Through the Lens

An editor speaks out on finding the right headshot and working with a great photographer.


For an editor, it is the moment of truth: The editorial submission deadline has arrived and your reporter hands in her story. You are pleased that the quotes are sharp and the facts are clear. There is only one thing missing: photographs of the people interviewed in the story. These are usually supplied by a firm’s media relations people, who certainly understand that a news article can affect the perception of their firm, but don’t seem to place the same importance on headshots of their representatives who appear in such articles.


Phil Albinus edits a financial technology business-to-business magazine and interviews powerful people in financial services. When opening the digital photo of the person in the story, he says he realizes that the next few seconds are a total crap shoot. Will it be a good picture or a bad one? He shakes his head at past pictures he has seen that media relations people offer for publication.

“The pictures are usually a horror,” says Albinus. “Nine times out of 10, it will be a picture taken with a small digital camera when someone has popped into an office. We call them mug shots– the person is placed against the wall and the harshest factory flash setting is used to make this person look like a criminal.”

Albinus has no trouble remembering bad headshots. He recalls one image that was from the subject’s building security card, while another image was from a person’s passport photo at the same resolution as a matchbook cover. “I still can’t get through a PR person’s head who thinks that this is how they want their officials to be represented in a magazine.”

Albinus also recalls one picture of a bank official behind his desk. “It was clear from the angle and the look of utter disdain on his face that he told the photographer that he would be damned if he was going to get up from behind his desk and to just take the picture,” he says. The picture was so terrible that Albinus didn’t use it in the magazine.

Another challenge for editors is live events. Magazines no longer make money from paid ads and subscriptions—in business-to-business journalism, the bulk of a publication’s revenues can come from conferences, roundtables, exhibits, awards dinners and cocktail parties. These present a special challenge to the men and women who must assign a photographer to get pictures for publications. Editors must ensure that an event is going along smoothly, the guests are entertained and relaxed and that the photographer is getting a variety of shots. “These venues are almost always a huge challenge for photographers. They usually happen in hotel meeting rooms where the wallpaper, lights and carpeting are pretty dreadful,” says Albinus. A good photographer with the right equipment and a good eye for framing the shot can make almost any event at any location look good.

The key to good editor/photographer relations is an open rapport. It is hugely beneficial to tell a photographer what types of shots you want and don’t want and what kind of spirit or tone you would like the magazine to achieve. “It is amazing how many editors can’t describe what works in their magazine and what does not,” says Albinus. He adds that it helps when a photographer has to explain what shots cannot be achieved given time of day, lighting and venue.

With open rapport, a clear idea of your magazine’s tone and a respect for high-quality images, an editor and his photographer can make their publication picture-perfect.


*Originally published in Issue 1, Volume 1 of A.E. Fletcher Photography’s FOCUSED