Background: I used to have an active Tumblr, but I got locked out of it and their support staff has been on vacation the past two years. Before that, I ran a site called Too Much Chocolate (honestly truly named after Jack Johnson’s song, Banana Pancakes). Both were dedicated to being resource sites for the photo community and aspiring/emerging photographers. Unlike becoming a CPA, a dentist, or a paramedic, there’s not a direct path to becoming a professional photographer; the sites existed as a guide and an aggregation of information that might be helpful.

The following copy is revived content from my Tumblr, with some minor modifications (I’m a little less slang-y and more proper now), but most of this text is preserved and presented as it was on that site. A lot has changed (Instagram didn’t really exist in its current state, magazines were thick and lucious, content for social wasn’t yet a *thing*), but I wanted to re-post these musings, stuck in time and a marker of my mid-20s. If you have a question, email me, and I’ll do my best to answer it if it’s not touched on below. 


NOV. 18 2013

Got a good question in my personal inbox I wanted to answer for more than one person, so I’ll repost.

Question: “I had a question in regards to contacting editors. Now I’m not sure if it really matters, but is it best to try to get in contact with the main editor/photo editor or a lower tier editor/assistant photo editor. I’d assume that it probably just depends case by case, but thought that there might be a trend you’ve noticed in the past. Thanks so much for your time.”

Answer: write both if you can. There’s not much of a hierarchy, as funny as that sounds, photo editors of different levels just assign different sections. If you’re emerging/starting out, you’re likely to have more success reaching an assistant PE over someone like a photo director, but that’s no a hard and fast rule. That said, you’re more likely to get assigned a front-of-book assignment than a feature assignment if you’re on the newer side of things.

As an aside, and perhaps a more valuable point + thing to think about: never undervalue/underestimate a relationship with an assistant photo editor. Not only are assistant photo editors rad, but these guys will be the ones calling the shots down the line in years to come. Start your healthy, genuine relationships with them now. You’re (probably) young, they’re (probably) young. You guys are going to come up together.

I think there’s a general urge to reach for the top of every photo department, bypassing and sometimes ignoring the hardworking, lovely, younger assistants below. Don’t do this! Send these guys promos, email them, make sure to not bypass and ignore them.

There have been countless now-heads-of-photo-departments i’ve known for 3-5 years, since they were the lowest folks on the totem pole at magazines. I’ve been in touch with them since day one and been in touch with them more than most directors of photography. These are the folks that I work with all the time. It’s great. Things are more candid, I see them for dinners and coffees when in SF or NY, we work on cool assignments.

I just checked my email, I have been emailing with Amy Silverman of outside magazine since sept 2009, when she was in charge of searching stock for front of book. Amy is fucking rad, and has assigned me some amazing and meaty projects over the years as both an assistant and head photo editor. I met with Alex Arnold at Travel + Leisure in april of 2011 when he was an associate photo editor there. One year later, alex sent me to shoot a two different features india over the course of a month.

These ain’t braggin rites, these are just two examples of what happens when you (genuinely genuinely genuinely) develop solid relationships with the photo editors that work at magazines. I say genuinely 3x not only because I like Ginuwine, but because I hear/see/witness photographers referencing photo editors as wax figures that they need to woo, wine + dine, or send silly tchotchkes to… but not treat them like cool people that they are! Don’t do that! Treat them like the cool people that they are!

SEP. 18 2013

I spoke to a Professional Development photo class at CCA a couple weeks ago. I was originally going to try to transcribe but decided post the whole class talk here, it’s about an hour. We get into more meaty stuff around 10 minutes in.

I recorded on my phone, which was really far from my face for the first 5 minutes or so. After I sat down at a table next to my phone the rest of the talk becomes much more clear.

JUN. 6 2012


So I’ve worked with some editors and worked for some companies doing small time shoots and small editorial things. My relationship with editors/publications is kind of going much too slow and I don’t feel confident in sending them promo or emailing them and expecting results. Would it be appropriate to find an agent? I feel confident in my work and abilities but I’m wondering if ever there’s a time to search for representation, would it be now?

What exactly should I be looking for with representation? And what should I be prepared to send them?


By and large, the appropriate time to search for representation is when you literally can no longer manage shooting and client requests and calendars and making estimates and negotiating all at once.

The other time an agent is helpful is if you’re extraordinarily talented but a recluse, and want someone to be your “face” and leave it up to you to just make photographs. But the key thing here is that you need to be extraordinarily talented. 

It sounds like you’re looking for a rep because a rep might help solve your problems, your problems of having few people get back to you about your work. If you don’t feel confident in sending photo editors promo or emailing them and expecting results, why would an agent want to bring you on? It’s one thing for you to be confident in your abilities, but does a photo editor know that? Do you have the right kind of work to back it up? 

There’s a difference between thinking you’re good enough and having the portfolio and chops to start getting work. Alot of people get quickly frustrated by how they can’t get access or meetings to photo editors off the bat. It took me YEARS to get just a meeting at some magazines. Years. Yeeears.

If you can’t get to where you want to go, you need to work harder. Shoot more. Get your email game tighter. Plain and simple. Thinking a rep will do your legwork will not do the trick. I’ve written some photo editors upwards of 10 times before I hear a peep from them. A rep won’t solve your problems.

JUN. 5 2012

How did you find & define your Niche'?

