Understanding Your Art Director

As group design director for a large U.K.-based publishing company, I’ve found that understanding the photographers I work with is an integral part of my creative process.

What motivates a photographer to take the photographs they do? How do they like to work? What are their influences and interests? These are all questions I ask myself before commissioning a photographer for a specific project.

Do You Know Your Art Director?

But I wonder how many photographers really understand their art director in the same way? I’m not talking here about understanding the brief — I’m talking about understanding the person and what motivates them.

For me, the photographer/art director relationship is a collaboration; the photographer and I discuss our ideas and thoughts. I’m not one of those art directors who creates a sketch and presents it to the photographer for execution. I want to have a dialogue through which we explore the brief. In some cases this might entail a brief telephone conversation, but in others it might require a number of face-to-face conversations over a period of time.

Nothing is better than face-to-face communication for building a relationship. Having said that, I can also learn a lot about the photographers I work with — or am considering working with — online. And photographers should be using the Web to learn about their art directors, too.

Today, when photographers call to make an appointment to show their books, I will generally look at their Web sites to gain a certain understanding of them, so that when we do meet we are able to discuss their work and approach in a little more depth.

Social media tools like Twitter enable photographers and art directors to learn even more about one another, and to build upon their relationships. For example, I used Twitter to ask photographers what I should write about in this blog post — and I plan to continue using Twitter to get your feedback and questions that may form the basis of future posts.

Understanding Passions and Influences

So what if you are interested in learning more about an art director that you work with, or would like to work with? Well, in my case, if you follow my Tweets or my Posterous postings, you will quickly pick up information about my influences and passions.

In terms of magazine design, these influences include Russian émigré Alexey Brodovitch, who art directed Harper’s Bazaar from 1938 to 1958; the German title Twen, art directed by Willy Fleckhaus; the British magazine About Town in the 1960s, art directed by Tom Wolsely; and the art direction of Swiss magazine Du by Roland Schenk, who would later become design director at Haymarket Publishing — a position I now hold.

Of course, many other magazines and art directors have inspired me and continue to excite me, but these four art directors are constants and have one passion in common — photography. As photography is a passion of mine as well, I am an avid collector of photography books and regularly attend photography festivals. I also interview and write about photographers from time to time. And I post about all of these loves on Twitter and Posterous.

I also post about things I don’t like — which can be equally valuable to a photographer who would like to work with me.

And the same is true for many art directors today. It’s easier than ever for you as a photographer to get relevant background information before you ever pick up that phone to ask to show your book.

Understanding your art director can help you to earn assignments, build relationships and, ultimately, do better work. The best photographer/art director relationships are stimulating, exciting, fresh, even symbiotic — all of which ends up being reflected on the printed page.

18 Responses to “Understanding Your Art Director”

  1. Hi Wayne,

    I look forward to your future posts. I'm a cultural and humanitarian photographer who only recently have been getting assignment work (as most of my projects are self-assigned and self-financed). I also have a new blog (BeyondExposures.com) where I just earlier posted about my views and thoughts about working with clients. To get insight into the mind of an Art Director (for things liked and disliked) is a rare opportunity for learning! Thanks for taking the time to do this. I'll definitely add you to my twitter feed. 🙂

  2. Hi Rodney, thank you for the positive feedback, if you have any topics or perspectives that you would like me to explore in future blogs please let me know. Wayne

  3. I wonder if Tom would like to comment on Haymarket's policy of stealth "rights grabs" using the payment instrument?

    When the photographer eventually gets paid the cheque sent has a part to sign that says "I transfer all rights". If you don't sign it you can't get paid. After waiting 6-8 weeks for the cheque guess what most people do?

    The last time I had a call from a Haymanrket AD (about 1 year ago) they wanted me to do an all day job and 100m round trip, deliver processed files and grab all rights in perpetuity for £200 all in.

    Sound familiar?

    While a lovey-dovey relationship would be great Tom needs to remember that we are businesses too and money in the bank is more important than images on a page. Images and a credit line don't feed the family!

  4. Wayne,
    A really nice post and I couldn't agree more. It's an important step some photographers lack caring about.
    However, many art directors are not as engaged in social media and some don't have websites or online portfolios. That makes it harder to get to know them just by the Internet. In that case it becomes even more important (as a photographer) to ask all the right questions on the phone talk or during a preliminary meeting.


  5. Wayne, a great piece, stimulating as ever.

    As Daniel says above there are fewer Art Directors around now with the caring and understanding of the photographic process that you have; and indeed many are now disinterested in forging the relationships that you and I have established.

    Maybe that disinterest has fuelled the photographers apathy in finding out what makes their art director tick- I always thought it was your pace maker, lol.

