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Portfolio Tips

Marc Asnin, an experienced editorial photographer, had the idea a couple years ago to help photographers get their work in front of the many NYC editors in his Rolodex. He’s revamped the idea this year as the NYCFotoWorks Portfolio Review and has signed up editors from big publications like ESPN, Vanity Fair, Fortune, New York Magazine, Time, and Real Simple. (The original Aug. 1 deadline has been extended, and applications are still being accepted.) Marc and I talked about what makes this review different, as well as what advice he has for photographers when they meet with top editors.
Ray Kelly, New York City Police Commissioner, atop a building overlooking Ground Zero. Marc Asnin/Redux

Ray Kelly, New York City Police Commissioner, atop a building that overlooks Ground Zero. Marc Asnin/Redux

Miki Johnson: How many editors would a participant in the NYCFotoWorks Portfolio Review potentially get to see?

Marc Asnin: You’ll see 14 if you sign up for two sessions. Our thing right now is that it’s an incredible list of editorial people. Last time we had one of these sessions, most of the people came from out of town, which I thought was very interesting. I think they realized that if you’re paying $399 and you’re getting to meet with seven editors — you can’t FedEx your portfolio for that. And how many people are going to look at your portfolio online? Does it get through the spam filter? All the editors are really into it. It’s refreshing to see that you can get 50 editors to participate. Even in this difficult time, they still want to see new work.

This year, meetings are during the day and into the evening. So let’s say you come in the morning and you have three sessions out of your seven, you’ll be able to hang out. So maybe you only got seven minutes with someone from Vanity Fair, but then you could also talk to them during the intermission. We will also have a wrap party so that the participants can all get to know each other. It’s good to hang out with your peers, too. When I taught at SVA, I always told the students, you can learn much more from each other than you can ever learn from me; you’re the same age, you’re in the same world.

One thing we did last time and we’re doing again is making sure that there’s a certain quality of photography we’re showing. It’s not like I’m expecting everyone to be Annie Leibowitz. But we wouldn’t ask photo editors to give their time to look at work that’s not on a professional level.

We’re also not pigeon-holing people. So if you’re a reportage photographer, that doesn’t mean you can’t see Vanity Fair. That’s an important thing for photographers to understand. For instance, I’ve worked with Bruce Perez at Redbook. If you don’t understand the magazine world, you might wonder, what would Marc ever do for a woman’s magazine? Well, I did a story on breast cancer and another on a boy with brain caner. So you can get interesting reportage work at a woman’s magazine. I used to work a lot for Good Housekeeping and did some other incredible stories there.

A portrait of David Rockwell, design impresario, for Business Week. Marc Asnin/Redux

A portrait of David Rockwell, design impresario, for Business Week. Marc Asnin/Redux

MJ: What tips do you give photographers about their meetings with editors? More »

The art market may be the most illusive of the industries that former staff photographers are exploring, but I don’t know a single photographer who would mind seeing their prints up on a nice white wall in some gallery. Marita has a great take since she not only founded a gallery that does a lot with photojournalists, but she’s also consulted extensive with photographers for the exact topics that I’m sure you’re dying to ask her about. Leave a question in the comments section, along with your website if you have one, and she’ll respond asap, also in the comments, so others can benefit from the good advice. NOTE: Marita has graciously agreed to continue to answer questions through next week, although her answers might not be as prompt as usual since she’ll be away from the office.

Marita Holdaway

www.benhamgallery.com

I founded Benham Gallery in Seattle in 1987. Dedicated to emerging and mid-career fine art photographers, I have been consulting since 1998, and reviewing over 1,000 portfolios annually. I have presented workshops for artists nationally and internationally, helping them further their careers by developing their professional tools for finding and successfully approaching appropriate venues. As an invited reviewer and speaker, I have attended over a dozen photo festivals in the USA, Latin America and Europe.

My hope is that photographers will learn to follow their hearts and not the almighty dollar. There are so many other ways to become wealthy without selling your soul and time to corporate America. Perhaps the photo community can find a way to tell the important stories, instead of the sound bites the media puts out.

Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.

Amy oversees one of the most important photo grants out there, because instead of emphasizing just money or prestige, it focuses on results. Photographers applying for the Open Society Institute’s Distribution Grant are required to partner with an organization working in the community they’re documenting and to strategize how to create positive social change with their images. I’m sure she’ll have some great insights, therefore, into how photographers can work with NGOs to achieve their larger goals.

