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“Connecting With…. ” Russ O’Connell Picture Director – Q Magazine

“Connecting with…. “ a new series of industry specific interviews.
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-A PAN exclusive interview-
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Russ O’Connell, 32, Picture Director Q Magazine
How long have you been at Q Magazine?
Just gone 18 Months.
What were you doing before that?
Picture Director of Heat magazine – the weekly celebrity gossip mag. I was at Heat for nearly 7 years, I actually started there on work experience after completing a degree in photography and worked my up to the top, it taught me a lot about the industry from the picture library side of things, to spending hideous amounts of money on excusive sets of pictures of so called celebrities doing the most mundane things. It gave me the experience and confidence in coming up with great visual ideas for photo shoots that has helped me get where I am today.
How many people work on the picture desk?
Myself and Ian my Picture Researcher.


Describe the first hour of your typical working day?
Work starts at 9:30, after the most important task of the day, Latte with 2 sugars, I generally open up my emails and start to receive feedback and images from shoots I have commissioned in the US. The time difference especially LA is a bit of a pain as you only have a small window of time to speak to people before you clock off, so I am often taking calls and speaking to photographers in the States during the evening, we have regular production meetings and I am often editing shoots from the previous day first thing and ordering in the hi-res’s of images we want to run in the issue. Then it’s a case of looking through up and coming features and pieces we are doing, coming up with visual ideas for those shoots, commissioning & briefing photographers, then physically going to the photo shoots myself to art direct them.
Do you actively source images from independent picture libraries for features?
Of course, although they seem to be a dying breed, a few major agencies are swallowing all the smaller agencies up so there are only a few left hanging on. You can’t beat the personal expertise of those smaller agencies though, often they are run by the photographers themselves or people who have been there for an age and know their library back to front. We often source photos direct from photographers all over the world, especially the more archival features we do. Recently I had the opportunity to go to McCartney’s offices to take a look through some of Linda McCartney’s archive for a big feature we have just done on her shooting Paul & The Beatles. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned by the diminishing number of independent agencies out there, the whole industry is changing very quickly on the photo library side of things, although technology means it’s easier to source images and communicate you can’t beat face to face conversations and actually looking through a contact sheet for that perfect frame.
Do you only use libraries you have established pricing deals with?
No quite the opposite, there is obviously a tendency to use agencies you have deals with for the smaller things like head shots etc. from a budget point of view, but quite often myself or Ian will be speaking to the photographers direct to get the images, as they often hold more of a selection or unseen frames that are not held with an agency.
Do you buy exclusive picture sets?
Not so much at Q, it’s not really geared towards that type of image, we like to try and run unseen images for some of the features we run to keep the exclusivity up and provide the reader with something new that they haven’t seen before. The access we get at Q is amazing and often involves getting exclusive access to an artist which in turn means exclusive images. The weekly market I came from is very different and depends on buying exclusive images to set them apart from one another as there are so many weekly magazines competing against each other it’s hard to differentiate between them all sometimes.
What do you pay for a 1/4 page live gig shot?
Roughly around &pound60 if it is from an agency, I tend to commission our own photographers to shoot the live gigs we review.
How would a picture library or photographer approach you for the first time to introduce their images?
A photo library should be conscious of the type of images we run in Q, so there is little point in say an animal or lifestyle agency approaching us as we tend not to use that type of image. I do get inundated with emails from photographers asking to shoot for us, while this is great you would be surprised as to the number of people that have never been commissioned or have never shot a band that try to get me to use them. Also you can tell when someone has blanket emailed a whole batch of photo editors, it’s an immediate delete job. I work with a very very small tight pool of photographers as we are shooting big names in the music world, so I need to know that I am going to get the results I need, this way we can control the visual style of the magazine better and keep the quality consistent. If you feel you have the experience and most importantly fit visually with what we are doing then you should get in touch, the best way is introduction then showing me your portfolio online, I genuinely don’t have time to see photographers or agents so web galleries are the way forward in terms of getting your pics in front of me.
Do you get many music fans emailing you mobile phone photos? and do you use them?
Not so many fans sending in photos from their phones, personally I think they would only be usable on the web, the technology isn’t there in terms of resolution and dynamic range for us to use anything in the mag, I do get a lot of photography students emailing me with their live shots. I work with a tight core of photographers that have been shooting live stuff for Q for a long time, so I tend to stick with what I know in that respect.
Are you planning to run more footage on the Q website? – if yes – what will you be (or are you) looking for.
