PhotoPlus Seminar Recap: Photography Directors at Major Publications Discuss Hiring Photographers
Directors of photography from Bloomberg Businessweek, The California Sunday Magazine, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Refinery29 and Topic spoke about the hiring practices of their publications during a seminar at PhotoPlus Expo over the weekend, and also discussed the qualities they look for in the freelance photographers they hire.
Moderated by Businessweek Director of Photography Clinton Cargill, “What Photo Editors Want Now” gave photographers in the audience insights into the photography needs of several publications and information that could help them in seeking editorial assignments.
The issue of gender and racial diversity in the photography industry was raised by an audience member during the question and answer period, and there was a consensus among editors that they need to “do better” in hiring photographers with a range of perspectives. But they also shared some of the positive steps they’ve taken to that end. For instance, Jacqueline Bates, the Photography Director of The California Sunday Magazine, which has received the National Magazine Award for Photography for two consecutive years, pointed out that women had shot all of the magazine’s covers in 2017 (their last issue for the year had gone to press at the time of the talk). This wasn’t coincidence. Bates said she’d made it a “personal goal” to have women photographers’ images on the cover of every issue this year.
Toby Kaufman, the Photography Director of Refinery 29, said that it was “paramount to me” that her organization hire women, and that they do a quarterly check-in to gauge their progress. As of their latest assessment, women were responsible for 76 percent of the photography published in Refinery29 this year, Kaufman said. Earlier Kaufman revealed that Refinery29 gives roughly 600 assignments per year, and that one of the magazine’s overall missions is to “embrace women of all shapes and sizes.” Kaufman also mentioned that Refinery29 has partnered with Getty Images to create a capsule collection of stock photography that reflects that vision. They’re accepting submissions for that capsule collection, Kaufman said, which can be “a good way” for photographers to get into working with the publication.
Joanna Milter, the Photography Director at The New Yorker, outlined her magazine’s photography needs in print, which are limited, but she said she has space to run more images online. The New Yorker runs one full-page image to open their “Goings on About Town” section of local events in New York City; they generally run one photo with each story in the feature well; 47 times a year they publish a conceptual photo or illustration to open a short fiction story; and they have a chance roughly five times a year to publish a photo essay in print, Milter said.
Caroline Smith, the photography and visuals editor at Topic, a long-form storytelling site created by the publisher of The Intercept, says she’s publishing photographs, video and illustrations. Smith is particularly interested in combining stills and motion in the same story, and shared a couple of recent examples, including a story shot by Juno Calypso about women freezing their eggs. Topic follows a monthly publishing cadence, like a magazine, Smith says, rather than publishing new content each day. And Topic is interested in receiving pitches from photographers. She wants pitches that are “succinct and pointed” she said, that have a strong point of view, and that are well-researched.
Rolling Stone’s Ahmed Fakhr said he’s often looking for festival coverage and wants to hire photographers who can also shoot video, even if the still images remain the focus of assignments. (For more from Fakhr, see our in-depth interview with him from the October issue of PDN.)
Bates said that the imagery in The California Sunday Magazine, whose stories focus on California and the West, and Asia and Latin America, is generally about people and the places around them, so little to none of their photography is shot in a studio. Bates says it’s important to her to meet with photographers, and likes to hire photographers who are local to an assignment because their familiarity with a place can elevate a story.
The panelists gave examples of the qualities they look for in the photographers they hire. Kaufman said she likes “a collaborative spirit,” a sense of maturity and an “ability to problem solve.” Flexibility and a desire to learn in-depth about the subjects they’re photographing appeal to Bates. Milter said she also appreciates photographers who do their research, while Fakhr emphasized the importance of organization in delivering images and a respect for deadlines. Cargill appreciates a “strong sense of curiosity” and says he also notices when a photographer over-delivers. For instance, if they’re photographing a portrait subject, Cargill appreciates when photographers make other pictures they see during the assignment, or when they work to deliver additional setups.
The panel spoke about what photographers should do when reaching out to introduce themselves. Cold calling is not a good idea. Personalized email does well, and, as we hear constantly from photo editors, photographers would do well to show that they have some knowledge of the publication they’re targeting and why their style might be a fit. Editors still receive too many cold emails from photographers whose visual language doesn’t make sense for their publications. Kaufman asked that photographers appreciate that editors are under pressure and can’t respond to every email, even to say “no, thank you.” She encouraged photographers to reach out when they have new work. And Cargill said it never hurts to send emails alerting editors when you’re traveling in case they have a photo need. Bates said that if you meet with a photo editor and don’t immediately hear from them, it doesn’t mean they aren’t going to hire you. It can sometimes take a year or more for an editor to find the right project, she said.
All of the panelists said that they try to hire photographers locally rather than paying for travel. To that end, geotagging some of one’s Instagram posts can be useful because it allows editors to see where a photographer lives or travels frequently. Panelists said they use Instagram as a tool for tracking what photographers are working on and to find new talent. One panelist mentioned using topic-based hashtags to find photographers.
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