Last month, I wrote a story titled “Top 13 Ways to Piss Off a Photo Editor.”
It got a huge reaction, and a number of people suggested that I turn this around, and give photographers some equal play.
So I contacted some photographers and asked for their advice. I wanted to know what really pissed them off. I learned that many different kinds of things are capable of pissing off a photographer.
My trusted panel of photographers are:
David Hume Kennerly, Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist
Robert Caplin, freelance photographer in New York City
Andy Biggs, wildlife and outdoor photographer
Daniel Milnor, freelance editorial and commercial photographer
Lynn Donaldson, freelance photographer based in Livingston, Montana
Yunghi Kim, freelance photojournalist
After absorbing their responses, I compiled a list of ten things that will piss off nearly any photographer.
However, their responses were so different from each other, and filled with lots of little interesting tidbits, that I decided to include them in their entirety at the bottom of the post. My intention with this blog post is not to open up a bitch-and-moan session about photo editors or photographers. Instead, I am hoping that maybe this can make help make things just a little bit better by making it obvious that photographers and photo editors are partners, and they need each other in order to survive.
To be fair, tomorrow I will post “Top 10 Ways To Make A Photographer Fall In Love With You.“
Please feel free to leave your own comments at the bottom of this post.
Top 10 Ways To Piss Off A Photographer
(in no particular order)
1) Try ‘clever’ tricks to save money.
Photographers have seen and heard just about every trick in the book, and you should realize this. You can expect to piss off a photographer if you treat them as if they haven’t experienced a few of these money-saving tricks already.
Don’t say that an assignment will take 2 hours when you know it will realistically require a full day of work. Don’t try to expand the assignment into something more when the photographer arrives on the scene, and expect them to bend over backwards to “help you out, just this once.” (Read John Harrington’s full reply, below, for some of his least favorite tricks.)
You should understand that a photographer is a small business owner, and they’re not trying to use their own clever tricks to jack up their rates. They want a fair, respectable price. Be upfront and totally honest with them from the very beginning, and you’ll find them much more willing to “help you out” in the end.
2) Don’t understand what it’s like in the real world.
Most editors spend their working day in an office, dreaming up perfect situations and scenarios where everything goes exactly as planned. Most don’t plan for the unexpected, and are surprised and upset when the pre-visualized images they promised to their bosses don’t actually materialize.
Instead, treat the photographer as a partner. Let them know that what you’re asking for is just something intended to get you both on the same page, and you’re not expecting miracles.
Encourage them to think beyond the box, and deliver something even better. If you put a little faith in them as a partner, you’ll often find they’ll work harder for you to come up with something truly great. Something you can both be proud of.
3) Screw up the schedule.
This is usually related to having little idea what it’s like in the real world. Scheduling is very important to a photographer, especially when the photo editor is the person setting up the shooting appointment with the subjects.
Don’t assume, for example, that a photographer in Los Angeles can drive to San Francisco and back within 2 hours. In this case, take the extra step and go to Google Maps and figure out the driving times in advance.
Be as clear with the photographer as possible with regard to the schedule. If you’re unsure about something, or if there may be some waiting time once they arrive on the scene – let them know in advance. You should understand that they may have an assignment booked after yours. Letting them know that the schedule may change without notice will give them an opportunity to plan accordingly, and not screw up another assignment because yours ran late.
4) Expect unlimited use of an image, for free.
Don’t be outraged when a photographer sends you an invoice after you’ve used an image again. Don’t assume that every image is Royalty-Free, even if the image was shot on assignment for you.
When a photographer shoots an image, they are hoping to produce something good enough that it will be used in many places – that there will be a demand for the image. If you suspect that you will want to use an image over again, in different places, tell the photographer in advance and work out a deal. Don’t just assume that you can use it, and then “deal with it later” if/when you’re caught.
5) Be difficult to contact.
This goes both ways – both photographers and photo editors should be easy to contact. Great communication between the parties means that you’re working as partners, each available to the other as the assignment unfolds.
Everyone knows the importance of this. If you expect people to be easy to contact, you should make yourself easy to contact as well.
6) Ask them to copy the style of another photographer.
Most people who become photographers do so because it’s a creative outlet. It allows them the freedom to express their own vision. Not understanding this very basic concept will piss off any photographer who has pride in their work.
Treat a photographer as a person who has their own creative process – and it’s the creative process that you’re paying for.
Don’t treat a photographer like a robot with a camera. Showing them an image, and asking them to replicate it is considered an insult to most. Asking them to “shoot the same thing you did last time” could end up making them second-guess their own creative process.
7) Have a big ego.
