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Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 14 of 28

Interview: Lacey Browne, Money Magazine Photo Editor

Victoria Will

Portraits Under Pressure

Victoria Will

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Lesson Info

14. Interview: Lacey Browne, Money Magazine Photo Editor
Marketing to potential clients is one thing, but what about attracting the attention of a photo editor from a major magazine? Gain insight into what photo editors are looking for when they hire photographers.

Lesson Info

Interview: Lacey Browne, Money Magazine Photo Editor

Lacey, are you there? I'm here. Hi! You guys, this is Lacey Brown, she is a good friend of mine, and also a terrific photo editor. She's worked all over the place, from Allure Magazine, to the New York Post, and a bunch of places in between. Thanks for joining us! Of course, anything for you, Victoria. Oh thank you, I appreciate it. (laughing) So, I have a lot of photographers here, we've been talking about marketing, and how to get our work in front of you. So my first question for you is where do you find photographers? Do you look at Instagram and things like that? Of course. I am somebody who actually does buy magazines and newspapers, so I'm constantly looking at photo credits there, and finding people. And even all the, you know, spot stuff, I look and see who's shooting. And I do look at Instagram, I've found photographers on Instagram. I remember looking at Jamie Beck's work, you know, when Instagram was just starting out, and she's kind of become huge with her cinema...

