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Getting Photographs into Magazines

Visit a large branch of WH Smiths so some other larger newsagent and you may be amazed at the sheer number of magazines on sale. With the internet many thought the number would drop but just look at photography to see what has happened. The number of photographic magazines in recent years have more than trebled. A look around the news racks and you will find topics covered that had no magazines a year or two ago and on nearly every subject at least one or two magazines now. All of these have articles and photographs, large numbers of photographs. So the need for photographs is far greater now than at any other time. In this article take a look at how you get your photographs into magazines.

I have had hundreds of my photographs in magazines, although my preferred route has been to produce illustrated articles and in a second article to go with this I want to look at doing this one stage further and creating illustrated articles.

Just about all writers, don't start with photographs, they start with an idea, and then maybe do some research, before writing the article. Some writers have regular commissions to produce a set number of articles for each edition, and a few are staff  members that have to fill larger numbers of pages. In many cases the person who writes an article will submit it to the magazine, and its then edited, not so much to change what it says but to make it fit within the design layout of the magazine. There is only a limited amount of space between the advertisements and these of course get priority, when you buy adverts you decide the size, you don't get told what sizes are left between the articles that you can choose from. A writer will know an approximate number of words that is preferred and the editor or their staff will put the whole thing together. Many think that photographs are used to fill the spaces left, but its far more likely that the layout will be decided in terms of where the adverts are to go, where the titles and photographs are to go and text then edited to fit. So next time you criticise a writer for failing to explain a point or for raising something and then not coming back to it, remember their version may well have had far more information. Its little point then arguing, few magazines run extra bits to part pages, so they have to accept that some bits are to be chopped out to make it fit the space available. Most writers don't provide photographs to go with their articles, it may be that they don't have the interest or ability to take photographs or may be that they write a lot of articles on a wide variety of topics,  often under several names, and going out and taking photographs to go with the articles would just be impractical. The magazine therefore has to use photographs from other sources.

They can go to photo libraries, but more often they will have photographs that have been sent in to them, particularly if they are a magazine covering specific interest and photographers are aware of their interest in photographs on the subject.

Some magazines will, having used photographs from a photographer, tell them what they are looking for, while on occasions they may commission you take photographs at a particular event or on a specific topic.

There are a number of ways to get your work into magazines, this includes:-

  • submit photographs to magazines that you feel may be interested

  • work with article writers

  • ask magazines what they would particularly like to see

  • make yourself available to undertake commissioned assignments

  • crate a website showing your work and invite magazine editors to visit it

  • submit images to picture libraries

  • write the articles and submit them with photographs

  • get commissions for articles with photographs

The last two of these and working with an article writer, we are looking at in a separate article. Sending your work through a picture library is also the subject of other articles and not covered here, other than to say its less work for you, but you get less than half of the revenue from the publication of your work in most cases.

We want to look at the other options here.

Submitting photographs to magazines

Magazines today want digital images, few if any will want transparencies or film based work if they have other options. The ideal way to submit these are on CD, with a rapidly loading JPGg of say 640x480 resolution or slightly less and in a separate directory the matching high resolution images. To make it easy to view,  consider putting the JPGs on one directory, the high res on a second and on the route directory having both a read me file (.txt) that explains what is included and what to do and also a HTML based display of the images either a slide show or just linked up images, where when you click on a small image a larger one is shown. There are quite a number of programs that can automatically spin off these from your collection of photographs. In some cases you can change the templates, so that the results you get suit your needs.  If you want to get an idea of what can be done very easily take a look in our location section at the Photochrome section, the county pages and resulting pages arrived at from these. This was produced by putting the images from each county into a directory and letting Photoshop CS do the rest for us.  Some people also like to print the equivalent of the old contact sheets showing miniature images to go with the disk.

You do need to work out what the magazine wants. Most are happy with the high resolution images being Tiff images and can do the rest themselves, but some have more specific requirements or perhaps a preference when available to have work in other formats.  If you are unsure what they want, either ask or in your cover letter and read me file say that you can produce work in other formats if they prefer.