Let’s face it, both photographers and photo editors can have a bit of an ego. They’re both often sensitive about their work because, if they do their jobs right, they really put themselves into a project and it ends up becoming an intimate personal expression.
When big egos collide, bad things can happen. Treating each other with respect, as an equal partner in the creative process, will yield better results in the end.
Accept that fact that you actually need each other, and no person is more important, or has “more power” than the other.
8) Offer a photo credit as payment.
Photographers will be easily pissed off when you offer a photo credit as if it has some kind of monetary value. They will be further pissed off if you insinuate that a photo credit in your highly respectable publication will help their career.
You should understand that it costs a photographer time and money to produce the image that you want to use, and a photo credit can’t be used to pay their bills. Offering a photo credit as a form of payment is an insult.
9) Use images without permission.
If you don’t have money to pay for the use of an image, don’t just take the image and use it anyway – and deal with any potential fallout later. Contact the photographer in advance, and see if you can work something out.
Using an image without permission is rude and offensive to most photographers.
10) Crop their photos to the point of obscurity.
Photographers often spend a lot of mental energy composing an image, and brutal cropping hack-jobs can easily send a photographer into a pissy mood. This is like cutting the first 2 paragraphs out of a writer’s story, and expecting the writer to be perfectly fine with it.
Contact the photographer ahead of time, let them know the reasons why the image must be cropped this way, and have a discussion about it before its too late. It is insulting to see your image in print with the heart and soul cropped out.
John Harrington is an editorial, corporate and commercial photographer based in Washington, DC. John’s portraits are featured in publications and annual reports worldwide, and is no stranger to working with tight deadlines.
1 – Cancel a shoot after we’ve done pre-production work on your behalf (don’t worry, you’re still getting billed because we got a signed contact before the work started)
2 – Promise that the bottom line isn’t about money, it’s about creative, and then award the job, and when I ask if it was about money, say “yes.”
3 – Tell me it’s only two portraits after I quoted you for five, and then after I re-quote you for two, and turn up, you try to sneak in the other three. Really? Really!?! And don’t think that the group photo you loosely arranged so you could crop to headshots each of the people is going to fly either.
David Hume Kennerly has been shooting on the front lines of history for more than 40 years. He has photographed eight wars, as many U.S. presidents, and he has traveled to dozens of countries along the way.
At 25, the Roseburg, Oregon native won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for his photos of the Vietnam War, and two years later was appointed President Gerald R. Ford’s personal photographer.
Behind every good photographer there is a great picture editor. My Pulitzer wouldn’t have happened without one, and my career has been greatly enhanced because I was lucky enough to work with some of the best picture pickers in the world. One of the grave problems with our business today is the diminishing pool of professional photo editors due to cutbacks, and many photographers are choosing their own pictures. It shows. I guarantee you that photographers aren’t their own best editors.
Having said that, there is a dark underside to photo editors, even the greatest ones.
Photographers, like any good artists, are deeply insecure. They need plenty of strokes, hand holding, and plain old sympathy. Photographers are genetic whiners, pissers and moaners, and royal pains in the ass. I know. I am one of them.
There are many things about photo editors that piss us off, however, because even though they know photos, they don’t know jack shit about shooters.
The quotes here are taken from real conversations with picture editors, usually on the phone from long distance after you have managed to deliver them extraordinary images under extreme duress, while they have been sipping lattes or diet cokes in their New York air conditioned offices:
- “We saw a really great angle on television at that event you are covering, do you have anything to match it.”
- “AP has a picture of the president winking to a cute girl in the crowd, do you?”
- “Oh, it’s three a.m. there? That’s weird, it’s only noon here.”
- “Do you have anything on the flooding in North Vietnam?” (This while covering the war from Saigon, the north being enemy territory . . .).
- “Couldn’t you have gotten an economy ticket?” (asked after I got off a 16-hour flight to jump right into coverage of insurrection in a Third World country).
- “Why didn’t you shoot both color and black and white?”
- “Couldn’t you have left more room at the top of the frame for the logo?”
- “Do you have anything else on the two presidents shaking hands?” (Of course, I always hold the best stuff back . . .).
- “Why did you let that television guy get in front of you?”
- “Is there any reason that the picture of those guys shooting at you is a little shaky?”
Robert Caplin is a freelance photographer based in New York City available globally for editorial and commercial photographic needs.
Editor: Asking to shoot a separate assignment under the same day rate.
Editor: Asking me to arrive early to an assignment when it then involves having to wait for 1-2 hours to shoot what I’ve been assigned.
Publicist: Asking to review and approve my images.