Amy Yenkin

www.soros.org/initiatives/photography
I am the director of the Open Society Institute’s Documentary Photography Project, based in New York City. Through exhibits, workshops, grantmaking, and public programs, this project explores how photography can shape public perception and effect social change.

I joined OSI in 1994, helped establish the Moving Walls exhibition in 1998, and in 2004 developed and launched OSI’s Documentary Photography Project. Prior to OSI, I worked in Washington, D.C., as the director of government relations for NAFSA: Association of International Educators, where I represented U.S. colleges and universities in lobbying the U.S. Congress and government agencies on immigration policies affecting foreign students and the hiring of foreign faculty and researchers. I received a BA in history from the University of Michigan.

************

I’ve spent a decade supporting documentary photographers who devote years to personal projects. These photographers are thinking beyond getting a few images published in a newspaper or magazine — they want to have real impact. This happens when they:

  • are deeply connected to the communities they document
  • are working closely with (although not necessarily for) the NGOs/advocates in the community
  • know their target audience and develop an innovative distribution strategy (not just books and art gallery exhibitions) best suited for reaching that audience
  • partner effectively with advocates to distribute the work

Working with advocates/NGOs can greatly enhance a project’s reach and provide a photographer with on-the-ground contacts and assistance, as well as financial support. But there are challenges as well.

NGOs are not media organizations and have a different relationship to photographers. They also have their own agendas, which may or may not dovetail with a photographer’s. Sometimes there is a match. Sometimes not –- in which case, it may just be an assignment, not a long term relationship.

Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.

You’ve packed up your boxes and hopefully made off with most of your images, too. One of the first things to decide is how to share them with the world — especially potential clients. A website is pretty much required, but do you need a physical book too? Should you focus on single images or stories? Diversity or a unique vision?


John Kaplan
, who wrote Photo Portfolio Success and has had impressive success with his own portfolio over the years, is here to answer your questions. Leave a question in the comments section, along with your website if you have one, and he’ll respond asap, also in the comments, so others can benefit from the good advice.

John Kaplan

www.johnkaplan.com
John Kaplan is one of America’s most accomplished narrative photographers, having been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography, POY National Newspaper Photographer of the Year, the Overseas Press Club Award, two Robert F. Kennedy Awards, and the Nikon Documentary Sabbatical Grant. He is also the author of Photo Portfolio Success, which helps photographers edit to their strengths and prepare stunning portfolios that eliminate doubt in the minds of editors, buyers and contest judges.

A full professor at the University of Florida and a Fulbright Scholar, John teaches throughout the world and has twice been named a juror for the Pulitzer Prizes. His work has appeared in LIFE, The New York Times, American Photo and numerous book annuals.

John’s work is exhibited at museums and galleries worldwide including solo exhibitions in the United States, Peru, Bolivia and Korea as well as shows in the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Korea, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. His project on survivors of torture in West Africa was awarded the Overseas Press Club Award for Feature Photography and the Harry Chapin Media Award; the United Nations used the work to help facilitate contact with the victims.

Presently, John is directing and producing his first feature length film, the autobiographical Not As I Pictured: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer’s Journey Through Lymphoma.

Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.

An ad campaign for Target shot by Deanne Fitzmaurice, a photographer for the San Francisco Chronicle until last year.

An ad campaign for Target shot by Deanne Fitzmaurice, a Pultzer Prize-winning photographer who left the San Francisco Chronicle last year.

As we look around the photojournalism world today, it’s hard not to worry about one trend in particular: Newspapers, magazines, and wire services have been cutting pages, budgets, and staff positions, for years — and they’re not coming back. With fewer staff jobs to go around, more photographers than ever are deciding to work for themselves. Being the innovators that photographers are, they’re exploring new markets, new mediums, and new skill sets, especially those needed to run a business.

Some former staff photojournalists saw the writing on the wall long ago and now run their own thriving businesses. Many more have made strides in the last year or two, but still have a few questions — or they’re planning to make a move soon and have lots of questions.

