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excerpts from the experts PRESENT

Professional Photography and Industry Influencers Share their Secrets to Success

Photo © Natalia Mantini


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Getting Portraits Into Publications, On Billboards And On Gallery Walls Portrait photographers divulge how they navigate the rough waters of getting work onto pages, billboards and gallery walls. By Libby Peterson

AGATA SERGE Location: Łódź, Poland Exhibitions: FVF 2017, Galeria ZPAF, Lodz Film School, Art Inkubator, Drukarnia AGATASERGE.COM


Milton Glaser is one of the

CATALINA KULCZAR Location: New York, NY Clients: DIY Magazine, Google, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Warby Parker, National Geographic

cultural icons Kulczar has had the privilege of photographing.

Photo © Catalina Kulczar

Your Approach On Set


ANDREW KOVALEV Location: Paris, France / Tbilisi, Georgia Clients: Le Monde, Forbes, The Sunday Times, Nike, TELE2 CKOVALEV.COM

Catalina Kulczar: At first my work was all over the place: portraits, conferences, concerts, editorial, headshots, products— anything that came my way. I’m finally at a point where I don’t have to say yes to everything and can continue to focus on the work I love, which is animated, playful and honest portraits. I bring a pile of energy to every shoot and a contagious— some might even say loud—laugh. On a recent shoot, someone nicknamed me “Sunny- Side Up.” That pretty much sums up my spirit on set. Andrew Kovalev: Paying attention to details is instrumental to my approach. I invest a lot of time in pre-production— location scouting, casting, set design, styling. I try to over-deliver in that stage

DEAR MY YOUNGER SELF: Tips From the Other Side

Success is a marathon, not a sprint. I was naive to think that upon moving to New York City I was going to “make it big” by getting a rep and landing huge advertising campaigns as I quickly became an in-demand photographer. Ha! I would tell any photographers starting out to be extremely patient and even more persistent. When someone shows interest in you, get their contact information and politely follow up with them. And when they throw an opportunity your way, kill it. —Catalina Kulczar


Pavel Ruminov, Russian movie and music video director, for The Hollywood Reporter.

DEAR MY YOUNGER SELF: Tips From the Other Side Photo © Andrew Kovalev

because it means smoother results. Just as words create structure, composition, mood, tonality and in the end, convey the main message of a story, so do images. What fascinates me most in the genre of portraits is this storytelling aspect. To me, portrait photography is a lot like literature. I’m Russian—I love literature. Evolving Your Style and Building a Portfolio

Agata Serge: For years, I thought of photography as my hobby, and in a way, I think this was fortunate. Rather than spending time and energy approaching editors and advertisers, I focused on developing my skills and slowly putting together a portfolio. As my shots improved, they began to get recognized by some who reached out to collaborate and others who introduced me to potential clients. “You can never be too prepared” is a statement I’ve heard a lot from more experienced photographers, and to an extent, I agree. I’ve always made sure to do my research and prepare thoroughly before shoots. At the same time, I feel that it’s important not to plan out every last

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shot in advance. I always try to leave some extra time and rolls of film for moments of improvisation. I feel free to experiment and try things that may not work, and that’s how my personal style has evolved.

Getting Your First Clients

CK: When I moved to New York in 2009, I started at zero. My first client was Magnolia Bakery, and I landed them because I bartered to use their space for a shoot in exchange for photography. My next client was the trends and technology website PSFK. They tweeted that they needed content creators and when I met with them, I offered to do their staff portraits for free. Warby Parker, who was my client for three years, was a result of meeting with their creative director thanks to an intro by my next door neighbor, which lead to a trial shoot. Today, I’ve had the privilege to photograph cultural icons like Milton Glaser, David Byrne and Annie Clark. Mind you, the hustle never stops when you’re working for yourself. This is a competitive industry. Hustle is requisite.

Have a story prepared for a shoot. Think of it as a movie script. Be the director for your models, treat them as your actors and explain their role in your story to them. Shoot like a director of photography. In my experience, this little game helps people relax, become more playful and be willing to open up and show their emotions on set. —Andrew Kovalev

AK: The key is to have a portfolio before you go looking for your first clients. At some point in my growth as a hobby photographer, I had this ambition of being published in a magazine. I started talking to people I knew who might have connections in publishing. Finally, I got lucky: Some friends of friends knew of an open call for emerging photographers for a famous magazine that gave me a test assignment. I was to choose one of four different subjects and produce a story about it in one week. I was so afraid of missing my chance that I shot all four. In a couple of weeks, they called with what would be my first magazine assignment.

with time, but after six years, I still feel it as strongly as ever. For next spring’s exhibition, I plan to work with a curator, who will hopefully help me gain some objectivity and distance when considering my work.

