Category "Working"

Perception Is Everything – For Photo Editors

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One of the mistakes I made as a photo editor early on was copping a “can do” attitude when it came to finding photography or making assignments. I figured I would just work as hard as I could and the end result was what it was. The problem with this is nobody factors in the limitations of the job they handed you after you’re done. A Creative Director I worked for once said “we need to manage the expectations” which basically means we need to discuss the limitations before heading off to try and solve the problem. When making assignments this means knowing beforehand what the subject looks like; what the environment in which they will be shot looks like; how much time you will have to make a picture; will there be a budget for wardrobe, hair & makeup, props; is the subject even aware thry’re to be photographed. There is nothing worse than discovering upon arrival of the shoot in the office that what was pitched doesn’t not match what exists.

When it comes to stock, a little investigation into whether there is good coverage of a subject matter is always a good strategy before a meeting. That way you can tell them “stock doesn’t exist so we need to shoot a picture and I’ve not turned up any photographers I like in the area so we need to fly someone in.”

The sooner you have these conversations in the editorial process the better it is for everyone. That way if the stock is crap and there’s no time/budget for a shoot making the decision to still run a story means they don’t care if the magazine looks horrible. At least they know they’re the one’s making that decision.

How To Photograph The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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I remember several years ago sitting in a meeting talking about “the great pacific garbage patch,” trying to come up with a way to photograph what we felt was an important story. A floating patch of plastic garbage somewhere between twice the size of Texas and the size of the U.S. was out there but couldn’t be seen because it floated just below the surface (WSJ story here) in a loose jumble. That story never happened because we couldn’t figure out how to do it. I was happily surprised to discover this week that Chris Jordan, a photographer who explores the phenomenon of American consumerism, found a way to tell the story.

These photographs of albatross chicks were made just a few weeks ago on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.

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See more (here).

The Business Of Photography – Books

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John Harrington sent me his latest book “Best Business Practices For Photographers” and at over 500 pages It’s a real door stopper. It has the look and feel of a college text book: loaded with examples, little notes sections along the way, 32 chapters and a cover image/design that screams textbook. For anyone looking for a place to understand the business of photography this seems like the place to start. At one point I considered getting an MBA and while doing research discovered the personal MBA website and this manifesto:

MBA programs don’t have a monopoly on business knowledge: you can teach yourself everything you need to know to succeed in life and at work. The Personal MBA features the very best business books available, based on thousands of hours of research. If you’re serious about learning advanced business principles, the Personal MBA can help you master business without the baggage of b-school.

I’ve since read about 15 business books (some of the list but many based on Amazon reviews) including 4 that I think should be the cornerstone of any personal business learning: Good To Great, Built To Last, What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School, How To Win Friends & Influence People. All of these I checked out at the local library.

Right now I’m really into a book called Ready, Fire, Aim by Michael Masterson that I would highly recommend for photographers and any other entrepreneurs. When you look at the principles that underpin a successful business you see the world in a very different light.

The great thing about reading a business book while you own a business, instead of while you’re in school, is that when you discover something important you can put it to work immediately. These books also prove to be awesome motivators.

Oyster Hotel Reviews – Hotel Photo Fakeout

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I like this new hotel review site, Oyster Hotel Reviews, because they understand how powerful the editorial voice can be when making a buying decision and they understand a photograph will convey the most information in the shortest amount of time. They’ve hired a bunch of writer photographers to go check out hotel properties and show you what they really look like.

My favorite feature is the photo fakeout on their blog (here). Where they shoot their own version of the hotels pool, workout room and hotel room to show you the careful cropping and outright photoshopping the hotels have done to fool you.

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Peter Yang and Rolling Stone Win Magazine Cover of the Year

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I’ve sat through too many meetings where badges, sashes, boxes, hairlines and an entire dump truck full of coverlines were added to perfectly good cover images or instead a meeting where perfectly good cover images were thrown out in favor of images that held coverlines better, to not point out the irony of a winner with no coverlines. Sure, Obama was a shoo-in as a winning cover subject but go check out the other category winners (here). Keep in mind that this is an organization of editors (ASME) who decided to let the public pick their favorite cover out of a group of nominees. Of course this proves nothing about selling on newsstands other than the public has better taste than most editors, many magazine owners and every single newsstand director in existence.

A Cautionary Behind-The-Scenes Video Tale

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This cautionary BTSV story was submitted by a reader:

On a recent national advertising shoot we used our back-up camera, my new 5D MKII, to shoot some behind-the-scenes footage of me at work. We edited it down into a 3-minute video that we posted on my Facebook Group page. It wasn’t particularly exciting, but it did the job of showing me directing models and assistants. About 4 weeks after posting it, the ad agency I worked with called outraged, demanding all the fees and expenses back from the shoot, and then threatened to sue me.

