Tips on Shooting Photos For Professional Agencies

Gerard Butler on the set of "The Bounty"

Many photographers dream and aspire to work for the professional agencies. Having a name like Magnum, Getty, Zooma, Associated Press etc. sure means that you’re good and at the top of your game. Most photographers though don’t know what these agencies call for. From my time working for Magnum Photos, Spotlight Press and talking to Brad Elterman of Buzzfoto, I learned quite a bit that shocked and amazed me and even colleagues of mine. Some of those tips after the jump.

Some photographers may know and criticize Getty’s approved camera list. One fair criticism I’ve heard before from a former co-worker is, “Why would they allow the Canon 50D and not the T1i if they use the same imaging sensor?” It seems to make sense since someone like Magnum Photographer Eli Reed takes along the EP-1 with him.

High Quality Files

While different agencies may differ slightly on their terms regarding equipment, they all require high quality and very sharp images. According to Getty’s Submission Requirements:

“All images must be uncompressed 47.5-52 MB TIFF files, (flattened, with no layers, paths or channels), 24 bit RGB Color, 8 bits per channel (8 bit file) before importing into the Getty Images Preflight Tool. This tool will test the TIFFs against the parameters set out in the Submission Requirements and convert the files to high quality JPEGs that you can then submit to us without further processing.”

Now, not all cameras can render 47.5 MB TIFF files even after editing in RAW. So keep that in mind when you’re ready to go play with the big boys.


Building on that, my time at Spotlight Press as a celebrity photographer taught me some of the harsh lessons of business. I shot with a Canon 5D Mk II and the 24-105mm F4 L IS lens. That lens is considered by many to be sharp enough for most reasons and also of excellent quality. However, Spotlight had told me that the lens is sharper at the wider end and I should try to always get close to the celebrity because of this. Additionally, each image needed to be “full frame.” By their definition, this means that the subject should take up the entire frame, it should be vertical, and there should be some room left for possible cropping.

That’s not so bad, it makes perfect sense for sales actually. Just getting the image is hard. They recommended the 24-70mm F2.8 L and the 70-200mm F2.8 L IS actually because those lenses are significantly sharper and you’re able to blow out the background much more with your subject in focus.

Brad from Buzzfoto also said similar things when I asked for constructive criticism on my photos. However, he added more insight to create better photos from his years of experience. He told me that my images were not sharp, the background needed to be blown out more, I had no eye contact from my subject and there was no emotion either. He also recommended to use a bit of fill flash at times as well. All great tips on making it better, despite I’ve also been told from other editors that the work is superb. It’s always great to strive for total excellence.

My above image of Gerard Butler is one of the best I’ve done. There is more at my Flickr’s Photojournalism section.


This is also possibly one of the reasons why many Magnum photographers use Leicas. Their lenses are considered to be top of the line with lots of bokeh and will provide very sharp images. That doesn’t mean you have to of course. The majority of photographers shoot Canon or Nikon.

Also remember that that doesn’t mean you need to be digital. There are many Magnum photographers that still shoot with film and they’ve got a huge archive of it all in the New York office.

Getty has things to say about film scanners too though:

“We only accept digital files from scanned film if they have been drum scanned by a professional scanning house or scanned using the approved desk top film scanners from the following list: Imacon 949, 848, 646, 343; Fuji Lanovia Quattro and Finescan; Creo Eversmart Supreme 11, Eversmart Select 11, IQsmart 1,2,3”

Just be sure that your editing can provide extremely high quality images and that it can give your clients what they need. Of course, also remember not to alter your photo too much as that can go against photojournalism ethics.

What tips can you offer from your experiences?

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.