ImageSpan May Change Stock Photography Forever

- - Stock, The Future

Whats the biggest problem facing stock photography today? Is it finding pictures or is it licensing pictures? For a certain group of clients and buyers it’s finding pictures that meet a specific criteria, which inevitably includes a level of trust that the image appears nowhere else and that the model release is solid. That market is fixed and declining so I believe the potential for growth lies in easier licensing of images. That way you can license to consumers, to people who have no clue how to do it and to people who steal images. This is where the potential exists (story here) and this is where image span has taken a step in the right direction with their license stream software (here). They allow you to attach licensing to an image and publish it anywhere. You can even publish it straight into google from their dashboard.

In the words of CEO Iain Scholnick, “Image Span hopes to do for digital content what credit card companies do for physical content. Make it easy to buy.” They even take a credit card like five percent of the transaction. Now, buying images with credit cards is not an original idea and two recent high profile failures in the industry, that were geared towards selling the pictures of any photographer around should be enough to tell you it’s a tough market to crack. Ian told me the problem with their licensing was that humans were doing the transactions. The solution is to automate it. I can certainly see how the future of stock photography is about buyers clicking on images and making instant purchases with instant delivery. But, for me it’s about the ability to distribute the content in new ways. On google, blogs and even the NY Times website. When photography travels with it’s own license the potential is endless.

Sounds pretty sweet right. You attach licenses to your images and scatter them around the internet and when people want to use them they click and make a purchase. Well, here’s where it becomes real interesting because they announced a new development today called content tracker (press release here). The images you want to license can now also be tracked and when they appear in unlicensed uses you will be notified. I was told by Ian that they create a digital fingerprint of the image from the ones and zeros and that makes it impossible to crop the tracking out. They even have one click notifications that you can send to the offending party to ask them to license, remove or properly credit the use. This closes the loop on publishing images online because it allows you to track all the uses of your images and can be a powerful deterrent in preventing theft.

I’m sure this is just the very beginning of the potential for something like this and if the investors are any indication (Bertelsmann) there’s a huge need for licensing and tracking on the corporate level but what I like best is they’ve created a solution for everyone.

Live from the Lucie Awards

- - Events

I will be blogging live from the Lucie Awards this evening starting at 7pm EST. There are 10 honorees who will receive awards and give speeches then 9 awards will be given out Oscar style to winners from a list of nominees in different categories (full list here).

I’ve been curious about the Lucie’s since they started so I’m excited to provide some commentary for people unable to attend and announce the winners in each category. I’m fully aware that “live blogging” a photo awards ceremony may draw comparisons to watching a fresh coat of paint drying on the wall but I’m ready to give it a shot and attempt to entertain however many people tune in.

Interviewing Candidates For A Magazine Job

- - Working

There’s something strange about the magazine business, in that the people working at magazines are very good at editing or designing or copy editing and generally very bad at the very basics of running a business. Skills like leadership, managing people, managing budgets, running meetings and conducting interviews are not why most people have the position they do at a magazine. There was no learn by example happening at the places I’ve worked and most of my job interviews amounted to a casual conversation. It wasn’t until I interviewed at a big clothing company once for a job photo editing their catalog (didn’t get it) that I got hit with serious interview questions. Luckily I had a feeling it was going to happen and found this list of common questions (here) which I used to prep all weekend.

After that experience I realized how useful good interview questions are for gaining insight into what it might be like to work with someone. I feel like the point of the questions is not what your answer is so much as it is how you go about answering it and most important is that you have some kind of game plan for your career. There’s nothing worse than someone saying they have no idea where they want to be 10 years from now. Sure, it’s impossible to know but you have some kind of plan don’t you? Here are the questions I started asking all the candidates in the face to face interview:

Tell me about yourself.
Why do you want to work here?
Why do you want to leave your current job?
What are your strengths?
What are your weaknesses?
Do you have any experience with portrait, still life, outdoor sport, documentary or lifestyle photographers?
How do you handle pressure and stress?
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
What experience do you have working with stock photography and agencies?
What production experience do you have?
What makes you the best candidate for this job?

