10 minutes with a photo editor, Brian Madigan

Q&A with Photo Editors October 1, 2013 10:08 am

When did you first become interested in photography?

I first became interested in photography during High School, it was one of a bunch of art classes I took. We had a really great facility and I learned a lot about shooting and processing black and white photos, candid and studio portraiture. It was kind of great, rooted in the basics of film photography (the studio’s 8 track stereo was a big symbol of where their minds were).

Photoshop was around (this was 1997-ish?) and we did a few projects with it but no one really knew how to use it so it kind of got ignored. I don’t think many people thought of it as anything more than MS Paint. It’s amazing to think about how much has changed in that tiny amount of time. I don’t think many people younger than me will have that kind of experience again.

It wasn’t a singular obsession though, just one of a few disciplines I really loved. Unlike a lot of Photographers and Editors I know there wasn’t one person’s work that grabbed me and pulled me in for instance. I think it took me a long time to figure out what field in the art world I was going to go into.

What made you decide to go into photo editing?

I studied computer animation in college and really loved lighting and texture mapping aspect of it. I was never an amazing painter with real physical paint but I was pretty good in photoshop. For some reason it clicked with me. My skills there led me to an internship with an image licensing agency scanning and retouching photographer’s work which I loved.

That was where I kind of fell in love with it. We had a really big archive of photographers in every kind of genre. It was a lot of fun and never boring.

So what lead you to working at Real Simple and how long have you been there?

While working at Retna (the image licensing agency) I became friends with a lot of the sales people and production staff. It is a small company, kind of a boutique agency and what was nice was that I was able to learn a lot about the business behind photography first hand (image rights, negotiating for prices things like that).

The Production Director left to become the Photo Director of Us Weekly’s website and I did some freelance work for her from time to time. From there I went to Latina.com then RealSimple.com, each time moving with an Editor I really liked and respected from the previous job. About four years ago, just before our latest redesign, I moved over from the website to the magazine and moved up the ladder little by little.

Real Simple is known for their original photography – there is a huge amount of production that goes into every issue. With this, you get to work with a variety of photographers and stylists – from portrait, still life to conceptual. What advice would you give photographers who are starting out now and want to shoot for a magazine such as Real Simple. What do you want to see on their website, or their book and do you meet with photographers in person often? Is that important to you?

A photographer’s website is usually the first interaction we have with them and their work so it’s important to have one that’s set up well.

What Photographers should realize is that we use their sites as a research tool. If we like their work and intend to give them an assignment, I want to be able to pull a few things they have done to use inspriational material. We might like the lighting in one picture but the camera angle in another. Organize your work into categories and label them for what they are. “Food” “Cosmetics” “Celeb Portrait” are a lot more helpful than “Portfolio 1″ Portfolio 2” “Portfolio 3”. When I bring your site up to show my Creative Director, I don’t want to spend time hunting for a photo I know exists, I need to be able to find it quickly.

Beyond that, there are a few little things that I prefer. No splash page and definitely no music. I need to be able to go forward through a gallery of your work but also backwards. I’m always surprised when I’m on a site and I can’t go back. I hate having to cycle through the rest of a gallery, then start it all over again just to go back one picture.

It’s important to have a section of personal work. It’s always a great place to get new ideas and maybe break a static image we might have of a photographer.

Consider having a “new work” section. Every once and a while I’ll pull up a photographer’s site that I haven’t worked with in a while just to see what they have been doing.

Have a contact page, list your agent, gallery and your studio address and phone number.

If you’re not sure if your site is set up well, compare it to an agency’s website. They are great at distilling work and organizing it into an easy to navigate page.

I think mailers are still a good way to get an Editor’s attention. Just make sure that you’re only sending work that you think would fit in our particular magazine. We cover certain subject matters and have a certain aesthetic, so if your work doesn’t match that, there’s no point in mailing me something. I have a wall full of mailers that remind me to suggest a photographer for a story or keep as inspiration shots for future stories.

It’s always nice to meet with photographers in person. It’s the only way to really understand how their process works and what a collaboration with them might be like. Just please understand that with shrinking staffs but expanding content (original content for tablet editions, website pieces etc) there’s less and less time in the week to actually meet in person. And just know that if we don’t call you for a shoot right away, please don’t take it personally. We tend to get into a good working relationship with a few photographers and stick with them for a little while. We’re always trying to keep things fresh but with such a large magazine we can’t do that to every story every month. I had one photographer come in for a meeting and loved his work, but it was a year and a half before we hired him for a story.

My last piece of advice would be “be persistent but not overbearing.” Once every month or two, send me an update on whats new and what stories you’re particularly proud of.

You mention the ever-present shrinking staff and growing content. What advice would you give to photographers trying to get editorial jobs?

I think it’s important for anyone trying to get into the business to do as much as possible. Don’t ever think a job is too small. Beyond your talent as an artist, we need to be sure you can be trusted with a subject. Can complete it on time and on budget, but then also work with Editors that might have a different idea of what to do than you do. How you collaborate is huge, as important as almost anything else.

I read a lot of photo and art blogs so getting your work on there is a great way to get my attention.



Brian Madigan is the Deputy Photo Editor of Real Simple magazine.

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