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Getting in Print

While it’s true that we live in a digital universe these days when it comes to viewing and publishing photos, there remains a certain allure to having an image published in a print magazine. Not only can it bring your work a large audience and put some change in your pocket, but getting published can lead to greater opportunities for more work with other magazines and beyond in the commercial world.

Before the Internet gave us the ability to self-publish, scoring a magazine publication was a prime goal for many photographers, for this was one of the few ways to establish credibility and visibility. Landing an assignment or getting a two-page spread in a national magazine was considered a mark of legitimacy that could lead to a more successful career, hence it’s always been a challenge to compete with other professionals and get work in print.

Today magazines aren’t the publishing giants that they once were in the pre-digital era, but photographers continue to approach editorial work as an exciting and worthwhile goal. For those starting out in their careers, it remains an excellent way to establish oneself and build a reputation. For established pros they provide a means to share an important story or perhaps showcase their work.

Here are 10 tips to help you get your work published in print:

1. Research Potential Magazines

Decide which magazines will be likeliest to publish your style of work. This is a fun task because while you have your favorites, you should consult a magazine rack in a major bookstore to discover other publications that you may not be aware of. For example, if you like to shoot sporting events, there are many niche magazines devoted to various sports in addition to the biggies such as Sports Illustrated. Don’t be picky if you can help it, because you’ll have better luck the more magazines you can target.

2. Study Those Magazines

Study the magazines you’ve chosen so that you have an intimate feel for what they’re looking for. This is where you can learn from the competition and observe what works and what doesn’t for a particular publication. It’s a key step that many magazines will themselves advise when sharing guidelines with potential contributors. You don’t want to send images that don’t fit the magazine’s look, for this will say to the editor that you aren’t paying attention.

3. Prepare for Rejection

Yes even the so-called geniuses in art and photography have had to live with rejection. Some believe it’s a prerequisite for becoming a professional photographer. Unlike with a personal blog or Facebook, you’re not in control of deciding on your own work here. An editor will evaluate your images against many variables, and rejection notices – if they are even written – will be coming your way. Don’t be discouraged! But do decide how you will react when it happens.

4. Be Ruthless in Self-Editing

You might have a great shot that you believe would be a perfect fit for your favorite magazine. Yet when evaluating your submission, whether it’s one shot or a collection, be objective and seek out the weaknesses. Focus, lighting, and composition all play a part in this, but you must develop a critic in yourself that isn’t afraid to be honest.

5. Get Opinions on Your Work Before Submitting

If you have a mentor or professional photographer available who will give you an honest critique, show him or her the work you plan on submitting. Is it as good as you think it is, or do you need more time to improve it? A first impression with an editor means everything here. Don’t let the desire to be in print override your patience for creating top-notch work.

6. Contact the Photo Editors

Contact the photo editors of the magazines you’re targeting, in person if possible. There’s no substitute for a face-to-face meeting with someone who you wish to show your work. Editors are as busy as can be dealing with multiple obligations. An email inquiry doesn’t hurt but it’s a sure way to get lost in the shuffle along with the scores of other photographers who have the same goal in mind. Call a magazine’s main number and request a meeting with the photo editor – it’s as easy as that.


7. Share Your Ideas Quickly & Effectively

Once you have an editor’s attention, don’t waste it. Have your ideas and work prepared so that you can share them in as little time as possible. If he or she shows interest you can suggest a possible story for your photos. The key here is to be respectful of the editor’s time and to show a few examples of your best work. Keep it simple and be yourself – your personality will be as big of a factor as your work in securing a job or publication.

8. Follow Up

Follow up after a meeting by sending an email or calling. Remember that editors usually deal with many professional photographers, so keeping your name fresh in the editor’s mind is all about communication. You might try occasionally sending new work or suggesting more ideas, but don’t just go away after one meeting and stay silent. The squeaky wheel gets the grease as the old saying goes.

9. Constantly Produce New Work

Constantly create more work that you can offer a magazine you’ve targeted. This should go without saying, but don’t rest on your past accomplishments. Editors love to see fresh images and you can only improve your skills and content by shooting more. So keep making images that express your high standards and keep sending them out.

10. Don’t be Afraid to Start Small

Henri Cartier-Bresson didn’t begin his stellar career working for Life magazine – he had to work his way up to it. Even if you don’t find immediate success getting published in a large monthly, you can always find smaller pubs in your community or region that need good photographs. Don’t skip the opportunity to get published even if it means you don’t make much money at first. Each publication will add up until you’ve amassed a body of work that will be hard for larger pubs to ignore. It’s a process that tends to weed out those who are less motivated, while motivating those who are aiming for more.

Elias Butler

Elias Butler is a professional photographer and writer based in Arizona. He's written a book titled "Grand Obsession" and has been published in Sierra, USA Today, and Arizona Highways among many others. See Butler's website here.


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