A Few Minutes with Photo Editors Scot Jahn and Michele Hadlow

Black Star Rising recently had the opportunity to ask two top photo editors — Scot Jahn, director of photography for U.S. News & World Report; and Michele Hadlow, photo director for Forbes Magazine — about some of the qualities they look for in photojournalism and freelance photographers. Here are some of their thoughts.

On the continuing importance of photography to editorial publications:

“A good picture gives us another way of telling a story,” Jahn says. “It can also offer the reader another way into the story (industry jargon — these are known as ‘entry points’ to a story). In a sense, that photo acts as an ad for the story as in ‘my, but that’s a cool photo, maybe I’ll read the story now’.”

Adds Hadlow: “A good picture should make the reader stop and want to explore the story more. A successful image can do this even on a busy page. We hope to learn a little about the person or place through an expression or location. If a picture is successful, the personality of the subject shines though the noise on the page.”

On the qualities they look for in freelance photographers:

Hadlow puts it simply: “I look for a photographer who can merge his own style with the needs of our publication.”

Elaborates Jahn: “Primarily a fresh perspective, a good eye if you will. It seems a cliche, but when I’m trying to tell a story to our readers, I need to give them something they haven’t seen before. Sometimes that is just a scene that they would never have access to, but other times it is a scene they’ve seen over and over but with that fresh perspective brought to it. One other quality is a certain intelligence — hard to judge necessarily from a Web site or portfolio, but can be ascertained from a conversation.”

On the factors they consider in commissioning assignments:

“Primarily, I consider the style of the photographer,” Hadlow says. “I like to know that the style is a good match for the subject and idea we need to get across. Photographers I hire usually have a strong sense of independence and of what makes a good image. Because time is often tight and subjects uncomfortable with the process, it is important that the photographer be able to think on his or her feet to overcome some of the obstacles that come up.

“I consider the personality of the photographer as well whenever possible,” she adds. “Sometimes a subject requires a soft hand and sometimes a harder push is needed, and when personalities can be matched often a more successful picture is the result.”

Jahn asks himself a number of questions: “What type of photography is likely to do the story justice? Is it a portrait or series of portraits? Is it a newsfeature about a particular country or event? Do I send someone or find a local photographer? Other considerations are the size of the story, the relative importance of the subject. Is it likely to be a cover, or just a one-pager. Are multiple images required?”

On coordinating photography with writing to pull a story together:

Hadlow: “Communication with the writers is important. I try to convey as much information as possible to the photographers so the mood and tone of the story can be ascertained before shooting.”

Jahn: “Best case scenario, we’d have a very good idea of what the story is going to be before sending a photographer to cover it. In fact, the ideal is to have a written draft prior to assigning someone to shoot it.

“Like most aspects of this business, probably the most crucial thing to be done is keep the lines of communications open between the photo editor, photographer, writer and word editor,” he adds. “Ideally, the photo editor should be the focal point of this dynamic, acting as a coordinator or producer of the story.”

On the value of photo agencies:

Hadlow: “Often an agency is able to keep track of a photographer’s schedule’s easier than I am. I also like to check and see what new talent the agencies have found.”

On how the business is changing:

“Like many if not all print publications, we are putting more and more resources (mostly labor currently) into our Web site,” says Jahn. “I must confess a certain allegiance to the primacy of the printed page, but there are qualities that the Internet can offer that expands our vocabulary for storytelling in photography. Not only that, but it also overcomes the space limitations of a printed newsmagazine, and the only limits are the size of the reader’s screen and the length of his or her attention span.”

Hadlow says, “We will all be spending even more time than we already are dealing with how images will be used on the Web — and how that usage relates to the publication.”

[tags]photojournalism, photo editors, freelance photography[/tags]

2 Responses to “A Few Minutes with Photo Editors Scot Jahn and Michele Hadlow”

  1. Thanks for posting this. It's great to get insight from the folks doing the hiring. Cheers!

  2. I loved reading this article. I'll definitely be coming back to read more. In fact, I'm not leaving. I see some articles on the sidebar I'll read before going to bed. Thanks again for the great insight into photo buying.

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