Pretty basic but I loved the range of answers I would get from something as simple as “what are your weaknesses.” From brutally honest to very long pause followed by disjointed thoughts to text book slick.

My weaknesses? Disdain for athority, don’t follow the rules very well, can’t stay on budget and I spend way too much time looking at pictures instead of actually working. If only they’d asked.

Martin Schoeller- Look into my Lights, You Are Getting Very Sleepy

- - Photographers

Martin Schoeller has always been a personal favorite to work with and one thing you will notice on a shoot is the almost hypnotic rhythm he establishes with the film loaders, lights, camera adjustments and direction to the subject. It has a pace to it that lulls you into…

See for yourself here:


From his new book, Female Bodybuilders available at pondpress (here).

Digital Railroad Teeters on the Edge

- - Stock

“…it’s reasonable to expect a very short period of time for the final resolution of DRR – no less than 30 days, and a maximum of 90, but I expect they will surely want everything either closed down or transferred to a new owner by December 31st at the latest.” — John Harrington, Photo Business News (here)

Pentagram Redsigns The Atlantic

- - Magazines

Pentagram’s Michael Bierut and Luke Hayman give the 151-year old general interest magazine it’s 8 redesign (see the process here).

They revert back to an old nameplate from the middle of the last century and bring back a version of the “TOC on the cover,” something that’s very common with literary magazines.

“In a magazine of ideas, writers depend on words to build their arguments, but we didn’t want The Atlantic’s pages to look like homework,” says Bierut.

“Photography has an enhanced presence, and is more journalistic and real-life in execution. The use of photoillustration or montage has been reduced: illustrations are illustrations, and photos are photos.” (*translation: photoillustrations and montage’s are lame)

As always Pentagram does an amazing job with restrained design, powerful typography and grounded photography. A redesign is always an exciting time to work at a magazine as the budgets get loosened a bit and the mantra for photography becomes “new and big.” I hope it works out for them.

Switching Careers To Photo Editor

I get asked once and awhile for advice from people established in one career intent on switching to try and become a photo editor. This can really be a difficult move because you can’t go intern for seven to zero bucks an hour which, as I’ve written before (here), is the traditional method of landing a job in the photo department of a magazine.

First off any photographers or people who’ve worked closely with photographers will be in a good position to step into an entry to mid level job. I’ve had good luck in the past hiring photographers for their ability to spot good images. Sending them off with a list of holes we need filled from stock agencies always resulted in a good pull and less work on my end culling everything down. Also, as you can imagine photographers can be very buttoned up with the details of any shoot you give them to manage and really try to give the people they’re working with any advantage possible with budget, access or time with the subject. This always results in better photography. So, if you’re not a photographer looking to make the jump working with one in some capacity will give you good experience that easily translates to photo editing at a magazine.

The only other way I can think of to get some photo editing experience is to start your own magazine. It’s actually not as hard as it sounds and the experience of dealing with all the aspects of magazine making from the budget to the printing and distribution make you an excellent candidate for hiring. When I was working with photographers in Jackson Hole I saw 3 people start their own local magazines and then go on to land jobs as editors at national magazines. The photographers I worked with actually published a couple local magazines which gave me my first taste of the whole process. Anymore, I think you could do something entirely online at a fraction of the cost and still have something great to show potential employers. The key to this path of course is finding talented photographers to work with on a minuscule budget. You have to create something that has value for them as a promo or tears so they can use it to land jobs too in a mutually beneficial relationship otherwise there’s no way to create something worth showing off. I  would also think it would be possible to do some great work with stock this way and certainly learning how to navigate the keywords and find the gems will give you great experience.

I’ve looked at quite a few resumes and from the prespective of someone who used to do the hiring the key is having experience working with photographers and sourcing stock photography. You can do both of these things without having to intern at a magazine.

Thoughts on Media – October 2008

- - The Future

“I think we’re on the verge of an epochal advancement in journalism.” — Matt Thompson, Newsless.org

This new site called Newsless.org that I discovered via an article on the site Publishing 2.0 about the need for a new AP (here) is authored by Matt Thompson–currently undertaking a year-long research fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri–is an exciting new voice with thoughts and reporting on the future of journalism and newspapers.