graphs, but I hired her to work for The Daily after seeing her work on Instagram. So, I routinely am on there. Does it matter if a photographer has a rep? No, it doesn't make a difference at all. All right, okay. So, when, how many emails do you think you get a day? A thousand? Probably, no, I would say like 60 to 100. Just from photographers? And illustrators, because I'm sure they use that service, even though I'm not hiring illustrators, I get a lot of promo emails from them as well. You might one day, you never know. That's true, that's true. But yeah, I do, when we close our magazine, usually that's when I take the time to go through my emails, the promos. They go into one folder, and then I go through them when I have like a day, basically, to spare to do it. And then I click on everything, and then save and bookmark them if I'm interested in their work. So you're a monthly magazine, so about once a month you get to go through all of those emails? Mmm hmm. So do you really go through all of them, or are there email subject lines that draw your attention more than others? Are there some you skip? I think just being really simple and straightforward. It can be a little annoying when people are presumptuous or overly friendly. Or try to be too witty, not to sound, but it's just very clean, here's my new project on dog portraits, whatever it is. That's, you know, I like the straightforward approach. Okay, very interesting. Do you get a lot of printed promos in the mail? We do, yeah, a lot of printed promos, which I honestly, I don't, I prefer email promos. You do? My colleagues and I, I asked them before this, and they agree. All right, look at this, guys, we just saved a lot of money. (audience laughing) Yeah, and you know, that's how I feel. I see these things, and they're so beautiful and lush, I can't imagine how much money those cost, and I'm not saving them, I'm not gonna save them, so ... Yeah, I imagine if you did save them, you'd need a whole filing cabinet for them. Right, and of course, every once in awhile, one will come across that I just totally love, and I do pin it up on my, my board or whatever at my desk, but that's rare. I would prefer just to have stuff online. Oh yeah, now I actually just thought, you said, I'm just going back, not an overly friendly email. What does that mean? It presumes, it has a tone of knowing me, when we have never spoken or-- Got it. Right. Okay, very interesting. And the other, I wanted to bring up a pet peeve, if you don't mind. Please, I have that on my list to ask you! Please, what makes you put something in the trash? No, the problem is, so this is thing, I brought an example. I don't know if you can see this. There are these clear plastic sleeves that photographers put over postcards. I'd rather just get the postcard. Fascinating. Can you see it? Yes, absolutely. Okay, noted. That is also, I took a little poll. Right, because you're, that's so, like, yeah, okay, I totally get that. Because like, everyone's trying to like-- The postcard, put the postcard in the mail. Yeah, right, exactly. Excellent, everyone's taking notes here, writing this down, pet peeves. It not, I would hire a photographer, it's not like I would not hire a photographer. Yeah, no but I think that's, duly noted. I think that's totally valid. It's also extra garbage, unnecessarily. Exactly. So, how does somebody get a meeting with you? Is it an email, is it phone, do you answer the phone at work? Do photographers ever call you? I do, but would really prefer not to have phone calls. I think you're not alone, not alone at all. You're busy. It's also putting you on the spot, it can be awkward. I would, honestly, if someone called and said, I just wanted you to see, make sure you saw my website, I have this great project, I don't want to take up much time, so I'll let you go now, and that's it, and all I'm doing is promising to look at their website, which I probably will, that I can see, that's fine. Well I can agree with that, actually. I get a lot of calls of just people who want to assist me, and it does put me on the spot. And sometimes I'm answering because I don't know the number, and perhaps it's, I don't know, my doggy daycare, I don't know, so I'll answer, and all of a sudden I have to be in work mode, and I don't actually have the time to listen to them, hear their pitch. I don't think that that's the best way to do it, which is really strange to think that communicating by phone is not the best way to do it. But nowadays, perhaps that's it. So, sorry, so back to the getting a meeting with you. So, they send you an email, and you really like their website, so you call, you meet them, or you say, next time you're in New York, let me know, I'd like to see you, or if someone says, hey I'm in New York! I live in Nebraska, do you mind if I come in, tell me how you make that decision. That definitely happens. If you're traveling specifically to New York for a week, and say I have this time, that's helpful. You know I hate to say it, but the PDN, like the, what is it, 30 under 30? It's not under 30 anymore, it's just the PDN 30. 30, okay. They're not age discriminating anymore. That's nice to hear. But I do look at that kind of stuff, ad will call people in off of that. Or, if just somebody, a fellow photo editor, recommends somebody, or a fellow photographer recommends somebody, that's, you know. Back to PDN, do you, do contests matter? Do you look at contest winners? I think they just put your work in front of our faces. It's just something that, you know, I'm gonna look at every time, or a lot of the time. So it's just a way to get your work in front of more eyes. So if you saw one, maybe first place, honorable mention, whatever, you liked the image, you would look at the phot credit, and maybe go to their website? Absolutely, yup. That's great. So you've actually heard me rant about how I hate photographers who put their work on laptops, and I've had, and a quick caveat. I will bring an iPad into a meeting, with my current books, with new work, if I haven't had a chance to put it in, and I show them my book, and then they say, "Oh, do you have you got anything else?" I