Planting Roots in Your City

CK: I learned that to succeed in this industry—and New York City is very challenging—it always helps to know someone who can do an email introduction versus a cold email or cold call. After I did David Byrne’s portrait for the first time in 2012, I had grandiose dreams of my phone ringing off the hook for commissioned work. Yeah, not so much. I was blown away at how difficult it was to be taken seriously even after photographing someone as influential and well-known as David. The lesson is that hustle and grind never stop if you want to expand your work and grow your clients.

myself, invited every influencer I could think of and was pleasantly surprised when many attended.

AK: Many years after my first editorial, I started building a full-time career in a completely new country: France. I began with sending out 50 or 60 introduction emails to some major Parisian magazines. Nobody replied. Not yes, not no—just silence. One day, I was on a lecture, and during the break I showed the curator my portfolio. She gave me positive feedback and some useful comments. I told her about my search and she shared her friend’s email address, a photo editor at a French business magazine. She also promised to make a call and introduce me. I got myself my first meeting and, a few weeks after, my first assignment. Then a second. And when others saw me working for French clients, they started replying. They needed proof that someone in Paris was already trusting me and getting good results. My third assignment from a French magazine was a cover shoot.

Obstacles to Assembling a Show

Staying Relevant and Moving Forward

AS: The biggest challenge I face at each exhibition is selecting the images to be shown. For me, this is an emotional process. I grow attached to each photograph and am hesitant to let them out into the world. I thought that this attachment might fade

CK: I have a personal approach to gaining new business, and that helps with relatability, but word-of-mouth referrals of past and current clients has helped me become hirable. This year is the first time in my career that I’ve aggressively marketed


“I found so much joy in preparing for and attending the exhibition by Canon during FVF in Lodz this past April,” Serge says. “Canon was kind enough to prepare beautiful 100 x 70-centimeter, high-quality prints that surprised even me. I was thrilled by the number of people who attended and still feel giddy when I think about it today.”

Photo © Agata Serge

Getting into a Gallery

AS: Contests, both in print magazines and online, are a great way for a photographer who may not have any contacts in the industry to gain some exposure. I knew absolutely no one when I started. The validation that comes with winning a contest is nice, but even more helpful is that many publications grant the winner a spot in a group exhibition. In 2013, I organized an individual exhibition for

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Contests, both in print magazines and online, are a great way for a photographer who may not have any contacts in the industry to gain some exposure...The validation that comes with winning a contest is nice, but even more helpful is that many publications grant the winner a spot in a group exhibition. - Agata Serge Photo © Catalina Kulczar

my work with “The New Order,” my portrait series of women in technology. I mailed a promo poster to art buyers, creative directors and art directors to let them know that I love what they’re doing and that I want to work with them. Self-promo pieces can be a gamble, but if your intentions are right and you are patient, the right people

will come along and want to work with you. AK: In recent years, I started producing personal projects that are more and more complex. I started collaborating a lot with stylists, costume and set designers, makeup artists, actors, and I’m taking interns. With my personal work becoming more elaborate, this is where I am heading

in terms of commercial assignments. You have to treat your personal work as an important self-promotional tool—then people will want you to apply that unique style of yours to their needs.



How to Win @ Social Media Advertising By Greg Scoblete

Social networks, particularly Facebook, have pulled what might be the greatest bait-and-switch in recent history. They lured hundreds of millions of people, and tens of thousands of businesses, onto their platforms with one set of rules. Then, without warning, the rules changed. Businesses that rely on their posts being visible to their followers can no longer bank on those eyeballs. “There’s a limited amount of virtual land, and now we’re all hooked on social media,” says Rich Brooks, president of Flyte New Media and “It used to be that 80 to 90 percent of your followers would see a given post. Now it’s between 2 and 6 percent,” Brooks says. There’s only one sure-fire way to promote yourself on social media today, and that’s to take out ads. That’s the bad news. The good news is that social media ad campaigns can be quite powerful. “We’ve seen about a ten-to-one return on investment,” says Pat Hade, founder of HS Social Media. That is, for every $100 spent on social media marketing, $1,000 is earned. But the rules of paid social media marketing operate differently than efforts to grow a following organically, Hade cautions. Where organic efforts typically focus on growing follower counts and increasing engagement (likes,

comments, shares), paid campaigns have more concrete metrics—or as Hade puts it, a trinity of goals consisting of “awareness, promotion and conversion.” “Likes are a vanity metric,” seconds Brooks. “You need something tangible at the end of this. You want a lead, a name with an email and phone attached to it.” START SMALL

Unlike other advertising platforms, you don’t need a huge marketing budget to get started on social media. You can devote as little as $100 a week or even $5 a day to your ad efforts. This minimum up-front investment is good, marketers say, since it affords you ample room to experiment—a critical element in any social ad campaign. Among the marketing experts we spoke with, three social networks popped up repeatedly as the best places for photographers to invest: Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. The last one may not get as much photographer love as, say, Instagram, but it’s a major marketing platform for many businesses in the wedding industry, Brooks says. Weddings

rank as one of the top three Pinterest pin categories, and Pinterest users are more likely to spend money on advertisers they click on than rival social networks, Brooks says. Getting improved visibility on Pinterest can also have beneficial spillover effects like better SEO for your own website. To start, marketers suggest splitting up your ad budget nearly evenly among your target networks—at least until you build up enough data on user behavior to justify a shift in allocation. Target, Test, Rinse, Repeat

When it comes to social media marketing, you’ll have to become something of a data nerd to fully maximize your investment. First, Facebook and Instagram have extremely precise tools to target customers, Hade says. In fact, Facebook and Instagram have an identical advertising system, since Facebook owns Instagram. You can send ads to customers based on their location, where they’ve been, what they’ve searched for and more. (Our total lack of Internet privacy does have some


Build your own social media ads, graphics and videos with these simple tools.