I like the the idea that he and Jeff Jarvis float that journalism needs to evolve from the story to the topic:

“I think the new building block of journalism needs to be the topic. I don’t mean that in the context of news site topic pages, which are just catalogues of links built to kiss up to Google SEO. Those are merely collections of articles, and articles are inadequate.” — Jeff Jarvis, Buzz Machine.

There’s an undeniably massive role for photography in a shift like this because topics require moving the story forward and moving beyond attention grabbing to attention holding and that requires a certain type and depth of photography.

But, when I read these discussions I’m often left wondering why nobody is talking about photography. I mean, why is photography only popular online when it’s used to sell cameras to consumers. Why can I find hot topics like politics, environment, economy and sports all covered in words, podcast and now video but nothing done purely with photographs. Is that because the consumers aren’t interested or is because photographers aren’t doing anything about it.

I’m currently on the lookout for several things to happen with photography online:

A photography site to become popular that isn’t about selling cameras or techniques to consumers.
A site that tells stories of national interest in pictures (with text is fine, but equal).
A top tier photographer producing content online only.

Maybe I will never see any of that. Maybe I’m wrong about the value and interest in photography online.

I hope not.

“No, the essence of the problem is that we thought the internet represented just a new gadget and not a fundamental change in society, the economy, and thus journalism.” — Jeff Jarvis, Buzz Machine.

Getting A Story Made at National Geographic

After talking with several National Geographic photographers about shooting for the magazine I became intrigued with the process of getting a story made. The collaboration between the photo editors and photographers and then the photographers involvement in all the steps along the way is unique and important to how they make stories. More magazines should spend this kind of time with their contributors. The few times I’ve had photographer come into the office and present their images to us have been incredibly rewarding and certainly I think made the story that much better.

I asked David Griffin, National Geographic’s Director of Photography about the process of getting stories made and the rumored years it takes for a story to go from idea to printed page:

Many years is a bit of an exaggeration harping back to days past, now it is more like many months. The typical process:

1. Story proposal is accepted by editor (this can take a few days to a few weeks, depending on how much back and forth we have with the photographer honing their proposal). BTW, all proposals from photographers go through me first to determine if the idea is something I’m confident the photographer can pull off. We have a firewall to protect the photographer’s intellectual property if they are rejected.

2. Once accepted, the photographer is paired up with a photo editor and they work together to expand the proposal into a story coverage plan, including estimated budget. This is then reviewed in what is called a “story pitch” where the entire story team (photog, photo editor, writer, text editor, graphics and map staff, designer, web producer, and executive editorial team) meet with the Editor-in-Chief. If all goes well, the story is given the full green light. This can take about a month to prepare for.

3. Then it is off to the races. Stories can take many forms and lengths of field time–far too many variables to pin down an average. We usually try to do most stories in two trips so that half way through the coverage the story team can re-gather, review the photographs to-date, and make any necessary course corrections. This “Interim Projection” also gives the Editor a better handle on which issue of the magazine the story should run.

4. After the field work is complete, the photographer typically comes in to headquarters and works with the photo editor to hone the completed coverage into a “Final Projection.” Pretty much all the same folks who see the Interim, see this show. This takes about a week (although the photo editors are reviewing the photographs much sooner and at greater length then when the photographer is in the office to construct the show).

5. Then the story goes into layout and work begins on any special web features. The photographer is very much a part of that process. From our viewpoint it would be both financially and journalistically foolish to not involve directly the person who we invested our resources into for the story. The person who best knows which images capture the truth of the story is the one that was there. It may seem like a luxury, but we feel it is a part of our process that makes a tangible difference in the accuracy of the final published stories. Layout takes about a week.

6. Then it is pretty much all typical pre-press and printing process from then on out. Finalizing of design and color correction takes about a month or so, printing takes about a month, world-wide delivery about two weeks.

So from beginning to end a story can take from about six months (rare) to about a year, and in some cases–particularly with natural history coverages–a couple of years.

I’ve glossed over many details here, but these are the main milestones.