Honestly, I started answering only to myself (while caring about others), and making work only for myself (while making it also work for my clients), and finding my own style of shooting and observing.

There was a long time in 2007-09 when I was 20-22ish where I shot what I thought others wanted to see, not in my style. I was making shitty copies of other people’s work. It looked horrible. Because it was derivative. And it was also of-the-moment. Which sucks. Don’t make work you can pinpoint to a trend.

I finally recognized this. So I started to say “fuck it” and stopped caring about trying to please people and taking the shot I thought people wanted to see. THEN things started happening.

Another example that’s way easier to understand: music. Top 40 aside, the music you probably love will likely sound unique and fresh and unlike anything else ever. From CSNY to Andre 3000, these artists all have their own style and way of seeing/hearing. That’s why you like listening to those bands… chances are you’re not saying, “this is so derivative, it’s great!”. Chances are, the music you love takes you to a new place. And photography should do that too. I’m not saying that I myself do that, I’m saying the greatest women and dudes of our century are doing that.

If you’re looking for visual, photographic inspiration, if you live in a city, go to a BOOKSTORE or LIBRARY and look at anything made before…. 1970. Ok. 80. Maybe some 90’s. To generalize greatly (don’t penalize me here, MFA’s!) Stiedl books are an excellent starting point. Don’t look at the internet. And certainly not some aggregating cool-hunting tumblr.

So, to swing back around, I suggest that you go find your own spot. Stop making the work you think people want, stop trying to emulate. Find your niche. Your way of visually/contextually understanding, observing, seeing.

A last major point: like musicians, or writers, or any artist, it takes time and hard work and alot of crazy ups and downs to make it happen. Some people will find it very soon, some people will take years, some people will never find it. So know that. Keep it in your head. But keep your head up.

JAN. 24 2012

A question posed to me.
It seems you mostly shoot on film but, as every photographer knows, film can be kinda inconsistent in quality. How do you do your big shoots with lots of external factors stressing on you to deliver perfectly.  Do you shoot with a digital back? Do you shoot everything digital as well?  I only ask because as I’m starting to get more shoots in local editorials I’m feeling more pressured to shoot digitally.

An answer:

Is film inconsistent: There is nothing inconsistent about film, as long as you meter. And soon, you build a meter in your mind. Film, if anything, gives me a +/- 2 stop safety net, whereas digital gives me a half stop at best.

How do I make film work for me on big shoots: My friend, photographers have been shooting BIG jobs on film for decades.

It’s amazing how digital photography all of a sudden made shooting film on assignment, or for commercial work (which I still can get away with, sometimes), seem RISKY. The possibility of exposed film/botched film seems almost more manageable to me then a corrupted card or something like that (and that’s why there are digi techs and why they get paid to keep assets safe).

Again, people are gonna argue either way, but the idea of needing a backup for film is such a 21st century mindspell. Ask any of the photographers working professionally from the 30’s to 2005 how they mitigated the risk of shooting film and they’d slap you. All you gotta do it be diligent and attentive and care alot, the same you would for digital, or anything else in this world.

On shooting film on assignment/getting pushed to shoot digitally: do what you want. As long as you satisfy the client’s needs (budgetwise, visually, and turnaround-wise) shoot exactly and only what you want. Your style, your preferred method, your everything… and that bleeds into camera choice too. You need to make the shots your own and give it your own flavor and style. It’s a win-win-win-win-win. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

There have been so many shoots where I shot on film cause I love my RZ and 7 so much. It wasn’t the client’s decision, it was mine. But we all win. I get to have fun and use my favorite cameras, they win cause they get the best work I can make with my favorite cameras, and I probably get hired again cause I made work in my own style I’m not trying to pick fights, I’m talking about what works for ME. If a 5D works for you, go to town.

Let’s continue talking about the economics of having fun for a second. Photography shouldn’t feel like a job. We all got into it for the love of taking photos. Though it’s sometimes hard to keep it in that realm once you start working more, you need to keep the value of “having fun” and “loving life” at the forefront of your little start-up business. I’ll level with you. This can be a long, bumpy, often solitary career, and you will need as many positive forces in your life and work as you can find. For me, shooting with my favorite cameras and film stands at the forefront. It keeps me excited to go into the studio every day for 6-8 hours and toil away at a photography business. It keeps me excited to travel. It keeps me connected to why, and how, I started shooting photos when I was 14 years old. Shooting film is a giant pain in the ass, time-consuming, and not by any means a “smart decision” but I love it and it’s totally worth all the extra time and money to me.

There were tons of assignments I lost money on cause I shot film as opposed to digital. Did I enjoy the shoots more? Yes. Do I remember each of them still? Yes. Do I think it helped me get more work? Yes. Was it a good investment? Entirely. If a small editorial client doesn’t get why you’re not shooting digitally, it’s probably because they haven’t had anyone request it for 2 or 3 years. As long as you tell them you can come in on-budget (often you’ll lose some money) and on-time, they’ll usually leave it up to you.

So, to circle back. Shoot what you want, with the camera you prefer, in the style you love. Whatever this recipe is for you, follow it. Bam.

JAN. 18 2012

If you’re just joining, I’m writing a large 4 piece post on what I think are the four most important things you can do to become a professional photographer.

