I shoot for the New York Times fairly regularly, and I always take every assignment from them very seriously, regardless of the particular section of the newspaper I'm shooting for, but when Jose Lopez calls, I know I have to be on my A-game. Jose is the photo editor for the business desk in New York, and he knows the difference between good photography, bad photography, and just downright lazy photography. I found that out the hard way.
The first time I shot for the business section back in April of 2011, Jose called with an assignment on unemployment featuring two couples from here in Arkansas. He told me to spend some time with the assignment and really get to know the couples being featured. For this story, I spent two full days shooting (one day with each couple) and I got tons of photographs that I thought were fantastic. The following day I sat down at the computer and got going on the edit. At that point I wasn't sure how many photos the Times wanted to see, and I figured they would rather see more than less, so I sent in around 100 shots for them to review. Within minutes of sending the files, I got an email from Jose that said:
"Thats's a lot of pictures that you sent me and we need to talk. The most important thing I can convey to you is that ALL of your photos look washed out to us. DO NOT RESEND ANYTHING until we have had a chance to talk."
Holy shit. That's pretty much the worst possible email you can receive from a client, and when your client is the New York Times, you just want to throw your camera in the trash and get a job at Starbucks after that. My heart stops a little even now reading that email over two years later.
Jose and I talked and he had a pretty scathing review of my work on the assignment. He wasn't being rude, he was just doing his job. He's a photo editor for the New York Times. Not an easy conversation. I realized pretty quickly in the conversation that I had two options: I could get pissed and tell him to go to hell, or I could suck up my ego, learn something new, and hopefully not lose a good client. After the call he sent me another email with one of my photos that he had edited himself to show me what he was looking for. Seeing the photographs from his perspective was incredibly helpful and I've used his advice on every job I've shot since. I re-approached the gallery and sent back around 20 newly edited images and prayed that he would be happier with my second try. Once the files had finished uploading I got another email from Jose:
"Jacob. This is excellent. Difference of night and day. Your images have contrast and they leap off the monitor. Well done. Thank you for taking the direction that I offered. I will keep you in mind for future assignments in that area. Remember, the way one becomes a master is by doing. Get out and shoot everyday with every lens in your bag. Know what you can and what you can't do with your digital camera. Never be afraid to push the envelope by shooting available light. The image might be grainy and a little underexposed, but if its “the moment,” then you have done your job."
Wow. That's exactly what I needed to hear. Such great encouragement from a guy that I truly respect in the industry. So glad he didn't throw me out and find someone else to fix my mistake. Here's the unemployment story that ran in April of 2011.
So when Jose called last week with an assignment to photograph Acxiom CEO Scott Howe here in Little Rock, I knew I had to crush it. He asked for several photos of Scott demonstrating this new software they've developed and a few extra portraits to supplement the story. He told me to "have fun with it" which is both terrifyingly ambiguous and yet completely exhilarating at the same time. I knew I would have only 30 minutes with the CEO, so I started coming up with a mental shot list before I even arrived for the shoot.
When I arrived at the Acxiom building, Mr. Howe was in the middle of giving the writer, Natasha Singer, a tour of the Executive Briefing Center on the top floor of the building, which looks over downtown Little Rock. I tagged along for the start of the tour and found a good spot to get a simple portrait of Scott on the balcony (he asked me to call him Scott). I quickly set up a light and snapped a few frames. The shots below were lit with a 22 inch beauty dish off to camera left.