be $5,000 or more which is pretty significant for your bank account but when you’re dealing with multi million dollar photography budgets it’s a total joke. I can spend 5k in half a second so I don’t know why the CFO thinks that paltry bribe will get me to try and make photographers eat expenses on shoots or use stock instead of shooting something original, so I can meet some number they pulled out of their ass. I even argued once I should still get my bonus, even though I completely blew the budget, because it could have been worse. Hah.

Talking About Photography

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As the Director of Photography at a national magazine one of the most difficult things I have to do is discuss photography with people who know next to nothing about it. Most editors are very literal minded when it comes to photography, they want a picture of the person, place or thing that the writer talks about. To convince them that other images will better serve the story is a difficult but important task in making a magazine’s photography great. Learning how to describe what you intuitively know makes one photograph superior to another is the greatest skill you can have in this battle.

There are many ways to use photography at a magazine. The worst is to use photos as decoration or as a literal translation of the story into pictures. Low end catalogs, real estate brochures, those car rags next to the gum ball machine at the grocery story all use photography this way. So, goddam boring *snore*. This does not serve the reader, it only serves the editors unconscious plan (my theory) that the photography only support the story not equal or trump it. High level photography and photo editing brings additional information about a subject to the story and when it’s really cracking the reader reacts emotionally. In my book “that photo makes me want to throw-up” is way better than “it’s fine by me.”

I have a sweet technique I use for finding the great images from a shoot that really tends to piss-off the editors: I edit the film without reading the story. This helps me tune into which images have the most impact on me and which ones transcend subject matter and become forces in their own right. When you read the story first you react differently to images that match important plot points and wrongly ascribe more weight to them.

Once you’ve found the images you want to use how do you defend them? There’s always the time honored technique of the scowling Director of Photography telling everyone that will listen that these are the best images from the shoot and to publish anything else would be the greatest tragedy in the history of all magazine making, to be used as an example for future generations of the perilous pitfalls associated with not listening to the DOP when it comes to the goddam photography.

If you can’t use intimidation you need to find language to describe the photography beyond the obvious lighting, focus, exposure and subject matter. Editors will use those terms to determine if a photograph is good or bad and it’s an easy trap to fall into but as photo editors we know the power of photography lies in its ability to affect us emotionally and there is no literal translation to the emotions it projects (or some shit). The first place to look is the fine art world, because they have shattered any preconception that focus, exposure and subject matter have anything to do with what makes a photograph great. And, they’ve plumbed the depths of an emotional connection in photography for such a long time they’ve developed a whole language and way of speaking about it that makes it somewhat easier to understand and explain to laymen.

The best place to start and develop your language for photography is anything written by John Szarkowski, who recently passed away, but was the Director of Photography at the MOMA from 1962 to 1991. I started with these two books:

Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art  

Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art

and

Ansel Adams at 100  

Ansel Adams at 100

John gives you language to defend photography, an important skill to have.

Are Photographers Unhappy?

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Just in time for the holidays a Time Magazine story (here) submitted on Photo Rank (here) ranks jobs according to happiness and photography comes out on the bottom between bartender and welder with 20.8 % saying they’re “very happy.”

Are you effing kidding me?

Not only does this study claim photographers are not happy it also reveals that most of the other unhappy occupations are all unskilled laborers. I find this very hard to believe and my only explaination is that the survey was somehow flawed and included people who don’t make a living as a photographer. I certainly can believe that you’re unhappy if you don’t make a living doing your job.

My only other thought on this is that photographers lie about their occupation. A waitress trying to become an actor would probably claim to be a waitress if a surveyor asked but a bartender trying to become a photographer would probably claim to be a photographer. Maybe that’s why they’re so close to each other.

Director Logjam

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I had a fashion shoot implode the other day after we finished casting and scouting locations, so we quickly scrambled to put another one together and I had 3 days to get a photographer on board. To shoot fashion at our rag a photographer has to be approved by myself, the Fashion Director and the Creative Director. If one of us doesn’t agree they’re rejected. This, as you might imagine, can be difficult especially when you have 3 days so the process usually amounts to me pitching photographers I know will be available and the CD pitching photographers that are most likely booked till Easter and the FD spiking a few here and there for various reasons. When we finally settle on a couple we all agree on I quickly call the agent to check availability and depending on who the agency is you either get a quick answer or you get “I’ll see what can be moved around” and no answer for like a day.

While, I like all the photography that’s come out of this process when you’re in the middle of the logjam it SUCKS.

Finding New Photographers

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There is nothing better in this business than finding and hiring new talent and getting back an amazing shoot. Nothing. Conversely there’s nothing worse than a failed shoot from someone you just hired for the first time. Ahhhhhh the highs and the lows. I probably hire 2-8 new people every issue… whaaaaaaaaaa, 2-8 N.E.W.? That’s right people, a regular shooter gets 2-4 assignments a year, that’s just how I roll.