1. Assist
2. Build a network with other photographers/create a solid community around you
3. Intensively shoot personal work every week and work on projects
4. Start small (with commissioned shoots), even if they’re for weekly papers

Today will be about the last piece of the puzzle-y pie, which all is about dipping your toes into commissioned work, no matter how small, boring, or lame it appears on the surface. If you have specific followup questions, drop a line and I will answer them.

Repost this, too, if you want to share it. Liking it won’t get it too far. It’s like giving a thumbs up from really far away.


Start small, cause you’re gonna need it: I’m going to start off with a story about blowing it.

The shoot was for I.D. magazine. The year was 2009. The assignment was to photograph a very very high-up Nike exec at their HQ outside Portland, OR. The subject headed up Nike’s ambitious sustainability program. It was my first assignment ever out of school. Not a bad shoot to get somewhat off the bat. I was pumped, I remember getting the call while walking along 34th street while I was in NYC, after the Photo Plus Expo. I had recently gotten an iphone 3 and remember furiously and excitedly typing in details into the phone’s Notepad, afraid everything relayed to me from the photo editor would slip from my memory the moment we hung up.

Once I got back to Portland a couple days later, I started communicating with the PR lady in charge of this woman. Let’s call her Gail (60% chance her name was Gail). The PR lady emailed me, “OK, you have 15 minutes to set up, and 10 minutes to photograph Gail”. Being totally green and eager to please, I wrote back something like, “great!”. Total and utter mistake #1. I did have the tact and foresight to ask her about options where the shoot could take place. A library/research space was settled upon. I didn’t ask many other followup questions, we just planned on a time and a date.

The time and date then arrived. I was ten minutes early and super nervous. I brought a 5D, a 24-105mm lens, and a 580EX flash. The big guns. Also known as everything I owned at the time. Depending on how necessary you view gear preparedness, this could be mistake #3, but at the same time, I would feel highly comfortable with this kit if I were to redo this shoot tomorrow, knowing what I now know.

Anyway, I check in with the receptionist at 2:20. I was to liaison with the PR lady at 2:30, begin the shoot at 2:45, be done by 3. The receptionist is sweet, tells me to have a seat on one of the 1,000 black leather chairs Nike bought for their headquarters. I check my email. 2:27. I try to think about shooting ideas. 2:30. Totally got off topic in my head. 2:33. Now I realize that I was cutting into my prep time. 2:36. Getting really nervous. 2:38. A nice british lady comes up, introduces herself as the PR person, we small talk up the elevator. She apologizes for being late yet still asks if it’s still ok to start in 6 fucking minutes. I’m not even really present by that point, I’m just trying to not spazz out on the fact that I have so little time to prep, or scout, or even put the lens on my camera. But I still say I’m ready. Totally awful.

We get to the library, and it’s not the airy, bright space I’d imagined (most of Nike public spaces are… so I just kinda… assumed). No. This is a fluorescent-lit, ceiling-tiled, 1950’s Academia meets just-the-tip of IKEA type of library. Grey carpet, beige metal bookshelves. 2:41. I put my camera together and hurriedly attempt to “scout” the space. I fire some test shots sans flash, and they look (tonally) flatter than plain cardboard. I put on my flash and attempt to bounce it into the ceiling. It looks like slightly brighter than plain cardboard.

I feel like a floundering fish at this point. I’m so overwhelmed that I haven’t addressed anything tactfully, I haven’t solved any problems, I haven’t locked down even one good location in this library to shoot. 2:48. Gail arrives. We talk for 3 minutes because I can’t just sit her down and start shooting, I need to establish some sort of rapport. This was good. I don’t think she could tell I was utterly unprepared or nervous.

I begin to shoot, except what I’m shooting, ostensibly, are test shots, which I should have already done. Except I didn’t give myself any time. So now I’m just experimenting on the fly with the subject, which sounds edgy and awesome, except it wasn’t. Because what I was shooting was awful. I remember looking into my LCD and just having this total sinking feeling, like I couldn’t salvage the shoot, 6 minutes in. 5 I felt like an apple had been shoved down my throat.

Eventually, I sat Gail on this hideous circular chair, put a couple of these new Nike enviro-friendly shoes around her, and with the PR lady counting down the final couple minutes, ended the shoot at 3:00. I thanked the PR lady and Gail, and walked out with my camera on my shoulder, which at the time, began to feel more like a lead weight.

I remember, SO vividly, how the second I stepped outside, I was able to step outside myself, and how I was flooded with a thousand ideas of how I could have made that shooting situation work so much better. So many solutions. That is why, to this day, I try to step aside from a shoot for at least 30 seconds, sometimes 5 minutes if I have the time, sometimes several times during a shoot, to clear my head and re-approach things with a fresh perspective, as opposed to getting so wrapped up and bound by tunnelvision.

The moral of this long story is that, as an emerging photographer, there’s a 98% chance you’re going to absolutely, terribly bomb some of your first commissioned assignments, but you’ll learn a million lessons, every one will stay with you because you were personally involved and invested, and you’ll apply everything you learned that day in every future shoot. And this cycle will repeat over and over again. And that’s how salty, legendary photographers are born.

