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By Betsy Robertson
National Account Executive/Lane Press

In chatting with my customers—most of whom are alumni magazine editors and designers—there’s one refrain I hear over and over: There is never enough money. That’s especially true, they say, when it comes to hiring fantastic photographers and illustrators, whose work can make or break covers and feature spreads.

Enter UCLA Magazine design director Charlie Hess of Chess Design, who brought some great news to his colleagues at the annual conference of the University & College Designers Association (UCDA) last month. According to Hess, finding and hiring creative talent on the cheap—without sacrificing quality—is actually possible. Here are his tips:

  • Lean on word of mouth.

    Sounds elementary, but networking is still one of the best ways to find creative talent. Talk to your professional colleagues in UCDA and other organizations like the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Get advice from gallery owners in your town, and photo editors and art directors from local and regional magazines. Ask friends!

  • Look to the winners.

    A number of professional organizations publish annual books or lists of award-winning magazine photography, illustration, and design. Check out the Society of Publication Designers’ folio of “best in class” work, among others.

  • Make friends with social media.

    Photo-sharing social media sites such as SlickPic, Pinterest, and Instagram are a gold mine of potential freelancers. Browse them often and identify photographers whose style speaks to you, then introduce yourself and negotiate a deal.

  • Offer “dream” assignments.

    Don’t presume that hiring a top-tier photographer or illustrator is out of your financial reach. Creative types are drawn to visionary assignments that spark their imaginations; if you have a plum project coming up, take a chance and make the call to a photographer or illustrator who’s on your list of favorites. If your project poses an interesting creative challenge, artists may consider accepting a lower commission in exchange for the chance to work on a really cool job.

    “If you give smart, creative photographers good assignments, things they want to shoot, you don’t have to have big budgets—just give them the freedom to do great work,” Hess said in an interview for the website POP: Photographers on Photography. “Hopefully they’ve got some big corporate jobs to pay the bills.” Case in point: Hess’ idea for a photo essay on UCLA’s “hidden spaces” inspired Los Angeles-based fine art and commercial photographer J.B. Fitts, who has a special interest in finding beauty among the mundane. The resulting assignment worked nicely as a passion project.

  • Check the archives.

    UCLA Mag Cover_Hess

    UCLA Magazine, October 2010

    Great images can be found where you least expect them—including in your school library’s archives department. Don’t believe it? Take this October 2010 UCLA Magazine cover featuring the late, great basketball coach John Wooden. Hess chose an archival shot of Wooden, silhouetted the image against a black background, and added the beam of light to create a simple, powerful photo illustration that marked the magazine’s coverage of Wooden’s passing.

  • Pick from the young and hungry.

    There are loads of talented design students and recent graduates who would welcome freelance jobs they can use to help build or enhance their portfolios. If your college or university offers a graphic design or photography program, talk with the faculty about who they see as the cream of the crop in their classes. Hess once found a terrific young illustrator as he was reviewing the portfolios of graduating photographers at the Art Center School for Design—and hired her to draw an opening spread and four spot illustrations for a story on entrepreneurs. To view more of Hess’ editorial design work for UCLA and other schools, click here.

In my former life as editor of Auburn Magazine at Auburn University, I once secured several wonderful portraits of a faculty member we were profiling by requesting the outtakes from a shoot conducted by a freelance photographer for The New York Times. Total cost: $250.