With Spark, you can build graphics and animated videos with ease. You can start a Spark project on your phone (iOS only) and have it sync to your web browser on your desktop. As far as content, Spark has plenty of themes, templates, fonts and a selection of free images you can use to complement your own work. It can pull your images from Adobe Creative Cloud, Dropbox, Google Drive and Lightroom.


In the ever-moving goalpost that is Facebook’s algorithm, video currently reigns supreme. The more video you pile into your posts, the better they’ll perform. Animoto’s video builder makes it easy to craft short, compelling clips using nothing more than your stills and B-roll. Professional and Business subscriptions enable you to create 1080p videos in Instagramfriendly square or landscape formats with your own logos in the video and custom branded colors in the theme. You can add voice-overs, text and pre-built storyboards to your videos as well. Price: $22/month (Professional); $34/month (Business) +

Price: free +



upside for marketing, doesn’t it?). “If there’s a wedding boutique that your ideal customer goes to, you can target your ads to everyone that goes within five miles of that boutique or a florist,” Hade says. You can also target people by their published relationship status, which is especially helpful for wedding photographers searching for recently engaged customers, Brooks says. Even with these precision tools, you’ll want to test your approaches on various social networks to see how they’re performing. All the major social network ad platforms support A/B testing and a fairly rich set of analytics to help you measure your audience, their behavior and the activity of others in your industry. Studying those metrics on a daily or weekly basis will help you hone your targeting. Brooks suggests creating a landing page on your own personal site where you can track inbound leads from various networks. “See the cost per click, then measure what percentage is coming through a given network,” he says. “Then, track which

inbound click ends up becoming a lead. Then, which leads lead to jobs you get.” This minutia is important, Brooks stresses, since you may find one network sends more leads but another audience actually generates more jobs. STAY CURRENT

When it comes to promoting posts on Facebook or Instagram, you don’t need to think of a conventional ad that markets just your service. Co-marketing can also help, Hade says. “If there’s a florist you work with, you can both kick in money to start a campaign to target customers looking to get married.” As we noted, social networks change their algorithms, often to devastating effect. Staying current with how various networks prioritize content is a must. When it comes to disruptive policy changes, Facebook seems to be the most active, followed by Instagram.

BE SOCIAL Continued...


Canva offers a library of social-mediafriendly graphics templates for you to choose from. You can upload fonts, brand colors and logos and create graphics that will be automatically resized for any of the popular social networks. It also includes a light photo editor with tools such as photo filters, exposure adjustments, cropping and rotating. There are templates for almost every conceivable business need, including infographics, gift certificates, business cards, newsletters and more. Canva has a free tier with 1GB of storage, 8,000 templates and support for two folders and 10 team members. The Canva for Work tier has unlimited folders, unlimited photo storage, design resizing and support for custom colors, fonts, logos and more. Price: $13/month +

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While there are huge numbers of people on social networks, you shouldn’t necessarily throw every last digital marketing dollar into social, Brooks says. Some budget needs to be tailored toward capturing Google search traffic— particularly during the run-up to bookings season when consumers are doing their research. In that case, Brooks says it’s a good idea to divide up your marketing spending with 50 percent going to Google Ad-Words and 50 percent going to social. When people are not actively looking for wedding photographers, Brooks advises that the majority of your marketing dollar should shift back toward social.

Portraits, Just Because Photography duo Sullivan & Sullivan explain how they attract new clients in the wedding off-season By Tim and Laura Sullivan

Photo Š Sullivan & Sullivan



Winter is a slower time for wedding photographers, and we get nervous if our fingers aren’t hitting the shutter button often enough. The truth is, everyone wants a good portrait. People around us and on social media kept talking about wanting to be in front of our cameras but were not pulling the trigger for a shoot since they really had no reason to. You hire a photographer for your engagement or your wedding, but a “just because“ shoot is harder for folks to justify. We found that we needed a way to convert potential clients—and create the images we wanted to create. We noticed that guys were getting a few drinks before their shoot as a way to chill out and the girls were going to great lengths to get their makeup done before their shoots. So, last winter, we started a new series called Lipstick and Libations: great makeup, a stiff drink, and then a relaxed and artistic shoot to create some stellar images.

