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Tips from SEPA Judges, Carly Earl, Mags King and Matthew Abbott

Tips from SEPA Judges, Carly Earl, Mags King and Matthew Abbott

Presenting a series of Q&A's in the lead up to the SUNSTUDIOS Emerging Photographer Award.

Introducing the judges for the News/Reportage category:

  • Mags King, Managing Picture Editor, Sydney Morning Herald +
    Australian Financial Review 
  • Matthew Abbott, Photojournalist, ABC News
  • Carly Earl, Picture Editor, The Guardian

Mags King


My current role is: Managing Photo Editor Sydney Morning Herald + Australian Financial Review 

Favourite campaign/shoot/assignment to date has been?

I can't really isolate one particular shoot as a favourite, there have been many and some have been more rewarding than others. Before taking on this role six years ago, one of the most enjoyable part of being a Features photo editor was creating a story board for a shoot, producing it - as in organising and putting things together whether it be props, location, styling and outfits and assigning it to the best suitable photographer as well as  art directing during a shoot. Personally I enjoy shoots where there is a collaboration and where people are able to exercise their expertise. News is slightly different and these days there are factors to deal with such as less resources and less time. I enjoy discussing ideas, collaborating with photographers and I usually relay my personal vision but ultimately the end result of a project or a shoot is entirely the photographer's translation of a brief, how they choose to exercise their particular skills and their creativity.

Common rookie errors you see photographers make in pitches or when executing a given brief? 

I do get a few emails pitching their portfolio or a particular project and my advice would be to research first and foremost if the publication you are pitching to would find the story relevant - always worth considering the style of photos or the use of photos in the particular publication. Edit carefully with thought.

Brief: It's a two-way conversation, listen, discuss, ask questions - it should be an open discussion, sometimes it's hard to brief when a photographer is not interested in listening or fully understanding what is required before assuming that a particular approach is sufficient. I am a strong believer that a brief should be discussed and it is important that ultimately the end result should satisfy the client and yourself. There is no harm in submitting options as well as frames that speak directly to the brief.

Any tips or hints you’d offer photographers shooting for your SEPA category at the moment?

Look at a variety of diverse photographic styles for inspiration, understand the brief, be open minded! Watch films, educate yourself and experiment. Expect that a shoot is a process in itself and a process worthy of going through in order to get the result you are happy with.

What do you look for in a photographer when assigning commissioned work in your category?

Creativity, artistry, thought, intelligence, confidence, determination, passion and pride.

Dream shoot you’d like to work on in the future? Why? 

I'm not sure I have one in mind but I always enjoy the atmosphere and the energy of an involved shoot where you have a group of creatives doing their individual thing; team work at its best - to produce an image that essentially breathes effortlessly and belies the mountain of effort that took to produce it. 

About Mags King:

Mags began her career in photography in 1993 as an intern at The Guardian newspaper in London under photo editor Eamonn McCabe after winning a national photographic award in the UK. She has been a photo editor for twenty years for major media companies- DMG formerly Associated Newspapers, Bauer, EMAP, IPC, Pacific Magazines and Fairfax Media.

Mags started at Fairfax in 2006 working across Good Weekend, Sunday Life, Travel + Leisure, Sun Herald and SMH. In 2012 she was appointed Managing Photographic Editor across The Sydney Morning Herald and Australian Financial Review.
She has overseen and directed coverage of major events including two federal elections, Haiyan typhoon in the Philippines, the downing of MH17, Manus Island, Bali 9, Mosul, Drug war in the Philippines and the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh.

She has curated and produced photographic exhibitions such as: Photos 1440, The Sydney Morning Herald's annual photo exhibition at the State Library, now in its eighth year; Spectrum Now; 'Weather' for Head On Photo Festival and exhibitions for the Indian Photo Festival. 

She has steered the exposure of the Sydney Morning Herald photographic department through workshops, talks, exhibitions and collaborations with entities such as Instagram. Mags has been a photographic judge for the Walkley Awards, Amnesty International, Indian Photographic Festival and is an incoming member of the Walkley advisory board.

Matthew Abbott


My current role is: Photojournalist at ABC News

Favourite campaign/shoot/assignment to date has been?

Usually my last assignment, which in this case is a set in WA's Kimberlys about how the changing nature of the beef agriculture industry with more women stepping into traditional male roles.

Common rookie errors you see photographers make in pitches or when executing a given brief?

Focusing too much on aesthetics and too little on the story. 

Any tips or hints you’d offer photographers shooting for your SEPA category at the moment?

I am interested in seeing long form projects where the photographer has committed to their subjects and the story. 

Dream shoot you’d like to work on in the future? Why?

I would like to have access to Nauru detention centre because I believe the press should have access to deeds carried out, in our name.

matthewabbott.com.au​





Images © Matthew Abbott

About Matthew Abbott:

Matthew Abbott covers social and political issues that define Australia. Works by Abbott have been selected for The National Portrait Prize in 2012, 2015 and 2016. He won the Sydney Morning Herald Documentary Photographer Award and the Melbourne Leica Photojournalism Award. In 2016, he won the Judges Commendation Award at both the CLIPP landscape prize and IRIS portrait prize at the PCP, and again the IRIS prize in 2017. Abbott’s photographs documenting Australia’s offshore detention centres on Manus Island for Der Spiegel was nominated for and exhibited at the Reporterpreis in Berlin.
He is a current member of the Oculi collective, Australia’s leading cooperative of photographic artists. Abbott’s photographs have been exhibited extensively internationally and throughout Australia. He teaches on a regular basis at institutions and universities around the country.

Carly Earl


My current role is: Picture editor at The Guardian Australia 

Favourite campaign/shoot/assignment to date has been? 

The Death Of David Dungay Jr – a photo essay. 

Common rookie errors you see photographers make in pitches or when executing a given brief? 

Giving too much detail and not enough images. Keep the pitch tight. What’s the story? 

Any tips or hints you’d offer photographers shooting for your SEPA category at the moment? 

Make the ordinary unique, shoot a story in a way no one has. Use your creativity, technique, and news sense to find a story no one has told. It could be something personal to you or something that's in plain sight every day that no one pays attention to. 

What do you look for in a photographer when assigning commissioned work in your category? 

Someone who is efficient, keen and delivers quality images with their own flare.  

Dream shoot you’d like to work on in the future? Why? 

A long form project which puts me out of my comfort zone. Pushing yourself into different areas allows your creativity to grow.

About Carly Earl

Cary Earl has worked as a photographer and picture editor in Sydney for 8 years. She has had roles at The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph and is currently the picture editor at The Guardian Australia. 

Interested in entering the SUNSTUDIOS Emerging Photographers Award? Find details on how to enter here.