We spoke to the talented photo editor Myles Little of Time magazine about his day-to-day job, choosing photographers and images for TIME magazine covers and his advice for aspiring photographers and editors.
CV: How did you become a photo editor?
Myles Little: While studying photography at SCAD, I got a photo editing internship at National Geographic Adventure Magazine under the great Sabine Meyer. It was the first time I worked on a project then saw it published in the mass media—something that still feels surreal, but exciting, today. After graduating, I moved to New York and got a part-time freelance online photo editing job, then worked my way up from there.
CV: What does being a photo editor on the print side of TIME mean for you? What’s your schedule like?
ML: It means that, by finding just the right image for the magazine, I can help explain, and spark interest in, important stories for a global audience.
To do this, I spend a lot of time looking at photos, working out the logistics of an upcoming shoot and writing for Lightbox. Every afternoon, I join other photo editors, graphic designers and editors around a large table to discuss the progress on that week’s issue. Occasionally I’ll go on-set to help art direct a shoot in-person.
CV: How do you help photographers grow and mature in their craft?
ML: I really enjoy helping photographers improve. I teach workshops, lecture and do portfolio reviews.
CV: How do you go about choosing a photographer for an assignment?
ML: After reading the story, we decide what person, place or thing would best visually represent it, and what mood or tone would work best. Then we look for photographers who specialize in making that very specific kind of image.
For this reason, I’d argue that the days of generalism are over. I want specialists—photographers with narrow but rich interests.
I present my favorite three to four photographer ideas to my boss, and we decide who to hire together.
CV: What is your process for editing photo stories?
ML: There are many different ways to edit and sequence photos, but I find these tips helpful:
- I gather similar images into groups and choose the best of them.
- If I’m stuck, I change the way I edit. If I’ve been editing on my computer, I make prints, lay them on the ground, and edit that way.
- Or, I put some distance between myself and the work, perhaps by putting the project aside, then trying again the next morning.
- When sequencing a story, sometimes it helps to choose the opening and closing photos first, then fill in the middle.
- As I spend time with the work, the hidden connections between images reveal themselves. Maybe it’s a shared meaning, or rhyming compositions, that help me link two images consecutively.
- When I’ve made a lot of these pairs, I can then combine the pairs into a sequence.
- Most importantly, I try to pay attention to how I really feel about the photographs, not to how I think I should feel, or how I want to feel.
CV: What is your process for selecting and editing cover images?
ML: Magazines that compete for attention on newsstands, like TIME, need covers that are immediately legible, eye-catching and compelling. I love the challenge of distilling a story into one beautiful, simple image.
Often, studio portraits or photo-illustrations are the best way to achieve this.
All covers have type on them. So when commissioning and editing a cover image, a photo editor has to understand how images interact with type, and has to collaborate with the designer to make it all come together.
CV: What do you look for in potential photo editors?
ML: The most important thing to have is a good eye. But organizational, logistical and diplomacy skills are also extremely useful.
CV: What advice would you give to those wanting to become photo editors?
ML: Search out and study as much good photography, in as many genres, as possible. Look at a wide range of magazines, from news to fashion to lifestyle, to decide what kind of place you’d like to work in. Then search online for paid photo editing internships at the magazines you like.
CV: What books do you recommend for editors and photographers?
For photo editors, I’d suggest Allen’s “Getting Things Done.”
And for both, I’d suggest Dyer’s “The Ongoing Moment.”