Pickup the Dang Phone

- - Working

When I worked as a Photo Editor I never answered my phone. I’m sure eventually at some DOP job down the line I would have finally gotten an assistant to answer it for me. There’s two ways to go about this in the photo department of a magazine and if you choose to answer the phone whenever you can, you’ve got to be direct with your callers so you still have time in the day to still do your job or you can only answer it when you’ve got time to talk. There’s a difference though between being direct and just trying to get rid of callers you don’t know. Heidi reminded me of that at our Art Center lecture when she said “If someone would call and say they loved the magazine I would ask them, what is it exactly that you love.”

I always had a hard time being direct because I did enjoy a good chat about photography and because I had so much sympathy for the cold callers. At the beginning of my career I used to work for photographers and many times I was the one who had to cold call Photo Eds and Marketing Directors some of whom would pickup the phone and express all levels of exasperation and irritation then exclaim how they didn’t have time to talk about this right now and I thought, “well, then why did you pickup the goddam phone.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to get the caller straight to the point and photographers should be prepared for that. I was just never any good at it.

Shooting Editorial Photography

- - Getting Hired

I gave a lecture last week with Heidi Volpe (former Art Director of the LA Times Magazine) at Art Center in Los Angeles and thought I would highlight a couple things we talked about here for anyone who couldn’t attend and of course to open it up if anyone wants to chime in. The best part for me was meeting so many people who are enthusiastic about shooting editorial photography and also the time Heidi and I spent working on the lecture, comparing notes and just sitting around talking about editorial photography. We both love working with photographers and the process of putting a shoot together and seeing the work published on the newsstand. Preparing for a lecture is a good exercise for anybody working in this field because it forces you to analyze the way that you do things and the process behind your actions and I can certainly see how it would it be beneficial working with a staff and in meetings with editors to have it well thought out.

The first part of the talk we got down into the nuts and bolts of editorial photography and magazine making and I’m not going to rehash the whole thing for you here except for a couple important points that play into the second part of what we talked about.

The office politics and relationship between the DOP, PE, AD, CD, EIC, Publisher and Owner has an effect on the way that photographers are hired and how decisions about photography are made within a magazine. It’s important to realize that there are forces at work inside the publication that can have a weird influence on the photography.

In the very early stages of picking photographers it has as much to do with pacing out the magazine, creating visual variety, making powerful entry points, tackling old stories in new ways, deciding where to spend big and where to save as it does with matching the right photographer and subject.

Everyone keeps a list of photographers that they work off for these decisions and I’ve always organized mine with the front page for every photographer I’ve ever worked with (several columns) then the next page for photographers I want to work with and then several more pages of photographers organized into different categories. Many of these category groups come about because I’m forced to make a list in a category I’m unfamiliar with (cars or beauty) and after spending several days working on a list I want to hang onto it for the next time I need someone in that category. After the lecture I got to peek at another PE’s list who was at the event and saw all the familiar chaos of a list in flux with boxes, stars and highlights and notes running down the side. It’s always a mess till you retype it again.

After getting through the nuts and bolts we settled into a topic I’d like to refine even more if we ever give the talk again that we called “defining your personal style.” Essentially we wanted to get at the things we pickup on in a photographers work that convince us they are the right person for that particular job. It usually boils down to style and/or expertise in the subject matter and of course there are many other little factors that play into pulling the trigger on someone but we wanted to try and connect the dots with the work in the book and the what was published in the magazine. Heidi and I got a good laugh out of a few of our choices because it looks like any monkey could preform the job when someone who shoots swimmers is hired to shoot swimmers. I’m not afraid to poke fun at my profession and always tell photographers to not be surprised when their first assignment is the most obvious choice.