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We rented a studio in the historic part of Seattle, hired a makeup artist, stocked the bar and charged our camera batteries. Giving people an excuse to have their photo taken, not to mention in a relaxed environment where they don’t feel shy about refilling their Champagne glass, was something that didn’t take a lot of convincing. While we got quite a few couples signing up for sessions, we didn’t want to alienate the singles of the world, and wanted to give them an impetus to sign up. We also kept getting messages from people that went something like, “I need new photos—not for LinkedIn but, you know, just because…“ and we were like, “We know this is for your Tinder profile, don’t even worry about it!“ The key to creating long-lasting clients and making them happy is listening to what they’re really asking for and catering your offerings around the things they’re telling you, no matter how subtle those

All photos © Sullivan & Sullivan

messages may be. “No Shame in Your Tinder Game“ is the name we came up with for these sessions, aimed at anyone on a dating site who wants a goodlooking portrait. We meet so many new people and have so much fun with Lipstick and Libations, and always want to be tweaking our offering so our clients feel totally heard and served. Our goal is to create longterm clients who believe in the value of photography, know us as individuals, will recommend us to friends, and have good experiences in front of the camera, because so many people are scared of it! That first round of portraits—just a fun little experiment—ended up booking us two weddings this summer. One of our clients told us, “We only know one thing for sure about our wedding and it’s that we have to have you guys there!“ What a compliment to give after only one hour of working with someone.

You hire a photographer for your engagement or your wedding, but a ‘just because’ shoot is harder for folks to justify.




Above photo © Koury Angelo; headshot © Ryan Struck

Ahmed Fakhr, director of photography at, joined the publication two years ago. He had previously worked at Entertainment Weekly and Newsweek/Daily Beast. We asked Fakhr how his photographic and video needs are changing, and how he now evaluates the skills of potential contributors.

PDN: What are your responsibilities at AF: My basic job responsibilities are serving all the photo needs of That encompasses anything we’re publishing on the digital side. I produce shoots for the website, including our features and photo essays. In addition to working on the editorial side, I collaborate with marketing and sales when we have sponsored content. That can involve hiring photographers for shoots, and collaborating with the video team for 12 | PDN


our daily news stories. I also handle the Instagram feed for Rolling Stone as well as the budget for the digital side. Right now my department is two people, including me. The print side is also two people, including creative director Jodi Peckman. PDN: What’s the relationship between the print and digital photo departments? Is the readership or point of view different? AF: We’ve begun to collaborate when there are stories from print we can blow out online

with more photos. We constantly have meetings to discuss stories they have coming up or we have coming up. Whether in print or digital, we want to have a unified voice. We are trying to cultivate a younger audience for online, so we cover a lot of younger artists—more of the social stars, Instagram photographers and YouTube stars. We’ve done a lot of profiles of them on While our coverage may change, our voice is still the same.

PDN: Is your background in print or online? AF: In my last position at EW, I bounced around from working on print to the website to the EW tablet edition. That was great, because it gave me a lot of experience in how print translates to online, and things we can do to make the experience of online feel more immersive, like a print feature. Also getting the technical training in how to use a CMS and a digital asset management system was helpful. After freelancing for for a while, I took a break to work at Newsweek/ Daily Beast, and there I moved from pure entertainment journalism to working on news stories with photojournalists, and that was an amazing experience. PDN: What’s the volume of work you produce? AF: My colleague, Rochelle Morton, and I say we put out a magazine every day. We consider all our aggregated news stories the front-of-the-book section. Then we have a substantial number of features on music, politics, movies, profiles and cultural pieces. We do a lot of coverage on culture, which could mean sex, drugs or crime. PDN: You’ve worked on a lot of videos. How are those made? AF: We have our own video department that includes producers, editors [and directors]. We embed videos within our political stories or aggregated news stories each day. I’ll collaborate with the video department to get the photo assets that they may need, and they’ll run a type treatment over them. They’re explainer videos. Those appear on, and in Rolling Stone’s Facebook and Twitter feeds. We are doing a partnership with Harley, where we go to ten different cities and jump into a niche culture in each city. I was the correspondent on three of those. We have a producer and a director of video who puts together the logistics side of it. We also hire a photographer who will follow us throughout the day and they’ll tell the same story as the video but through a photo essay. PDN: Are you looking for photographers who can do video, or do you prefer to have stills and video handled by different people? AF: I think it’s a great asset for any photographer to know how to do video, especially to know how to do video well. We’re always looking for photographers who can do both. For our festival coverage, we are usually only able to get one photographer approved by the festival, so to have someone who can do video at the same time is great. Then we know we’re covered in terms of live performance images on the still side, and they can also capture short videos. At these

festivals we’re focused on trying to do a few more Instagram Stories to bring our viewers into the festival and give them the Rolling Stone point of view. We collaborated with [the band] Cage the Elephant, who allowed us to do a day-inthe-life experience at Lollapalooza. We used still photos and video clips as well in our Instagram Stories. It was a way to bring our followers into the middle of things, letting them see Cage the Elephant getting ready to go on stage. PDN: You were on a PhotoPlus Expo panel called “What Photo Editors Want Now.” What do you want from photographers “now”? AF: Besides great work, I think we want people who can think in a social sense. That’s big now: Someone who thinks about how their work can translate to something different on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook. There’s a big push for video on Facebook, and that’s something we’re all trying to do. What’s really great is photographers who think of ideas for how to promote a story in a new way or how to do something different that would extend the story on social media. Whether that’s a short video clip or an animation, that could be very useful. We hire photographers for their creativity, so we want their opinion.