Next week, August 10-14, RESOLVE will run five days of posts designed to answer these questions. Of course, no one person has the answer to all questions, especially the big ones about where the industry is going and how photography will continue to be profitable. But every photographer and editor and rep out there has the answer to one or two questions. That’s why we’ve asked as many as possible to share their experiences.

We’ve talked to dozens of former staff photographers working in a range of markets and will share their insights with you in daily posts next week. Each day we’ll also explore and explain an alternative market for photojournalists, including commercial assignments, wedding photojournalism, fine-art, and working with NGOs.

On top of that, an “expert of the day” will be available to answer questions in real-time as you ask them. They’re here to help, but we also need people will come together and help each other. We’ve heard about so much of this going on offline, we know you’ll have a lot to share here online as well.

If you are now or have ever been a staff photographer, please check in next week and join the discussion: ask a question, offer advice, and make some new contacts. If you’d like to contribute your thoughts about transitioning from a staff position, please email us this week: resolve [at] livebooks [dot] com. We’d love to hear from you and share your story (and website) with the community!

Michael founded liveBooks in 2002, but he has earned his living creating portfolio websites for creative professionals since 1997. In that time he’s learned a lot of simple things that photographers can do to make good websites even better, regardless of who makes them. His first “Website Tweak” on RESOLVE advocates clear menu names.

Emilie Sommer: Clear, concise navigation menus

www.emilieinc.com

If you spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with Emilie’s website, you’ll see that it’s incredibly rich in content, yet it looks clean and simple and the main menu is easy to navigate.

The key here is the “information” menu item. Because the word “information” is both clear and broad, it enables Emilie to include a variety of content in the drop-down menu under it. Collecting most of her content under this one drop-down keeps the main navigation and the user’s overall impression of the site clean and orderly.

When you have a lot of items in a drop-down, be sure to name each one so that the user/client will know exactly what they’ll get when they click on it. Spend some time coming up with page names to make sure you have the best ones, and if you find a better one down the road, go in and change it.

Critiquing the names under Emilie’s “information” menu item, I have only two issues. The first is small: The link called “Emilie.”  Most people will guess correctly that this link is about Emilie, but it wouldn’t hurt to let visitors know for certain by changing the name to “About Emilie.”

My second critique — of the link called “Emilie Ink” — I feel more strongly about because choosing a better name could lead directly to more revenue. I did not catch that “Ink” was spelled with a “k” rather than a “c,” and I assumed that this link was about her photography business. I probably would have assumed the same thing even if I did notice the alternate spelling. Either way, I would be surprised to discover behind that link a whole new website offering custom printing services to her clients!

You want to make your revenue-generating items as easy to find as possible. Don’t hide them in a sub-menu unless that sub-menu name is something clear like, “Services.” A more effective name for Emilie’s link to her print services might be “Custom Cards.”

In summary, Emilie’s navigation logic and page names are nice and clear, with just a few possible improvements. I recommend that you review your navigation logic and naming, and see if you can find a way to make it even clearer. Your visitors will thank you.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: What navigation naming tricks have you seen or used that work particularly well?

The problem with this whole blog thing is that lots of great stories get pushed off the page every day and ends up in our growing archives. If you haven’t checked out the categories along the left side of RESOLVE, we think it will be worth your time.

We also know that sometimes you just want to click and not wander, so we’re going to pick some gems from our past posts and throw them back up for your enjoyment every week or so — starting today. This one is the first of several posts from Jasmine DeFoore at Redux Pictures about getting editorial representation and getting the most out of it. Click below to read the original story; her later posts are linked in the intro.

There’s nothing more ego shattering than interviewing a photographer who is as old as my career is long and finding out that she has kicked my ass in a market place that I coveted for years. Shooting book covers for literary works is downright respectable in a bizarre, pseudo-erudite sort of way.

“Did you read Rolling’s Recalcitrant Ruminations of Ruskin?”

“Why no darling, but I did shoot the image for the cover of the hardback.”

“Oh, bravo. Glass of sherry?”

I tried to get into that publishing circle for years. To say that they didn’t give two shits about me is, to be honest, crediting myself with one shit too many. Which brings me to my guest, photographer Claire Rosen. She was recently contacted by the boutique global publishing firm Random House to shoot the cover (left) of Sarah Addison Allen’s book The Girl who Chased the Moon.

