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|| News Item: Posted 2005-07-05

Crazy Cabbies and Freelance Photography
By Darrell Miho

Photo by Darrell Miho

Photo by Darrell Miho

Darrell Miho headed to New York armed with his portfolio, promo cards and a map of the mean streets.
Weaving in and out of traffic, speeding to the next signal as fast as possible then slamming on the brakes and slowing down just enough to narrowly miss pedestrians crossing the street can be quite the white-knuckle ride if you happen to be sitting in the back seat of a crazy cabbie in Manhattan. Just another day for a typical Manhattanite. Quite the adventure for this Los Angelino.

Having just returned from a trip to New York City, I must say that I am glad to be back in the driver's seat flying down the freeway at 75 mph. Those NY cabbies are crazy! What's even crazier however is marketing and trying to figure out photo editors. Not only do you have to figure out what to show, but also how to show it. Ask 20 different editors and you'll get 20 different answers on how they want to see a portfolio.

So what do you do?

Well, first off, make sure that you are presenting nothing but your best work. This is more easily said than done. Make sure someone else looks at your book (AKA: portfolio) with fresh, unbiased eyes. Mom or your best friend won't work, but someone that has an eye for photography will. Someone who's opinion you respect and trust and can give you honest feedback on your images.

We are often emotionally attached to our photos and know the background behind each image. Photo editors don't have that luxury. When they look at your work, each image must somehow grab their attention and tell them something about the person or event without them having to ask any questions. If it doesn't, then the photo simply does not work.

After making one visit to one magazine, and getting some very honest feedback, I went from 41 pictures to 24. Yet, one of the same editors that recommended that I take out the photos that weren't up to par, still wanted to see more pictures. Simply put, he didn't have a feel for how I would shoot a game. But you can't put in too many photos because eventually, some will bring down the level of your book.

Once you've narrowed down your images, how do you present them? On - line or on your laptop? PowerPoint, iView or iMovie? Tearsheets? Prints? Mounted or sleeved?

Well, unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer on this. I can only tell you what some of the editors told me. I chose to use inkjet prints in a portfolio with vinyl sleeves. It was small, compact, and easy to carry and I could make quick changes to it depending on whom I was seeing.

So what did they say?

One editor didn't want to see tearsheets because that is someone else's edit. He wants to see what you see. He wants to see what you think is a great photo. Another editor didn't mind the tearsheets but recommended that I shrink them down and make a nice looking collage and make a single or two page spread with them.

One editor didn't like the prints inside of sleeves because the overhead lights caused some glare on the vinyl sheets and muted the colors and lessened the visual impact of the photos.

One editor wanted me to lead off with the sports action and end with the portraits, while another editor wanted to see them the other way around, portraits first, action second.

One editor noticed that my keyline borders were not consistent from print to print. Something I didn't notice until after I had left for NY and couldn't make new prints. Lucky for me, I already had a working relationship with the editor but it should be noted that editors do notice these things. Whether or not it affects their decision making process, I don't know, but it does go toward the theory that if you're meticulous with your portfolio, you will be meticulous on a shoot.

Photo by Darrell Miho

Photo by Darrell Miho

This photo of Aaron Lowenstein from Miho's lighting demo at the Sports Shooter Academy led one editor to say it was a little too much like a high school portrait while another editor said the lighting was nice.
Little details won't go unnoticed and it's often those little details that make or break a photo.

This same editor also noted that some of the highlights were blown out in my prints. Again, being an editor I already had a working relationship with, I got a quick lesson on the new highlight and shadow feature of Photoshop CS2 that would improve a couple of prints.

These are only a few of the many comments I received, but as you can see, there are many different viewpoints.

After all is said and done, take note of what the editors say. Any criticism needs to be taken with an open mind. Some of your photos will get mixed responses cause each editor sees things differently. My photo of Aaron Lowenstein from my lighting demo at the Sports Shooter Academy led one editor to say it was a little too much like a high school portrait while another editor said the lighting was nice.

While it's nice that one editor liked the lighting, the other comment is the one that really sticks in my head and makes me stop and think. What does he see? What could be done to make it better? What could I have done to make the editor see something more than a high school portrait?

Editors are tough. Some editors are known for being harsh during portfolio reviews. Some have been known to make photographers cry. Deal with it. Don't get defensive just because they don't like a picture or two or ten. They're not there to make friends, they are there to weed out the weenies from the professionals that can get the job done and who can produce great photos every time they go out on an assignment. Don't get discouraged if they rip apart an image. Just listen and learn and use what they have to say to your benefit the next time you go out and shoot an assignment.

The freelance photography business is tough and it is only going to get tougher. In order to survive, you'll need to pound the pavement and get your work out there in front of the people who do the hiring.

Trying to figure out the best marketing strategy in this dog eat dog world of freelance photography can be as crazy as riding in a cab in Manhattan. However, failing to do it will result in a different kind of white-knuckle ride - the economic rollercoaster of good months and bad months. Whichever ride you choose, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

(Darrell Miho is a Southern California - based freelance photographer. He has contributed several articles to the Sports Shooter Newsletter and has been on the faculty of the Workshop & Luau as well as the first Sports Shooter Academy. He is also the director of the Garrett Miho Foundation, which aids single-parent families.)

Related Links:
Read an editor's response to this story
Miho's member page

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