How to Seduce an Artistic Director

A very old photograph of Vogue magazines.

Last night, I spent a magical evening. I attended a discussion on how to present your portfolio to an artistic director (AD). For photographers like me who wish to work in editorial and advertising, this was the Holy Grail. Why? Because three amazing artistic directors were present to give us their insights, share a few amusing anecdotes with us and shed some light on how to literally throw yourself at them. Ok, i’m pretty sure that’s just my seduction interpretation :o)

The evening was intimate and inspirational. Questions were flying back and forth, and no one was shy to discuss, debate or inquire further.

Without further ado, I would love to share with you a few points I learned. So if you’re a photographer, like me, who dreams of shooting for publications like Vogue, enRoute or Plaisirs de Vivre, this is for you. Thank you to CAPIC and Studio4Fun for organizing and opening such a beneficial discussion.


Catherine Gravel

Catherine Gravel has worked for Elle Quebec, enRoute (<3!!!), Nightlife Magazine, Châtelaine and Infopresse, among others. She’s the editorial type of AD. Here are the tips she gave us to better the relationship between an AD and a photographer, and more interestingly, how to get noticed by them:

  • ADs are EXTREMELY busy people. I think she even repeated the word busy a dozen times. So don’t take it personally if they do not email or call you back. Politely, keep contacting them. You can send monthly emails of your photographs. If you can time yourself with their printing schedule, that’s even better because you’ll catch the AD during the few days of calm they have per month ;)
  • Emails should be short and sweet. No links, no lengthy introductions. Think about it: these people are busy and they are extremely visual people, just like we are. So simply send a few words and bam, your latest, SICKEST photograph you think they would enjoy. It could be just one, it could be a few. ADs LOVE to look at creative stuff, its what they do. But they might not email you right away, because they’re too busy remember? One day, after you’ve emailed them a few times, they will need a photographer with a certain style and if you fit their vision, and they remember your good work, they WILL CALL. So in conclusion: email quality work often enough, and your name will stick in their minds.
  • Editorial is about a story, so have an opening photo, mid-story photos and a concluding photo in your portfolio. Show photos that complement each other. Think as if your photos are already in the magazine, being enjoyed by many.
  • Understand not only your target audience, but also the team you’d be working with/for. The stylists, the writers, etc. Have your photos in sync with their work.
  • Personal work does fit in editorial. You can have different portfolios for different topics if you want (better not to mix), but personal work is always something that pleases the AD. It’s that humane aspect I guess.
  • Understand that it is a COLLABORATION between you and the AD. Feed off each other’s ideas and creativity. The real client is the Editor-in-Chief, or ultimately, the readers.

Christopher Dormoy

Christopher Dormoy is an artistic director at Sid Lee, an international creative services firm, based in our own Montreal. He began by showing us a pretty kick-ass promotional video from Sid Lee. I really wish I could share it but I couldn’t find it on the WWW :( – but it sunk in that “commercial creativity” is how Sid Lee defines their multidisciplinary vision.

Christopher gave us a nice little checklist for a good portfolio:

  • Quality > quantity. Enough said!
  • Start by a strong, beautiful photograph. Also, end with a strong, beautiful photograph. Leave an impact.
  • Put personal work before other work you’ve done that you have gotten paid for in the past. It’s nicer.
  • Elevate your work from the ho-hum to the EXTRAORDINARY.
  • But don’t be too varied and do ALL types of photography…you must be excellent in at least 2 or 3 types of photography. (This is something I have debated with myself for a very long time: what kind of photographer do I want to be? Fashion? Food? Travel? I love it all. I searched what others are doing, and looked at many portfolios, and I finally, slowly realized that you can sort of group yourself under an umbrella. The lifestyle photography umbrella can encompass travel, food and fashion. And  fashion can slight cross over into portraiture. Anyways I think its important to know what are your top three choices. You don’t want to be all over the place.)
  • Do not include tear sheets of past work. Keep them handy but not in your portfolio as this can be a turn-off for some ADs.
  • Include a biography. It’s a nice personal touch and it creates an emotion within the AD. Wether it be nostalgia, laughter or awe, you need to impress upon them a feeling.

Jeffery Rosenberg

Jeffery Rosenberg was instantly likeable with his cute tangerine-colored resin frames (I spoke to him during the coffee break, not knowing he was the next speaker, and first thing I noticed was the eyewear). I think he began talking by saying how big of an affinity he had with photographers and the industry. How he is an AD that loves photography and who keeps in touch with the culture. He comes from a legacy – he had two uncles deep into photojournalism and sports photography back in the day. I think he mentioned a famous shot they took of Maurice Richard. Anyways, the way Jeffery spoke, you just felt that he was incredibly artistic and open-minded.

Jeffery Rosenberg worked on the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Montreal…Expo ’67…the guy met HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON ok? How cool is that! For the past ten years, he’s been working at Bos. (Ok don’t laugh, but at first, I thought they meant Boss, as in Hugo Boss, my ears perked up even more in wonder until it all made sense again. Silly me.)

Here’s what Jeffery had to say:

  • ADs do look at their emails. But a personal touch is nice too…actually talking face to face. Some ADs still like to look at print portfolios, the old fashioned way. After all, your final image will be printed…they need to have an idea if your work looks good.
  • He re-iterated that personal and creative work in your portfolio is good.
  • There’s actually no perfect way to present your portfolio, because each artistic director is different.
  • Sometimes its all about the right timing. Just like anything in life…
  • Do not put anything you don’t like to shoot in your portfolio! Seriously, why would you do that? :P


So there you go! I hope this was beneficial to you all, as much as it was for me. Please share your thoughts and comments, and keep the discussion going :)

Big Hugs! Dina


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