    "BackInTheRealWorld" has an embittered but non the less valid point. One I personally know you as DD at Haymarket do not share with your employer.

    To BITRW- you can contact the magazine/client/media agency and/or accounts department and state that you do not sell all rights especially for such small reward, and require a non standard agreement...best practice and due diligence in business lie in your hands sir....after 22years shooting for commercial gain myself I have never knowingly sold my rights and my colleagues/clients/comissioner's respect that...it takes two to tango....be pro-active and do the research and be diligent in requesting the assertion of your moral rights to your work!

    I look forward to the next stimulating blog Mr Ford.

    Until we beer again; adios

  6. Nice posting! I like it. Thank's for your positive spirit given. Keep on blogging ^_^

  7. Hi Wayne,

    Great point suggesting the relationship between art director and photographer is more symbiotic.

    It's good to understand that art directors don't just need people to supply photos, they need people that can help them become more creative, help them find solutions to problems, and come up with viable ideas.

    Thanks again for the post!

    Paul Conrad

  8. I posted one of my favorite Art Directors on my blog where I did a video of him talking about the relationships. You can see it here: http://www.stanleyleary.com/Newsletters/OctNewsletter.html

  9. BITRW has a good point. "a number of face-to-face conversations over a period of time" to build a relationship sounds wonderful. If you get paid for all those meetings that is! Many professional photographers today struggle to keep their heads above water, as rates are dropping and rights grabbed. It can be hard to get a reasonable payment for the shooting itself, let alone any payment at all for postproduction or re-use. So this face to face relationship building over time is hard to justify. Unless teh AD in question has lunch about the same time as you do, and works just down the street.

    However, I agree on the social media bit. So here is my twitter profile : http://twitter.com/felixfeatures See you in cyberspace!

  10. I am assuming that in BackintheRealWorld’s case that copyright was not discussed in the initial briefing discussion for whatever reason, I would advise all photographers to discuss rates, licensing and any other questions or issues they have before accepting any brief.

    When a member of the Haymarket Media Group’s staff commissions a photographer they will negotiate with that individual or company as to which rights we wish to purchase – this may be first UK rights, first world rights or it may indeed be to obtain outright copyright – with whichever licensing agreement chosen a specific commissioning form is filled out, in the case of a commission where we do require all rights part of the contract does require as your correctly state that the payment cheque be signed on the reverse before cashing.

  11. Hi Stanley, very insightful video! Wayne

  12. Hi Daniel, nothing will replace the face to face conversation or indeed the telephone conversation, and you are quite not every photographer or art director is using social media, but for those that are it is another form of communication that we can use to build and create dialogue. Best wishes, Wayne

  13. Another insightful video on the relationship between photographers and clients 😉


  14. Wayne - you write:

    "I would advise all photographers to discuss rates, licensing and any other questions or issues they have before accepting any brief."

    Good advice but not always easy to follow. Younger photographers in particular often find it hard to raise these questions, fearing that they'll be seen as 'difficult'.

    Wayne, as Creative Director you are in a position to make it policy with your editors that THEY always raise these topics when discussing a commission. The best work won't come from a game where the editor gets as much as they can extract in the deal. The commissioner and the photographer need to respect each other. The commissioner should only demand the rights really needed and allow the photographer the freedom to exploit the remainder.

    Commission fees are low, it's the sale of residual rights that I retained that allowed me to build my business over the last 30+ years and encouraged me to give my maximum on every job.

    I was surprised to read your:

    "in the case of a commission where we do require all rights part of the contract does require as your correctly state that the payment cheque be signed on the reverse before cashing."

    This is unlawful under the Cheques Act. A cheque can ONLY be a transfer of money, it can't be conditional. Any cheque that carries conditions should be returned to the issuer if the bank won't accept it (they should and mostly do) with the conditions deleted.

    David Hoffman

  15. Hi Wayne

    I agree wholeheartedly.

    Much the same can be said of the art director/picture editor/photographer relationship. The picture editor is often the bridge between art director and photographer. Understanding both is a sign of a good picture editor. Working with yourself and some of the photographers we commissioned at the time was very satisfying for that reason.

    Photographers often forget that once they make contact with a publication they are agreeing to a collaboration and as in any team effort mutual understanding can benefit all.

    Now more than ever photographers need to make use of viral networking be attuned to the needs of art directors.

    Jennie Ricketts.

  16. 'Embittered' or simply realistic? Remember when IPC pulled the same cheque stunt? And had several levels of rights contracts but only offered all-rights until they were challenged? Come on Wayne - address David's post.

  17. Here is another video I use when I teach, but this is from the client's perspective.


  18. Beautiful stuff. Thanks Stanley.

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