At the lecture Heidi and I whipped though 30 photographers and I think that was a mistake as we really just glossed over them and made it all seem so superficial and next time I would not only drill down into a couple of photographer’s styles (famous and not) but then pick a specific genre and discuss who is on our list for that and why. It really is a good exercise to look at a photographers work and define their style because you find yourself coming up with all kinds of strange words like integrity, crisp, finished and I’m sure it’s different for everyone who does it. So, for someone like Jake Chessum who is a personal favorite of mine I put him at the top of the list for portraits that are unguarded moments. The I would also define him in my head as easy to work with, subjects enjoy him, shoots celebrities, lives in NYC, shoots film, cover, feature, color and B/W. Anyway you get the idea on how it works and we provided 30 examples of photographers and the shoots we gave them. Heidi gleefully pointed out that I had nothing but A-listers in my examples which is hardly a good teaching example, but I had only scanned the A-list tears for my portfolio so that’s what I had to work with. If there’s another chance to do this lecture again I would certainly include more up and comers and unknown photographers.

Heidi had David Drebin as one of her examples and he’s someone who was always on my list of people I would like to work with but never have. His style can be described as shooting lifestyle, caught moments with a produced and or finished look to them (lighting, background, props, hair, makeup, set, casting all feel meticulously done). I would also put him in the category of people who shoot rich and dense color, interiors, lit, lives in NYC, shoots women well. Again you can see where this is going and the kinds of terms we use to describe and categorize photographers.

So, that’s just a quick overview of what we covered and there were a lot of good questions from the audience that we answered as well. Heidi and I really enjoyed the event and it was cool of Everard and Dennis to bring me out for it.

Tina Brown Launches The Daily Beast

- - The Future

Designed to have the look of a European “smart tabloid,” something already feels different with the simplicity of the front page and use of photography. This will be interesting to watch as Tina is well known in the editorial world for injecting life and chaos into venerable titles like The New Yorker (She redesigned the magazine and introduced the first staff photographer, Richard Avedon) and Vanity Fair.

From the article in PaidContent.org (here).
Web over print: Brown: “I so much prefer it. There’s nothing like actually doing something to learning exactly how it should go. One of the great agonies of magazines is it takes so damn long. It just takes forever to get a magazine out and, once it is out, I remember with monthlies, you’d publish your first issue and almost within hours of getting it out and the first response, you knew exactly how you wanted to tweak it and do things and change it and make it different and better but you were already halfway to press with the next issue so it was really sort of three months before you could change it. What I’m loving about this is we’re actually able to build it fast and get the response and weave that into our evolution. It’s very exciting. It’s thrilling.”

The Daily Beast (here).

How Can You Make A List Of Influential People And Not Include Photographers?

- - Photography News

I picked up Esquire’s 75th Anniversary issue and was flipping through their list of the 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century (here) and discovered that they couldn’t think of a single photographer to include in their list (WTFngF). Now, I know how these lists are made and it usually starts with the gathering of a massive list of names from all walks of life and I can see they did a very good job of balancing it out with artists, journalists, writers and such, but no photographers. Are you kidding? Time had a similar snub with their 2008 list of the Worlds 100 Most Influential People (here).

I seriously hope Nachtwey does something amazing tomorrow but surely he can’t be the only one. Can he?

Seen It Before vs Completely Original

- - vs

I found these two blog posts interesting and worth contemplating head to head:

“It is all too easy to cry copy-cat or rip-off and refrain from wondering why it is so vital for your appreciation that ’something hasn’t been done before’. Of course I can’t and won’t claim to be free of this obsession, but I notice an increasing hesitation in myself to follow the lure of the game, and a need to think about different things to look for in a work. Novelty is nice for the novice, but once the jaded feeling of ‘been there, seen that’ crops us, it is time to reconsider my responsibility – if you can call it that – as viewer.”
—-Via, Mrs. Deane.

vs

“Platon has an entire portfolio of photographs, mostly portraits, titled Service in last week’s edition of The New Yorker. An extended selection of images can be seen online.”

“Listening to an audio file on The New Yorker’s site, I learned that Platon is now officially signed on as a staff photographer.”

“I haven’t heard anything about this before and frankly I’m surprised. It’s not that I think Platon is a bad portrait photographer but in my mind I don’t see how Platon can replace Avedon. His portraits shot from below against a stark white background are too indebted to Avedon’s. Maybe the magazine doesn’t see their selection as a replacement for Avedon but I certainly do. ”
—-Via, Horses Think.