Keren Sachs is the Merchandising Director of Photography for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in New York City. She got her start as a Photo Editor at National Geographic Kids spent time at the Wall Street Journal and then as an Art Director at Corbis where she refined the more commercial aspect of Photo Editing that she utilizes today.
Keren oversees the photography for all the merchandise at Martha Stewart where all advertising, packaging and marketing is done internally for their 17 selling partners. She produces all aspects of the photo shoots and hires a wide range of photographers to shoot everything from food, wine, bedding, lighting to glassware. She retains long standing relationships with a number of photographers and tries to balance that by seeking out fresh talent as the opportunities present themselves. The company maintains 5 studios in the office and she’s able to spend time on set with all photographers and shoots throughout the day.
I had a few questions for her but I would encourage anyone else who wants to ask something to drop a question in the comments and we’ll try and get it answered.
Tell me about the shooting all the merchandise for Martha Stewart Living. How many photographers do you hire and how many products are you shooting and how many shoots take place each month?
This month we have 6 shoots for over 200 different products. I hire freelance photographers for all of our work. Currently, we have 18 partners so there is a great mix from Home Décor to Food and Wine to Crafts, Flowers, Home Goods and Textiles.
How do photographers get on your radar? What are your sources for finding photographers and then what’s the process for hiring them?
Agents update me on their new photographers or the new work from people I already know. I also do research and spend time on agency and photographers’ sites. Once I find a photographer I will call in a hard copy portfolio if I haven’t seen it already. I bring the books to meetings to discuss photographers with our creative team. I can’t do this the same way with a website. However, one thing I keep noticing with portfolios is that most photographers only put their favorite work in their book—a book of lifestyle images shot outside in a field isn’t going to help you land a job shooting interiors or still life here. The best way to get on my radar is to show me work that is relevant to the work we do. If it is not in the book, I can’t get our creative team on board.
These days I don’t get as many self promo cards as I used to. However a fantastic promo by James Tse introduced me to his work and I just hired him to shoot packaging for our line of food at Costco. I also attend portfolio reviews and events where I can meet with agents and learn about other photographers. I find article’s like PDN’s Who’s Shooting What helpful as well.
We have a core group of photographers who have been with the company for many years and do great work in both editorial and merchandising. Victor Schrager recently shot packaging for our Martha Stewart Collection at Macy’s. He also shot our Martha Stewart’s Cookies Book.
Do you find that shooting products over and over again can become tedious and if so how do you combat that?
The products we shoot are different every season and for every partner. We also have a diverse and talented group of art directors and stylists working on each shoot. Our products tell a story and inspire the consumer. While we do not want the consumer to see the same image over and over again, we do want them to see an image and know that it is quintessentially Martha Stewart.
There’s a fairly well established aesthetic to the Martha Stewart brand so is it possible to introduce new styles of photography?
There is a way to modernize our photography and make it fresh while still keeping true to our look and feel that people associate with the brand. You’ll notice this in our Self Portrait advertisement campaign shot by both Eric Piasecki and Sang An.
I think the value of product photography goes up as buying decisions go to the web because photography is all you have to grab consumers. Has that become a factor yet in the photographers you hire?
Definitely. Our photography a key aspect of our brand online and in print. However, our products must still remain hero while we build brand equity in our merchandise lines. The images have to be strong enough to instantly grab the consumers and make them stop before clicking through to something else. One way we increase the value is by making sure the imagery is lit beautifully and with purpose. You’ll notice this in the photography for our new line at 1-800-flowers.com shot by Travis Rathbone. Too many times I have seen images with beautiful lighting but the product is in shadow. That doesn’t help us sell products and it certainly doesn’t work on the web.