go, actually, yesterday I shot this. I will use an iPad. So I forgot to mention that in my rant. (laughing) So Lacey, when we talked about it, has a different feeling. She is less adamant. Yeah, I don't have any problem with if you just have an iPad. But how can you distinguish the work? Doesn't everyone, in your mind, just get put into the same, what I suggested is that you don't necessarily stand out, because everyone's work is on an iPad. I don't think that's true. I think if you're good, you stand out because your work is good. I disagree. I mean, I love seeing a beautifully printed book, but I know that with young photographers, sometimes they can't afford it, and I would just rather see the work. You know, it should never hold you back from trying to set up a meeting with somebody, if you can't get your work printed. I agree with that, it should not hold you back. But iPads are not cheap, just throwing that out there. Right, yeah. (laughing) So when you look at a portfolio, in your opinion, do you think that it should be a display of all of the work, or should it be focused on one theme? I think if it's a printed book, it should have a limit of two themes, something that works together well. And then, if you're going to have an iPad with you, you could do several collections of photos that have maybe 15 to 20 pictures each, and you can have as many themes as you want, and what I would do is show me the work that you know is kind of targeted to my magazine, and then say, but I have this other collection, this is my passion project. And that's actually the work I end up being more interested in, because I think people assume that you're going to like something that's going to be going in your magazine, but I want to see the weirder things a little bit, the less edited things. I'm glad you brought that up, because I didn't mention earlier, and that happens a lot when I go in to my meetings, I remember the first time somebody asked me that, I went my what? I don't have time to make personal work! I'm trying to make real work, I'm trying to get paid here, people! And that was a big sort of eye opener, I really had no idea, and I really didn't understand what he meant at the time, and I think it's to your point, Lacey, I think people, I have been speaking to this all day, it's about your point of view. People want to know what you will be doing, and what you would be shooting when you aren't on the clock. When you aren't given parameters, they want to see just how creative you can be. And a lot of times, people will look at your creative work, tin types as an example, that was technically a personal project, they will look at that, maybe you do still lifes of seashells that you see around the world, and people say, this is beautiful, I want you to do this now with a pair of shoes in our magazine. You know, people really will apply what you did in your own personal work for their needs, and that's a really good way to get hired, and I think that happens more and more. Yeah, I think it obviously offers you, it allows you to do work you really want to do, and you're excited about. And I think that's what comes through, is the excitement that you have about the work. It comes through int he photographs. I totally agree, I'm so glad you mentioned that. As far as retouching and post-production, is there a limit? I mean, how much is too much, in your opinion? I know that it's obviously a personal preference, and it can be an expression in the work, but I tend to think people are pretty heavy-handed. Do you agree, or do you think that it should be sort of up to the photographer? I think your retouching is part of your work, so the decisions you're making, I assume you'd be making similar decisions if you were to shoot for me. So it needs to be your retouched final image that I'm looking at. And I'm gonna make the judgment whether I like that retouching or not. And maybe I could think, oh if they work for me, I'll just ask them to have a lighter hand. But I'm assuming that's the full package, like I want to see the final product, and I also am gonna assume that's what I'm getting when I hire you. I have a saying that I say to myself, which is you're only as good as your worst image in your portfolio, because I tend to think that you as the photo editor, look at so many images, and so many portfolios that if one image sticks out as really much weaker, that's the one you're gonna remember. Is that true, or did I make that up? (laughing) No, that's just, no I remember the best ones. That's me being paranoid! (laughing) No, I remember the best photo, I forget the bad one. I mean, if it's all really bad, I'm gonna remember that, but if there's one weak link, I'd think to myself, oh, I was their friend, I'd just tell them to take that out. But, I remember the best pictures, for sure. When people come in to meet with you, is it like a job interview all the time, or do you sometimes take the opportunity to give them constructive feedback, or do you just say, "Thanks for coming in", and send them on their way? I think if they ask me questions, they ask me for feedback, I'll give it. But I'm not gonna just, I'm not gonna give them a critique if they're not asking me for it. But I mean obviously when I'm looking at work, I ask questions about how you got here, why did you make this decision, what was the assignment, but I'm not gonna critique something unless I'm asked. Very interesting. So do you guys have any questions? Yeah, so hold on Lacey, you've got some questions coming. Kenna, how much time do we have? We could take couple of questions. Good, okay, that's what I wanted to know. Thank you. Yes, I'm ready for you. Hi Lacey. Hi. Just a question. Of the many emails that you get, that you actually respond to, roughly what's the percentage of those are of photographers who are either, from your opinion, new to the business, or photographers who you haven't worked with before? Yeah, I mean, I'm not going to necessarily be able to tell if they're new to the business, but it's probably 90% I haven't worked with them before. 