Interview: Atlanta Magazine's Photo Director: Caroline Kilgore

Caroline Kilgore is a UGA alumna, native Atlantan and the photography director for Atlanta Magazine since 2008. As her former intern I was delighted to sit down with her and learn about her time at the magazine, how she landed there and what she plans to do next.

 Photos shot and provided by  Caroline Kilgore.

Photos shot and provided by Caroline Kilgore.

AE: When did you first get started with photography and realize that was the career for you?

CK: I started shooting a long while before I realized that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t realize it was what I wanted to do until I was in college and I was trying to pick a major. Forever I had thought of photography as my favorite hobby and this special thing that I didn’t want to ruin by making it a job. But when I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do in college I tried it out. I got an internship at a newspaper being a photo intern and I just fell in love with it. I realized Hey I can still do this as a job and it won't ruin it for me. Right after that summer and that internship I applied to the journalism school at UGA.

 Photos shot and provided by  Caroline Kilgore.

Photos shot and provided by Caroline Kilgore.

AE: Do you have a mentor or someone that inspires you? How important are mentors to a photographer’s growth?

CK: There were a handful of photojournalists that I really loved in college. Basically when I was in school I thought I wanted to be a newspaper photographer and focus mostly on breaking news and documentary stories like ones you would be working on for long periods of time. Deanne Fitzmaurice is a photojournalist in San Francisco and I actually went out and shadowed her when I was in school. I loved her work a lot. She actually won a Pulitzer when I was college for an essay she did. She was awesome and inspiring. It was the kind of thing where I didn’t think she would say yes. I just reached out to her and asked if I could spend a day with her and she was totally open to it. I ended up spending a couple days with her. It’s funny. I’ve found that most photographers that I have met are like that. They remember what’s it’s like to start out and be a student and want to help other people. But my tastes have changed a lot over the years. I’m not as into that style as I used to be. I still love seeing it I just don’t love shooting it as much as I used to. I’m very into food and product and poppy, bright studio stuff.

 Photos shot and provided by  Caroline Kilgore.

Photos shot and provided by Caroline Kilgore.

AE: How did you land your job as the photography director for Atlanta Magazine? What is your average day like as a photo director? What are the responsibilities of the job?

CK: I landed my job because I knew somebody. One of my professors at UGA was actually the editor-in-chief at Atlanta Magazine, Rebecca Burns. She taught magazine writing one night a week and I had that class. When I graduated she suggested I come in and talk with the design director at the time because they didn’t have a photo position. Basically I kind of talked my way into the position. I started as part time and quickly became full-time because I think they realized how useful it is to take all of that off their plate. The designers were basically doing everything that I do now. Well, I should say art directors. I don’t think they go by designers. What I do is that I’m responsible for all the photos that go into the magazine. Most of the photos in the magazine are taken by freelancers so I’m assigning those to the freelancers, deciding the budget, working with them on concepts, going to the shoot, making selects afterwards and when I get the finals I’m color correcting and working on the production of them before they go to print.

 Photos shot and provided by  Caroline Kilgore.

Photos shot and provided by Caroline Kilgore.

AE: Do you do any work outside of Atlanta Magazine and if so, what?

CK: I should. I do some. Most of what I do on the side if for people that I know. If my friends get engaged I’ll do their engagement photos or I’ve done a few friends weddings. I have a friend that has a jewelry business and I’ve done some shots for her. It’s mostly word of mouth. I don’t have that much time. I would love to do more but I haven’t put too much effort into marketing myself.

 Photos shot and provided by  Caroline Kilgore.

Photos shot and provided by Caroline Kilgore.

AE: Do you see yourself continuing a career in magazine publishing or doing something else down the line?

CK: Well it is dream job because over the years I’ve gotten to decide which direction it's going. I think it's rare to have a photo director position where you’re also getting to shoot, which I do. I’m aware that it's likely that will never come up again and that makes me kind of sad. I do love directing and story. I love reading magazine article and thinking about the best way to show them to the reader whether it's through conceptual photos or documentary style or whatever

I think would be best for the story. I would like to stay with magazine to keep doing that but I also know that the publishing world is getting harder and harder to move around in… As much as I would like to say that I would like to be a magazine photo director forever because it’s so great but I’m not sure that’s completely possible. I’m trying to open my mind to different things so I think I could either go more towards that way or more towards just directing just probably not both.

 Photos shot and provided by  Caroline Kilgore.

Photos shot and provided by Caroline Kilgore.

AE: What advice do you have for budding photographers looking to get into freelancing, working for magazines or possibility being a photo director some day?

CK: For freelancers I would say find publications that you want to work with and find contacts for their photo people there. Send them an email with a link to your portfolio, explain why you think you would be a good fit to work with them. I would say doing that would be better than cold calling people because we want to see your work. Basically when someone calls me I just end up asking them to send their work. Another way that I meet a lot of people is if they’re assisting other photographers that I work with a lot. While you’re assisting if you get any spare time you should talk to those people that hire photographers. I’ve hired countless people that I’ve met while they were assisting because they talked to me and said Hey I like to shoot this style stuff and then they emailed me to follow up later. If you’re looking to get into directing then I would say you could always reach out to other people that are doing it and ask them how they got started or if they have any recommendations. It's hard for me to say because I don’t know too many other photo directors. I’ve met a few over the years but I think a lot of them start as photographers. Say you come up with an idea for a shoot. It’s just helpful to know if it can be executed. That’s a big part of it and why a lot of directors start out shooting. Another part of it is being really into the content. I went to journalism school and I really love stories. I think that’s what I’m most passionate about. I think that if you have both of those skills then that puts you in the right direction.

 Photos shot by Alex Martinez and directed by  Caroline Kilgore.

Photos shot by Alex Martinez and directed by Caroline Kilgore.

Last question. Is photo directing and photo editing the same thing and if not how do they differ?

CK: I think they are very similar. I think some people do the same thing and have those two different titles. I do think that there are photo editor positions where you’re not going on location as much as I am and you’re not actually directing the shoots. That might be a little bit of a difference. To me I think of it like a lot of newspapers have photo editors who run the photo desk and not going out on the shoots whereas I’m trying to go to as many as I am.

 Photos shot by Ryan Gibson and directed by  Caroline Kilgore.

Photos shot by Ryan Gibson and directed by Caroline Kilgore.

If you want to keep up with Caroline Kilgore and her work you can pick up any issue of Atlanta Magazine, check out her website or follow her on Instagram.