Over the past couple years I’ve had a chance to shoot a couple cover stories(above) with Katie Noble, the photo editor at the Improper Bostonian. She was kind enough to do an interview for my blog to shed a little light into her world as a photo editor. Thanks Katie!
How did you get into being a photo editor?
I applied to be the assistant photo editor of Travel + Leisure, and by sheer good luck, a background in the arts and some intense practice interviews with my dad, I got the job. At T+ L, I worked with smart, quirky colleagues in the photo department who shared a love of images and the Pentax 6×7. I really enjoyed my job, but after being in New York City for nearly three years, I realized I wasn’t cut out to be a New Yorker. I missed having the outdoors accessible—I’m from rural Mass. and went to school in Vermont. I happened to hear that The Improper Bostonian (a local city magazine) was looking for a photo editor and applied for the job. I sent in my résumé and was hired a month or so later. I’ve been in my current position for about five years.
What inspires you?
I recently saw the film The September Issue, and at one point Grace Cottington (creative director for Vogue) says, “Norman Parkinson, who was a really big photographer, taught me to always keep your eyes open. Never go to sleep in the car. Keep watching, because whatever you see out the window or wherever, it can inspire you.” I’m really struck by that idea. I’d like to think that everything I see—film, food, blogs, TV, art—inspires me in some way.
Specifically, I love the blog Lost in E Minor (I just want to run home and start DOING something), GQ (I think their photography is some of the best), and two of my favorite contemporary photographers are Norman Jean Roy and Peggy Sirota. I try to check out many magazines; I have a big stack next to my bed and desk and am constantly playing catch-up. I read a lot of blogs through my RSS reader, save many tears and screen shots on my computer, and have a treasured list of photography bookmarks saved on my web browser. I’m always eating up and saving images I love and then referring back to them for inspiration.
What do you love most about your job?
I was an elementary education major in college and being a student teacher every day was totally nuts with lots of little, different personalities. In a similar way, working at a magazine each new issue has its own set of puzzles to solve. The content is always changing, and I try to keep my cool and not freak out with all of the moving parts. I’m also very lucky to work with a smart, interesting group, and we try and keep things in perspective.
How do you like to find photographers?
I love it when talented photographers email me to say they’ve checked out the magazine, and they’d love to work for us. It’s a great feeling when I can send along a link to our head designer, and we’ll both nod and say, “This is cool. This is good. They’ll be perfect.”
A couple of months ago, I received an email from photographer Adam DeTour (http://www.adamdetour.com). The tone of his email was just right: polite, friendly, go-getter-ish. I’d been looking for a long time for someone to shoot our “Style Profile” section on a consistent basis. I hired him for a shoot to see how it would work out, and, sure enough, he was the guy. I like to work collaboratively with photographers like Adam because they can bring fresh ideas to sections we’ve been working on for a long time.
What qualities do you like when working with photographers?
Professionalism and personality. We’re on a tight deadline (out every two weeks), so I need to hire photographers who’re going to send in their shoots on time—and hopefully with an extra shot or two that I wasn’t expecting but will work for the story. That’s always a happy surprise. Nick is a stellar photographer to work with—he brings a great energy to the shoot. In his latest shoot for us, he gave us such a range of images, it was such a fun edit to do. It drives me crazy when photographers say they’ll meet my deadline and then don’t follow through. I usually won’t hire them again.
Email promos, printed promos, or both? Any other good channels of getting work in front of you?
Everyone in every field gets slammed with email. So, as much as I try and read generic photographer email blasts (Constant Contact), I have to admit I tend to delete them without reading. But I do read the emails that are sent with a personal message and website link. I realize that sending personal emails is much more time-consuming for photographers, but I appreciate the extra touch. If a photographer sends an email to me, lives in an area where we shoot (L.A., NYC or Boston), has work that may be appropriate for the magazine, I immediately save them to my address book.
What makes the best printed promos?
My favorite promo is a 3×5 or 4×6 postcard with a couple of images that give me a sense of your style. I feel guilty when someone spends a lot of money on a promo because I usually have to toss them—I just don’t have room to keep everything. If a photographer sends in a postcard, and I like the work, I’ll stick the card to my wall (see attached).
What qualities do you like when working with photographers?
