“Exploit any personal connections that you already have”

Columbia Visuals spoke with Neil Harris, Associate Photo Editor at Fortune Magazine, about meeting with photo editors and getting their attention.

What’s the best way to approach photo editors?

Reaching out can be difficult because photo editors get a lot of requests to review or publish work. If the photo editor doesn’t know who you are or doesn’t have a reference point, it can be difficult to get any attention. So, I think the best way to get someone to actually respond to you and commit to give you some time, is to exploit any personal connections that you already have. Then you can email the editor, and in the first line or in the subject line say, “So and so told me to reach out to you.” I definitely prefer an email rather than a call.

What should be in the email?

I find it most helpful when photographers are up-front about what they actually want. If they’re early in their career, and they want feedback about how to improve their work, I appreciate honesty. I also feel that they shouldn’t include a huge attachment. If you want to send images, include one or two in the body of the email that are really representative of your work. But it’s really much more about links to your work.

How should someone pitch a story?

I expect a tight edit, well-captioned pictures and an understanding of the publication that I’m working for. I expect them to have done their homework.

How many images should they send?

It really depends on the story, but if you’re clicking into a link you can include a lot of images. It should be enough to tell the story. I don’t expect a perfect edit, I expect a slightly broader edit than I will publish because I want to be able to pick and choose.

How many images should a photographer bring to a meeting?

It depends on what kind of a meeting it is. If you have a solid portfolio and you’re showing it to me because you’re trying to get assignments based on that portfolio, 30-40 pictures are usually enough to give me sense of your range and abilities. It’s always good to have more images in the back pocket.

What type of images do you expect to see? A narrative, a series, single shots…?

I would never hire somebody whose work isn’t consistent. You can show me pictures on different subjects, light, places, but there has to be some consistency of aesthetic, or approach throughout. I want to know how you work in different circumstances, how do you work under assignment versus on a personal project, how intrepid are you, how rigorous is your journalistic mind…

Do you prefer a traditional portfolio or a laptop with images is sufficient?

A print portfolio is a really big expense and I think that money is better spent on equipment.  I also don’t think a print portfolio for a photojournalist necessarily gives a much better impression. You definitely have to do whatever feels right for the type of work you’re presenting. If you have really big, large-scale landscape, an iPad will sell it short. But if you have hard journalism, then a large print portfolio may be overkill.

What’s the best way to follow up after the meeting?

It depends on the type of meeting and how the meeting went. But if we discussed a story and you said you would send me ten pictures, you should follow up on that the same day or the day after. A lot of photographers will send periodic updates every six or three months. If you have something like an update list, you should ask if I want to be on it.

What advice do you have for young photojournalists who are considering a freelance career?

It might sound petty but it’s actually quite important: how you present yourself as a person is just as important as the pictures that you bring to a meeting.

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