I felt like I learned a million things on this shoot, here are a handful of them:

  • Prep and scout time: the more the merrier. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re rushing through either a scout or a setup. Give yourself the time you need. 15 minutes is a joke. It’s doable, and sometimes what you’ll get handed, but really, try to get at least 30-45 minutes for unlit work, to walk around, to get a good vibe going, etc. If you’re lighting, at least 1-2 hours. Time flies.

  • Scouting and having location options: I try to never get tied down to one location, like one room in this shoot. What if the room is awful? Again, sometimes you won’t have the luxury for several locations (it can be several rooms inside and outside a house). Don’t be afraid to take the subject into your comfort zone. My comfort zone is anywhere outside. I don’t so much enjoy dimly lit interiors. Some people love that control, I prefer the sun.

  • Stick to your guns when it comes to prep time, and if someone cuts into it, try to keep your bubble of prep. Obviously it can be a bit touchy if the subject is important, but it truly can’t hurt to ask, nicely.

  • Have ideas before you come into a shoot. Never come into a shoot blank. Have at least 2-4 solid concepts (it can even be as simple as “direct, tight headshot next to a window”) under your belt. That way, if you feel like you’re floundering, you have backup plans.

  • That said, don’t go into a shoot closed off to other possibilities. It’s a fine line. Leave yourself open to where the moment, the situation, the environment can take you. You’ll learn how to walk that line.

So if and when you bomb, do it on small assignments for regional publications that hopefully no one will see. Small commissioned assignments are going to be the way for you to earn your chops and learn how to navigate foreign situations, tricky environments, squeezed timeframes, and sometimes tough conditions. (Note: I don’t mean to imply that every shoot is an uphill battle. Sometimes, everything comes together so nicely. The light is perfect, the subject is down to try anything, the whole day is blocked off, it’s all good. You’ll come across both types of situations in your lifetime.)

Most everybody starts out small. Baby steps. Big national magazines aren’t going to call you right away, unless you’re awesome or lucky. In todays day and age, starting out small can mean the local weekly or city magazine (which can be admittedly dull), OR these days, it can also mean awesome internet upstart magazines that are all over the place, the forerunner being Self-Titled (in my opinion).

Regardless where you start, put as much care, detail, time, and focus into these small shoots as you would for a larger magazine. Don’t treat it as a throwaway. Treat it as if you’re shooting for your dream publication.

When you treat small assignments like they’re big assignments, you’ll get calls back from the client you’re working for, they’ll give you more latitude, more work, more money to pay your rent with, more responsibility. It’s like baby steps within baby steps. Additionally, don’t go in an treat a small job like it’s a hassle to scratch of the day’s to-do list. If you’re shooting a restaurant, try to give it your own style, try shooting food (I now really love shooting food), try dragging out some of the kitchen staff for a portrait session by the front window (you brought a seamless, right?). There’s absolutely nothing tying you down to take shitty photos, no matter the job. Make the job count. Commit to making some work worth putting in your portfolio. That’s how you find your style, that’s what will make you stand out from the crowd, that’s what will make you unique as a photographer. But above all, make  photographs you care about.

JAN. 9 2012

If you’re just joining, I’m writing a large 4 piece post on what I think are the four most important things you can do to become a professional photographer.

1. Assist
2. Build a network with other photographers/create a solid community around you
3. Intensively shoot personal work every week and work on projects
4. Start small (with commissioned shoots), even if they’re for weekly papers

Today will be about initiative #3, shooting personal work. If you have specific followup questions, drop a line and I will answer them.


Personal Work: You’re now assisting and you’ve got this totally awesome network. You’re schlepping C-stands, you’re learning about the wonders of grids and beauty dishes, you’re shit talking on Chase Jarvis, you’re crafting the BEST artist statement, you are meeting friends for coffee and talking about how frustrated you are that you’re not getting anywhere and nobody is assigning anything.

But hey you’re missing the, uh, actual photo work.

¾’s of this whole “I like totally wanna be take photos professionally!” equation, and your ultimate success, depends on your ability to make great photographs.

Too many people unfortunately often forget about this part of the equation (somehow), and either jump the gun into marketing and start without the requisite portfolio, OR they’ll never get it and they’ll throw money at the problem, never understanding why they’re not getting to where they want to go. Time and time again I see alot of folks trying to show their work at huge magazines, or honestly thinking they’re in a place they haven’t quite reached yet, without the appropriate body of work behind them.

Nobody is going to hire you unless you have a solid portfolio that demonstrates that you can consistently take awesome photographs.


Shooting personal work is the easiest and hardest thing you’ll ever do. Easy because all you have to do is head out with your camera. Hard because you have to head out with your camera and shoot photos.

Throughout my college years, my teachers told me, “shoot more, shoot more, shoot more” and I was like “shut up where’s the shortcut”? I’m mostly kidding but I DID think it was a kind of dumb copout of a lesson to instill, at the time, but the concept of “shoot shoot shoot” is hands down the best thing that can propel you forward.

Shoot constantly, make mistakes, get messy. Develop your own personal projects. It’s ok to not finish them if you realize you’re not into it after some time, as long as you pick another one up. This shooting process will help you figure out what you gravitate towards shooting, in what style you like to shoot in, what your strengths and weaknesses are (and how to capitalize on the former and strengthen the latter), how you behave in certain situations, and what kind of photographer you are. There is NO other way to discover these things, and the process is shooting personal work is totally, utterly fundamental to your photographic development. There is no way around it.