Subject: Explaining to me how to compose, light, or generally take their portrait.
Assistant: Trying to network with my clients while assisting me.
Photo Buyer: Expressing astonishment that I’d charge for usage of an image they desire for their website.
Writer: Calling me their photographer.
Walkie-talkie holder: Believing that having a radio gives him/her some sort of authority to tell me how to do (or not do) my job.
Andy Biggs is an avid adventurer, conservationist, teacher, and outdoor photographer whose photography celebrates the African landscape and its rich wildlife, people, and culture. With a deep respect and understanding for African wildlife, Andy unfolds the world of the Serengeti onto our doorstep with striking emotional depth.
1) Say ‘I bet that telephoto lens can photograph the moon’. Hell, yes it can. Just like your camera, but the moon will be larger in my frame.
2) Overuse HDR. Come on people, just because your dial goes to 11 it doesn’t mean you should use it. Overuse or misuse of HDR technologies just shows other photographers that you aren’t working hard enough. HDR is like riding on a small motorscooter: it is fun, but you don’t want your friends to see you doing it.
3) Use my images without notifying me or linking to me. I have had many of my images used in email newsletters, and I like this, but not when they are used without notifying me or linking back to me. I actually encourage the small use of my images on the web, but only if I get credit for the image(s).
4) Continually ask for donations for charity when those asking aren’t donating. This doesn’t really piss me off, but what isn’t cool is to always expect creative people for free things, and then not do something yourself. For example, I get hit up for donated photographs for school auctions from friends. Many are attorneys, CPAs or other per-hour billable profession. I never see their own services on the auction block, and when asked why I usually get a remark like “I am busy”. Uh huh. Like I am not?
Daniel Milnor splits his time between the chaos of Southern California and the spiritual landscape of New Mexico. He is happiest with his notebook, Leica and trusty leather boots, sizing up whatever situation is happening in front of him.
Milnor is former newspaper, editorial and commercial photographer who now tries to work solely on his own projects, projects that allow him to work in the fashion he feels most likely to produce images that go beyond the temporary.
1-Make yourself impossible to contact. We live in an age of instant communication, phone, email, text, IM, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and yet somehow you have managed to find the one cubicle in the modern world that is impossible to find.
2-Start a potential job conversation with “Well, we don’t have much of a budget on this one,” as if at some point you will call and say, “Oh man, we have a boatload of cash to spend with you now, go ahead and bring your wife and kids.”
3-Always work on a frantic, last minute deadline for no particular reason. If you don’t eat, and only drink latte’s then everything seems hyper-fast. Breath, slow down and make a plan. Everyone is much happier this way.
4-Don’t use a “hot” photographer and then art speak their value to death, when it is abundantly clear nothing you said makes any sense whatsoever.
5-Tell me you love my work, and my style, then ask me to work in a completely different manor, thus forcing me to create work that looks like everyone else’s. I can’t tell you how many photogs who have told me “I showed pinhole zoom blurs and got hired to shoot portraits on white seamless.” Please explain.
6-See something in my portfolio, content of a certain image that you personally don’t like or agree with, then act turned off by the rest of the work because you can’t get over that one image. (This happened with a story about bloodless bullfighting and a story about the adult entertainment industry.)
7-Act like a normal, compassionate, interested human being in a one on one conversation, ask me to contact you, give me your card, fill my fragile and rapidly beating heart with hope and then fail to respond to all seventeen methods of modern communication. Then, when you see me next, act like none of this happened.
8-Settle for “Good Enough.” Too many people conform. This is the “creative industry” and yet many times people end up doing the same old thing, or the expected. You, or we, should follow the Marine motto, “Improvise, adapt and overcome.” Do I need to see another color, lit, overproduced celebrity portrait? Short answer. No.
10-Use a weekend warrior(or anyone who signs your contract) instead of a pro, and then defend their work as if you really like it. Or, call photographer after photographer until you find someone who doesn’t know enough about the business to know about licensing, and then use them while explaining how much you love their portraits with the purple fog around the edges.
11-Ask for a buyout but fail to give one valid reason why you need it, or any hint you even understand it.
12-Ask anyone to work for free. Embarrassing.
13-Assign and produce below average work and then act shocked and sad when subscriptions fall off.
14-Be mean, condescending or egotistical. This cracks me up. Photographers will bend over backwards to work with you if you are cool, honest, professional and interested, and yet this seems like uncharted water for many of those who are in “positions of power.” We all learned this during cookies and milk in preschool, but in some cases it didn’t stick. “Plays well with others,” is a great resume foundation.