The process for finding someone new can get a little “CSI.”

The method that requires the least amount of effort is to poach someone from a magazine I respect. That’s too easy, so if I really want to earn my paycheck I put together a case based on available evidence that tells me if a photographer is able to deliver the results I’m looking for.

It all starts the first time I see a photograph I like taken by someone I’ve never heard of (this is actually somewhat rare). I write the name down on my list and begin collecting evidence. A name can go on the list and it could be years before I’ve built enough evidence or found the right project that triggers an assignment so there’s a lot of names in various stages of case building.

The evidence: Your book, website, tears, clients, awards (American Photography, PDN photo annual, SPD), personal work, promo card, story in PDN, blog, photo I saw published somewhere, a story I heard, our meeting, someone dropped your name, the Creative Director likes your work, the editor knows your name (possibly a negative), one of my jr. photo editors likes your work, the changes in your book since the last time I saw it, you have photos in my coffee shop, the phone message you left, the email you sent that was interesting and personal, another DOP told me you rock, your handshake is solid, the email with a new tear I think is cool, you care about my magazine (not just the cover and fashion), a gallery exhibit, and a photographer who is your peer recommended you.

That’s a ton of evidence to consider but in truth since I don’t write any of this down it really just adds up to an overall feeling about someone. There’s a trigger in there somewhere but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you what it was.

For someone like Kathy Ryan at the New York Times Magazine who keeps lists of fine art photographers (among other endless lists) the trigger is likely a combination of a solid subject-photographer match, growing acceptance in the fine art community and being relatively unknown in the editorial market. If any of those are way off the assignment doesn’t happen.

I will leave you with this as it pertains to how I see blogs fitting nicely into this picture here on out. It is so exceedingly rare that a photographer I respect and work with would recommend to me another lesser-known photographer that every time it’s happened I’ve gone and hired the recommended person and the results have been nothing but positive.

9th On The List

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I had a big shoot a little while back that was so last minute and on the weekend that I went through 8 photographers who said no. When I brought the editor the film he said “what happened to your first choice?” Well, lets see, you dump a huge assignment on me Thursday night for Saturday morning and everyone told me to go to hell except this guy.

Truth is I keep pretty tight lists of photographers and it’s not like this guy was my 8th worse choice it just wasn’t my first choice of styles for the shot. I usually have 3-4 photographers I love for a certain style picked out for a shoot when I start making calls. A couple I’ve worked with before, one who’s emerging and one who’s yet to accept an assignment. If that grouping doesn’t work out I’ll move on to other styles. I have to keep in mind all the different photography going in the issue so I don’t get repetitive with the styles.

Here’s the kicker, when I think I’ve nailed the approach on a subject but then have to switch it because the people I like aren’t available it sometimes turns out better than expected. So, I always wonder if I couldn’t just pull names out of a goddam hat.

Don’t answer that.

Crapshoot

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I seem to be getting a lot of these last minute shoots lately and I have to say it really puts a kink in my style. I’m more of a “sleep on it overnight and let it marinate a little” than, “see how fast I can make an assignment” type of photo editor.

The biggest problem (besides the fact we’re a magazine not a goddam newspaper) is 75% of the photographers I want to use are already unavailable. If that’s not enough the editor can’t seem to decide if it’s going to be a small or big feature so I’m left in the lurch on what kind of money to spend on this. The kicker is that the subject will be a moving target, traveling between two locations, none of which happens to be LA or NYC.

After reading the writers pitch I decide I want a photographer who can make a strong emotional portrait who is also a photojournalist for some of the fast paced stuff I foresee.

Now, the budget needs to get worked out and normally, I would go all out to get the right photographer for the job because this story has legs and I don’t want to look like an ass if the writer lands the story of the year and my photos totally blow.

I’m gonna play it safe though because the CFO is watching me. It’s the beginning of the year and we’re still negotiating the page rates. If I can find someone I like who’s available in NYC that doesn’t need an assistant and massive equipment budget then I’ll fly them otherwise I’ll check my lists and see who I like at the starting or ending points.

Hope I don’t roll snake eyes.

The Best Photo Didn’t Win

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Sometimes, I feel satisfied knowing I assigned and then you shot the perfect image even though it’s not the one that will run in the magazine.

For whatever reason I was overruled because it didn’t fit the design or was similar in composition to other images in the issue or the overruling party didn’t feel the same way about it that I did. And so, it will never be seen by the millions of readers or enter into the permanent archive of published works.

Knowing that it exists is enough for me.

Kurt Markus told me recently over beers that satisfaction in photography comes from making the best image you can, printing it as well as you can and moving on to the next one.

When I make the final print order I sometimes include it anyway.

Hiring A Photographer

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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.

W+K Art Buyer

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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.

New Book

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Holy crap, does everyone suddenly have a new book to show? I’m flooded with calls for book showings and drop offs not to mention people visiting from all over the country.