OK another point: Emerging photographers of the world: understand that you are selling a service. This service is photography.

Tell me: would you ever go hire a plumber, or caterer, or tailor, if he/she were only able to show you one project? If a caterer were to tell you, “yeah, so I’ve only cooked for two small dinner parties… well really just three of my friends. We served hot ham soup, but I could tooooooooooootally nail cooking for your large wedding party!” No. This wouldn’t happen.

Photography is no different. Again, I don’t want to commercialize, commodify, or finance-ify (??) photography because there are MFAs up in here reading this and they all just heavily sighed, but let’s be real here folks. Photographers provide a unique service: we need to be professionals at performing under pressure, not great situations, time crunches, bad light, rolling with the punches, and making awesome work through all of these obstacles. This means rising to the occasion and being very dependable at taking awesome, engaging, unique photographs under a range of situations beyond our control, even if the subject gives us only 5 minutes, even if we’re jetlagged, even if it’s dumping rain, even if the absolute fucking last thing we want to do is go out and make some photographs, we’ve gotta go out and perform.

A magazine trusts and depends on you to perform and make excellent work, no matter the conditions. This is one of the biggest insights I’ve learned this year. My whole picture-taking life I’d always had the luxury to take photos on my own terms, on my own time, in my preferred light and environment. Editorial (and most commercial) photograhy doesn’t work like that, for the aforementioned reasons.

So here’s the thing. If you can’t show a photo editor a solid body of personal work that you’ve shot on your own time and in ideal conditions (or personal mixed with the beginnings of commissioned work), how could they trust and depend on you (and put their own reputation on the line) to ostensibly go and make great images, likely out of your comfort zone? They really can’t. So they’re not gonna hire you.

You need to approach a photo editor with a preexisting body of work that does not speculate on the fact that you might take really good photographs if you were hired. Your portfolio needs to prove this. It can be 100% personal work. You just need to demonstrate that you can shoot. Your portfolio and website need to be a vehicle that high fives photo editors and wraps its arms around their shoulder and softly whispers in their ear, “hey, hop in my Hyundai Sonata, let’s do this, I got you”.

Simplest sentence ever #1: If you’re not getting calls (or even meetings), your work isn’t there yet. You need to get your work there. You are the only one that can do this. Money won’t help. It could take a couple months, it could take years. When the work is there, the calls will start to come along. But not until you, and only you, get it there. This is a universal truth.

Simplest sentence ever #2: Any time you’re in a rut, you need to know and remind yourself and understand the ONLY way to get out of this rut is by making more work, pushing harder, did I say work harder? Nothing is gonna happen when you slump down. Just lost time and wasted days. So get up and keep hammering, working hard infinitely. 

Simplest sentence ever #3: The longer you bitch, the more you complain, the more inactive you are in getting to where you want to go, the longer, bitchier, harder, and more unpleasant it will be.

JAN. 6 2012

If you’re just joining, I’m writing a large 4 piece post on what I think are the four most important things you can do to become a professional photographer.

1. Assist
2. Build a network with other photographers/create a solid community around you
3. Intensively shoot personal work every week and work on projects
4. Start small (with commissioned shoots), even if they’re for weekly papers

Today will be about initiative #2, building a network. I will roll the last two initiatives in the following week . These pieces will be a bit all over the place but, hey, so am I. If you have specific followup questions, drop a line and I will answer them.


This is what I have to say about building a network.

OK, so you’re assisting. Making money, and when your job is done you can leave it all behind. Or continue to work on your own shit later that night. But it’s also incredibly helpful to have a network of friends who are in the same position as you. A camaraderie/support/motivation/inspiration network. Women and men who are also going through the struggles, the ups and downs, of trying to make it. People you can turn to when you have questions on how to get your foot in the door at a certain magazine, or how to price out something on an estimate when you’re on your own, or just sharing the work of photographers you love. These are people to bounce work, ideas, projects, great experiences, trainwrecks, and totally meta thoughts off of. People to help slingshot forward, cyclically, till all of you are where you want to be, or are collectively making your way there.

For me, the closest people in this group are

Geordie Wood

Daniel Shea

Adam Golfer

Joao Canziani

Emiliano Granado

Thomas Prior

Noah Kalina

This is when you check out their work too, cause they are awesome.

Oh snap, did you see what I just did? I was a hypeman. I’m going to digress for a second, starting right now. In photography, there are roughly three camps: insular photographers who do their own thing and don’t outwardly interact (I’m cool with them, I respect that), photographers who hoard everything and consider everything to be proprietary (I don’t get them), and those like myself who are pretty much open-source, who love photography and having a network of peers and want so badly to see others succeed, cause it’s such a pleasure to see friends you love so much making rad, progressive, excellent work for great clients.

As an example, as Daniel and I have built up solid rapports with disparate clients over the years, there came a time last year where we spent like a month basically getting each other in with our respective client bases. I had been working for Dwell, Daniel’s work was a perfect fit, I introduced him to Amy Silberman (one of the raddest photo editors to have EVER roamed the planet), and soon Daniel was getting work through Amy. If you saw the home in South Carolina he shot for DWELL….. yeah it’s one of the best things I’ve seen editorially last year. Daniel’s done the same for me as well, and so has Adam… Adam brought me into Travel + Leisure, a title I’d never been able to get a cold meeting at…. within a year I’d shot two features for them.