At first we weren’t sure what we did wrong–we put it up well after the campaign had come out and after the agency gave us the go ahead to use shoot images for self-promotion. We had retained copyright and owned all the images. We didn’t show any video of the agency or client discussing strategy or anything like that. Although I did not announce that we were shooting video footage, the assistant who was shooting walked around in full view of everyone on the set, with a camera quite close to most people on the set. He shot quite a lot and it is evident that the AB and AD at least knew we were shooting stills.

The agency claimed that we violated the Confidentiality Clause of the Purchase Order because the entire shoot was secret, that they did not know I was shooting video and that I had no right to shoot video. We disagree with all of this, but we took the video down. Even after we took it down, they kept demanding the money back, and we spent weeks going back and forth with lawyers. Eventually they just dropped it, presumably because they knew they had no case. We think what happened was that the client found it on YouTube since we had included their name in the title, and was upset at the agency failing to control their brand. The agency was trying to make amends, and wanted to use us a sacrifice.

We were at first concerned when they argued that we didn’t “have the right” to shoot video. In other words, was it our shoot and set or theirs? In our view, a client does not own a set unless the agreement is work-for-hire. In this case, we were the production company, we hired everyone else, we rented the location, we carried the insurance (i.e. it was our production). No one could tell us what we could and could not shoot on our set.

We also amended the P.O. to give us copyright to “All images created as part of the shoot” and the right to use them for self-promotion.Tip: Always ensure in writing that you retain rights to all “Images” with an “s” or better yet, put “All images, whether moving or still.”

We left their Confidentiality Clause intact, but as it was written, it did not make the shoot itself confidential – just trade secrets and the like. The shoot itself was our work product, not theirs, and its mere existence wasn’t a secret. Tip: Just because the agency says you violated the contract, doesn’t mean you did.

However, in the future I do think it is a great idea to talk to the A.B. about behind-the-scenes video and whether it is OK with them if you shoot it and if you can use it for self promotion on your website. You may have the right to shoot it and post it, but if a jittery client doesn’t like what they see, you may lose a client and any relationship you had with the agency.

How Do You Decide What To Charge?

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Taking a cue from the Creative Review Blog I wanted to ask my readers as well: How do you decide what to charge?

Here’s an excellent Cost of Doing Business Calculator (here), where you input your desired salary, then add up all the business expenses that can’t be billed back to the client and it gives you a day rate based on how many days you expect to bill for the year. In cases where the fee is fixed and below your day rate–editorial comes to mind– you would simply make sure you could subtract something from the promotion or testing category to make it all balance out (or your salary if it has some perceived future benefit).

Back when I used to work for photographers and negotiate the shoot fees the goal was to make the client cringe and not hang up. It would have been much better to do a budget and make sure we were making what we needed to. There seems to be a sudden spate of high end photographers headed for bankruptcy (here), don’t be one of them.

“Speaking as someone who enthusiastically sold out, every time I’ve done something just for the money, no matter how much they paid, it was never enough.” — Pentagram’s Michael Bierut

Matt Mendelsohn – The Lessons of Lindsay

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In 2007 Matt Mendelsohn heard from a friend about a recently graduated fashion student who had all 4 limbs amputated. At the time she was near death but soon turned the corner and a year later was teaching fashion at her alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University. Matt, a longtime journalist, decided he needed to go document her story on his own, he knew the story needed to be told but didn’t want to waste time lining up an assignment. He ended up photographing and writing a compelling 10,000 word piece about Lindsay that was recently published… on sportsshooter.com (here). He shopped it around to several publishers but they all turned him down. At one big national newspaper the publisher said “advertisers wanted happier stories, not ‘depressing’ ones.”

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Of course none of this is news to photographers who now regularly see important stories get trounced by the celebrity/fad of the week. In my own brief magazine career I would often get important stories handed to me with an edict to make the images “happy” so the advertisers don’t get upset. I have a little “lesson” of my own for publishers that I’d like to impart. No matter how much ass kissing you do, your advertisers are still leaving. In fact they may be leaving more quickly now because your readers no longer consider you a “must read” after you’ve taken the edge off everything (due to all that ass kissing, natch).

After the EIC of Self magazine defends their body image distorting cover retouching policy by saying “Did we alter her appearance? Only to make her look her personal best.” The proper response is for a competing magazine to run Matt Mendelshon’s “the Lessons of Lindsay” and tell Danziger to go stuff it. Why won’t anyone do that anymore?

Sports Shooter Q & A: with Matt Mendelsohn.

