Like most photographers I’m a terrible editor of my own work when it comes to choosing and sequencing photographs for my portfolio. So a month before I headed to New York to meet with a bunch of photo editors, photographer agents and art buyers at NYCFotoWorks, I asked a very talented photo editor, the great Kate Osba, to help me find my best work. I’ll talk more about Kate later…but this turned out to be the best decision I’ve made in some time.
So why am I not the best person to be choosing my own photographs? I mean, I made them, right?
That’s exactly the problem…I’m too close to the images and my perspective is easily biased by the smaller details or circumstances of each shoot. But for someone who is evaluating your work cold (and also might potentially hire you), they’re only reacting to the photograph that’s laying right in front of them. Sure, it might be great if they were impressed with the fact that I was particularly funny on set that day (I dance awkwardly at times), or that I only had 5 minutes with a celebrity or top executive to get the shot (happens ALL the time). But at the end of the day nobody cares about that stuff…especially someone who is about to invest in your talent and risk their photo budget with you…for them it’s all about how powerful your images are and what types of stories they tell. Hopefully later when they hire me they’ll find out that my “fat Elvis” dance moves from the 70’s are spot on.
So enter Kate Osba…a New York based photo editor with 10 years of experience at some major magazines that I really like (Fortune, Real Simple and Inc.). Her website has some amazing tear sheets of shoots she produced. Kate is also the creator of one of my favorite blogs called "This is the What"
So to me it was obvious that Kate loves photography and photographers because she looks at photographs all day long AND in her free time as well. Score! So I reached out to Kate even though I was 100% sure she didn’t know me here in the mighty Michigan mitten (she didn’t…and it still stings, ha). Kate took a look at my website and agreed to help prep my portfolio for New York. I set up a password protected web gallery for Kate and filled it with over 100 images I felt were some of my strongest images. We agreed that cutting it down to 30-35 images would be a good number for my book.
Kate spent a day or so with these images to get a good feel for what I do. She’d shoot me a quick email every so often with some insightful follow-up questions that made it obvious to me she was really thinking about my images and the types of publications and agents I wanted to work with most.
A couple days later Kate sent me a list of her top 30 choices (and 5 additional images if I wanted 35 finals) in a suggested sequence for the book. The sequencing part was really interesting and where I feel an experienced photo editor can really have a great impact on your portfolio. It’s easy to underestimate how important it is to create a visual rhythm for a book as people look through it.
So if you’re interested in using a consultant, do a lot of research first. There’s a lot of editors and photo consultants out there doing this sort of consulting work at a wide range of price points. But there’s probably only a couple that actually have the type of background you need to make them a good fit for you and worth your investment.
My last piece of advice after you hire a photo editor is to trust them and their process. Don’t get in the way. I was surprised that several of my images I thought would be shoe-ins for the book Kate left out…and there were a couple of images I thought would never make the final book that she put in. But in the end I trusted Kate and I put the book together exactly as she suggested. Her decisions made more sense after I printed out the photos with the sequencing order she put together.
So I had a very successful trip to New York with a lot of very promising meetings. I made some fantastic connections. I even had a nice lunch with Kate in person just to make sure we were both real people (we are). Shaping your photography career and getting it to go in the direction you want to isn’t easy…it’s hard work and requires investment in your business. Sometimes you need to step out of it and let someone else give you an honest critique. They’ll validate what your doing right and offer solid advice in how to best present yourself to the audience you want to develop.
Do it. You won’t regret it.