Qthemusic.com is a great vehicle for us to run behind the scenes footage of the big cover shoots we do. We normally have a film crew on our big cover shoots documenting it and my editor Paul Rees will do a quick interview with the cover star(s) for use on the website, it gives a great way to provide extra content and access to our readers. At present we don’t buy in any stock video footage.
Is there a Q ‘style’ of image?
Since I started at Q, myself and our Creative Director have tried to push the photography in the magazine to make it more fresh and exciting, we were getting bored with the same old standard ‘rock photography’ that was becoming a bit stale and wanted to inject more energy and polish to the photos, the feedback we have got from the public and other photographers has been great, it’s nice to know people appreciate the work and effort you put in.
How much photography in the magazine is commissioned?
All of our covers, main features and big interviews are commissioned, all the live reviews we shoot ourselves, we also have a regular feature in each issue called ‘New To Q’ which is an introduction to 4 new bands and musicians which we shoot every month.
Who is the most famous person you have commissioned a shoot of?
Probably Paul McCartney, David Bailey shot him for me, it was an experience in itself standing next to one of the most iconic photographers of our time photographing one of the most influential musicians of our time.
Who was the best studio subject?
Richard Ashcroft was funny, I imagined he was going to be like Liam Gallagher, but he was the total opposite, really charming and funny. I often find that generally the older the band or subject is the nicer they are, some new bands and musicians think they have to have an ego because they are in front of the camera, gladly they never make it far in the industry.
Describe the most ‘interesting’ shoot you have been on?
I won’t mention Lady GaGa, Lily Allen and a pair of Black Panthers wasn’t your every day photo session, but I think it has to be Bruce Springsteen in America. I was lucky enough to be invited by Bruce to travel with him along with my editor and photographer on his private jet, from Houston to Denver, then Denver to New York, we were shooting him for our Glastonbury cover last year, it was a taste of how the other half live.
Which independent picture library web site has recently caught your eye?
There are some agency websites you are completely comfortable with and can near enough navigate without even thinking, Rex being the main one for me, their website is so easy and intuitive to use, I hope that doesn’t change though now they have been bought out by Getty.
What do you do when you are not editing rock photos?
The majority of my time I am coming up with visual ideas for up and coming shoots, I work very closely with our Creative Director, but he also gives me the freedom to see my ideas through from concept to completion so I have a certain amount of free reign which is a breath of fresh air coming from a creative background. I also scour new photographers portfolios on line and am constantly looking out for inspiration for the next project.
When was the last time you picked up a camera?
I’m actually quite active with my personal photography, I have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with camera’s much to my wife’s dismay. I am currently trying to convince her to let me buy a Leica….I must try harder or change my tactics as it still isn’t working!
Which websites do you visit daily other than Photoarchivenews.com ?
Flickr is great, so many fantastic photos, also I find it a great way to learn about different film types, lenses etc (again the camera obsessive is coming out in me).
www.dpreview.com is great for up to the minute camera news & technology, the forums on there are great.
http://ffffound.com/ for inspiration and amazing photography & design.
www.life.com – I love looking at those old Robert Capa pics.
aphotoeditor.com is a good update on the state of the industry from across the pond.
Ooh and www.qthemusic.com, apparently it’s a really great music website affiliated to a really great music magazine, you should check it out haaa!
Which newspapers and magazines do you subscribe to?
125 magazine
LFI magazine (Leica’s mag)
My wife subscribes to Country Living which I think has some really nice photography in it, I can often be found hiding taking a sneak peek but don’t tell anyone.
I love photography books too and tend to blow a lot of my money on them, I have just bought the new Don McCullin book which is outstanding.
Cinema or pub?
Pub first, fall asleep in Cinema, then pub on the way home.
Ideal Sunday afternoon?
Going on a nice country walk with the family, taking some photos of my daughter and anything else that catches my eye, then end it relaxing in front of the TV or watching a good film.
Lastly, what photo library website feature would make life easier for picture editors.
IDS has saved a lot of time from the research point of view, it still doesn’t have everyone signed up to it or each agency’s key wording in sync, it’s surprising how many websites still don’t caption properly, sometimes you know an agency has an image but can’t find it on their site because its not key worded properly.
– ENDS –
Picture agencies and Photographers can contact Russ here: russ.oconnell@qthemusic.com – please NOTE his suggestions for contacting him in the interview.
Russ is a PAN subscriber
Thanks to our sponsor:
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Thanks to Russ for taking time out on a busy shoot to do this interview.