a great way to see photographers and their work. I use it as a tool to find out where photographers are by looking at their last post they geotagged. That sounds a little creepy. PDN: You’ve worked a lot in celebrity journalism. Do you have any thoughts on what makes a good celebrity photographer? AF: Being personable with the talent. A publicist may not be into an idea before the shoot, but if the photographer connects with the celebrity and brings up an idea naturally and the celebrity says, “Great idea,” that’s a way to get in an extra setup. Looking calm even if you’re going crazy is key. On some celebrity shoots, you can have 30 or 40 people in the room including their people and movie studio reps watching you work. It’s good to show you’re in control. It’ll put the talent and everyone else at ease. You’ll get better work out of it. PDN: What do you wish photographers or photographer/directors understood better about your needs? AF: I think my biggest complaint is when it comes to pitching. Understand the brand you’re pitching to. I get a pitch sometimes that’s blatantly not a fit for the brand. I think sometimes that hurts you more than it helps.

PDN: Are there any recent projects you’re particularly proud of? AF: We recently launched a digitalonly package of our 25 under 25 list, which focuses on emerging musicians, actors and activists under the age of 25. That was almost all commissioned photography. We were able to do 23 photo shoots in the span of three months all over the country. We worked with Brian Guido, Koury Angelo, Amy Lombard, Greg Kahn, Benjamin Rasmussen and Samuel Trotter. They’re all incredibly talented. I’m really proud of the work my colleague Rochelle Morton did to schedule things. PDN: Are you looking for new talent, or do you rely on a stable of contributors? AF: I’m always looking for new photographers and new work. I always try to put aside one hour per day to see who’s doing what, to look for new photographers, any new styles, because I think that’s the only way you can continue to grow creatively. PDN: Where do you look? AF: Feature Shoot, PDN, The New York Times, TIME. There are a few blogs, too. Of course Instagram is really big. That’s

THIS SPREAD: Opposite: Koury Angelo photographed Cage the Elephant at Lollapalooza for a day-in-thelife feature about the event; This page: Angelo also photographed actress Shannon Purser for’s 25 Under 25 feature. Photo © Koury Angelo

How Mark Peterson Stays Inspired And How He’s Fueled His Long Career By David Walker 14 | PDN


Photo © Mark Peterson

THIS SPREAD: Mark Peterson documented charity fundraisers like a street photographer for his work in “Acts of Charity.”

Thirty-five years into his career, Mark Peterson is surging again. His project, called “Political Theater,” with its stark black-andwhite photographs inspired by the classics of film noir, lacerates the pretense, egos, and stage-managed “optics” of presidential politics. Peterson turned the groundbreaking project into a book at the end of 2016. And it is bringing him plenty of assignment work.

But Peterson has kept clients calling for years with his versatility, experience and pictures “that always feel distinctive,” says Kathy Ryan, director of photography at The New York Times Magazine, a client since the early ’90s. “He doesn’t repeat himself [and] his work never looks dated…You can count on him to get something wonderful and surprising.”



All photos © Mark Peterson

I felt like I was in quicksand. Every time I took a step I felt like I was sinking deeper, and wondering if I had it in me to keep making pictures.

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Peterson was last riding a career peak in 2005 with the publication of his project called “Acts of Charity,” a sharp, colorful critique of the money and privilege on parade at high society charity events. Like a street photographer, “I would let the events unfold in front of me,” he says of that project. “With [“Political Theater”], I went out purposely to make certain photos. It’s a much more methodical approach.” Redux CEO Marcel Saba, who has represented Peterson for nearly 30 years, says that one key to Peterson’s enduring career is that he’s constantly experimenting. “Editors are always looking for a new look, and Mark is always rethinking his subjects, his composition, his lighting, the way he moves around.” He’s carried along by his tireless enthusiasm. Peterson still feels the rush of anticipation every time the phone rings. He appreciates the emerging photographers nipping at his heels, because their work inspires him. And he still can’t believe his luck at having stumbled into a photography career in the first place, never mind surviving all these years. “I get to the end of

