What Photo Editors Want
One Assigning Editor’s Perspective on Hiring Freelance Photographers
Josh Lustig is the Deputy Editor of Photography for the Financial Times Weekend Magazine. He was formerly at Panos Pictures in London. Blink’s Kyla Woods wanted to know about Lustig’s transition from the role of artist rep to that of commissioning at an international news magazine. Lustig shares some best-practices that all freelancers should consider when working on editorial assignments.
Kyla Woods (KW): Can you speak about the transition from agent to photo editor?
Josh Lustig (JL): There’s a big difference between pushing out work and pulling it in. I love being an editor at a quality publication as it is immensely satisfying to produce a product that you can be proud of.
However, I miss working closely with photographers on long-term projects. As a magazine editor you cultivate strong relationships with photographers, but it doesn’t compare to the time spent talking, thinking and developing ideas, which was what I did at Panos. I’m still very close to many Panos photographers, but I’m no longer the person that they call on.
KW: You’re currently the Deputy Editor of Photography at the Financial Times Weekend Magazine, what does this job entail?
JL: I support our Director of Photography Emma Bowkett. The two of us take care of all the photography for the magazine. At Financial Times Weekend Magazine (FTWM), 90% of all the published photography is commissioned which allows us to shape and develop a real visual identity. My main role is to take care of commissioning and sourcing images for our regular slots: food, first person, pursuits, etc. and then we share out the larger features as appropriate. My main interests are more journalistic, whereas Emma is an expert at high-end portraiture, still-life work and fine art photography.
KW: Does the FTWM mainly hire freelancers? Do you think it has become prominent in the recent years?
JL: Yes, working with freelance photographers has become prominent recently. The number of staff photographers at news organizations is reducing significantly. Specifically speaking about FTWM, I can’t comment as I have only been here for less than a year. But, having worked in photography since the early 2000s, I would say the move from print to digital was when it started to change and raised concerns as to how publications hire photographers.
KW: When you hire a freelancer for an assignment, what are the best practices that they should follow?
JL: Firstly, prompt communication is a key component. I’m an anxious editor, so don’t leave me hanging, or waiting on a response. Even if it’s just one line, like “I’ll get back to you properly later.” I need to know that whomever I have hired is on it.
Secondly, well-captioned pictures are important. Don’t send uncaptioned pictures, even low-res. They’re no use to anyone.
KW: For freelancers who don’t know FTWM or the Financial Times, what is the style you’re looking for?
JL: We have a very contemporary style which is driven by our Director of Photography, Emma Bowkett and art director Paul Tansley. We commission or run stories that reflect not just the world that we live in, but that also engages directly with the way in which it is visualized. This is very important to us. The story and aesthetic must be considered in unison because it is vital for a successful story.
KW: What do you like to see when a photographer pitches stories?
JL: Firstly, I want to see that the photographer has thought about FTWM as a publication, and considered the kind of stories that would be of interest to the magazine. As you know, not all stories are suitable for all publications.
The photographer should have a sense of individual identity. I don’t want to see a portfolio that veers all over the place stylistically. FTWM only commissions people that have their distinct voice.
KW: How were you hiring freelancers before Blink?
JL: It was through a very similar process. Photo editors build their network of people with whom they have worked in the past or been introduced to in various ways. Photographers often introduce themselves on a daily basis. Before Blink, we used LightStalkers and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter for finding people in certain places. Personal relationships and word of mouth mostly.
Blink allows picture editors to move quickly and work on your time-frame. You don’t have to wait for L.A. to wake up or a photographer based in Bangkok to get back to you or something like that.
KW: Can you talk about your experience with Blink?
JL: I was introduced to it first through Matthew Craig and Julien Jourdes and together we discussed the potential of Blink. Then, as soon as I made the transition from an agent to an editor, and started working for an actual publication, Blink became an extremely useful tools. I’m in a position where I’m commissioning photography to run in a publication and Blink’s proven to be resourceful.
I often assign photographers in foreign countries and remote locations where I don’t have a network, and this is when Blink has proven to be extremely resourceful. I log on to Blink and simply find photographers on location. Then, I view their portfolio to ensure they are suited to the assignment.
We have just gone to press on another great story in Moldova where I was able to find a photographer for the shoot, on the ground. Blink helped fasten the procedure!
KW: In what ways has Blink helped you?
JL: It has been useful in many ways- specially to find people on location. In the case of Honduras story, it was a Mexican photographer that just happened at the location at the right time. Within minutes of contact, he got back to me and later that day we were able to set up the shoot. After the assignment, I thought to myself that it would never have been possible without Blink.
KW: How do you verify a photographer’s credibility?
JL: I view their portfolio on Blink, and then I go to their website. If they don’t have a website, it rings an alarm bell for legitimacy. I source tear-sheets, commissioned work, projects and then I like to see how they work on commission, under sort of different sort of restraints, and a tighter brief. After gauging their online presence, I start an email correspondence. It’s rare that I would be put off by a photographer as a result of their communication.
However, sometimes if the photographer responds with “oh yeah, maybe”, and then you send them something regarding the brief, and days go by without response, then you think, “maybe I’m going to find someone else because if you’re not responding to me on a daily basis then I should find a different photographer.”
KW: Can you speak about the shoot with Ramin Mazur, the Moldovan photographer you hired from Blink?
JL: I was familiar with Mazur’s work, but I wasn’t aware of his location-base. When I searched for photographers for the story, his name popped up. It was an instant connection and everything worked out.
KW: As a photo editor, what are the key components that you value in a connective platform like Blink?
JL: One of the great strengths of Blink is the fact that people can sign-in, in real-time, and that a photographer can make their whereabouts known instantly. This think is crucial for an editor.
KW: One last question, what role does multimedia play for FTWM? Do you pay additional fees for video?
JL: I’d be the first to admit that the FT is playing catch-up when it comes to our digital output. It’s something that, thankfully, which is being seriously addressed. We have a separate team for commissioning multimedia, and consequently they have their budgets. There is often cross over, but for the moment at least, it is quite separate.
Josh Lustig is Deputy Picture Editor of the Financial Times Weekend Magazine. He previously worked for Foto8 Magazine as an editorial assistant and Panos Pictures as an assignments editor. He is co-founder of the book-publishing wing of Tartaruga, a leading independent record label and print studio. Connect with Josh on Twitter, Instagram and Blink.
Kyla Woods works as a freelance writer specializing in current affairs, photography, and design. Her work has appeared in Long Cours, Le Figaro, Le Point, This is the What, and Foam Magazine. She writes regularly for Musée Magazine, Peril Magazine. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Kyla is based in New York.