Leslie Baldwin has been the photography editor for Texas Monthly, a 13-time National Magazine Award-winning regional magazine, for 11 years. She got her start in the photography world in New York City, where she worked as studio manager for photographer and illustrator Matt Mahurin and then as cover coordinator for Time magazine creative director Arthur Hochstein. Here’s an inside look at how a magazine photo editor works and what she’s looking for.
PhotoShelter: How did you become a photo editor?
Leslie Baldwin: I studied fine arts at the University of Texas, and while I learned a good deal, looking back I realize I learned more by working. I really had to hustle to figure out how to make a living using my degree. I moved to New York City in 1995, which turned out to be a good move for me. I could see that photography had real-world practical application and that if I worked at it, I could find a way for myself in the industry. I learned about the photo industry first-hand. That’s the type of experience you just can’t get in school.
During my eight years in New York, I worked as a photo studio manager, a position I had never even heard of when I was in college, then as a freelance photo assistant. Eventually I landed a gig at Time magazine as an assistant in the art department. It took me a while to figure out that photo editing was what I wanted to do, and I’ve pretty much been doing it ever since. All in all, it’s been a great ride. And a lot of work; at times tedious, but often creative. I came home to Texas 11 years ago when I was hired as Texas Monthly’s first photo editor. In my current position, I handle most photo assignments and photo research for the printed version of magazine.
How do you discover new photographers?
Sometimes new talent will come to our attention through social media, but most of the time it’s via direct e-mails from photographers who have impressive websites. I also look at promo cards that come in the mail, and check out the talent in other magazines, photo annuals, and the like.
How do you prefer to be contacted?
E-mail is still the best way to contact me. I get a lot of mail so I can’t promise to respond to everyone, but I do bookmark those whose work catches my attention and certainly might circle back to them—even if months have gone by since their original e-mail.
What do you look for in a new photographer?
It’s hard to express exactly what I look for, but a consistency of high-caliber work on a nice website is a must. Photography is everywhere—we’re inundated with it—so when a photographer’s work makes me pause and really look at it, I take note. Maybe it’s something unique in their portraiture, the lighting, or color palette that moves me. It’s hard to articulate, but you know it when you see it.
How can a new photographer make a good impression on their first job from you? How can they ensure they will get rehired?
It’s obvious when a new photographer has given it their all—you get what you asked for and more. It’s also important that they deliver their work promptly and that it’s organized. Having a good attitude and friendly disposition also helps.
How do you make sure your photographers get “the shot” needed?
When we’re looking for something very specific we might provide a sketch, or sometimes schedule a conference call to work through the details with the art director. We also might point to a sample on the photographer’s website—or someone else’s site—to illustrate the type of image we’re going for.
How can a photographer build a good relationship with a photo editor?
There are a lot of demands on photographers. It’s much more than just being an artist. Not only do they need to consistently do great work, but they also need to be fast, be flexible, be good communicators, and be easy to work with. If you possess those qualities, you should be able to develop a good relationship with photo editors.
Do you have any “don’ts” or pet peeves about working with photographers?
Yes, I have a few! I don’t like it when a photographer is running late on delivery and doesn’t touch base. I would much rather they simply check in to tell us they are behind and what to expect rather than falling off the radar. Also, a professional attitude helps when, on the rare occasion, we need a reshoot or additional shooting to get something right. Some photographers are better than others about taking constructive criticism when the need arises.
Does Texas Monthly hire out-of-state photographers?
We have an amazing talent pool right here in Texas (and it’s growing) but we are fortunate enough to be able to hire out-of-state when we want. It’s really up to the art department when or if we go out of state. Sometimes it’s purely for aesthetic reasons.
For example, we love Joe Pugliese’s portraiture—his sensibility—so we’ll hire him for a couple of covers each year. And occasionally we’ll have a Texan subject who happens to be in Los Angeles or New York, so that will create the opportunity to hire out of state. We have a lot of freedom, thankfully, as long as we stay on budget! Texas Monthly offers some pretty great assignments, and photographers are aware of that, so it opens up the opportunity to work with great talent all over the country. I get contacted almost daily from photographers out of state who want to work for us.
How has the industry changed in the past five years?
It’s no secret the industry is facing tough times.There are so many unknowns about the future of print, and budgets are shrinking. Yet there’s still need for content—more than ever—so in that respect it’s tougher than ever. That said, there’s work out there for talented photographers who work at their craft and are flexible enough to provide what’s needed. Many of our local Texas photographers stay busy a lot of the time.
What advice would you give to photographers about how to succeed in editorial photography?
My advice for kids breaking into editorial photography is that if you are talented and passionate about photography, just dedicate yourself to creating the best work you can. Set your sights high, learn to be technically versatile, and take the time to properly market yourself. Other than that, just be persistent. And nice!
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