This is my first time making the rounds of New York and I remember how intimidating the idea was while in college so I’m writing a post to help demystify the process.
This post is to help me critique myself and I’ve only done this once so if any more experienced photographer want to jump in and correct me or make additions feel free to use the comments or email me.
First, have something worth showing. When approaching local newspapers you can get in with a portfolio that shows you have some basic photography skills for the national publications you need a portfolio that shows a unique vision. This effects how you edit your work also, but I’ll get to that in the next post.
It’s important to do a good job in preperation because the whole trip will cost at least $400 with flight, and food, and that’s assuming you stay at a friend’s place while in New York. For me this time it will probably be closer to $800-$1000 because I stayed more than a week, sublet an apartment off craigslist and had to change my flight departure date.
Know your market and make a list of magazines and agencies that might be interested. These aren’t always obvious. Though you want to be in “National Geographic” “National Geographic Adventurer” is more likely to buy photos from lesser known photographers. Talking with agencies like Getty and Redux can create good connections.
Finding people that will open their doors can be difficult. A cousin that lives in New York had a few Advertising friends that got me in places I would otherwise have no chance at. I got in a lot of magazines but even more never replied. Don’t take it personally these photo editors are very busy and inundated with photographers so they get to be choosy.
To get in contact specific photo editors names are necessary. Emails sent to photo departments rarely get returned. Ask your photo friends who they suggest you talk with. Get an email or phone number. If you have just a name then call the magazine ask for the photo department and ask for the editors email. You don’t want to talk with the director of photography or head photo editor most of the time because they are too far removed. Assistant photo editors, and national photo editors are good places to start, though the photo desk itself will sometimes help you figure out who might be interested.
Compose emails carefully and individually. Drop names early by saying things like “your friend bladabla recommended that I show you my portfolio”. Be concise and highlight any jobs or awards that can help you stand out from the crowd. Don’t worry about sounding boastful, it is necessary. Getting responses is often the hardest part and requires you to call on family and friends if they have connections.
If an editor responds usually it is with one or two times they will be free. Be ready to schedule around editors wishes.
Land in New York, get a week-long unlimited MetroCard at the airport, They are about $28 and worth it if you are running between editors during the day and bars at night.
The day of your meeting arrive at the buiding on time, sign in at security, elevator up, tell the receptionist who you are there to meet, sit on designer couch if at an ad agency or office chair if at a magazine, flip through publications on the table until the photo editor arrives.
The meeting itself is usually a painless 5-30 minutes. Here you just have to go with the flow. Show what you have. Some people may be better at becoming instant friends and dropping names, but I just show my work and how I might fit in with their publication.
A tip from the comments section of the post below is to ask the interviewer for three contacts that might be interested in your work. This is especially helpful because they know a lot more subtleties of their market than we do and using their names makes you a shoe-in.
Take the hint when its time for you to go. Hand over a business card and any leave behinds and be escorted to the door.
Expect any responses or reactions to your portfolio to be quick and vague. This isn’t like school where people will point out weak images or even images they love but remember any details photo editors mention and exploit them. For example one agency mentioned how a hotel chain often needs photographers in Florida, so within a week or two of returning home I’ll send her a postcard of architecture and lifestyle photography.
Follow up relentlessly. After this trip I’ll have a collection of about 50 new contacts. Each of them will get at least one relevant postcard of new photography from me each month.
Fly home and wait for the assignments to roll in. Actually, as soon as you get home start shooting like mad because now your old portfolio is worthless and you need a completely new set of photos before you return to the Mecca that is New York.
I remember my first trip to NY in the fall of 2000. I was halfway through school, wide eyed and optimistic, sitting in Starbucks on my phone, cold calling and people were answering their phones saying “come on over.” I scored 35 meetings that week including my first editorial gig.
Because the market is changing and there seems to be more photographers out there, things may be more difficult now than they were years ago, but (I’m sure this has been said on your blog) this will just force people to be more creative to figure out how to rise above the rest. There’s no formula for this one, it’s going to be a different path for each photographer.
You can see that all of this observation and advice boils down to some common sense and humanity. If you have those you will do ok.