Thinking Like an Art Director

Super Photo Magic School

The more I photograph for publications, books and media outlets, the more I think about what the art director will say, want and push for. The role of art director in a magazine or publishing house is to work with photographers to deliver a specific vision. So if you want to push your own photo progress, start self-assigning projects and get tough on yourself. Here's a few places to start…

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1) Creating multiple Options. In my experience, art directors want more options than they ask for. They want pictures that look like they came from you, the photographer they hired, but they also want variety in scale, perspective and point of view. They want their subject holding the plate of cookies, without the plate of cookies, a specific detail of the plate of cookies, a plate of cookies with a bite of cookie already eaten, subject dunking the cookie into a cup of coffee, subject laughing with cookie, subject laughing without cookie… you get the drift. It could go on and on, the point is to think of an action with your subject and think of a million ways to riff on that action, then YOU wind up with more choices to select the strongest photo for your blog, site, portfolio, or photo album.

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2) Push your Comfort Zone. Art directors are going to push your technical abilities, so if you don't have an AD around, you've got to be in charge of pushing yourself. That means getting in uncomfortable situations and working out how to photograph it. Do you tend to shoot outdoors? Get indoors for your next self assignment. Do you always shoot people laughing? Try to get them serious, composed and totally elegant. Are you afraid of shooting with a tripod? Force yourself to do your next shoot with a tripod. It will never get easier unless you actually start practicing outside of your comfort zone.

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3) Find "Thanks" within Yourself. Usually, art directors don't say thank you. They're not rude, just busy, juggling multiple things, overstretched, overworked, the whole bit. Don't take that as a criticism; learn to be tougher and creatively indestructible. If you know you pushed yourself beyond your usual realm, got pictures that excited you, you've succeeded. If you don't have an art director to push you, you've got to do it yourself and thank yourself for growing. This may seems a little esoteric, but it's an emotional roller coaster, this photography thing, and to get better at it, you've got to find satisfaction in your own work.

(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)