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If you’re a good photographer you may wonder if the standard of your work is high enough to get into print. And for most of us photography magazines are a natural place to start. They give you an opportunity to validate your work and earn some money (or win some fancy prizes).
It could even be the start of a full or part-time career. I’ve illustrated this tutorial with scans of some of the first photos that I had published (all in photography magazines). These photos helped me get my first big break, the job at EOS magazine.
The best way to see if your work is good enough is to submit some photos and see what happens. But it helps to approach the exercise in a logical and structured way. As a one time Technical Editor of EOS magazine, I can give you an insight into what you can do to increase your chances of success.
These are the steps you should take to give your submission the highest possible chance of success.
1. Study the photography magazine
Get hold of several copies of a photography magazine. Take a good look at the photos it uses.
- How does the magazine use photos? Do they illustrate specific photographic techniques?
- Are they stand-alone images or are they part of an article?
- Do you recognize any of the names in the photo credits? Are they professional photographers or readers? Or does the magazine source images from stock libraries?
- How much post-processing have the images gone through?
The answers give you a feel for the types of photos the magazine uses.
It helps if you’re a regular reader. If you’ve seen every copy of a magazine published in the last year you’ll have a good understanding of its requirements.
This is the time to make an intelligent analysis. For example, the photo requirements at EOS magazine are quite specific. To start, all the images in the magazine must be made on a Canon EOS camera. It uses photos to illustrate photography techniques, like black and white photography. Or specific camera features, such as Picture Styles.
Many photography magazines invite readers to send in photos on spec. That means the magazine will keep the photos on file with a view to using them in future issues. For example, if a staff member writes an article about landscape photography, they need landscape photos to illustrate it. The article’s writer will look through the magazine’s photo library for suitable photos before going to other sources.
This is a speculative exercise as it could be months or even years before the magazine uses your photos, if at all. On the other hand, if the staff can see that you are an expert at certain techniques or subjects, they might get in touch when they need photos to illustrate them.
Competitions and readers’ photos
Does the magazine have competitions you can enter? Or regular sections each month displaying reader photos? Many photography magazines have a “your best shot” type section and a regular call for entries.
I had these photos published in Black and White Photography magazine in 2007. It was a regular section for readers’ photos and I think they paid me £50 for it.
Getting your photos published here can lead to bigger things. Practical Photography magazine published the photo below back in around 2007 (for which I got paid).
Then they asked if I’d like to write a full length article about my experiences in South America. The magazine published it a few months later.
I sent in some more photos the next year, which also got used.
Unfortunately Practical Photography, one of the better photo mags in the UK, ceased publication earlier this year.
By the way, don’t forget online photography magazines. They’re less likely to pay, but they’re a good way to get your name out there, if that’s what you’re after.
2. Check the photography magazine’s submission guidelines
If you’re entering photos into a competition or a regular “your best shot” type section then make sure you carefully read the submission guidelines. If you don’t follow those instructions the magazine won’t consider your submission.
Make sure you know how to export photos, resize them if necessary and save them in the JPEG format.
Also make sure to embed your copyright and contact details in the photo’s metadata.
The same applies if you’re sending in your photos on spec. Look for guidelines on the magazine’s website. If you can’t find them, email the editor and ask. And don’t be afraid to ask for current picture requirements. You might just have photos somebody is looking for on your hard drive.
3. What rewards are on offer?
If this is your first submission to a photography magazine you’re probably not doing it with monetary rewards in mind. But, photography magazines should have a budget for photography (sadly some will tell you that they don’t).
If the magazine uses your photo to illustrate an article it should pay you for it.
If you send a submission to a “your best shot” type section then the magazine may pay everybody that gets a photo published. Or it might pick one photo as a winner. That photographer gets money or a prize (perhaps from a sponsor) and everybody else just gets published.
For example, I had the photos below published in Digital Photographer magazine’s Readers’ Gallery in around 2008. Somebody picked my photos as Editor’s Choice and I won the camera bag pictured (I sold it). I’d forgotten about that until I found the tearsheet for this tutorial!
It’s the same with competitions. There’s usually only a first, second and third prize. The magazine may publish runners up photos, but not pay for them.
I’m not saying don’t send in photos if you won’t get paid. But once you know what the situation is you can make up your own mind.
4. Understand what photography magazine staff are looking for
At EOS magazine I viewed submissions sent in by readers. So, what did I look for?
The quality of the photos has to be excellent. You need to ask yourself if your photos match the quality of the images already published in the magazine. Don’t be afraid to ask for somebody else’s opinion if you find it difficult to be objective about your own photos. If your photos aren’t up to the required standard then take the time to work on your technique and creative vision until they are.
The photos have to be relevant to the content of the magazine. They must illustrate a certain technique and do it well.
No dust spots. Once we had a submission from a photographer who had some great images with lots of dust spots. It looked unprofessional and we had to ask him to fix them.
Every magazine is different, so do your research and try to imagine that you’re working at the magazine and your job is to look at readers’ submissions? What would you want to see?
Below you can see two spreads of photos that I had published in FPME magazine (Freelance Photography Made Easy). As a reader of the magazine I knew that they wanted a good selection of interesting photos made by a freelance (or aspiring freelance) photographer. I selected some photos with interesting stories behind them, sent them in, and the magazine published them. Sadly FPME magazine no longer exists.
5. Have a professional portfolio website
At EOS magazine I sometimes needed to find photos we needed but didn’t have in our library. A logical place to start was the websites of photographers whose photos we had published in the past. Failing that, I’d use Google.
A professional looking website is a must if you want to impress potential photo buyers. Make sure your contact details are prominent and that your photos look good on screen. Edit ruthlessly and organize by theme. Keep your portraits separate from your landscapes unless there’s a compelling reason not to! It’s better to have ten good photos on show than ten good photos and twenty average ones.
A good About page helps people get to know who you are. This is a great place to mention any previous publications, if you have them. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t have any yet. It didn’t matter if a potential contributor hadn’t been published. All I needed to know is whether the photos were good enough for the article.
Get discovered with a blog. If you’ve got some good photos, then write an article about them. For example, if you have some great reverse lens macro photos, post them on your website and explain how you made them. The next time that a photography magazine writes an article about this topic, they may find your website.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask about money
If you get to the stage where a magazine staff member asks to publish your photos, then don’t be afraid to ask about money. This is important if you don’t want your work to appear in magazines that don’t pay for photography. The editor of a UK photography magazine once told me that she ‘had no budget for photography’. The hypocrisy is astounding, but there’s not much you can do about it except refuse to play their game.
It’s okay to ask a magazine what their publication rates are. But understand that photography magazine usually have fixed rates for photos and won’t go beyond that. They may make an exception for a ‘name’ or professional photographer, but generally speaking you’ll have to accept what they tell you. It won’t make you rich, but it could be the start of a long term business relationship.
If your photos are good enough, they’ll get published. It may take time – not only do your photos have to be of the highest standard, but they also have to meet the needs of the magazine you’ve sent them to.
If you’re persistent, understand that you’re playing a long-term game, and have sound photographic technique and a collection of high quality images, sooner or later you’ll get published in a good photography magazine.
It’s a great feeling the first time you see your published photos. If you follow the advice in this tutorial, it could be you.