every year, and I go, ‘Wow! I made it another year,’” he says. Peterson says he doesn’t take anything for granted, and he doesn’t dare relax. But he measures his success by the progress of personal projects, not the money. “At the end of the year, you can look and say: ‘That was a good year. I made five pictures for that project and I’m halfway through it,’ or: ‘I just started and I’m missing this.’ You can look ahead to the next year and kind of say, ‘This is what I’m going for.’” (Personal projects dating back to the beginning of his career are on his website, and reflect his evolution as a  photographer.) He has had his struggles. He enjoyed a long prosperous stretch from the early ’90s, just after he moved to New York from Minneapolis, until just after the publication of “Acts of Charity.” Then magazines began folding, or scaling back on the documentary work he specializes in. At the same time, he struggled to translate his visual voice from film to digital photography. “From 2005 to 2008 or 2009, I felt my work really suffered, and a lot of it just wasn’t very good,” he says. “I felt like I was

in quicksand. Every time I took a step I felt like I was sinking deeper, and wondering if I had it in me to keep making pictures.” With a mortgage and two kids, he soldiered on. He had enough assignment work to stay afloat, and the perseverance to keep asking: “What can I do different? How can I move forward?” He eventually found his way again through his personal work. Peterson has always been interested in photographing politics, and the political right in particular. When the Tea Party gained momentum after 2008, Peterson found it irresistible. “It was like your grandma sitting in a lawn chair yelling the most awful, nasty things. I really wanted to capture that. That’s what motivates me: trying to explain the strange, crazy world we live in.” It took him a few years to find the stylistic voice that distinguishes his “Political Theater” project. An important stepping stone was an assignment from GQ to cover the 2012 political conventions with nothing but an iPhone. The lightened load

of gear, the snapshot aesthetic, and the psychedelic colors of the Hipstamatic app got Peterson thinking afterwards: “Why couldn’t I do that with all my work?” He had a breakthrough in 2013 after photographing a Tea Party protest against the Affordable Care Act. Peterson was struck by how choreographed it was. But when he looked at his pictures afterward, nothing conveyed what he’d felt, and the images looked flat, he says. So he put them on his iPhone and started manipulating them with every 99-cent app that he had. “And finally there was one that I liked.” At the same time, he was trying to capture the essence of the public persona, if not the actual character, of his subjects. One of the first photos that did that successfully— and helped define the “Political Theater” project—was a tight shot of Chris Christie’s mouth, taken as the former New Jersey governor (and one-time presidential candidate) shouted down a questioner at a town hall meeting. The photograph

is a commentary not only on Christie’s reputation as a combative bully, but on the atmosphere of national politics. Without false modesty, Peterson is quick to deflect credit for his success to people who inexplicably (by his reckoning) took chances on him: the UPI bureau chief who gave him his first job, mentors, his many loyal clients, and his agent. “So much of my career has been that a door opens, and I’m lucky enough to walk through,” he says. His parting advice for photographers hoping to sustain a long career is to do what he does, and what most successful photographers do: “Find a project that you care about, that isn’t about [trying] to get work, and that you’re doing because you honestly want to show people something. “That’s the most important thing.”

THIS SPREAD: Opposite: From Peterson’s series “Acts of Charity”; This page: Mark Peterson’s longterm project, “Political Theater,” grew out of his interest in photographing the political right.



Photo © Kate Owen

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How to Land Work With Refinery29 Interview by Holly Stuart Hughes

Founded in 2005 as a New York-based fashion guide, Refinery29 has expanded its editorial focus and its readership, claiming about 27 million unique visitors per month in 2017. PDN talked to photography director Toby Kaufmann to learn how her department finds and hires photographers, and keeps up with the site’s fastpaced publication schedule. Before joining Refinery29, Kaufmann worked as photo director of Maxim, Men’s Fitness and Fitness. She talks about how her current work differs from working at magazines, and how Refinery29’s editorial mission provides opportunities for photographers who shoot in a diverse range of styles. PDN


PDN: What’s the mission of Refinery29, and who are its readers? TK: Our readers are mostly women who are looking to discover their individuality, sense of style and purpose. Our editorial focus is on being a motivation for them to claim their power by delivering optimistic, diverse, creative storytelling and points of view. Photographically, we focus on fashion, beauty, celebrity, workouts, food, local and international news. It’s everything under the sun. I lead a department of 12 photo editors. In the two years I’ve been with Refinery29, there aren’t a lot of genres besides landscapes that we haven’t commissioned. When I talk to photographers about what Refinery is, I say it’s the new editorial. When we do a story, we want to hear what the photographer has to say, and [we want them to] bring ideas. That sounds basic, but at this point that’s not happening much at magazines. I hear from fellow photo editors that they’re given sketches to shoot to, and everything’s micromanaged. Here at Refinery, we’re able to play and experiment, which has drawn creatives to want to work here.