Ten Things I Have Learned – Milton Glaser

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1. You can only work for people that you like.
2. If you have a choice never have a job.
3. Some people are toxic avoid them.
4. Professionalism is not enough or the good is the enemy of the great.
5. Less is not necessarily more.
6. Style is not to be trusted.

“… the point is that anybody who is in this for the long haul has to decide how to respond to change in the zeitgeist. What is it that people now expect that they formerly didn’t want? And how to respond to that desire in a way that doesn’t change your sense of integrity and purpose.”

7. How you live changes your brain.
8. Doubt is better than certainty.
9. On Aging.
10. Tell the truth.

All ten with explanations can be found (here). I found it (here).

Sir, We’re Not The Taco Stand

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“Sir, we’re not the taco stand” I clearly remember an argument with my editor once where he stood there for half an hour trying to tell me that the shoot budget needed to come down and I tried to explain that no, if he wanted to pay less then we needed to change the shoot not just tell someone to make it less. Explaining it in “real life” terms, that we’re ordering the tenderloin and if you want to pay less just order a hamburger seemed to help.

On a similar note there a new documentary out about writer Harlan Ellison called Dreams with Sharp Teeth. Remember this line from the writers strike:

“I should do a freebie for Warner Brothers? What is Warner Brothers – out with an eye patch and a tin cup on the street? Fuck no! . . . I sell my soul, but at the highest rates. I don’t piss without being paid.”

“The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer.”

NYC Police Operations Order Regarding Photography

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1. Members of the service are reminded that photography and the videotaping of public places, buildings and structures are common activities within New York City. Given the City’s prominence as a tourist destination, practically all such photography will have no connection to terrorism or unlawful conduct. [...]

2. Members of the service may not demand to view photographs taken by a person absent consent or exigent circumstances. [...]

Full Order is (here). via, Gallery Hopper.

Sports Illustrated’s Slide Show Book

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Sports Illustrated has a new book out on May 5th called Slide Show that examines the actual physical slides from the images that made it into the magazine. They pulled their most famous and iconic shots from their archive of more than 750,000 original slides and photographed the mount with all the writing, marks and then the x-acto cut where the image was removed for scanning. Beyond the obvious rehashing of the SI photo archive for cash I felt a twinge of nostalgia for the transparency on the light table. Don’t get me wrong I couldn’t wait for the day when I wouldn’t have to handle slides anymore (which if you think about it has barely arrived, because I remember lots of slides kicking around the office 3 or 4 years ago), but I remember searching through piles and piles of slide sheets for cover shots or openers and it was just so awesome when you hit the jackpot. Also, it’s amazing to see them turning all these horizontals into vertical covers. They must have had some kick ass film scanners at SI because I remember it being so difficult to get a decent cover that way. I think any hardcore sports photographer or photo editor will find this book interesting.

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SLIDE SHOW, which retails for $29.95 U.S./$32.95 Canada (Hardcover), will be available online at bookstores nationwide beginning May 5, 2009 (Amazon link).

Why Would You Quit Working With A Freelancer

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Jonathan a 3rd year photojournalism student at Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication has a Business Practices class taught by Professor, Marcy Nighswander (that’s what I’m told in an email anyways). For their first assignment she asked them to contact photo editors and ask them “to identify why they quit using a freelancer’s services or product.” Basically, Mrs. Nighswander, wants us to ask industry professionals if they stopped using a freelance photographer’s work for some reason such as, and not limited too, a poor professional relationship or lack of commitment.

Jonathan,

I think the vast majority of photography that goes on in the world is simply a business transaction. You sell a product, your customers need it, and they will go elsewhere to get it if you don’t conduct yourself in a professional manner. Customer service, good communication skills, contract writing and all manner of business acumen is required in addition to the ability to take pictures.

Beyond that and I think the higher up you you go in the photography food chain the main reason to stop working with a photographer is if the shoot fails or if you or someone in the chain of command above you decides they don’t like that style of photography.

One of the important jobs photo editors and art buyers do besides finding photographers and working out the details of the shoot is determining beforehand if the photographer you want to work with can execute and deliver the shoot in a professional manner. You call them up on the phone, check out their portfolio and marketing material, look at the client list and generally try to get a feel for it beforehand.

Doug Menuez writes on his blog today (here) about the cold hard truth of shooting for the top news magazines in the 80’s:
At a conference in the 80’s I once heard a young photogapher ask Roxanne Edwards at Business Week what would happen if, you know, somehow the film just did not turn out? Response: “Then you would never work for us again.” Sharp, honest, true answer. But seriously, doh! The other editors on the panel from Time, Newsweek, US News all shook their heads solemnly in agreement. The pressure to get world-class images on deadline against tremendous competition was unrelenting, yet it was also what fueled us.