15- Do not, I repeat, do not, under any circumstances, when asked why you haven’t responded to repeated attempts to contact you, respond with “I’ve been really busy,” insinuating the photographer hasn’t been. This is perhaps the worst excuse of all time, and will sour any potential relationship. “I was trapped in a mineshaft,” or “I was lobbying congress for your copyright protection,” or “I was determining which of your images I wanted to buy, frame and hang,” are far better options. If you are gonna lie, make it a good one. Photographers love good stories, make one up.
Lynn Donaldson is a freelance photographer based in Livingston, Montana. She specializes in travel, food, architecture, and portrait photography.
1) Ask for something Herculean. I am only human & do not have the power–or PhotoShop skills–to make images assigned in February in the Rockies “look like July” when the landscape is blanketed with four feet of snow, dead grass, leafless trees, white skies. I’ll do my best, but I can only do so much.
2) “Piss off” is strong to use here, but it ticks me off when you don’t shoot me an email letting me know you got my images off your ftp and all is well. It takes two seconds to write, “Got ’em; thanks.” I once had someone contact me five days after I uploaded–frantic that there was a glitch–and I was on another shoot with my assistant and had to hire a second to go in and deal with it.
3) Crop the sh** out of my image without checking with me or warning me. Regional magazines (where the Art Director/Photo Editor is one and the same) do this frequently. At the very least, if you crop to the point that it is nothing like what I shot, ask me if I want to be credited. 99.9% of the time I will tell you, “No thanks!”
4) Have no concept of distances or driving time. When a subject tells you she lives 100 miles from her ranch and only has an hour on Tuesday for a shoot…and you want me to shoot her both at her house in town AND on her ranch, don’t piss HER off by pushing her and asking why we can’t do both in an hour. (Seriously, this has happened!)
5) When you’re not “culturally” sensitive and freak subjects out before I get a chance to talk to them. I know it’s hard to believe, but people in rural America might not be familiar with your publication…and if they ARE, they may be suspicious of it. Talk slowly, let them finish their sentences without talking over them….it is a huge turnoff for most Westerners to get a cold-call from someone whose “pushy”. People move at a different pace out here and need a minute to get a sense of whom you are before you launch into what you need.
6) I once gave a photo editor friend the name of a 95-year-old farmer who lived near the town where I grew up, because a famous photojournalist wanted to document elderly farmers for her magazine. My friend’s fast-talking assistant called the old guy, talking a mile a minute and expecting him to know the photographer’s work and the magazine she represented. The guy lived in Coyote Nowhere and, being older, had no idea what she was talking about…and he ended up saying no. I know that if he’d been approached in a subtle manner, he would have been thrilled to have his life/farm documented.
7) I know you are trying to be considerate, but when you hear a photographer is pregnant or has had a baby, don’t assume she is not working. I worked up to 8 months in both pregnancies and did my first assignment five days after my first child was born. When I was pregnant with twins in 2007, I made a point of not telling ANY work colleagues, yet somehow I got a call six months after they were born from an apologetic photo editor saying, “I hate to bother you, because I heard you just had twins, but I have an assignment near you and though you probably don’t want to do it, I thought I’d ask.” I know she truly was worried she was “bothering” me and she practically turned down my assignment BEFORE asking me.
Yunghi Kim is a freelance photographer based in New York. She began her career at The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass., then moved to The Boston Globe, where she was a staff photographer for seven years. She was a finalist in 1993 for the Pulitzer Prize in feature photography, for her coverage of the famine in Somalia. She was a member of Contact Press Images from 1995 to 2008.
This is a good idea.. we need to turn it around.
Photographers who know me, know that I am quite blunt and outspoken.
This is a no-brainer.
I think you guys (this Photoshelter blog) are taking more utilitarian view with asking for a list and I don’t agree.
This is it what I think… for I believe, if you are a good photographer, what you say doesn’t matter. Your photographs speak a thousand words. Photographers should have confidence in their work and their vision. Honestly we covered wars, put our lives at risk, even scrape what we can to finances our projects because we believe in a story or a cause. We have to be really quite resourceful, don’t we? So why should we let others define who we are as photographers.
Photographers need to make a statement about their work.
In current climate when magazines have unfair and copyright grab contracts, its even more important that photographers know the value of their work and stand their ground. At the end of the day, we are in this business for our vision and respect to our subjects or issues. To be blunt and lets be realistic here, photo editors come and go, so do magazine contracts but what is important is that we have passion for our craft. Everyone needs to take more of a long term view. Our photography is more than commodity that you can sell for $200, its commitment to our vision, style, expression, craft and passion. As a photojournalists, its recording history!
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