What not to do with magazines, is don't just send disks with vast numbers of low res JPGs on and expect them to contact you and negotiate each transaction, this is for them both too much like hard work and they often are running near to deadlines when sourcing images. Its far better to give them access to both low and high res images from the beginning, otherwise, make it clear that if they tell you which images they want you can get them images on a disk by courier the following day at your own cost. If your objective is to just get more images on, then I would suggest you switch from CD's to DVD's, rather then putting in the delay and incurring the additional cost. Also don't send them emails with images attached, unless they have asked for them.

If you have a very special photographs that they can't live without you just may be able to get a price above what they normally pay, but as there are other sources, its likely they will just select an image from elsewhere. So in most cases income is a numbers game not a case of haggling on the price of a particular image. You can of course set your own rates as picture libraries do, and doing this in some cases you will get more and sometimes less. My suspicion, given the choice many have, is that they may select the work being offered at less than they would have paid and not bother routinely with that which is at a higher price. Most magazines have a rate that they normally pay, and if you don't like this then select another magazine to submit to, magazine rights is a separate topic and we have a another article looking at this. Click this link for more Rights in relation to magazines

Before sending images to a magazine you want to sort out what they are likely to need. Take a look at the subjects they cover, look at the orientation, are they portrait, or views or both, do they prefer tightly cropped images or ones with more space around the subject, is it all colour, black and white or both, what other specifics do the photographs have. Take a closer look at the subject matter and within this how the photographs illustrate the articles, are they very specific, as if shot or sent in with the articles, or covering news type events or generic, more general shots.

Magazines have a lead time, by this I mean articles are written, edited, laid out, and eventually printed and distributed ahead of when they appear. The month they have on the cover is also up to a month after when they come out. This is to give them  maximum shelf life. The effect of this is that photographs for a spring magazine need to be in by about Christmas and the images to go with the Christmas edition, in by Halloween at the latest. Its no good sending in pictures that would look right in this months magazine now, instead we have to look ahead. In some cases we may have to look even further ahead, for example in January you will find many articles appearing looking at holiday plans for the summer, and allowing for the lead time, some of these could be being submitted within a couple of months of being taken. Of course this is not always the case, with product reviews and news features there's a rush to get the latest images in , often reserving space and images arriving just in time.

You can get information on what magazines want from a number of sources including some annual books shown on the right.

In addition you can join an organisation that sends you and very many others a magazine that gives you details on a handful of magazines. Many magazines within their inside information on the publication give you either some information on how to submit photos or identify people that you can contact. The magazines that are in the books and featured in writer guides and the like will get very many submissions, while many who aren't, will get nothing like as many. Similarly those who have quoted higher payment rates will tend to get far more than others. The profitability to you is going to be the income less your costs, so if you have to send in less in relation to the number of images used, you are likely to get a higher margin and like always the harder you work and more you submit, the luckier you are likely to be.

Magazine covers are worth looking at specifically, a cover shot needs room for the magazine title and has to have room for other promotional lines, but also has to be stunning drawing peoples attention to the magazine when on racks amongst a sea of others. It is nearly always going to be a view (upright) shot, often seasonal, and may relate to other articles covered. The image will often have to have been offered on an exclusive deal, no magazine wants to take the chance of another magazine having the same picture on its cover. You will get a premium price for a cover shot, as well as helping you build a reputation, and therefore more likely to get commissions or contacted about supplying images. Surprisingly covers are not as competitive as the general material, as far fewer people think about and specialise in this area, and the choice available is far smaller than you might expect.

Commissions and asking magazines what they would like to see

In some ways these are two different topics, one is where the magazine asks you to go and take a specific set of photographs, while the other is where they ask you if you can sort out a collection of images that could be used to illustrate an article for them. The difference is of course that the second assumes that you already have a set of images that will be able to be provided, while with the first that you have the ability to produce work to a specification, or of an event, and can do this to fit their time scale. Even if commissioned you may not get paid until and if, its used. The reason I have linked what appears at first sight to be distinctly different topics is that the marketing is based upon either your reputation or you marketing your services.