The folks at Random House were intrigued by Miss Rosen’s distinct style of photography when they came across it at one of her gallery openings. The assignment (I’m not joking): Read the book and pitch some ideas of how the cover should be shot. The folks at Random House chose one of the ideas and Claire was, (I promise, I’m not joking), free to go shoot it and send in the results.

That kind of paid creative freedom with a high-profile client is practically nonexistent in contemporary society. Not only do you get paid to do your creative thing, you can window shop at a Barnes and Noble on a date and feign surprise when you see your book cover. If I want to accidentally-on-purpose show off my book cover I have to start a fire in the café of the book store, convince my date that it’s safest in the photography section and then use my book to fan away the smoke. “You okay? Hey look at that!”

Gigs like Miss Rosen’s can become a wonderful source of work. In just a week since receiving her first assignment, she has landed another book cover. If you’re interested in doing this type of work, you need to keep one thing in mind: The people at publishing houses who are green-lighting covers aren’t looking for photographers. They are looking for covers.

I reached out to a senior art director at Little, Brown Books to find out what he’s looking for from photographers. He suggests going to the bookstore to find covers, illustrated or photographic, that are similar to your narrative style. Check the imprint names on the books’ spines and contact those publishers to get the name of their art director.

The best way to reach out art directors is by mailing a hard-copy promo with an example of your work. Email promos have become the bane of art directors, my contact said. The barrage of email promos from listing services has resulted in a backlash, and they are routinely deleted out of hand.

One phrase that stood out in my interview with the Little, Brown art director was “cover appropriate.” Take the time to do your research. If your work doesn’t look like any cover you’ve seen, then don’t send it to the publishers.

With all that in mind, take a day and hang out at the bookstore — you could find a whole new direction for your photography business. Just please pretend not to notice if you see a guy in the café torching a pile of coffee beans.

I connected with Jessica after she wrote an intriguing post for Black Star Rising bemoaning the lack of respect for photo editors in Israel, where she recently moved. Taking maters into her own hands, Jessica created a blog, The F Stops Here, that explains what photo editors do and highlights their importance. She has also agreed to lend her expertise to the photography community on RESOLVE, with helpful posts like this one about giving photo editors what they want from stock photos.

Images from a search for "woman + scale" on iStockPhoto.com

As a photo editor for a weekly women’s lifestyle magazine, I frequently had to find the same kind of image over and over again. One of the common ones was what we termed “woman on scale.” There is a weight-loss story in just about every issue of every women’s lifestyle magazine on the stands, so the need for this particular image (and ones like it), is almost endless.

Unfortunately, there never seems to be enough in the various stock coffers to keep up with demand. Especially considering that magazines will avoid using the same image twice or using the same image as another lifestyle magazine. For photographers this means — even though it’s counterintuitive — you should be shooting more of what you see the most of.

“You should be shooting more of what you see the most of.”

Do Your Research

As a photo editor, I would have loved to see more variety of these recurring images (like “woman on scale”). Photographers should first look through multiple issues of the magazines they expect will buy their images and notice which images are repeated. That will give you a few kinds of photos to focus on. Then get to know the editorial styles of each magazine and create different versions of those photos to cater to each style. Some magazines will want a very young woman, some a woman who looks more like a mother. Conservative magazines will want her legs and arms to be covered; others might want her to have the latest, tightest workout clothes.

Change Everything

Photographers often offer several images of the same model in the same clothes, changing only her the tilt of her head or the position of her hands. If you were an editor, would you use two of these as if they were “different” photos? Didn’t think so. If you are using the same model, change her clothes between photos, especially the color palette. Change her hairstyle, make-up, and expressions. Make her look like a different woman. Change the background and include a white background. Most importantly, shoot the same image with different models, especially ones from different ethnic backgrounds (although two from of the same ethnicity is still better than one). Think of it almost mathematically. Try to come up with as many permutations as possible for the same image.

Think Like an Editor

If you’re working in the women’s lifestyle genre, there are several other pictures that you’ll notice recur frequently: woman at a computer, woman performing various kitchen duties, woman in the car, woman with money, woman shopping. Remember, in addition to shooting each scenario in different locations, also shoot them on a white background to make a clean background for text. When possible, consider not only the content of the photograph but also the way the graphic designer may need to work around it when laying out a page. If you can do that, and keep supplying the images that editors have to keep going back to look for, you’ll quickly move to the top of their go-to list.

