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Seven Things You Should Know About Photo Editors

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Copyright Scott Bourne 2010 - All Rights Reserved

By Scott Bourne

I am very lucky. I get to work with a few photo editors who are very good at their jobs. The people I know do their best to respect me and my work. My relationships with some of them go back 20 plus years. I am past just being professionally involved with these people; we’re friends. Thankfully, I am at the point in my career where I no longer have to deal with submissions to people I don’t know, and who don’t know me. But I’ve done thousands of them back in the day, and along the way, I’ve learned some things about photo editors that NOBODY else will tell you. I can tell you because I don’t have to worry about making these people angry. My livelihood doesn’t depend on them. But if you need to deal with them want the upper hand, here are some things you should know about many photo editors. And before I get to the list, remember, this post is ALL about generalization. There will be photo editors who don’t resemble anything on this list. But there are more who do than don’t. And a large majority of today’s photo editors will share at least a couple of these traits. Being forewarned about them can get you ahead, as long as you know what to look for and can suck it up and deal with it. And lastly, this may sound like I’m trying to be “mean” to the photo editors. I am not. I am trying to prepare the photographers who read this for the real world. Photography as a job can be harsh. Reality checks sometimes can soften the blow. In my experience, knowing what’s coming makes it easier to deal with than being surprised.

1. Photo editors don’t like to deal with new photographers because they are typically comfortable in their current relationships. In order to break in, you’re going to have to go the extra mile – through many, many hoops. If you’re not prepared for that, you should take another road.

2. Photo editors don’t like for you to miss your portfolio deadlines. They don’t like for you to miss your phone conferences. They don’t like for you to be late. They don’t like for you to miss submission deadlines. Yet, they expect YOU to forgive them for all of the same transgressions. They will more often than not pay you late and even sometimes, they’ll pay you less than they agreed to pay. They will miss meetings with you. They will be late in general. They expect a free pass from you. Deal with it. This isn’t something that is fair, but it is true. The buyers hold the upper hand.

3. Photo editors typically have big egos. After all, they get to say who does and who doesn’t work. They like to be, and expect to be stroked. If you know this going in, then you can use it to your advantage. Just don’t overdo it. These folks deserve your respect. They in fact demand it. A few of the good ones will even earn it.

4. Photo editors don’t like to do your job and their job. This is reasonable. Pay attention to detail. If the photo editor has to work extra hard to hire you, he/she is simply going to choose someone else’s photo to publish. They don’t want to do any more work than they absolutely have to. Get your part right.

5. Photo editors don’t care what you went through to get the shot. They really don’t. It’s just “art” filling a space on a page. They just need the picture, not your sob story.

6. Photo editors will butcher your photo. They will crop it wrong. They will change the color. They will do everything they can to mess up what you had in mind when you pressed the shutter. So what? If you got paid, live with it. Complaining won’t help. They’ll just pick another photographer next time so expect it and move on.

7. Photo editors go crazy if you waste their time, but since they are the buyer and it’s a buyer’s market, they don’t mind wasting your time. Again, you are on the short end of the stick here so it’s wrong to expect that you are going to get a fair shake. Be ready for portfolio calls that have to be acted on “before end of business today” only to find out that the editor doesn’t really have a need for new stuff until next year. I’ve lived through it and so will you.

If it it looks like I am trying to talk you out of submitting images to photo editors I apologize. That’s not my intent. If it looks like I think photo editors are bad people I apologize. That is also not my intent. What I am trying to do is tell the truth and avoid sugar coating what is in any reasonable person’s mind a tough market. The combination of royalty-free stock, a proliferation of photographers, and shrinking markets make it tougher than ever to break in. Someone will however do it. The photographers who can deal with the stuff on this list and still keep going will win.

This post sponsored by WHCC – White House Custom Colour – Get Five Free 8×10 Prints From WHCC


Written by scottbourne

June 3, 2010 at 6:17 am

Posted in Business

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10 Responses

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  1. Scott, I think that here is a great opportunity to cement the relationship with some of those editors that you speak about. Why not list their name in a column so that we will be sure to ‘submit’ our work to them. Kind of like the song “Alice’s Resturant” where Arlo sings “…the only reason I’m
    singing you this song now is cause you may know somebody in a similar
    situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if your in a
    situation like that there’s only one thing you can do and that’s walk into
    the shrink wherever you are ,just walk in say “Shrink, You can get
    anything you want, at Alice’s restaurant.”. And walk out. You know, if
    one person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and
    they won’t take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony,
    they may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them.
    And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in
    singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. They may think it’s an
    organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day,I said
    fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and
    walking out. And friends they may thinks it’s a movement.”

    Just a thought 😉


    June 3, 2010 at 7:28 am

  2. Scott thanks for having the guts to call it like it is. I’ve been wondering if my limited experience with editors was abnormal but after reading this I see it’s par for the course.

    Tom Tomlinton

    June 3, 2010 at 7:52 am

  3. I seldom deal with editors being an amateur thinking about making the big move to make photography my primary purpose (I just cannot call myself a pro), but I have experienced a butchered crop.

    Had I got paid, I wouldn’t have been so tweaked about it but it was a gift for the university newspaper. I hoped for that little fraction of exposure. I got it, but it made my work look of less quality. I almost wished I hadn’t submitted it or that I had included conditions of no cropping etc. I just assumed it would be an unedited thumbnail wrapped with text or edited by someone with a minor understanding of framing.

    I suppose my name was seen by many but you nailed #6 on the head, Scott.


    June 3, 2010 at 9:13 am

  4. Once I did a really nice environmental portrait of an artist painting for her bio shot, for American Art Collector magazine. They cropped it to her chin and ears. I suppose if I had given then all my shots as tight headshots, they would have blown a gasket.

    But the way I figure, it’s their nickel, they get to pick the song.

    Konstantin Golovchinsky

    June 3, 2010 at 10:19 am

  5. Those who can’t shoot, edit.


    June 3, 2010 at 10:35 am

  6. Really good advice here. Thanks. I consider myself an amateur photographer who still has a LOT to learn. I mostly do it for fun right now… and for family and friends. But as a woman with a recent journalism degree and a previous newspaper editor, writing editors are the same way… big egos and will butcher a story. LOL I guess it comes with the territory.


    June 3, 2010 at 12:55 pm

  7. this is the route I want to take with my photography, so any more information on this and suggestions on how to break in would be great! thanks again for everything you do


    June 3, 2010 at 2:11 pm

  8. I guess I’m a little lost on the need for someone to actually edit my photos. Maybe there is a point that is reached where time becomes so precious that having someone else help you manage the work you do becomes a necessity. It would be a trust thing with me I think and from the sound of it, at least in this article, trust would be a hard thing to dispense or obtain.

    This is a great article and a great website. Thanks for sharing these points. (Mental note on #7: Avoid the short end of the stick at all costs.)

    Michael Frye

    June 3, 2010 at 8:32 pm

  9. I always have a lot of respect for someone who tells it exactly how it is! Great info Scott!

    Alex Molina

    June 13, 2010 at 1:50 pm

  10. […] Bourne posted a great read on 7 Things You should Know About Photo Editors where he discusses the way that photo editors work with […]

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