I also recently gave Joao almost all my NYC ad agency contacts, happily. You want to know why? Cause he’s rad and I love his work and he’s got this sexy Peruvian accent thing going that makes me weak in the knees. But seriously, I do it cause I want to. I really don’t know any other way. How can you not want to help your friends? I want to see my friends succeed, and honestly, all of these things come back around. You can get on the bandwagon or not, but I assure you, you’ve got a longer distance to walk if you go your own way.

Have some fun, make some friends, get to know some people, meld this career together with your life. So many of these photographers I speak of have turned into some of my closest friends, in part because we all can “get” each other so quickly and so well, in part because we’re all going through the same life pursuit, and in part because I feel like I can really get to know someone by looking at their work.

Bottom line: get yourself a network, keeps yourself happy, connected, stoked, enthusiastic about the photographic company you keep, and helps everyone move ahead.

JAN. 3 2012

If you’re just joining, I’m writing a large 4 piece post on what I think are the four most important things you can do to become a professional photographer.

1. Assist
2. Build a network with other photographers/create a solid community around you
3. Intensively shoot personal work every week and work on projects
4. Start small (with commissioned shoots), even if they’re for weekly papers

Today will be about initiative #1, assisting. I will roll the other three out every couple days or so. They’re gonna be a bit all over the place but, hey, so am I. If you have specific followup questions, drop a line and I will answer them.

So here is what I have to say about assisting. People either love or hate assisting. I personally loved my time assisting. I always tried to come into shoots with the goal of learning at least one new thing by the end of the day, if not twenty. Now that I’m hiring my own assistants, here are some tips. First, stay off your fucking phone! Be observant. You’re getting paid to take in what you like, and don’t like, about the photographer’s shooting style, lighting, rapport with the subjects. Notice what you like and what works, and what you think he/she is doing poorly that you’d change when you shoot.

Assisting is a great way to make rent, develop relationships, get to know gear better, learn advanced and nuanced lighting techniques, gather advice, observed how to problem solve, manage your time well before and during the shoot. Geez, I could go on and on. I think it’s one of the best tools to learn how to become a photographer. So stay off your phone. Twitter will be there at the end of the day. Don’t tune out. See what can be done, and use the time to observe everything.

It’s remarkably easy to keep getting work from certain photographers when you do your job well. It’s also remarkably easy to not get any more work if you’ve got a bad attitude, don’t work hard, space out, are constantly on your phone (can you tell it’s a pet peeve?). I was guilty of it too in my assisting days, but now that I’m on the other side, it’s just frustrating when something needs to be done, and I’m the one that needs to do it, while the assistant dicks around on his/her phone, not paying attention. Also, show intent, care, hard work, motivation to learn, and being a solid member of a team, and a willingness to make the shoot run smoothly. That’s all it takes. I assure you, you’ll get a solid rep around town and soon have more work than you know what to do with.

How to get assisting work: Net(work) your ass off. Research every photographer you can in your city. Write them specific and personal emails to them, call out shots of theirs and why you like them. It is the only way you’ll get a response, and a meeting with that photographer. You know what sucks? Getting an email from a prospective assist or intern or college student that obviously is writing 15 different photographers with the same exact email. That shows you don’t care. Why would anyone want to hire/write back/interact with someone who doesn’t care? 

Anyway, digression aside. Arrange meetings with every photographer who you can in your city. Even if you don’t like their work, have some respect for their work. Don’t meet with people whose work you hate. Not worth it. Meet with them for coffee, have a good attitude, demonstrate a solid knowledge of photography, show you know some gear. Ask them for 3-5  other photographers you should be meeting with in town. Reach out to those folks, meet with them, and do the same, until you’ve met with everyone.

Also important… very important: stay in touch with these people every month, even if they don’t give you work. Do this for at least six months. Photographers (and photo editors) get courted all the time. Often just once. Be the guy/girl who rises above and stays in touch. That signifies you care, you’re not a flash in the pan. Also, from personal experience, I need reminders from people…. I can have a great interaction with someone…. but if I don’t hear from that person for 2-4 months…. guess what? I forget their name. I remember they were rad, but I can’t look them up!

That’s all I have to really say about assisting. Oh, I will say I personally value someone who has a good attitude and is a good traveling companion over a person who has alot of gear know-how but I don’t really vibe well with. Preferably, the assistant will have both awesomeness and gear knowledge. Shoutout to my buddy Carlos, who fills this dual role so well! If you’re looking to get into assisting, show this companionship side in your meetings. But even if you’re the coolest dude/dudette in school, it’s real hard to me to hire you for shoots, cause if you don’t know how to set up a 7B, or octabank, or the right way an arm should go off a c-stand (clockwise, so the knuckle self-tightens), or meter lights individually, etc, I’ll be the one who’s gotta do it. They way to get to know gear is to offer to come work for free as a 2nd or 3rd assist and acquire gear knowledge, or work in a rental shoppe. Then, photographers will be callin you.

AUG. 30 2011

I wrote this October 2009 on too much chocolate, but alot of people have been asking lately on how to get meetings, so I will post here.

Before beginning, I want to put out a cardinal rule:

A quality portfolio and website, full of tightly edited work that distinctly shows the way you shoot- your voice- is your gateway to getting meetings.

