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10 Practices Every Editorial Photographer Must Know

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Read Time: 7 min

Breaking into editorial photography is a great way to get more exposure, build your portfolio, and receive unique assignments that will allow you to work with models, real people, and even allow you to travel the world.

If you're already an accomplished professional, transitioning to editorial photography can be fairly easy if you can remember a few things that make it different than typical portraits.

1. If the Article is Already Written, Ask to Read It


There may be an angle or a specific item or location the writer talks about in the article that you should focus on. Your images are to compliment the article, so giving the story a quick glance can help you look for specific items in stores, or help you visually set a tone for the shoot. If it mentions an old antique chest, ask where it is located. If it describes a specific dish, request it to be made, because often readers will want a photo to reference.

Being overly prepared and educated on what you are shooting will help you prepare when you’re on site shooting and will also impress the art director.

2. Ask if a Specific Orientation is Needed


Some editors already have an idea of layout for the story content. Don’t be afraid to ask for the predicted size for the feature or orientation preference they have in mind. However, still shoot horizontally and vertically for every shot for options as content can change.

Knowing that the story text will overlap the image can also help you go into a shoot looking for a clean background or shoot with a shallow depth of field that won’t compete with text.

You may also not know if the content will be on the right or left, so make sure you shoot with the subject looking in both directions so they don’t look off the page.

3. Shoot for the Cover


If you’re not a vertical shooter, get used to shooting verticals. Especially if you want to do magazine work. Typically magazines know what their feature story is for the publication so if you are shooting a part of the assignment, there’s a fairly good chance you can land the cover. Make sure you leave space for the magazine header. Do this by avoiding busy backgrounds and keeping signage out of your shot.

If you’re not used to shooting verticals, consider investing in a battery grip with a vertical release. It will help you make straighter shots.

4. Be More Mindful of the Details

There is still only so much that can be done in post. Editorial art directors like smart, sharp images with straight lines and clean composition. Sometimes fixing crooked horizons in post can’t fix it as well as just taking a step to the left or right.

The new Upright Tool in Lightroom can do wonders for straightening out lines in architecture, but it's not perfect. Throw a couple curves in with the lines and you might be out of luck. Get it all right before you leave the scene.

5. Take a Step Back


Often photographers are in the habit of cropping in the camera. The difference with shooting for magazines is that the images often take up the entire page and need bleed room. You can avoid any images from being thrown out by simply giving extra room along the sides. Take a step back before taking the shot. It might be hard to get used to, but remember extra space is needed for the bleed. You don’t want your images to be unusable because you’ve shot too tight.

When magazine designers talk about a page having a bleed, they mean that the design or photos go all the way to the edge of the page. Think of it as the ink bleeding off the paper. In order to do this correctly, the design elements are bigger than the actual page. Then the page is cut back to it's final size. This cutting is never exactly precise, so you need the extra wiggle room to make it look right.

6. Be Active in Model Selection


Your assignment might require models and you could be given access to a modeling agency’s talent database. If this is the case, know what the magazine’s demographic is. While most of us are attracted to youth, a magazine’s readership might be more sophisticated therefore it’s important to find subjects that fit the editorial’s readership.

Don’t be afraid to ask to look at the models with the art director and give feedback on preference. You can also recommend stylists and makeup artists that you prefer that may help strengthen your shot.

7. Take into Consideration Who You Are Shooting


By knowing your subject’s profession or role in the story, you’ll be able to capture them in a way that compliments the tone of the article. Your images of a comedian should not be shot in the same way as your images of a CEO.

With every photo, make the environment, props, pose, outfit, and mood of your subject all match the overall message of the shoot.

8. Be Professional and Quick

Art directors enjoy working with photographers work quickly, just as any other boss would. The sooner you can wrap up a shoot, the less likely you are exhaust the subject or take up too much of the art director’s day. This all goes toward getting the more jobs from these people later.

You'll also need to edit well and deliver quickly. I find that my editing for editorial is not as soft or romantic as my wedding photography, but more bold, clean and saturated.

9. Turn in Your Assignments Early

I often hear complaints from editors waiting for images that were taken several weeks ago so they can lay out their magazine in time for deadline. The sooner you deliver your files, the quicker you get hired again for another assignment.

With so many freelance photographers working on the same issue, being one of the easiest to work with and turning in assignments quickly can easily make you to stand out among the rest when it comes to the next assignment that needs to be given out.

10. Know the Purchasing Cost and the Release Date


Editorials tend to have a waiting period, such as 60 to 90 days after the issue comes out when they prefer no one has access to your photographs. If you are the copyright owner, and you should fight to be, you'll often want to sell images to the subject of the shoot or other involved parties.

Most often the pay you receive from an editorial shoot is less than what you’d normally charge for marketing usage, so know what you would charge for purchasing rights for one image, or the entire session, plus usage.

You should consider giving images to people for free if you think you'll work with them again. A restaurant's chef might be doing a cookbook, throw him a few free images to see if you can land shooting the whole book. You'll also run into the same models over and over again, so giving them free images fosters a good relationship.

Keep in mind, if a business wants to purchase an image that features a model from an agency, you must speak with the agency because they have a rate in mind for their models to get paid as well. It will drastically increase the price, but it may cost less purchasing an image you've already taken than it would to rehire an entire group of professionals to shoot again. Don’t be afraid to ask for a fair amount.

The Editorial World is Small

I'd like to leave you with this final thought, the editorial photography world is small. Even in the biggest cities like New York and London, it seems that everyone knows everyone else. Therefore, it's very easy to get shut out altogether.

Being professional, level headed, fast working, humble and nice is just as important as making good photographs.

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