Thursday, November 8, 2007

Editorial photography: Why I do it...

When I started my shooting career in the early 80's many assistant friends of mine pushed to get editorial work to start their careers. At the time I always thought, "why bother"? After all it paid horrible, magazines made stupid demands on photographers, and doing editorial was a quick way to the poor house if you wanted to make a truly professional reputation for yourself. I bypassed it all and went directly to working with graphic designers, corporations, and ad agencies as they had bigger budgets that would allow you to actually be profitable.

In hindsight, I feel starting in editorial probably would have been a good choice. Despite the obscenely low fees, working with magazines do provide a showcase for getting more commercial work. Also currently, the number of magazines is quite staggering and they all seem to have certain niche markets. Most importantly, the work is always there. Monthly issues require monthly assignments. So, in the past few years I've taken on more editorial assignments, despite the hassle of haggling with every photo editor that calls for more money, and scratching out contract items that could have only been drawn up by corporate attorneys not bright or sharp enough to actually work for a "real" law firm. It really is a hassle "confirming" these type of assignments, but to not approach these clients in a business like manner is a sure recipe for financial ruin as profit margins in our business get smaller on a daily basis. Even though I LOVE shooting editorial, I still turn down at least 60% of the assignment requests I get, because I KNOW I'd loose money shooting the job.
It's frustrating to do, and years ago I could accept some of these "loss leader" jobs for either the fun of it, the stock potential, and/or promo value. My corporate and advertising fees could make up for the loss. Those days have long gone, as photo budgets have been slashed in all venues, and Royalty Free stock destroyed the stock industry as we once knew it.

When I do find an editorial client that fits, it is a ton of fun! I meet lots of interesting people, leaders of industry, and people many of us have never heard of, but are making this world a little bit better place to live. The creative freedom is second to none, and I work with no art direction after discussing the assignment with the photo editor. Photo editors while busy, are usually very appreciative of a great job done and realize that budgets for production expenses and oppressive magazine contracts are detrimental to getting great photographers to shoot for them. They have a tough job do. I always feel bad for them, when we start discussing money, because you know they are tired of getting beat up every time they call a shooter to do a job. But...We need to make a living too, so negotiation is always important if photographers want to be in business tomorrow.

The photos above were shot recently as a cover story for Chess Life magazine (talk about a niche market!) Fee and expenses were low, but I knew I'd get great stuff and make at least SOME money. Photo editor was thrilled with the pictures, and I got another image for my portfolio. My subject was Grand Master Alex Shabalov, US Chess Champion. Shot on location at a commercial loft I frequently like to use as a location. Alex was fun to work with, accommodating, and obviously a much smarter person than I...