Must be that slow time of year when everyone gets itchy to drum up work.

Unfortunately, it’s also the time of year where I’ve completely blown my budget and I’m working on the smallest issue with the least amount of assignments (January).

It’s hard to get motivated to meet with all the photographers looking for work when I currently have none to give.

MaryAnne Golon Interview

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John McDermott just sent me a link (here) to his interview with the very talented DOP at Time, MaryAnne Golon. Very informative. Thanks John.

Here’s a couple great quotes:

What makes a good picture editor?

That’s a difficult question. I suppose, being a jack-of-all-trades, but above all knowing what is a good picture and what is a bad picture and why. You’d be surprised at how few photo editors working in the business today can actually make that distinction.
You need to be incredibly organised and you have to be able to juggle many different things at once. You have to be a friend, a psychiatrist, a fix-it person and a sales person. You have to know sales because you have to sell to everyone all the time. You have to sell editors on stories and pictures, and you have to sell photographers and agencies on assignments. When I’m told that editorial people have no idea about sales I just laugh out loud because selling ideas and garnering support is about 80% of what I do. Jim Nachtwey always refers to us as his champion and without a champion or a guardian angel you’re in big trouble in this business.

and

So a lot of that editing process has shifted to the photographer?

Yes. And I think a lot of photographers are very pleased about that because before they didn’t have any reasonable level of control over their work. They’d just send in the unprocessed film and then it would be, “Oh my God, why do they always pick the wrong picture?”. How many times have we heard that! But it’s also created a much bigger workload for the photographers and I think it’s almost been crushing for them. With the new technology they’re not only photographers but they’ve had to become editors and technology specialists too. What I think they should be focusing on is what they’ve always focused on – taking great pictures.

Is There More?

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Three words that make me cringe.

It goes like this: photographer delivers an edit of the shoot, PE delivers that edit (takes out the extra sent along, ya know, just in case) to the Creative Director, layout is presented to the Editor at which point you may hear those three words.

Yes, there’s more… there are hundreds of images taken, I’ve simply given you the best but if you’d prefer we can change our policy of only running great photography and instead run the photos that go with a particular point in the story or photos that go with the preconceived idea you had in your head about who this person is… fine.

Photographers, don’t kid yourselves, there is a best photo from every setup (there may be multiple setups but not multiple bests). A layout has to be designed around the best photos from a shoot and then a headline written to go with the lead photo… the variations don’t matter.

This is an ideal world but I live in the real world, so sometimes I get to hear those cringe worthy words. It’s my job to fight back.

There’s good discussion on the “not a photographer” post about how many images to deliver from a shoot. Finding the best photos takes time and experience and if you don’t have a couple days or weeks to look over the shoot, edit down and live with it or if you haven’t been shooting for eons it’s difficult to do. I work with enough photographers who do it to know it can be done.

After the assignment they deliver final prints with no contact sheets or they cut their contacts apart, tape them to paper and indicate the best photo or they leave the contacts intact but x-out the bad shots and write on top of the good shots or they deliver a disk with a tight edit in a firsts folder and variations in the seconds folder.

Whichever way, find the best photo and broadcast that you want it published.

My favorite editorial photographer of all time sends me 1 print at the end of a shoot. Is there more? No, there’s only one photo.

Not A (Failed) Photographer

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My joke about all photo editors being failed photographers resonated with a few people and the funny thing is, I get asked by 90% of the photographers I meet if I’m a photographer and I used to tell the truth, that no I don’t take many pictures, but this inevitably leads to a somewhat awkward moment where the photographer wonders how in the hell I got a job as a photography director.

I’ve always known I have a talent for working with creative people and a great eye for photography but it’s astonishing to people that I have no clue how to operate a camera.

I don’t really care how they work.

Goggle Image is the Bane of my Existence

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What a crappy feature Google Image has turned out to be for photo editors.

I get endless emails every day from editors and writers with useless google image links to shit photography or uncredited photography or even worse… amateur photography where I have no idea if it was taken with a Mark III or Hello Kitty camera from JC Penney and YES it makes a difference what camera it was shot with when printing on a 4 color press because really I have no way of knowing how it will turn out until production sends us a proof and usually by then it’s getting too late because the layout and story has been designed and written to go with the photo that a dumb ass algorithm found.

It used to be that editors, writers and art directors had no idea where to get photos from, so the images that I found offensive or that didn’t fit my aesthetic never surfaced but now that google image dredges the bottom of the ocean of horrible website photography my life is spent telling people why certain photos suck and others are awesome.

So, do me a favor google algorithm writers and talented photographers. Figure out a way that only the good photography surfaces so that when I type Richard Branson into image search I don’t get a photo of him running out of the surf holding his nutz.

Becoming a Photo Editor

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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.

Getting them past the editor

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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)