90%? Or more. I don't know if you can tell, can you tell if they're new to the business? Not really. I think that would be kind of be hard to tell in an email. No, I mean, I don't make an assumption. If you haven't seen their name before, or-- You've got to use the mic. Oh, that's what she's saying, 90%. Lacey, I'm sorry, I interrupted you while you were answering that question. How many emails do you actually respond to? (laughing) Exactly! I was making this point earlier. But it doesn't mean that you didn't read it. That's true. And the ones I respond to are normally the ones that are asking me directly, like I'm going to be in New York City on this day, are you available? And sometimes, like, they'll, I'll get that first email, and I won't respond, and then they will send a second email, and say, just a reminder, and then I will respond to that, like, yeah, that's our closing week, I can't do it, or yes, that is a good time. Did that answer your question? It's mostly new people. Great, any more questions, you guys? Yes? I have one. Hi Lacey. I have one from someone at home, Carolina Reese, who asked, "Can you tell us again, "what was it that you like to see in the emails?" What is it that you're looking for in those emails? Is it the links to somebody's website, is it actual photos in the body of the message, and then did we talk about the subject line? I can't remember now, of emails? I can go over tit again. So the subject line should just be very straightforward, like, here's my project on Aboriginal people from X, Y, Z, or new shoot of fruit still life, or whatever. Very simple. And then, yes, it should have a couple of images. Is new work too simple? Yeah, it's probably too simple. I want to know if it's a person, place or thing. And then, definitely at least one image, and then normally these things, you click on the image, and it brings you to the website. But you know, if there's just a link, that works just as well. So I thought of a, I read somewhere a long time ago, I don't know if ti's still accurate, that on average, photo editors, that would be you, when you click on a link, will click five times into a website before you move on. Is that about accurate? Yeah, that sounds right. So if you think about that, what you guys should do at home, is go to your website, and see how many clicks it takes to get to your favorite photograph, or your favorite body of work. Because sometimes we bury it in our websites, and it needs to be front and center, obviously. So I did this yesterday, actually. I went and clicked to see how many photos you saw in five clicks. And on my website, it's a lot, because I have a lot of thumbnails. So in one click, you're seeing a dozen, and another click, you're seeing another dozen. On other people's websites, five clicks is five photos. So I've obviously I know this information, which is what I'm sharing with you, and that's why I set my website up that way. But in five clicks, Lacey will see significantly more of my images and my point of view than on some others, so I think you should definitely check your websites to make sure that they're really showing your work. Yeah, we have another question. You ready? Yeah, go ahead. Hi Lacey. Hi. I have a question regarding needing an assignment for a particular, I mean, sorry, needing a photographer for a particular assignment. How do you make your final decision, assuming these two photographers are equally competitive, both technically and artistically? What makes you go for a particular candidate? Their personality, that I like working with them, that they're easy to talk to. That I can collaborate with them in an easy way, that there's a nice dialogue, that I enjoy speaking to them, I enjoy spending time with them. That's gonna be the ultimate. I mean, after knowing what work they do, and that they're competent at doing it, that's gonna be the last line. We can virtually high five, 'cause I said that earlier. (laughing) It's all about the personality. And someone can be quieter, you know, I have photographers who I love, just very quiet personalities. So it's not that you're just a sales person. It's that you're authentic, I guess, and can have an honest conversation. Well it's about, what I had said, is that you'd made a connection with that person, in whatever way. It could be because you both enjoy going to baseball games, or both going to meditation, you know it doesn't matter. Do you just connect, when you connect with people, then you like each other for who you are. That matters. Yeah? I have another question for Lacey. This is from Magali Agnello. And of course, we have people who are tuning in from all over the world. The question is, if a photographer lives really far away, is there still a chance for them to be hired? And the question said also, and with the transport paid to get to the place? But I guess my bigger question is, does it matter where you live to be in this business? No, and actually, it can help you, because if you're in a smaller place, you're one of like two photographers, so, I may have a shoot in Nebraska, and this person lives three hours from the location, but I know their work is really good, and I like working with them, so I'm gonna pay fro the transport to go out to that location, and I'll also, you know, it's not flying them from LA to wherever, it's a shorter amount of time, it makes things easier, but I think it can help you if you're from a smaller place. Because in New York City, obviously, the amount of photographers we have here is overwhelming, in Brooklyn alone. So I think it can help you. I remember, actually, a friend of mine told me when he had a portfolio review with an editor at Rolling Stone, and she said, "I love your work, "whatever you do, don't move to New York, (audience laughing) "because I need you where you are." And he's in the Midwest, and I think that's true. And I think I've hired that photographer you're talking about, so, for that reason. Yeah, exactly, exactly. I feel like you've really given us a lot of insight, and I really appreciate it, I don't know if there are any final questions or not, but this was really eye-opening, I think, for a lot of folks. So thank-you for being so candid. Of course! Great. Thank you so much. Bye, Lacey! (applause)

