Journalists’ Journal: Maggie Soladay (The American Lawyer) with Tom Mariam

by Tom Mariam on September 22, 2013

Soladay MaggieMaggie Soladay is the Photography Editor for The American Lawyer and Corporate Counsel magazines and their many supplements.  She recently took time to give Journalists Journal a snapshot of how American Lawyer Media incorporates photography and her life in general.

1.      How do photos enhance stories in The American Lawyer and its related publications?

Photography is critical.  Without great portraiture our brand would not be as strong.  Readers want to know what people look like and where in the world they are.  So I prefer environmental photos to those shot on backdrops.  I love it when weather and time allow for outdoor shoots.

Lawyers don’t get outside enough. I hope it’s fun for them to go out on their roofs and out into the street.  It’s great for us since photos outside in natural light and real places are most interesting since few firms have great architectural spaces.

 2.      Is photojournalism, ironically, overlooked by both professional communicators?

I never get pitched.  Which is probably a good thing.  Editors usually receive pitches.  Photo ideas come later.  I wish all large firms had a media relations contacts though.  It’s really hard to get headshots and schedule shoots quickly when there is no designated person.

3.      What makes a good photo for publication?

A combination of elements.  You need a photographer who is technically proficient and visually astute enough to make an engaging portrait that also compliments the subject.  Photographers need to be exceptionally good at photographing older professional types for a legal magazine since our subjects are predominantly older professionals who got where they are on little sleep and little fresh air.

There is nothing easier than photographing a model who has a stylist and makeup artist.   And nothing tougher than shooting lawyers.  Feeling and looking natural in front of the camera is not something you learn on the job or in law school.

4.      What do you consider to be a bad photo for publication?

Most handout head-shots.  A few law firms have invested in great photographers to take creative, engaging, interesting photos for their firm profiles.  For example, Skadden does a good job.  Norton Rose has a great website where all of the headshots are in B&W, which looks great with their stylized identity.

When we request headshots we almost always need color, so a firm still needs options for handouts.  Munger Tolles & Olson, and Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz also have terrific photos of their partners and associates.

5.      Is it hard to come up with different settings, apartment from conference rooms, offices and libraries for lawyers when you take their photos?

The worst place to shoot is the law library.  The second worst is a lawyer’s office.  I have yet to see a really great lawyer’s office.  Bookshelves are very distracting.  We always cross our fingers a subject will take the time to step outside into the fresh air and natural light.  When that isn’t possible, then any airy space with interesting architectural elements.  When all else fails, the photographer is ready to use a seamless paper backdrop.

6.      How can marketing/communications professionals help to work with you for a good photo shoot?

When a media relations or marketing person is on-set for the shoot they should leave the posing and direction to the photographer. Photographers we hire know what they are doing and are trying in a few brief moments to build trust and make the subject comfortable.  Some communications folks get in the way of that.

It’s great if they see something out of place.  When we don’t have the budget for a stylist, which is most of the time, please keep an eye on the suit, the hair, encourage women to wear makeup even if they normally don’t. We’re no GQ, but we try!  It’s great if they have a conversation about wardrobe and grooming with the subject prior to the shoot.  With top lawyers having so much on their minds, they might not be thinking about what to bring or wear.

7.      What are some do’s and don’ts when preparing lawyers and law offices for photos?

  • Go shopping, use the impending photoshoot as an excuse, a good excuse, to go shopping and buy an outfit that fits great and makes you feel confident.  It’s not shallow and meaningless to care how you present yourself.  We all know that almost every lawyer appearing in our magazines can afford it.  We have had photoshoots with lawyers who had lost 20-50lbs since they last bought a new suit.  No amount of Photoshop can tidy up a suit four sizes too large.
  • Empty your pockets to prevent unseemly bulges.  Photographers often don’t catch those odd bulges till it’s too far into the shoot.
  • Never button the bottom button on a suit.
  • And see these rules:

http://www.wikihow.com/Wear-a-Suit

http://www.wikihow.com/Look-Good-in-a-Suit

It is so surprising how often American attorneys wear ill-fitting suits.  European and British subjects are consistently very well dressed.  I am always excited when we do Italian and Spanish stories. It is almost guaranteed to see some fine clothing that fits great.  And the shoes are beautiful!

 8.      What was the most satisfying photo shoot you ever worked on? 

It wasn’t for any of our magazines.  Probably something I did earlier on when I was a producer or assistant.

 9.      What was the most bizarre photo shoot you were ever involved with?

When I was a photo producer, I was hired to produce a conceptual shoot for Details Magazine.  A stuntman dressed as a business man was lit on fire on a NYC sidewalk. I bought a few second hand suits a few sizes too big to accommodate his fire retardant undergarments.  His hair and eyebrows were covered in flame retardant gel.  When photographer, assistants, and the fire department guys were all in place they set him on fire.  I almost vomited and had to turn away. It was the scariest photoshoot moment and the weirdest.  The spread looked amazing in the magazine and the stuntman only singed one of his ankles.

10.  How does someone get to be on the cover photo?

The covers for ALM publications; Corporate Counsel, The American Lawyer, LTN, and the many supplements each year, are decided based on the strength and timeliness of the feature story.  Rarely is the cover chosen on the strength of the photography, though that has happened.

11. What is your background?  What would you like us to know about you aside from being a journalist?

I got into photography as a career for the same reason so many others do: to change the world somehow.  So I have always volunteer photographed for non-profit orgs and worked with at risk youth.

I am also very active on humanitarian projects.  The organization I run on the side with a friend is called SalaamGarage (http://salaamgarage.com).  Our latest project is telling the stories of youth who have aged out of the foster care system in New York and Seattle.  I produced the project and published a book last year called Everybody Needs Someone (http://salaamgarage.com/2013/book-on-sale-now), which is a compilation of the work of 25 NYC-based freelance photographers and journalists who volunteered their time and talents for this important under-reported cause.  Many of the volunteers work for The American Lawyer as well.

I started making creative pictures when I was 10 years old and would shoot off entire rolls of Kodak Instamatic film in the family camera.  I kept up the photography on the side all the way through school, college, and grad school.  I have worked as a freelance photographer, freelance photography assistant, a commercial photography producer and finally photography editor.  I have even stepped in as a stylist, casting director and location scout.  Photo editing is my favorite role in the business so far.  Mainly because freelance photographer is a feast or famine situation that spends too much time on the famine side.

Tom Mariam is the President of Mariam Communications LLC. You can reach Tom at tom@mariam.biz.

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