focused vision

scott jordan

Rookie photographers are just champing at the bit to get their work published. But whether it’s editorial or advertorial work, experts warn there are a few things to be wary of.

Magazine photography is a high profile way to get work published, but sometimes there can be problems between the art team and the photographer.

Photography, at its simplest level, is a form of artistic expression. But magazines are businesses; their goal is to stay afloat. Most do not just concentrate on providing a forum for the avant-garde. Generally, the demands of the magazine take precedence over the photographer’s artistic expression.

Myles McCutcheon, photo editor of Toronto-based Toro magazine, has worked with many photographers and says he always tries to keep an open mind when it comes to creativity. He works mainly with freelance photographers.

“People shoot for magazines because, for one reason, it gets your foot in the door,” McCutcheon says. “But also for the creative freedom it allows compared to an advertising campaign where you have to toe the art director’s line.

“With advertising photography you have to produce a product your client is happy with and forgo any creative ideas you might have,” he says.

Bottom line: the creative freedom in magazine photography is always what the photo editor or art director says it is.

McCutcheon knows what he wants. “We like to give our photographers a fair amount of freedom,” he says. But photo assignments can be limited by a magazine’s art budget, which can be small in comparison to that of an ad campaign.

“Depending on who the art director or the photo editor is, it could range from ‘we need a picture of this guy’ to ‘we need a picture of this guy wearing blue against a purple backdrop sticking out his tongue,’” McCutcheon says.

Ryerson University’s photography program has a reputation for producing recognized photographers. Dwayne Evans is currently enrolled in the program and has been in the thick of things, working as an on-assignment photographer for Recognize Magazine.

“Most of the time I was being told what to shoot when I was shooting on assignment.” Evans says.

Last year, while shooting Fashion Week, he was given his press pass, told where the event was and what the magazine wanted him to capture.

Evans says there were other times when differing visions made him butt heads with art teams. “There almost always is a problem,” he says, “but sometimes you do come across an art director who has a very clear vision as to what they want to see.”

At times photographers are given a concept for a photo shoot that is just too difficult to translate to film. Perhaps it is too broad, or lacks a clear vision.

Evans gives an example of one shot he was asked to do using an Adam and Eve theme to show how women’s sexual prowess was mimicking that of men’s. The team ended up wasting a day of shooting because he and the art director could not agree on the final vision of the assignment. In the end, the article was left to carry the story unsupported by strong photos.

Perhaps the easiest way to avoid problems like Evans’ is to work exclusively with photo editors or art directors who have a good eye for photography. But it’s also up to the photographer to discuss the shoot with the art director and photo editor.

Most photographers are professionals and, as McCutcheon says, it sometimes just comes down to trusting them.

Photos by Natasha Elkington