We were introduced to Sarah Zemunski‘s photos when she won the Canon-sponsored American Photo On Campus Go Pro contest. While her winning portfolio of dog photos is original and compelling, what we really liked was that she had identified a niche for herself, something she excelled at not least of which because she was passionate about it, and she was still a student (at Academy of Art University in San Francisco). We were eager to chat with her about how she had already learned these lessons that some photographers twice her still hadn’t.
Negative Space ©Sarah Zemunski

Negative Space ©Sarah Zemunski

Miki Johnson: When did you realize you were meant to be photographing dogs?

Sarah Zemunski: In my 3rd year at AAU, I began to get very frustrated. I hadn’t found my niche, and the work I was doing for class was just mediocre. Aside from school, I was working at a doggy daycare. I began taking pictures of the dogs in the play area.  That lead to photographing “The Dog of the Month” for the business. Every month, I would shoot a different dog, and the portrait would go up in the lobby.

At that time I never thought about shooting dogs for school. I thought it might be cheesy, and my pictures were bordering on snap-shots. Then in one class, I decided to present one of my dogs as an assignment. I was hesitant, and I thought people would think it was stupid. But everyone loved it! I got more positive feedback from it than I had for anything else I had done in the class. So I began photographing dogs for every assignment. The teacher of that class, Noel Barnhurst, really supported my work. If it wasn’t for him, and the people in that class, I may not have had the courage to show my dog work.

Since then, I’ve tried to fit dogs into all my classes. For my Architectural Landscape class, I photographed dogs with architecture. I just started photographing other animals this past semester. My teacher for Senior Portfolio, David Wasserman, told me I needed to shoot other animals to make my portfolio complete. At first, I was against it — I only wanted to shoot dogs. But now I am so glad I branched out! I feel the work I have done with other animals is my strongest. In fact, the portfolio I produced for the class was named best portfolio in my school’s Spring Show!

I think you should photograph what you are passionate about. I have always been passionate about animals, but it took me a while to find out I should be photographing them!

King by bushes. ©Sarah Zemunski

King by bushes. ©Sarah Zemunski

MJ: Tell me about how you got into photography.

SZ: As a child, my dream job was to work with animals. Photography didn’t come into the picture until later in high school. Growing up, I never really took pictures, except for snapshots of family and friends. In high school, I took a photography class and I eventually came to San Francisco and took classes at The Academy of Art University (AAU). I have two semesters left before I graduate.

When I first started out, the thing I liked most about photography was framing the shot. I wasn’t too interested in my subject matter. Mostly, I walked around and shot what I saw on the street. For me, it was about how the shapes and lines fit into the frame.

As I advanced at school, I experimented in several genres. For school assignments, I often shot people — I am now remembering how much I hated it! Some photographers are meant to shoot people. I am not one of them. But if I hadn’t spent all that time shooting, my work wouldn’t be as strong as it is now.

My dream photography job five years from now would be traveling the world to photograph animals (all expenses paid, of course!). I want to be known as THE animal photographer. I am interested in working with wild animals — and their trainers. I want to be the Annie Leibovitz of animals. Haha.

©Sarah Zemunski

Zoey, in Sarah's Go Pro winning image. ©Sarah Zemunski

MJ: I have to ask, any funny/poignant stories about working with dog?

SZ: I am a dog-walker, so I have funny dog stories just about every day! The dog I photographed for the Go Pro contest actually ran away during the photo shoot. She is a timid dog, and is very attached to her owner. I felt comfortable enough with her off-leash, but that was a mistake. While shooting, she just started running away, slow at first, then sprinting. She was headed back to her house, since she only lived a few blocks away.

My assistant/boyfriend (thank God he was there!) took off after her. He chased her out of the park, and through the neighborhood. Finally, he caught up to her and brought her back. Zoey was so exhausted from the run, that it made her much more mellow for the photo shoot. Maybe I would have never gotten the shot of her in the ivy if she wasn’t so tired!

Since the photo shoot, Zoey has passed away from cancer. Her owner was thrilled to see my image had won the contest. She feels the image really captures the essence Zoey. I was so glad I was able to provide the owner with pictures to remember her beloved pooch.

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