Working with a Photo Editor to Improve your Photography

Working with a Photo Editor to Improve your Photography

If you want to continue to grow as a photographer you need to have honest, real time feedback and yes, criticism. Sure, you can ask a friend maybe see if Mom wants to flip through your portfolio and you might get some feedback but more than likely you’ll get some “wow, that’s a cool shot” or “Honey! This picture is lovely!” but no really push back on your composition or lack of. So, go find a photo editor.

Not the Photoshop or Gimp type of photo editor, I mean a real live person that looks at photography all day everyday and can burn through 2000 images and find the best ten before you’re into your second cup of coffee. They’re out there but there’s probably 1 for every 10,000 photographers. The internet and social media are no place to get feedback on your photography. Social media is cursory at best and doesn’t provide any meaningful feedback to help your photography. It either feeds your ego or reinforces bad habits. Everyone likes the likes. We’re simple creatures we want to be liked but it’s not getting you better at photography.

With the reduction in staff positions and the increased workload put on the editors at magazines and newspapers the photographer/editor interaction gets less and less. In some cases nothing at all, it’s up to us as photographers to actively seek out editors or skilled people willing to critique our work in meaningful ways. I’ve been fortunate to have connected with a retired National Geographic photo editor and she’s only 45 minutes away. She absolutely loves looking at photography, which is the case with most, I believe. One of the most valuable aspects of sitting with and editor and going through a whole shoot is watching what grabs their attention. When I sit with her, she wants everything, this is way different than a portfolio review, it’s laying everything on the table even the warm-up shots. This requires a bit of thick skin but it’s well worth it. They don’t have the backstory, they don’t care how hard it was to make that shot, they care about the quality of light, the composition the colors, the image. So some of those shots that you’re in love with and proud of might not be the best of the lot. On the flip-side it sometimes brings to light other images that have merit and can be the catalyst to moving your work to a higher level or a different direction.

We all need an honest assessment of our ongoing work and chances to discuss it with others. It helps develop ideas, flesh out existing projects and push our work to be better. Having a photo editor edit a shoot can be one of the most effective ways to move forward as a photographer. The next time you’re thinking about attending a portfolio review and shelling out cash for 20 minutes, look around and see if you can find someone willing to do an edit. You will be surprised how valuable it is.

I dug around and found a nice write up about why photo editors do what they do  a brief description of all the skills needed to be a photo editor and lastly one link to a freelance photo editor

If you know a good editor our there that wants more work drop a name in the comments. If you’ve had a good experience with one and if helped elevate your game, lets us know.

Joe Klementovich's picture

Joe Klementovich lives a stones throw away from Mount Washington in North Conway, New Hampshire. He works as a freelance photographer and videographer for a wide range of commercial clients and publications from the New York Times to Patagonia. Ideally working in the mountains, rivers and forests of the world.

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This is a great point. I never really considered the fact that there's a generation of photographers out there who've never worked with a photo editor. When I started, there was always an editor looking at every frame. Sometimes wet tri-x louped in the darkroom, later the more formal way with a light table and boxes of slides, but always a real editor. Often their picks would be obvious, but then other times they'd surprise you. Sometimes they wouldn't pick a single frame. The whole process was a chance to learn on the fly, often without even realizing it.


The learning on the fly and picking up things during the process is really interesting to me.

I'm torn about this advice. Finding a photo editor gives you one perspective. While one editor may love one of your photos, the other may not like it all. Whose to say either are right or wrong.

What matters most IMHO is that you like your photography. Every photographer develops their own style over time. And even then, it could evolve or change as time goes on.

I think critique on the fundamentals of photography are beneficial, but the art of photography is so subjective that is really moot.

If you've taken a picture you absolutely love and had wonderful memories taking it, you will gain nothing from a critical critique. In fact, it may start lessen their desire of photography.

Enjoy your own photography. Share it with everyone. If someone doesn't like it, who cares. If nobody likes it, who cares.

The real value comes from having a voice you can trust and provide comments/criticism about your images to get you thinking in different ways about your photography. Like all advice and criticism you can think about it and act on it or you can ignore it. It's not about liking or not liking an image it's about gaining some different perspectives about your work. What you do with those perspectives is up to you. Thanks for your thoughts. Joe

I hear your thoughts, but as a commercial photographer it is vitally important. In the beginning stages noppmaybe not so much, but surely as you seriously start developing your style and working more and more with higher profile clients. A good photo editor will understand your style and where you’re aiming while still objectively cutting through the clutter. Showing an art director a photograph you have an emotional attachment to may damage your impression if it is not up to the standard they are after.
Photo editors are not for the beginners but are vital to growth. And, you always maintain the right to not take to heart exactly everything they say. And most photo editors come from an art buying, creative directing etc background and know what clients are looking for and to best match your style with what’s expected in the industry.
I always get more than one opinion though to ensure it’s not 100% bias.
I will say this, it can feel brutal at times 🤯

Working with an editor is a two way transaction. First you have to find an editor whose perspective you appreciate and trust. And then, you two have to get to know each other. The editor has to understand and know what it is you are trying to do and then he/she will be able to tell you in his/her opinion whether you have achieved it, or what do you still need to achieve it... To me, it has been worth the time and resources. IMO.

Finding the right photo editor is an extremely powerful tool in commercial photographers and higher end fashion photography. I often edit my editorials with a videographer friend of mine as he has an incredible understanding of story telling, he’s a friend so he knows where I’m aiming at, and he always brings fresh perspective to my work. It’s invaluable.

I have been working with Mary Vignoles for some time now and it has turned to be the best decision I ever made to work with someone who isn't emotionally involved with my photos and has no issue in putting them on the chopping block. It is absolutely essential to have a set of eyes to look at your images during and after a project so that you get an objective idea about it.