Todd Owyoung is not only a highly accomplished music photographer,…
Emily Shornick is the photo editor of The Cut, New York Magazine’s dedicated fashion section that occupies a stand-alone website as well as six pages in print. For just over two years almost every photo used for The Cut has passed through Emily’s desk.
We chatted with Emily to find out what she’s looking for from photographers, where she finds new talent, plus how she likes (and doesn’t like) to be approached.
Where do you turn for new work?
I go to portfolio reviews and I look at mailings (though they’re not as effective as an email). I read a lot of photo blogs. I love FlakPhoto, I love Feature Shoot and Paper Journal. There are a million.
Word of mouth accounts for a lot though, too. There are Facebook communities for photo editors, and email chains, and I have photo editor friends. If I’m looking for someone doing a particular type of photography and I don’t know that area well, I’ll reach out to my friends. Which is why it’s important not to burn bridges. It’s a very small field and we all talk.
What about social media, do you find photographers there?
Instagram is great because it shows me how people are going to work in the digital sphere, and what their images might look like on a small screen. I can also get a sense for who a photographer really is, as well as the photo community they’re participating in. Too often in portfolio reviews photographers are catering to what they think a photo editor wants to see, and they might have been given some bad advice that’s dictating how they’re presenting themselves and their work. With Instagram I feel like I’m getting to see a more true version of a photographer.
I do also keep a Pinterest board of photographers, which is like my visual rolodex. So when I’m looking for someone new and fits the aesthetic, I check the board.
When you’re looking to hire, what do you want in a photographer?
I like people who are professional, who turn their contract in on time, and who take direction. They also have to have a strong eye.
The ability to meet a deadline is number one, however. When you’re working in digital and something is half an hour late, it’s really late. It’s old news.
Another really important thing, which seems very obvious, is picking up the phone. If I find a story that needs to be covered in two hours and a photographer doesn’t pick up the phone then I’m going to call someone else. This is not dating, this is digital photography. You can’t play hard to get.
It’s important to be friendly. Photographers should understand that sometimes there are changes in editorial and not to get angry.
What sets the successful, professional fashion photographers apart?
They have a defined brand. Fashion is such a particularly creative enterprise––not to say that other genres of photography aren’t––but fashion isn’t reportage, you have to create or imagine an entire situation from the ground up.
Also, the seasoned fashion photographers tend to put in the work of schmoozing. They go to fashion parties and events, they operate in that world. They understand the content and so can deliver something intelligent for the audience that is consuming the product.
What kind of assignments are you more likely to hire new photographers for?
Fashion week requires someone seasoned, but with street or party photography I’m willing to take a chance. Street photography is an established style at this point, it has a look. It’s more about the content than the photography, the most important thing is that the photog- rapher have good taste in clothes.
A good way to get a foot in the door is with web. Budgets are bigger with print and it’s not coming out as frequently, so they can’t take as many risks. Which makes web a great way to start.
I have picked up specs before, too. And I’m very open to pitches. If someone has access to something and they are prepared to do the legwork I might take a chance and tell someone to send me what they get from a project. If the work is strong I really don’t care how old or experienced someone is. I think it’s really exciting to find someone new.
What’s the best way for photographers to get in touch with you?
I get a lot of mailings but unless one image in the mailer speaks to me I’m probably not going to go look at the photographer’s website. I don’t get a lot of emails, and email is the best way to reach me.
Today, people aren’t reaching out in the best way, in my opinion. For example, I really don’t like it when people reach out to me via Facebook, that’s crossing a line for me. Recently I was selling a coffee table on Craigslist and a photographer pretended to want to buy it in order to get my personal email address. That’s just inappropriate. If that person had sent me a portfolio I would have been happy to review it.
I do love to meet with photographers, but I’m often just too busy. I’m the photo editor of a site that’s doing 30 posts a day. And almost every one of the photos in those posts goes through me. I don’t physically have the time to meet people. I don’t like it when people cold call or show up at the office.
So if someone emails you directly, what is it that you hope to see?
I want to know where a photographer is located, how to reach them, and what their work is going to look like.
So a quick introductory sentence: “hello, my name is …, I live in … (city), my work is about … (specialties, for example “still lifes,” etc.),” and then I want to see a couple of images. I’m looking to get a taste of their style. I like to see consistency, that’s the most important thing. And then I want a link to their portfolio.That’s perfect.
What do you want to see in a photographer’s portfolio?
Saturated color. I love black and white photography, but it’s not ideal for this space or our editorial in general. It’s also very important that their website say where they live.
In terms of the aesthetic, I’m looking for work that is big, bold, and obvious. It sounds silly, but bright and shiny, candy-colored, large shapes, things that can be seen from really far away. That’s what’s going to translate on a small scale. We will bump up the contrast on pretty much anything that goes on the web. We don’t want subtlety. I’m a fan of subtle photography, but that’s not what works in this space.
I’m also looking for a sense of humor. We look for people who are quirky.
General advice for those looking to break in?
Don’t be afraid to make personal work and establish your art. No one is going to give you a chance until you can prove you can do it.
Want more information on how to break into the fashion photography industry? Download our guide Breaking into Fashion Photography today!