I really can’t stress this enough, and I say it as objectively as possible (I’m really truly not trying to be self-referential). If your work is thin, all over the place, poorly laid out, weak, confusing, or if spending even just two minutes on your site is generally puzzling, you’re not going to get meetings. In a very rare case, a PE might see some promise in some of your shots, and will be generous enough with their time to spend 5-10 minutes piecing your non-linear sequencing, layouts, and edits in order to understand it all. They might get back to you, but just don’t make them do that in the first place. (I am obviously not a PE myself, but have looked at enough websites for forum access to TMC and have talked to enough photo editors to get it).

One last note: most of what I write focuses around magazines and photo editors (PE’s), but approaching ad agencies and Art Buyers/Directors is really the same, so a lot of what I describe for magazines is interchangeable with agencies. Additionally, alot of this information is totally applicable for promos and mailers as well.

1.) Preparation. Setup/Research/Approach:

You will start getting the ball rolling by sending out emails to the PE’s you want to meet with, at the magazines you want to shoot for. This is very, very important: your approach to arranging meetings should not be based on spraying a generic email all over town, announcing that you’re going to be around and that you’d like to meet. The more untailored and spammy your emails are, the more ineffective and useless they become. Think of it this way: you’re not dredging the ocean floor, seeing what you can pick up along the way (and damaging/killing other creatures along the way). You need to be setting out certain lines to catch specific fish.

You’ve got to know whom you want to meet with, and the more research you do beforehand, the more focused and efficient the whole process becomes. You wouldn’t arrange or walk into an interview without knowing about the company, so take the same approach with magazines or ad agencies.

In the case of magazines, spend some quality time at a bookstore- hours and hours- looking at titles from all different sections of the racks. Heartily flip through them. Notice how the sections work, who is shooting, what the stories focus on, how they do layout, what kind of work the magazine seems to gravitate towards. Take notes. Are the photos in the magazine full of energy, are they quiet, are they dynamic, are they lo-fi, do they all seem to be blasted to hell with strobes? Try to line the magazine content up with your work, make sure it’s on par.

From here, figure out- based on your current/existing portfolio- if you could see this magazine hiring you for assignments. Don’t be dreamy, don’t make stretches, be real about it. If you’re shooting X and the magazine doesn’t really run anything other than Y, it might be a waste of both your time and theirs to approach them. That said, never pigeonhole a magazine for having a visual style set in concrete: this is why looking at the entire magazine is important. There are many titles out there that have a distinctively different front-of-book, compared to the feature sections in the back. I’ll get back to this later. Finally, don’t dismiss magazines or skip over certain sections, unless you clearly are not shooting food, architecture, etc. But for example, if you never thought you’d shoot for O magazine, check it out, because might be running stories you could be shooting.

Your approach to ad agencies is very similar, except it involved looking online at each agency’s site, checking out their campaigns, their clients, their layout. Ad agencies are a lot trickier to attribute work to, because companies switch agencies, use multiple agencies for various aspects of marketing, and art buyers tend to work on specific campaigns- you don’t know which. But still, you can do your homework.

2.) Getting contact info:

So you’ve done your research on the magazines. You know the titles you want to meet with (or send email/print promos to, for the time being).

One big factor remains: you need contact info for these people. Both email addresses and phone numbers. You can get this a number of ways. If you’ve got hella money, you can buy into a big ol’ list of contacts, like Agency Access. It only costs $1,000+ dollars. Which, for most struggling photographers, is a lot of money to pay for some contact information. If you’ve got the dough, go for it. It’s the easiest and quickest route to get this info.

If you aren’t loaded enough to drop that kind of money for this service, you’ve still got options.

- Option #1: You’ve got a pen and paper. As you’re researching magazines, look at the masthead of each title. Write down each name/title in the photo department, the address of the magazine, and the title’s general telephone number. Go home with this list, call each title, ask to speak to the photo dept, and when someone picks up the phone on the 8th try (seriously no joke), ask about their process of having photographers in for meetings. Get that person’s email address. Send them your site. Work your way in from there. This process is incredibly time intensive and it will feel like you’re crawling up a steep mountain at times, but it can pay off.

- Option #2: Have you been doing a good job assisting for certain photographers? Do they ‘owe you one’ for that job they needed you for, in a pinch, when the budget was super small? Or are they just good people? Ask for a handful of magazine contacts from them. Realize the smaller the market you live in, the less likely this is to happen. It helps if you shoot radically different than this photographer.

- Option #3: Bro/Sis down with some hungry photographers friends of yours, either locally or on the internets, and share all the resources you have. I recommend doing this anyway, all the time. Expand your network. It feels good and it’s immensely helpful and supportive.

Regardless of how you get your contact info, organize it in some way that makes sense to you, like on an Excel spreadsheet (I’m not saying excel makes sense). You’re ready to start writing your first round of emails. Yes, the first round of many.

3.) The first round of emails:

You’re ready to really wow these PE’s! You’re gonna show them tons of pizzazz, you’re gonna tell them how awesome your newest project is, you’re gonna tell them what kind of cameras you shoot with, you’re gonna share your artist statement with them!

Your email will likely be the 30th, 50th, or 90th that photo editor receives that day falling under the category of ‘promo’. These PE’s are busy people. They are probably working with fewer staff in the photo department than they were last year because there’s no ad money coming in. So they’re likely doing more work for the same amount of money, similar to the rest of the photo industry.

