Last month, members of Wonderful Machine production team — Nadia Kiyatkina and myself — headed down to D.C. to present photographers’ portfolios to National Geographic Books, NPR, and content marketing agency Imagination.
Earlier this year, Wonderful Machine had a chance to meet with Anne Farrar at National Geographic Traveler. On this occasion, I met with the National Geographic Books team — Director of Photography Susan Blair, Senior Photo Editor Meredith Wilcox, and Photo Editor Jill Foley.
National Geographic Books publishes about 100 titles a year (including reprints and bookazines), with travel, history, and science making up a majority of their catalog. Travel has always been a huge part of National Geographic, but recently they have been using more lifestyle and food photography. Knowing they were looking to see a variety of portfolios, I selected a mix of travel lifestyle and travel reportage, including food and drink, healthcare, and agriculture specialties.
The team seemed to be gravitating towards more photojournalistic styles, expressing that they like to see subjects engaged with their environment rather than the camera. This is why they appreciated Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock’s portfolio. Originally from Canada, Lindsay is now based in Mexico, where she shoots travel, lifestyle, and reportage. Telling stories about the culture, people, and food, her images convey a sense of place. Being a local photographer, she also adds an interesting perspective to her stories and may be able to capture the “off-the-beaten-path” stories National Geographic wants to tell.
After learning that National Geographic started publishing more stories on health, wellness, and sustainability, I also decided to show them Lisa Godfrey. She specializes in brand narrative and often photographs animals and agriculture. One of her projects included a series of farm-to-fashion photographs featuring the organic production of milk, yarn, and woven fabrics at the Blue Pepper Farm in upstate New York. Of course, the irresistibly cute puppies were an added bonus (good to remember in case an animal issue comes up).
I was excited to find out the team had already been familiar with another photographer whose portfolio I selected for this event. Scott Suchman, based in Washington D.C., was recently commissioned to shoot for the cookbook What to Eat When by Dr. Michael Roizen. It provides advice for what meals are best “when you’re stressed and hungry” or “when you don’t want to lose your mind.” Suchman’s portfolio showed a unique, idiosyncratic style, which matched the author’s seemingly humorous tone.
Overall, the team at National Geographic Book was excited to see the variety of styles and voices our photographers offer. Blair stressed that photography plays an important part in their books – it attracts readers and helps them engage with the issues they read about. Certain stories can indicate what photographic style they want to use, which means what they commission can very. However, it seems that the team at Nat Geo Books consistently aims for images that feel authentic and natural rather than posed. With the growing need for more images and stories, Nat Geo Books now rely less on stock and their archives. Instead, they are assigning photographers more than they have before.
While I was at National Geographic Books, Nadia headed to NPR. There, she met with two members of their marketing team: Creative Director Billy Candela and Photography Strategist Wanyu Zhang.
Responsible for the promotion of NPR’s brand as well as their hosts, programs, podcasts, and special projects, the team often looks for images that couple authenticity with high production quality. This was exactly what they found in Gregory Miller’s and Luke Copping’s portfolios.
Candela and Zhang were also interested in photographers who showed creative approaches to portraiture, including Bob Stefko and Ackerman & Gruber. Since NPR’s content often focuses on human connections, they admired Doug Levy‘s and Angelo Merendino‘s work. Both photographers have a talent for genuinely portraying people in their element and paying a lot of attention to context and surroundings. The NPR team praised Angelo’s portraits for their texture and warmth, and for not being overly polished.
We were pleased to learn that NPR’s Marketing team regularly uses Wonderful Machine’s database when searching for new photographers. They mentioned a recent collaboration with one of our members, Ferdinando Decillis. He was commissioned to provide key artwork for the NPR podcast, White Lies (his brief included photoshoots at a crime scene and an old cemetery in Selma, Alabama).
Our last stop on that day was Imagination, a Chicago-based content marketing agency with a satellite office in DC. The company works with corporate clients on insight, strategy, publishing, and design. They also help create custom content, including podcasts and magazines.
We met with Senior Art Director Melissa Miller and Associate Art Director Allison Merten. Miller mentioned she was well familiar with our database and stated that it is her favorite go-to resource whenever they look for new photographers. “I always go to Wonderful Machine first, because [photographers] have a stamp of approval.” Given how much attention and effort we put into vetting prospective members and curating the database, it was reassuring to hear that clients find the resource useful.
Prior to our meeting, Miller specifically requested to see conceptual still life, so we carefully selected a number of appropriate portfolios, including Jens Kristian Balle, Geo Rittenmyer, and John Kuczala. Miller seemed enthusiastic to see Kuczala’s portfolio, especially because she was already familiar with him. Along with these portfolios, we also showed the team a few promo cards that showed some of our other photographers’ work. They seemed excited getting to know each photographer’s concept, vision, and sense of humor and especially impressed with John Fulton‘s CGI work and Natalia Weedy‘s conceptual tarot cards.
Since Imagination mainly commissions portraiture photography, Merten also wanted to see a few options for that specialty. Like NPR, Miller and Merten were impressed with Ackerman & Gruber, Bob Stefko, and Luke Copping and each photographer’s ability to capture their subjects’ personalities.
After going through portfolios, we introduced Merten and Miller to the Wonderful Machine stock request tool, which they were excited to learn about. Before saying goodbye, we left behind some promo cards in case they’d like to view more of the photographers’ work.
One of the biggest takeaways from that day was how important promo cards are when we meet with clients. While we try our best to make sure we leave something behind, they played an important role that day. Since each client wanted to look at a wide range of genres and styles, our portfolio cases were packed full. The promo cards and booklets didn’t take up a lot of space and still afforded our clients an opportunity to see a variety of work within a limited time we had. This is great for our portfolio events, but also great for any photographer to keep in mind. If you’re meeting with a client, make sure to at least leave a promo card with your name, website, and a way to contact you. You just never know what that interaction might lead to in the future!