PH_ Shirley Yu
Styled by Jessica Wu
Aidan @ Wilhemina
By Shirley Yu
Aidan @ Wilhemina
by Shirley Yu
A girl named Allison emailed me today asking for advice with contacting publications, and wanted to know my process. I figure I’ll write a blog post about this, in case any more of you are curious.
First, I look up magazines that i want to shoot for or be featured in (im a fashion photographer, so I look in places like models.com or fashion gone rogue, or on facebook to see who my photographer friends have been shooting for), then if it’s an indie magazine, i’ll send an email to their photo editor or photography director or creative director or editor-in-chief with a link to my work, tell them a little about me and tell them that I want to shoot for them. If they reply back yes, then they talk to me about their next issue’s theme, then I give them a moodboard and we talk about models. Then I shoot it and send the story over and they publish it (or drop it, if there’s any discrepancies with the quality of the photography or the styling or any reason). If they don’t reply, I move on. I keep improving my portfolio and send them another email wanting to shoot for them in the future. Sometimes they’ll come around.
If the magazine pays, the photo editor of the publication typically has a rate in mind that they’ll ask if you accept, or they’ll say that they want you to work for tear sheets. I’m happy to work for tearsheets but if the editorial concept that the fashion editor / photo editor / editor in chief at the magazine wants to produce takes a lot of production value, like we need a sizable amount of props and set design or extra equipment, I give them an estimate for my expenses (50% needs to be advanced to me before the shoot happens) and ask if they’ll agree to that, or we renegotiate the concept so that it’s simpler for me to do without much in terms of expenses.
Don’t expect editorial to pay but sometimes you need to lose two to gain three. For pay, I shoot lookbooks for clients like fashion designers. But to transition into the paid commission world, consistently shooting editorial / personal work and getting publicity from tearsheets is very key to raising your demand as a photographer and building a body of work that’s desirable.
For pursuing editorial on the national level, I meet with the editors face-to-face at networking events. I’m a member of both the American Photographic Artists and Young Photographer’s Alliance. Some of these include portfolio reviews. From these, I’ve met with editors at New York Magazine, Time, Billboard, PDN, and other national publications. For these high-profile editors that I want to work with one day, I design a limited number of new printed promo cards every 2-3 months and send it out to them at their magazine offices. Aside from this, to catch the eye of editors, I enter my work into contests with high viewership like PDN’s The Look and I consistently keep up with social media posts like on Instagram.
Crisp, accomplished fashion photography from the 19yr old Rutgers I.T. major
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"There’s a lot that can be frustrating about rising up the ladder as an artist. Be prepared to put in years of work to find your own voice and improve your craft," she says, "If you’re serious about this path, be enthusiastic, be curious, be experimental, be passionate, be humble, be patient, be nice to everyone you meet, and be a power networker."
Once I realized that there wasn’t one way to think, I became much more self-aware as a young artist. I realized that not everyone liked the things that I liked, not everything that I thought made sense to everyone, and that those thoughts and preferences were what shaped my style. As a person, there are ten billion things that i’m not and won’t pretend that I am. I’m not someone that necessarily feels young, I’m not very much of a badass, I’m also not much of a mysterious person. But these are things that make artists interesting and popular. Maybe these are the best personas to have. I don’t have one, I’m just myself.
I’ve been shooting since Fall 2009. So basically, I’ve had five years thus far, that I spent figuring out who I was…what I liked and what I didn’t like. In the beginning, I dabbled in shooting film and shooting in black and white because I felt, as an artist, as if those things were what all photographers needed to do. It was unanimously right to start out shooting this way, because most photographer’s did, almost everyone I met said you couldn’t go wrong shooting this way and that if you did, you would be popular.
After all, I took a few photography classes in 8th-9th grade and for many of them, we shot in black and white film exclusively. We were taught: these were what the masters of photography did, this is what’s artistic. ”A color image shows what’s on the surface, a black and white image shows what’s inside someone’s soul” I think my teacher would say something like this, but I don’t really remember.
I feel like I wasn’t very good at that. For some reason, these photos never became any of my favorites. I’m a pretty vibrant person, and I consider myself very lighthearted. I love dynamic, colorful, contemporary images but I was never taught that this was right or that this was classic or that this was popular. I mean, all of the photos that would get noticed on the internet were some level of nostalgic or even raw / sexy, and I struggled I think because I wanted to get noticed, and that just wasn’t me.
Then I assisted a photographer one day who was like “who cares what’s popular? don’t shoot for anyone else or the way anyone tells you that you should. go experiment and do whatever you want. do what makes sense for you.” I’ve always remembered that and I think everything became uphill from that point on.
Does it matter what worked for the masters of photography? Should you start following new rules or even start creating your own? If you don’t like something, would you shoot it because you’re taught that’s what you should do? Would you put on a persona because you think it’ll make you popular? If you’re a photography major in school and you’re being taught to do X, Y, Z technique for an assignment, what if you don’t like it? Should you spend more time practicing the style / techniques that you like on your own or waste more time and money doing what you’re assigned? These are some questions that I’ve been thinking about lately.
"In my early teenage years, I spent a lot of time at my local Barnes and Nobles because there wasn’t a lot of places to hang out in my suburban town. My group of friends would sit around every weekend, by coincidence, in the bookstore’s photography section. Sometimes I had to pick up big books to pretend like I was reading something so the security guards at Barnes and Nobles wouldn’t kick us out of the store for loitering. These books were typically monographs from Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz, Bruce Weber, David Lachapelle, Francesco Scavullo, and a lot of the classic masters of fashion photography.
Eventually, I didn’t have to pretend like I was reading them because I started to actually read them. Then I wanted to see more fashion photographs, so I started to read Vogue, Vanity Fair, Elle and Marie Claire, magazines that my mother subscribed to. Then I would pick up independent and foreign fashion publications and before I knew it, I was a magazine junkie. It helped me escape the mundane experience of teenage suburbia into a world of creativity, imagination, luxury and global culture. I picked up a camera because I wanted to enter that world and make a career in it.”” —Shirley Yu