Lets imagine you were an editor of a magazine and you get contacted by a photographer who you have never heard of, who would like you to commission them. If you give them a chance and they let you down, or produce work not up to scratch you will be in a hole, so it follows that given the choice you would prefer someone known to you. From the photographers point of view being commissioned sounds great, until you realise that with many magazines it doesn't guarantee selection or payment just something they would like to see. With many magazines you only get paid after publication so if its never published you never get paid, commissioned or not. So you travel, incur expense and get to have your work considered. If you are expecting to get paid to go and take the photos, then you need to make sure that they fully understand and agree to this, and you have sorted out who owns the copyright of the photographs. If you work for an employer and as a part of that employment you take photographs the copyright is the employers, while if you photograph something like a wedding the copyright is yours.  With a photographer who works part time for a photographer at weekends photographing weddings, the copyright belongs to the photography business you are working part time for. You will see that defining whether you are a part time employee or whether you are your own master undertaking a commission can be a problem that can lead to problems if you are not careful.

Another problem to look at is your ability to actually undertake the commission, for example if a magazine commissioned you to take photographs at the Cheltenham Festival, you might think this would be straightforward, you turn up, get in as a press photographer take the photos and thats it. However there are many more photographers who would like to do this than are allowed so you have to apply in advance detailing what other work you have had published and fill in forms etc, and if you are selected, then you have to pay the same entry charges as the highest ticket prices.  So if you took this commission you may not be able to deliver and if you do you have a lot of costs to cover. If you take a commission you need to deliver, whatever the weather, traffic, cost or problems.

On the other hand if you are known, or wish to become known as a specialist in a specific area, perhaps bird or wildlife photography, perhaps architecture, flowers or food. Wherever you feel there is an opportunity or your interests lie. In your speciality you build up a range of work, and take every opportunity to expand this. Now if someone asks you if you can undertake a commission in that area, you are not looking at the profitability of this commission alone, but looking at it perhaps as a way of getting your costs paid to build up a greater collection of material.  You will come across photographers with a specific interest such as photographing steam railways that will tell you of the 20 photos and 3 covers that they have had published over the last few months, or similar stories and in nearly every case they are an enthusiast, they have got to be really good at this one area of photography but also have the interest in the subject.  If you are going to photograph trains or sea birds you need to start to be able to tell one from the other, to spot the common and the unusual and to be able to guess fairly reliably what is going to happen, when and where.

You will also discover some things are easy to photograph, while other projects are far more difficult and often require both more knowledge and equipment. Ultimately the best photographs often come about mostly by luck, but if you have the ability and equipment you are more likely to be able to take advantage of the lucky situation when it arises.

If as a specialist you either want to tell editors of your work and/or that you are interested in assignments then the best way is to show them a variety of your work. Put a disk together, as we have discussed above. Better still do it regularly with either different things or just another collection of images.  This way they get to see more new and exciting work from you.

The website approach

You could create a website instead of creating disks, the skills and software is similar, and by dividing it into sections with more new material being added, you can make both a wider collection of work available and in theory at least available to a wider collection of users. You can then contact editors and tell them what you have and where they can see it. This at first sight would appear more efficient, something that can be done at less cost and therefore would be more profitable. However these images have not been selected to potentially suit the magazine, and they have to search through looking for the ones that may be of interest. In reality you are not now marketing to the magazines but running a picture library. The biggest problem will be in getting them to look at your work.

There is a half way stage where you select a sub selection of images and submit on a disk but invite the magazine if they don't see what they are looking for to see a larger selection on your website. Over time they may then get to think quite naturally of looking at your website collection when the need arises, but more specifically if you have very strong collections in specific areas or topics.

Making it happen

To be successful you have to send in images. The more images you send in the more you will get published, however the cost of submitting so much and time required is a problem, so you will find you need to look at how to improve the efficiency or take up, and this is going to come about initially from looking at publications and deciding what they are likely to want.

Targeting publications that have a specialist need with suitable work, particularly if these publications are not in all the guides, so will be receiving less work, is a good start.

On the other hand the way not to succeed is not to send any work in at all.

See also articles on Stock Photography  and Rights Managed photography.


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