Professionalism and personality. We’re on a tight deadline (out every two weeks), so I need to hire photographers who’re going to send in their shoots on time—and hopefully with an extra shot or two that I wasn’t expecting but will work for the story. That’s always a happy surprise. It drives me crazy when photographers say they’ll meet my deadline and then don’t follow through. I usually won’t hire them again.
I really like to work with photographers who have easy-going personalities. Someone who’s tremendously talented but acts like a diva makes life difficult for the whole editorial staff.
Do you work with photographers that only shoot film?
Since we’re a city magazine, with limited budgets, out every two weeks, we can only hire photographers who shoot digital. I really love film but our magazine has such constraints with budget and timing that unfortunately it’s not feasible. And our accountant would kill if me if I passed along film and processing fees. But I love checking out film projects, and I respect photographers who shoot with different cameras and film types.
Any thoughts on interactive media and the iPad?
I’m sure in a couple of years I’ll regret saying this—especially if/when the iPad becomes a part of our culture like the iPhone and the iPod—but personally I don’t have a use for one. I’m at work all day on my computer, have an iPhone and a laptop at home. Adding another form of technology to me would be overload.
With the Red Camera and video capability on more pro SRLs, photography is definitely moving towards interactive media and video. So, as more photographers start to develop their video skills and offer this as a service, I can see how having an iPad allows them to show their work to clients. Being able to watch movies on a plane with a bigger screen than an iPhone seems pretty cool, too.
Seeing that magazines are creating iPad versions is really exciting. I don’t think that print magazines will ever go away completely, but I’m really not sure what’ll happen in the next five to 15 years. It’s nice to see there is an avenue for us. Blogs and websites are wonderful sources of information for readers, but I often think that we forget (myself included) that not all web content is accurate. Magazines and newspapers have an entire staff dedicated to making sure information is relevant, fact checked, copy edited and reread many times prior to publication.
How has the economy affected the editorial world from your perspective?
While working for The Improper, we’ve always been very budget conscious. With the economic downturn, we’ve had to be even more so. It’s hard to make things happen on a shoestring budget, but it’s helped to make us think even more creatively. We’re shooting more things in-house—using our conference room as our studio for still life, buying less expensive stock photography, and using hair and makeup people in the city who want experience.
What advice do you have for photographers getting into the game?
I’d say the most important thing is to hustle. Photography is a very competitive field so you have to really want it. It has to be a part of your life. You have to want to bring your camera with you everywhere and just make yourself take pictures of family, friends, travel, your street, etc. Give yourself assignments and get excited about your art until you build up a book of work that shows your own unique vision.
It’s also really important to have friends who’re in the visual business. Since photography is an individual field (you don’t meet other photographers on a shoot), I think it can help with technical questions, borrowing/sharing gear and making connections with potential clients. And it’s also nice to grab a beer with someone who you admire or can understand your situation.
Any other thoughts, things you’d like to talk about, words of wisdom you can pass on to us photogs?
I say the best way to get hired by a magazine is to introduce yourself by email. Phone calls can be hard because I’m always running around, and print portfolios seem like a repeat of what’s on a website. In your email, briefly introduce yourself and pass along a website that has a cohesive body of work. If you like to shoot still life, have a section of work that shows me how you use light and items that you like to shoot. Send an email or postcard every six months or so with a quick update on your projects. But remember not to be too pushy. Think of it like a new relationship—it’s best to ease into it, following the cues of the other person. One photographer whose work I really liked and considered hiring started emailing me every week. That persistence makes me worried that the photographer would be high-maintenance if hired for an actual shoot.
Young photographers just out of school tend to send me links that have every type of lighting they’ve learned in school. I think it’s far better to focus on one or two things that you like to shoot. It can be still life and portraits, but there should be a consistency to the work. And my rule of thumb is no photos of protests, cemeteries, homeless people, trashy alleys—subjects not generally appropriate for a lifestyle publication. I’ve seen many of these particular images in potential interns books. Leave it out unless this work is really unique, and you’ve put serious thought into why this should be included in your portfolio.
Finally, keep in mind the tone of the client. The Improper is a lifestyle magazine so pristine landscapes and sad portraits aren’t really applicable. But a book with solid portraits, environmental portraits or still-life shots will catch my eye. Personal work is always nice, too.