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|| News Item: Posted 2005-10-03

Showing your book: bring just your best … and a lot more
By Porter Binks, Sports Illustrated

Photo by Greg Choat / Sports Illustrated

Photo by Greg Choat / Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated picture editor Porter Binks at work in his New York City office on Monday, October 3, 2005.
In July, freelancer Darrell Miho wrote an entertaining article for the Sports Shooter Newsletter about his visit this summer to New York to show his portfolio. Using his themes and book as an example I thought I could comment on Darrell's experience at showing books and amplify some of his better observations.

Two points Darrell made can't be emphasized enough. The first: Only your best work should be in your portfolio. If you are in doubt, have someone look at the book that will give you an honest evaluation of your work before you come here. If you are a student, you will be judged accordingly, but know that there are some awfully good student books out there. I have seen some of them in the past few months and even students' work has to live up to a consistent level given what's in the marketplace these days and given the competition for internships, workshop spots and jobs.

If you're a professional, there's no excuse for a weak book.

Professionals are held, as Darrell was, to a higher standard. If you're going to come to SI and show a book of action photographs, it had better be great and the photos ought to be as good as or better than the photos of our staffers and regular contributors. After all, they're whose jobs you're after, right? Just don't make the mistake of judging their work solely by what gets in the magazine.

Many people who show books here show only portraits. While lighting prowess is a major ingredient, so are how you interacted with the subject and how that interaction combined with your technical skills to create a photo of the person that I want to study.

As I recall, Darrell had some portraits that I thought were a little clichéd, and I told him so. (A basketball player or referee holding basketballs may work for the story, however weak the concept.) I'd expect a pretty high level of portraiture in the book of someone wanting to shoot here. While not all the portraits or situations that I saw would have to be sports-related, at least a few of the best would be.

Darrell's second point about trying to figure out editors is also worth remembering. We all have different tastes and we serve different constituencies, especially in the magazine business.

A little homework will guide you toward making some intelligent decisions. I urge you to read a few issues of the magazines you're going to visit. The picture editors at SI are not going to be looking for all the same photos that the editors at Fortune or Forbes might be; however, they might be impressed by some of the same kinds of pictures.

So know your audience (and, hence your editor) and craft a book that serves up your best work for the editor you're visiting. And get a book that allows some flexibility for changing prints. Then you are dealing with moving a few prints around rather than going to the expense of having several books.

As to how to order your book: I haven't a hard and fast rule. Some editors like all the elements (news, sports, feature, picture story) to be covered. That works for newspaper interviews and is a nice place to start. For magazines, I think it helps if the photographer is somewhat more targeted toward the publication.

I do know this: Your book ought to impress me when I see the first picture, it ought to make me want to linger over many photos in the middle, and the last photo should be memorable --- what I call a nice mix of the oooh and aahh factor. I want to be surprised by your take on sports, action and feature.

I am the editor who told Darrell I thought tear sheets were other people's edits. I don't care to look at them because where you've been published before is not of great importance to me.

You can either do the work or you can't. And if you've grabbed the cover of Time or SI or ESPN, I assume you are smart enough, if it's a worthy photo, to have put that cover picture in your portfolio. Of course, some folks might like to see tear sheets. Bring them along if you wish, but arrange them neatly, not simply as clips in an envelope.

Those who know me know I am the Felix Unger type, an organized (some say fussy) and meticulous (some say careful) editor. I expect photographers to do things correctly, like sending in lineups with the cards, giving me sound files on big plays and getting the cards shipped in time to make deadline.

Photo by

Porter Binks covering the 2002 Eco Challenge in Fiji.
So I look for telltale signs of these traits: Nicely arranged photos, printed on decent paper and toned and cropped properly. I look for a book that is easy to handle not too big, bulky or heavy and with pages that turn effortlessly.

When I first saw Darrell's book, I wasn't crazy about his presentation and I told him so. I realize his vinyl pages in the binder made it easy for him to move photos around. But I thought his prints could be of better quality and said so.

I don't think your book has to be leather-bound and embossed with your name. There are many varieties of books, binders and portfolios that look nice, give you some flexibility and aren't overpriced.

And I don't mind looking at portfolios on the computer, with these two caveats: Don't give me a dreamy slide show with pretty music; and don't feel the need to describe in excruciatingly infinite detail how each photo was made. A short description is fine and will usually move the conversation along. If the editor is really interested, he/she will ask for more info.

One other nit to pick: You can ask me to look at your portfolio online. But if you want to represent my magazine, and me your chances are slim I'm going to hire you sight and work unseen. Putting in "face time" with editors cannot be emphasized enough.

Finally, I want to talk about the editor's role in the portfolio process and specifically what I'm here to do.

Darrell alluded to those editors known for "being harsh" during reviews and some have been "known to make photographers cry." Not me.

Darrell points out we aren't here to make friends. OK, but I'm also not here to ruin your day. I'm going to be honest about your work and whether it's up to the standards exhibited by current SI staffers.

I'm going to comment on the quality of your work, technically and aesthetically, and maybe the pacing of your book. I might ask what you were thinking when you framed a photo a certain way, or posed a portrait another.

But making you cry or having you dislike me at the end of 15 or 20 minutes is not my aim. Educating you is. And honesty is part of that education. Do you want to leave the Time & Life building having never learned if I like your work and where I think you can improve? I don't think that's why you spent money to come to New York.

My role is not to tear you down. If anything, it's to build you up and to make you better. Editors are the photographer's advocates. We try and sell our editors on the photos we think will work best in a story.

Many times we're successful. Many times we're not. But we have a desire to look for photographers who can enhance what we put in the magazine and make it better for the readers. That process begins when we meet and look at a book.

In some cases, it's the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

(Porter Binks is a picture editor at Sports Illustrated and formerly the lead sports picture editor at USA TODAY.)

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