What Do Photo Editors Want From Photographers? At GQ, Your Images Must Pop

What Do Photo Editors Want From Photographers? At GQ, Your Images Must Pop

What do photo editors want from photographers? And how can you get their attention in their very crowded inboxes? These are only the tip of the never-ending iceberg of questions for getting a leg up on that next assignment. And the truth is, it often depends on the editor’s personal preferences.

To take a stab at it, we’ve interviewed Jared Schwartz, the Assistant Photo Editor at GQ Magazine and GQ Style Magazine. See what Jared has to say about his magazine’s photography needs, common mistakes he sees photographers making, plus what he looks for in a website.

What Do Photo Editors Want From Photographers_GQ Magazine

© GQ Magazine

How did you arrive at GQ? Tell us a bit about your background in photography.

I’ve always been obsessed with print. I can remember my mom yelling at me to get rid of bundles of magazines because they were taking over my room and the garage. That’s definitely how it all started.

In undergrad, I double majored in Journalism & Media Studies and Photography, but was unsure how that education would manifest into a job. I knew early on I did not want to be a photographer. I loved the conceptualizing and collaborating part of photography but not the technical part of it.

After graduation, I came to NYC and became the web photo intern at New York Magazine. Shortly after that, I joined the print staff as the art assistant in the design department. Working there was the education that I didn’t realize I actually needed. It was a real crash course in understanding how editorial works–from designing layouts to commissioning artists, etc.

I ran the gamut in some ways, even if it was just through observation. But I really missed talking about photography and kept gravitating toward exploring that world. Luckily I ended up in the photo department at GQ.  

What Do Photo Editors Want From Photographers_GQ Magazine

© GQ Magazine

Tell us about your current photography needs at GQ. What aesthetic are you looking for? Or does it range?

What I love about GQ is that we feature a wide range of stories, which gives us a chance to cover all genres of photography. You’ll find a documentary piece, celebrity profile, men’s fashion package, a writeup on the latest cool tech gear and more — all within the same issue.

So our goal is mainly to find high quality photography that meets the needs for each story. We look for photographers with a very clear perspective on whatever it is they’re shooting.

As photo editors at GQ, we like photography that’s exciting, new, and images that pop when you flip through the pages of each issue.

You know good work when you see it. It’s confident and it resonates.  

Where do you typically look to find new photographers to hire? And if you look on Instagram, what tips can you give photographers to attract people like yourself? 

I look all over! Blogs, other magazines, ads, social media…honestly, anywhere. In today’s world, we’re constantly bombarded with images every second, so there are plenty of opportunities to stumble upon something great. When it comes to Instagram–just make sure you have a link to your portfolio site somewhere in your bio (and contact info on your portfolio site.)

What Do Photo Editors Want From Photographers_GQ Magazine

© GQ Magazine

What common mistakes do you see from photographers trying to pitch photo editors for work? How do you actually like to be pitched? 

Persistence is cool, but not badgering. If we haven’t responded, it doesn’t mean we didn’t see your first, second…or third emails. It just means maybe what you’re offering photographically isn’t appropriate for whatever we’re working on at that time.  

What Do Photo Editors Want From Photographers_GQ Magazine

© GQ Magazine

What do you look for in a photographer’s website? What features do you appreciate or annoy you?

Consistency. I think it’s human nature to show off everything one can do or have done. When it comes to building a portfolio, it only makes sense to show off your strengths. You should present your best self. That’s really important, because it helps photo editors figure out where to place you and what story to use you for.

If you have amazing shots of cars, then show those in your portfolio. We don’t need to see mediocre event photography that you took for a friend, just to let us know you’ve also shot events. We’re not just looking for someone that is available to shoot x-subject but someone that can shoot x-subject exceptionally.

If your strength isn’t clear to you, then it certainly isn’t clear to us.

There’s power in a good, tight edit. Gotta keep it tight, gotta keep it right. The second thing I look for is an email address. The third? Updates. Updating is good y’all.

What Do Photo Editors Want From Photographers_GQ Magazine

© GQ Magazine

What’s in store for GQ and GQ Style this year? Are there any exciting shoots or events you can share with us?

We always like to keep it exciting at GQ and GQ Style! We’ve only published four issues of GQ Style, so we’re just getting started. Definitely keep your eyes out for more. As for GQ, we’re still finding new ways to push the envelope with exciting content and great photography and overall swag.

Want more tips to grab attention from photo editors? Check out our guide, Breaking Into Editorial Photography.

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There are 5 comments for this article
  1. Pingback: What Do Photo Editors Want From Photographers? At GQ, Your Images Must Pop - asmp
  2. Maya at 10:13 am

    Interesting that you don’t publish photo credits on a photo-focused blog? I’d love to know who it was that shot these stories…

  3. Larry at 10:50 am

    While I always read these articles, I find it interesting that no one ever mentions “you know, right now I’m looking for “X” for a piece that’s on my desk right now”. It’s always the same, relatively useless, we need images that pop! We are always looking for something new and unique. And, from this article specifically “You know good work when you see it.”. THAT’S helpful in answering what you look for!

    As an often published photographer, here’s what they’re looking for. As they all say, consistent work that reflects a direction or style.

    They want to hire someone who will create for them, the same thing they create for everyone else. Your work will also have to reflect THEIR style. If your work looks like Terry Richardson’s style and they want Annie Leibovitz or Anne Geddes, they aren’t going to call anytime soon. GQ or Elle aren’t going to change their style just because you’re cool and edgy.

    I shoot interior design work and it’s the same thing designers complain about all the time. People are stuck wanting a white kitchen and beige or grey furniture because that’s what they’re used to. As much as we may want to drag them into a new look, it’s not going to happen without a good reason. The same is true with Photo Editors.

    • Scott at 11:52 am

      I agree with you Larry. As a recently retired photojournalist from the Army and Army Reserve Active Duty, I’ve worked with major national accounts dealing with the Army’s public image. The Army is not going to change their style just because I have my own personal approach to photographing any particular subject. My editors have given my some creative license, but in the end, the image needs to portray what the Army what’s to show the public. If my images don’t measure up, I get a talking to and my hands slapped and told not to do it again. If it happens consistently… I get fired!

      However, keep in my, I have a personal approach to photojournalism and editorial work all my own and no one else can duplicate it, nor I theirs. That’s what makes photographers unique. But I still need to conform to the editors wishes on how they want their publication viewed by their target market.

      For those just starting out, and for those who have been around the block a few times, it’s a good idea to get back to the basics of studying your targeted publication and learning all you can about them and submit queries to photo editors with what they want to see… and throwing in your own personal twist at the same time.

      Keeping your editor happy and your creative juices flowing is a daily fine line balancing act.

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