There are editorial “tent poles” we contribute to. This is our third year of “Take Back the Beach,” which encourages positive body image and confidence. Those [stories] require portraiture, documentary, celebrity and beauty photography, and fashion as well. We had a story this week on Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, photographed by Pari Dukovic. We’re interested in growing our political coverage. PDN: How does the creative freedom you describe influence assignments? TK: It’s a conversation and a collaboration from beginning to end. We commissioned a story from photographer Sam Cannon. I had an idea to visualize what anxiety feels like. That’s difficult. Sam had this idea to make her color palette very red, very blue, very primary. She helped move the story along in a visual way. For me, it’s a breath of fresh air to be able to encourage that. There are also opportunities to fail. Sometimes you want to try something. Accidents happen. Some turn out to be incredibly interesting from a photographic point of view, and some don’t work out. It’s OK due to the sheer quantity of work we’re producing. You learn and move on, and there’s incredible freedom in that. PDN: What quantity of work are you producing? TK: It depends. Last year we shot maybe 35 stories a month. Those shoots ranged in size, obviously. This year we’re trying to cut back to maybe 25 stories a month. But in addition to those, we’re working on 350 to 400 stories a week that require photo research. That’s a week, not a month. We’re a very busy

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department. We have four full-time photo researchers, and then we have a freelance overnight photo editor who works mostly with the Los Angeles writers. PDN: When do you decide to do photo research, and when is assigning appropriate? TK: In some ways, it’s a completely different process from a magazine. We also create our own stock libraries. If it’s a trend story, you can’t necessarily do pick-up and it’s not going to come from the archive of stock we shoot, so we’ll assign that. We’re only able to shoot six or seven beauty stories a month, so there are [other] times when we’ll shoot product on a background we illustrate. For fashion, we might be working on a fully styled trend story, an accessories story, a how-to and some “trademarks” stories—about someone’s personal style. Those are all commissioned. But we go into our stock archive constantly because we’re posting 80 stories a day, and there’s no way we can assign all of that. So we’re shooting maybe five stock shoots a month. PDN: How do you produce images for your stock archive? TK: We have a partnership with Getty to expand their library of images of women, shot through our lens. We shoot for that, and those images end up in our archive. We also shoot stock specifically for us. Our photo research editor is the brains behind that operation. She and I will coordinate on esthetics and priorities, but she knows what we need. For example, we know that bathing suit season or Mother’s Day is coming up. She may know we need photos of pregnant women or nursing women at work, and that we’re lacking those. So maybe a month ahead, the department will produce those [shoots]. PDN: Is the stock shot by freelancers or staff? TK: Both. PDN: For freelancers, are you mostly relying on a stable of contributors, or looking for new talent? TK: I crave to be always working with new people. I think it’s interesting and it keeps everyone’s mind fresh, but there are people I feel close to and continue to mentor. We had a shoot last year with Michelle Groskopf, who is known more for documentary photography. I told her we have a fashion story. She said, “I’m not a fashion photographer.” I said, “I know, but I really believe this is the project for you.” I was so proud of it.

The concept was fantasy handbags. We shot it in Miami with women in their 70s, 80s and I think one woman was in her 90s. It was perfect for Michelle, because it’s a generation she loves and is passionate about. PDN: How do you decide which photographer to pair with which assignment? TK: I think for me it’s more of a gut reaction. We shot a model in London, and Bella Howard is there. I’ve always loved her work, so I said: "Let’s get her and see how it goes." I think her photos captured the model’s vibrancy. That happened without me art directing, just asking [Howard] to do what she does. I hire mostly female photographers. It’s something I message to my team, that it’s our job to mentor female photographers. There are so many cool women photographers out there who I think are underutilized. PDN: Who are some other women you’ve worked with? TK: Kate Owen. I love her work and her personality. Sam Cannon is equally brilliant. She’s an artist as well as a photographer, and I think that’s great to help conceptualize more difficult shoots. Last year I found Mindy Byrd, a collage fashion photographer. She has an interesting spirit and always brings a unique point of view. PDN: How do you look for new photographers? TK: Instagram. It’s a feast. I am working on a longer-term project and there was a very specific type of photographer I was looking for. I did it through hashtags, then reached out via direct message to say, “I love your work and would like to meet you.” I do a lot of portfolio reviews. I try to stay engaged with my old school, Parsons the New School of Design. I found people there I’m keeping in mind. And through word of mouth. I get sent a lot of photographers by other photo editors. We also have internal talent—photo editors who shoot for us. That was once a taboo, but I think it keeps the creative mind fresh. PDN: I feel Refinery29 does a lot of stories that reflect the diversity of our society. Is that reflected in the photographers you work with or the subjects you shoot? TK: Diversity is important to me, because I can’t pretend to know everything, and hiring people from different backgrounds brings different voices and perspectives, and it should be celebrated. I would encourage and challenge everybody to do that. I’m happy to talk to fellow creatives and photo editors about how we do it. It’s a creative muscle you need to start working on.

All Photos © Kate Owen

PDN: How has Refinery29 evolved since you’ve been there? TK: We’re continuing to evolve impactful, mission-driven projects. Are you familiar with the “67 Percent Project”? Sixty-seven percent of women in America identify as plus-sized, but they are represented in only 2 percent of media. We’re aiming to correct that. We want to see our readers reflected in our work, in our fashion, food, workout and stock photography.

