“Don’t ever make excuses for your work”

Photojournalists are often asked about their process and their work, but the crucial step many don’t talk about is how they first got their foot in the door. In most cases, it started with a photo editor.

We spoke to Kirsten Luce, a photojournalist based in New York City and a regular contributor to The New York Times. Her work has also appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, Bloomberg News and National Geographic Adventure. She shared some advice with CV about reaching out to photo editors.

How did you first get in touch with The New York Times?

I was working for a small paper as a full time staffer in South Texas, at the Mexican border. I was contemplating freelancing. I knew that if there was a story in the border that the New York Times wanted to cover, they would have to send a photographer from Houston. I knew that they were spending a lot of money. While I was visiting New York, I set up an appointment with one of the national editors, knowing that they would likely look at my work because it would save them money. I thought that I had something to offer them.

What type of images should people bring to a meeting with a photo editor?

You want to show your best work. Show them things that could possibly be published in that publication. If you’re going to the New York Times, you want to show them something that you could imagine being a slideshow. You might want to show them some assignment work. If I’m going to a magazine that has mostly portrait series, I’m not going to show them documentary work from Mexico. You have to do research beforehand.

Would you recommend bringing a print portfolio, showing the images from a laptop, or using your personal website?

You have to be careful when you’re showing your website because of the Internet connection. That actually happened to me one time. I was trying to show my images and I couldn’t get into their Wi-Fi. It was a mess and embarrassing. I would never do that again. Just make sure you have a nice, tight edit loaded and ready to go. I usually show my images in Photo Mechanic. You can use any image viewer. For newspapers and magazines a laptop is totally fine. I think in some ways print is over the top. It’s expensive, cumbersome and hard to do changes last minute.

How many images should you show?

The gold standard is 20 to 30 images.

What are some do’s and dont’s when meeting with editors?

You have to be respectful of their time. You should be yourself and be relaxed, but don’t go on and on. Have the work loaded and ready to go. You should be able to explain whatever they are about to see, and then let them look at the images at their own pace. Don’t ever make excuses for your work; don’t ever mention things that went wrong. Just show them your strongest work, the work that you believe in the most.

What about the follow up afterwards?

Before leaving I would ask them how and whether I should follow up. “Should I email you or should I call you?” And then, after I left, the next day or two, I would follow up with an email thanking them for the meeting and reminding them that you’re there.

How relevant are social platforms like Instagram and Facebook for photojournalists nowadays?

I don’t think that anyone will discover me on Instagram or Facebook, but I think it’s a great way to keep in touch with colleagues and editors. But just like anything else, you have to stay professional.

What advice do you have for young photojournalists?

If you see editors out in social events, introduce yourself if you want to, but be respectful of their time. I wouldn’t pitch anything. Introduce yourself, let them know that you would like to meet with them, and ask them if you can contact them.

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