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.


  • Leverage new techniques for choosing the light and locations for a successful portrait
  • Know how to build a rapport and utilize clear communication with your subjects
  • Set up a developed concept as well as how to light on the fly
  • Use successful strategies for marketing yourself as a photographer and how to get your work in front of editors


Portraits require more than just great lighting and equipment. Sometimes a shoot doesn’t go as planned. The location is drab, the client isn’t in the best mood, or you forget to charge your camera batteries. Great portrait photography artists are able to think on their feet, connect with their subjects -- and capture great images under pressure. The best portraits often come from portrait sessions that didn't go exactly as planned, when challenges turn into assets.

Celebrity portrait photographer Victoria Will shows you how to use your environment to capture a unique, sharp image that reflects the person in the portrait. She’ll also highlight how to quickly evaluate a less than perfect situation and make it work for you and your subject. Take your portraits from amateur to near Mona Lisa gallery worthy by learning how to shoot portraits under pressure.

You’ll watch Victoria photograph real people in limited settings, discovering multiple opportunities in a limited space. Learn her three portrait musts for preparation, point-of-view, and connection. Gain insight into how to make every frame count and how to get the shots the editor requested, as well as those that speak to your vision. Learn how to make your subject feel comfortable in only a few moments while capturing exquisite photo collections in Portraits Under Pressure.


The photographer looking to improve their portraiture through thoughtful lighting, creative techniques and leveraging the environment around you to get a consistent appearance.


Victoria Will’s background as an American photojournalist and celebrity photographer has helped her to develop techniques on editorial assignments to quickly connect with a subject. Her career began as a photojournalist for the New York Post and grew into a sharp portrait photography focus that opened opportunities to photograph celebrities. She continues to work in New York as an artist specializing in portraits and commercial work.


Helena Sung

This was a great class and I learned a ton! It was amazing to watch Victoria Will in action -- shooting portraits under pressure. I learned a lot watching her walk into an unknown situation -- not knowing the location, what the natural lighting situation would be, and only knowing she had 15 minutes for the shoot. I loved watching her problem solve on the spot with lightning and tight, dark spaces. She also taught a lot about how she interacts with her subjects -- always putting them at ease (like you're the host at a dinner party -- gem!) It's much easier for a photographer to take pictures in their studio, but this course was not about that. This was watching a photographer handle real world situations under time pressure and think on her feet. Loved it! I also loved the parts where she culled her photos afterwards and picked out the ones that caught her eye. In most instances, I found myself agreeing with her!! When she gets subjects to stand up and sit back down, it is the in-between moments she is looking for, or the moment right afterwards -- genius!! Oh, lastly, I loved how she went through stunning images she shot of celebrities like Brad Pitt and Janelle Monae and gave us the backstory of how she creatively problem-solved to get the shot! Hello, showing up two hours before a shoot and knocking on random hotel room doors for furniture?!! Of course she could do that because she has a lovely, warm personality! Oh, and by the way, the bits she shares about her early career path is very inspiring!

Robert Negrin

Great course! And the best part was the honesty. I was an executive in a fortune 500 company and what the critics watching this course missed is that there are a lot of talented photographers, actors, singers, accountants and even landscapers, but there are very few that are successful and accomplished. Yes, part of it may involve a certain degree of luck, but most of it is the drive and desire to suceed. It is obvious you have both. I used to beleive that a true image could only be captured by styling the shot, metering light and controlling the subject. (Yes, I shot film...complete with developing and printing all my images) Then, one day I realized that, if deliberate-shooting was the right way, why then most of the great images I have were the result of quick, rather than deliberate reactions. I get it Victoria. Love your style and how you get there. Three things I learned today are that the conditions... even the background, do not have to be perfect if the image is strong enough to carry the message. Second, setting up to capture the perfect image, misses all the imperfect, epic moments. Third, I disagreed with almost every image you picked until they were isolated from the rest. Then they made perfect sense. Well done. :) Robert Gabriel

Meredith Zinner Photography

I really love Victoria and her work. She's something suuuuper special and showed me a fab new way to look at portraits. I love her openness, honesty, the whole 'you're at my dinner party' intimacy, care and respect for her clients and am SO impressed at how quickly and reliably she's able to transform any location to suit her needs. She's super impressive, professional and inspiring thank you!