The photo editors you are sending your emails to might have anywhere between negative 5 seconds to 20 seconds to fully read it. You need to be concise, to the point, efficient, friendly, non-rambling, and quick to share the purpose of the email. There can’t be much in the way of extraneous wordage. In the case of the “I’d like to set up a meeting” email, I’ve found it best to say where you’re located, 10-15 words about your work (especially if you have a new project) that is hyperlinked to your site in the body of the email, the dates you’re going to be in town, and a small promo image. It better be fast loading, so make it 300-500px wide, compressed for web. Have 9 or 10 compressed promo/teaser images on hand, and tailor the best one to whoever you’re writing to.

Finally, show you care, show that you’ve been checking out their magazine, understand their assignments, and know their look. Make it clear you’re not just throwing out the net and seeing what gets caught. Be quick and specific. Going off the Oprah magazine reference earlier, write that you really enjoyed the Katherine Wolkoff photos that ran last issue, or that you think your work would fit well in W magazine’s front of book section. The more you show you care- and you really should care anyway- the more response you will get from PEs.

My personal response rate from these types of ‘cold emails’ (where I’ve never contacted the person before) was 30-40%; high by most standards, especially high by blast email standards. It’s totally worth the effort; every response led to a meeting, which is arguably the best way to start a really good relationship with a photo editor.

4.) The follow-up

For those who haven’t done much of this kind of email writing/campaigning before (and I’m not calling myself a veteran by any means), even a 20-30% response rate seems very low. You’re putting in all this effort, writing these individual letters, and you don’t hear back from 7 or 8 out of every 10 people you’re emailing. It might feel like a lot of time lost, but don’t get discouraged. Most importantly, you absolutely cannot take it personally. Even if you get few responses from your first round of emailing, this of it as a foundation point for each and every one of the PE’s you’re trying to reach.

As I wrote before, PE’s are busier than ever, but the majority of them are, in fact, looking at these emails sent to them. The might not click through to a site, and if the email and promo image are abominable, it’ll get deleted real quick. But there’s a great chance, especially if you wrote a good note to them and had a well-fitting image, that they will remember you and your work, albeit for the short term.

The 2 days after you send a PE an email are crucial, because you’re likely top-of-mind still, so if you follow up within this time frame, there’s a good chance your name might still register. Furthermore, going along with the theme of uber-busy photo editors, I have followed up with several who literally told me, “oh yeah, I really liked your work alot, I checked out your site”. This is the reality- everything could be set up perfectly: you write a great email, the PE checks out the work and likes it, and all of a sudden your great email is buried and there’s a crazy deadline for them tomorrow. It’s up to you to slip in there while the iron is still hot make setting up a meeting a breeze for these folks. In many ways, the followup is just as crucial as the original email.

What’s the best way to follow up? Two options. Send another email. Or make a phone call. Or send a fruit basket. Breaking it down:

Email: Safer/less ‘scary’ for many photogs, more comfortable, some PE’s prefer it to the phone, the PE might be out of the office but checking email. Con: The exact same thing you’re trying to combat- a lack of response from your original email- is likely to happen again.

Phone: Riskier than an email, for one. If you’re not good on the phone, if you get real awkward and tend to blurt out stupid things you wish you didn’t say, or stutter, or space out while on the phone, I don’t recommend calling up a Director of Photography of any major magazine. It’ll probably leave a bad impression. Some PE’s abhor getting cold calls, and you can catch them at absolutely the wrong time, which is no good. Also, expect the people you’re calling to pick up only 25-35% of the time.

The plus side of the phone: to be totally honest, it’s a super efficient, almost ruthlessly efficient, way to get done what you need to get done. It’s undivided real-time attention; the person you’re talking to can’t store you to be read later and forget about it. It’s great. But respect this on-the-phone time, and be as concise on the phone as you would be in emails.

If you call a PE, understand their time is precious, and be ready to fire on all cylinders. If you’re trying to set up a meeting, have your calendar up and ready to go. Know what you’re going to say. Spend no more than 10 initial seconds saying who you are, and why you’re calling. If you sent an email two days before (give em a day to get back to you in the first place), throw in a quick reference. For example, I say “I’m the Portland photographer who emailed you two days ago”.

If they don’t seem incredibly anxious to get you off the phone, ask if they’d like to set up a meeting time right then and there. If they do seem incredibly anxious to get you off the phone, respect that and listen for it. Be gracious. Say you’ll email them your site again, right away. So that 3 minutes later, they can associate the email they just received with the kind photographer who totally understood they were busy and emailed instead.

5.) You’re halfway there!

Tens of hours later, after filling up several pieces of paper with magazine contact info, after organizing a spreadsheet, after spending many mornings emailing many PE’s, after spending several afternoons doing follow-ups, you have four meetings! Hopefully you get more than that; set your sights as high as they deserve to be, but know there is a 99% that you will get frustrated at some point, there is a 99% chance that you will take this sluggish process more personally than it truly is, and that there’s a 99% chance that you will question why the hell you got yourself into a career of photography in the first place. But remember that it’s a long and slow ascent, and that you’re putting time into yourself, for a medium and profession you ultimately love. Try not to lose sight of that.