Daily Archives July 6, 2022


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2010, and has long been one of my favorite posts of this entire long-running guest blog series. I wanted to share it here again as a reminder that, though we may not all be magazine photographers with editors, we are very often our own editors and can improve our work by heeding the advice shared here.

Mr. Loengard was one of the most influential people in the world of photography, and to me personally as his books helped me learn to see in a different way. Sadly, Mr. Loengard passed away in 2020, but his influence lives on through anyone he worked with, or who encountered his work and books. I hope this post brings wisdom and guidance.

The Role of the Picture Editor

It is not important if photographs are “good.” It’s important that they are interesting. What makes a photograph interesting? I’ll count the ways: It can be our first look at something. It can be entertaining. It can evoke deep emotions. It can be amusing or thrilling or intriguing. It can be proof of something. It can jog memories or raise questions. It can be beautiful. It can convey authority. Most often, it informs. And, it can surprise.

People lay out on the sand Long Beach while fog covers most of the cityscape in front of them.

Nothing is more important than the trust of photographers. Since they are not employees, but freelancers, photographers often operate from a disadvantaged position. Remember that:

  • You are the photographers’ advocate. No one else will be.
  • You are the photographers’ counselor, explaining the magazine to them and them to the magazine.
  • You are the final arbiter when disagreements arise with other members of the staff.

Smooth the way for the photographer. Make certain that the proper research has been done before an assignment and that there is actually something to photograph. (It sounds unbelievable to say photographers can arrive to find their subjects don’t exist but it happens.)

You should back photographers’ good ideas with conviction and shield them from misguided suggestions: Often, something that sounds intelligent doesn’t look good in photographs. Intelligent thoughts are often better in the mind’s eye than in the camera.

Other editors, with the story’s text in hand, may judge photographs by what they have read. Don’t join them. The reader sees before he ever reads and may never read if there’s nothing interesting to see.

A good subject for one photographer may not be good for another. Some photographers create a graphic and dramatic structure of a scene and then record it. Others leave a scene alone, intent on catching the ring of truth in a moment’s natural activity. Some do a bit of both. Label the extremes “posed” and “candid.”

Alfred Eisenstaedt at Jones Beach, New York.

You must spot young talent and encourage it, giving these tyros more than occasional assignments. Give those you select enough work to allow them to develop, but remember that when photographers start out, they often imitate one famous photographer or another. Challenge them to be themselves. When a photographer such as Alfred Eisenstaedt or Annie Leibovitz makes his or her reputation in your publication, everyone, including the reader, benefits.

Assistant Robert Bean and Annie Liebovitz on a gargoyle extending from the 61st floor of the Chrysler Building.