Adams Workshop this year, and met a lot of young photographers we’d already published. We use a lot of photojournalism, and our readers really engage with it.

THIS SPREAD AND OPENING SPREAD: Kate Owen photographed stylish New York City teenagers for a recent story for Refinery29. "We want to see our readers reflected in our work, in our fashion, food, workout and stock photography,” as

PDN: What do you wish photographers understood better about Refinery29? TK: We pick up a great amount of photo essays. I did portfolio reviews at the Eddie

part of a goal to help women “claim their power by delivering optimistic, diverse, creative storytelling and points of view,” says Kaufmann.



PICTURED: The Teton mountain range in Grand Teton Nation Park, Wyoming shot with a Tamron 16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD MACRO lens.


T H R O U G H DAV I D A KO U B I A N ’ S L E N S E S David Akoubian became a photographer because he didn’t have the patience to paint. Growing up the suburbs of Atlanta, he was always interested in art and nature. When his father took him on a trip to the Grand Tetons as a teenager, he became hooked on landscape photography. “There’s so many places in the world to see, and I wanted to capture them instantly,” he says. After leaving the United States Marine Corps in 1992, he decided to make a living as a photographer. He shot portraits as well as nature, and within a few years, began teaching workshops. Teaching gigs in

22 | PDN


far-flung locations, as well as a home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia, allowed him to acquire mastery over wildlife and nature photography. Today, his clients include Coca Cola, The Nature Conservancy and Scholastic Books, and his work has appeared in Nature Photographer and Audubon, among other publications. He is also one of the select photographers named a Tamron Image Master. Although Akoubian initially resisted the switch from film to digital photography, he now only shoots digital. “You’ve got such a wide, dynamic range in the digital sensors that you didn’t have in film,” he says. “You can capture so much more now.”

in love with the Tamron 90mm macro in 1978, and

In particular, Akoubian notes, Tamron lenses

to capture a specific aspect of a landscape—the

have really blossomed in the digital age. He first fell

markings of time on strata of rocks, for example—he


has been a devotee of the brand ever since. Akoubian uses a Tamron lens in every type of situation. With the SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2, he is able to capture shots of birds in flight that he could never have dreamed of capturing with film. “It’s my go-to lens for wildlife,” he says. “I love the sharpness, fast focusing and incredible tracking ability of the lens. It is light enough that it can be handheld.” When he is capturing a panoramic landscape, he attaches a SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD to a fullframe camera. “It is also, by far, my favorite lens for photographing the night sky,” he adds. If he wants

Water over stones, shot with a Tamron SP 70200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2.

A colorful bird, photographed with a Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD.


uses the SP 70-200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2. “It

travel lens and perfect for someone visiting

allows me to pick out details,” he notes.

wildlife sanctuaries or zoos.”

Prior to Tamron’s release of the 18-400mm

As a wildlife photographer, Akoubian is

F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD, Akoubian always had the

always on the road to discover the undiscovered.

16-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD MACRO lens

On his bucket list is a trip to Alaska, where he has

attached to a cropped sensor camera and the 28-

not been since the days of film. “The money you

300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD lens attached to a

save on a Tamron lens, you can put it into travel,”

full-frame camera in his travel bag. “They’re just

he says as a word of advice to photographers

great lenses for everyday life,” he says, describing

who also dream of capturing landscapes most

this kit as “all-in-one.”

people will never see in their lifetime.

A starry night sky, shot with a Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD.

them—in his opinion, the single lens embodies

For more information about the Tamron lenses,

the best of both worlds. “It is incredible for

visit or @tamronusa

everything from wide-angle landscapes to

on Instagram.

macro, to birds and wildlife. It is the ultimate



Today, the Tamron 18-400mm has replaced

FRONT (CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT): Tamron 18-400mm F/3.5-6.3 Di II VC HLD; Tamron SP 15-30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD; Tamron 28-300mm F/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD BACK: Tamron SP 150-600mm F/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2

©Oliver Güth Focal Length: 62mm Exposure: F / 5.0 1 / 125th sec ISO: 250

SP 70-200


F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 (Model A025)

SP 24-70


F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 (Model A032)

Di: For full-frame and APS-C format Canon & Nikon DSLRs

Di: For full-frame and APS-C format Canon & Nikon DSLRs

Discover a new way to be true to your vision. The newly reimagined Tamron F/2.8 fast telephoto zoom lens with faster autofocus, exceeds your highest expectations.

Exquisite performance. Meticulous details. Fast standard zoom with best-in-class image stabilization.


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Excerpts From The Experts  

PDN and Tamron present, a guide for up-and-coming photographers. Professional Photography and Industry Influencers Share their Secrets to Su...

Excerpts From The Experts  

PDN and Tamron present, a guide for up-and-coming photographers. Professional Photography and Industry Influencers Share their Secrets to Su...