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Automobile Magazine: How They Hire Photographers

Love cars? Love taking pictures of cars? If you’re a professional or aspiring photographer specializing in vehicles, then read on: Matt Tierney, ...

Love cars? Love taking pictures of cars? If you’re a professional or aspiring photographer specializing in vehicles, then read on: Matt Tierney, Art Director at Automobile magazine, shared his thoughts and advice with us on everything from photography websites to photographer promotions.

Photo by Paul Barshon

How does Automobile use photography in the magazine?

Automobile depends heavily on photography. When the magazine started 25 years ago, we pioneered the use of full-color photography throughout the book, and have maintained an emphasis on photography ever since. Photography is primarily commissioned on an assignment basis, with some supplied by manufacturers and on occasion, stock-sourced.

Do you work with staff or freelance photographers? 

We do not have a photographer on staff. We generally rely on a fairly small group of contributing freelance photographers.

So you license photos?

For most feature stories that run one time, we license usage for a fixed period, then ownership reverts to the artist. For ongoing stories—for example, long-term car tests—that run in multiple issues and over an extended time period, we purchase the photography outright. When we do use stock sources, it is most often historical in nature, and tends to end up coming from Getty, simply because they control so many archives. On rare occasion, we use “clip” stock art, and that usually comes from royalty-free sources such as iStockphoto or Shutterstock.

Photo Martyn Goddard

What about a pro photographer’s website catches your eye?

The first thing that catches my eye, for better or worse, is the work itself. A strong opening splash image that demonstrates the photographer’s skill and style is paramount. I’ll navigate past a photo-less home page into a site, but I better get to some impressive photography quickly. A photographer’s work separated into galleries by clearly labeled categories is helpful—I can choose to focus on the subject or style that I am seeking. Slideshows are fine, but I appreciate a strip or grid of thumbnails showing the contents to allow me to skip to a particular shot. Carefully curate and edit your gallery—if you want to give me a vast quantity of images, that’s fine, make sure they are not repetitive.

How do you find new photographers to work with?

I still discover new photographers by searching online or exposure in other magazines.

And what does it take for you to open an unrecognized photographer’s email? 

A good email needs to get right to the point with concise message in the subject, and a fantastic image tailored to my needs. I’m working for a car magazine now, so don’t send me a portrait or food shot—demonstrate familiarity with my product. A nice clean design, and a link right there for the clicking also helps. But the first impression from the photo is most important.

Photo by Paul Barshon

How do you prefer photographers present their portfolios?

The best case is an image embedded in the body of the email with a link. Attachments are not a good idea: an unknown sender plus an attachment will likely end up in my junk mail, or quarantined by the company server before it even reaches me.

What are some red flags that a photographer is not a good choice?

You are applying for a job with me, so make sure you present as professional and experienced. Be courteous, succinct and remember you are asking me to spend my time looking at your work. Aggressive, rude or mistake-riddled messages get you off on the wrong foot.

What’s the most annoying thing a photographer has done to get noticed? 

Called me on the phone, repeatedly. I’m extremely busy and prefer to be reached by email. I do not enjoy the disruption of a call, and being put in the position of needing to end a call is even worse. If you get me on the phone, be brief and ask me how I’d like to see your work, and when I tell you to send me an email with a link, that’s what I expect. I will reply to that email. Email is the best, and an old-school postcard is also appreciated.

Should photographers feel open to update you on new work?

If you’ve introduced your work to me and I’ve replied and expressed interest, an offer to send me updates is a good idea. It will remind me you exist when I might be scrambling to assign a shoot weeks or months down the road and offers an opportunity to showcase something that might impress me. Be careful to keep that contact upbeat and no more often than once every month or two.

Is direct mail dead?

Not to me. In fact, a postcard is sure to get noticed because it is rare.

Photo by Tom Salt

If you had to give one piece of feedback to photographers trying to get hired,  what would it be?

You can be the most talented photographer on the planet, but if you are difficult to deal with before, during or after the shoot, your chances of being used again often, or at all, diminish. At the end of the day, I want the magazine to look the very best it can, but we have a small staff working on extremely tight deadlines and we don’t have time or energy to waste on excessive drama to get those results. When we make decisions on photo assignments we have to consider many factors—style, turnaround, location, flexibility, ability to take direction or work independently as needed, and countless others. Make sure you are well-rounded and provide the best experience from start to finish and cultivate a positive relationship and you’ll become one of an art director’s go-to shooters. Everywhere I’ve worked my favorite photographers have not only been talented, but dependable and pleasant to work with.

Additional tips from photo editor Matt Tierney:

  • A nice feature I recently encountered was a sub-gallery: only the very best shot from any particular shoot was in the main gallery, but selecting an image to view large brought up a small selection of additional thumbnails from the same shoot that I could choose to explore or not.
  • I have no use for music or sound effects. My speakers are usually off, and if not, I will immediately disable any soundtrack.
  • Please make sure your site is iPad compatible. If I am away from my office computer, that’s how I’ll be viewing it.
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