Tips on Submitting Images to National Magazines

Marc Muench (www.muenchphotography.com) has been a professional landscape and sports photographer for over 20 years. Marc is now the "artist in residence" at dgrin.com for Smugmug, where he contributes on a regular basis to the "Muench University" critique thread. He is currently the photo editor of the National Parks guide, published by The American Park Network, which contain many of his images taken throughout the United States National Park system. Marc’s personalized attention in his workshops will give you even more confidence in testing out some of these principles. Be sure to check out his upcoming Santa Barbara Outback workshop going down this April!

I began, like many eager young photographers, with expectations of traveling the world creating images for all the national magazines—you know, living the adventure! What I have learned along the way is that if you want to be published in national magazines, it takes time.

It’s a game of odds for most of us. The challenge is to have the right images in front of the right art director/editor at the right time. This can be very difficult considering how busy they are and how many others are vying for their time and attention. Once, you break through and become accepted, and therefore published, it is up to you to repeat it, again and again!

Submitting images to publications is time consuming. Here are a few tips!

  • Your work must be above the threshold of quality; this can be determined by viewing what the publication normally publishes.
  • Your work must be legally publishable, meaning you have proper model or property releases where necessary.
  • Your images must be relevant, meaning it must be consistent with the type of images normally published in regards to subject matter and style.
  • If you're submitting your website for review, don’t bother with all that fancy flash work. I have read the results of many surveys, which state that art directors and editors do not have the time to wait for fancy flash work to load or slideshows to play!
  • Seriously consider a service such as Photoshelter to help service the clients you plan on working with. I am very happy with them, but there are others to allow searching of your library of images, direct sales, private galleries and more.
  • And last but certainly not least, you must be available with an established business name, address, and website that can service continuing business. I do think editors like this!

Now that you understand what should be in your submission, here are a few things that worked for me.

  • Submit any and every way possible! You should be sending promotional cards, emails, and posting to your photography streams as often as you can afford to. As I mentioned, it can be as simple as timing to get your work accepted.
  • Be creative with the presentation. I know of a few photographers who sent flowers with prints, or better yet—song-o-grams! I never tried this, but sometimes it takes something different to be noticed. I must confess, though, my approach was to be simple and let the images tell the story.
  • One of the ways to give your work weight is to have been published already. It really does not matter where—just get published. Well, let me clarify: Facebook or Google+ does not count, as this is YOU publishing your own work. Your challenge is to get others to publish your work. There are still many local magazines and publications requiring quality imagery for their stories, and now that most no longer have staff, they are very interested in freelance photographers' work, especially if it’s local. When art directors and editors see proof of your published work, it helps!
  • I believe that meeting the art directors made a big difference in my relationships with a publication. Go to trade shows if you can, or even better yet, call and request a meeting or pitch a story!

Persistence
Not everyone is going to become famous with one great image. In fact, there are few stories of one-shot wonders! Most successful photographers have created a style and made a career out of being prolific, not only for editorial work, but also photography in general. If you’re shooting something new every month or even week, editors love this! Also, it is a great reason to be promoting yourself. Make sure you let the editors who work at the publications you’re interested in know you are producing quality work every week or month.

Be Unusual
I know many editors want to see that a photographer has depth in not only the volume of their images, but aso in the subject and story of their work as well.

For example, I photographed skiing for many years before I sold my first skiing image to a national magazine. I had created many great exciting skiing images that did well with trade magazines and regional magazines, but it was not until I began photographing the world around the downhill skiing experience that I became interesting to the editors of ski, skiing and Outside magazines.

I found it valuable to bring something to the table that was unique. My style was to include large landscapes and not just the close-up action shots. This was not only something they were interested in but something I was thrilled to shoot. It was far more challenging to capture the perfect conditions in a large scene than just 20 yards of untracked powder! Plus, landscapes were in my blood. If you’re passionate about a subject it shows, and editors notice.

Stock Agencies
Another way to get published is through an agent. I must confess, this can be just as challenging. You have several choices: 1.) Attempt to sign on with a reputable agency who will only accept you based on your work and how different it is compared to all the photographers they currently represent. Or, 2.) you can sign with a "let all in based on technical specs" approach, such as Alamy. If the latter is your choice, you may find yourself swimming in a great big ocean where it becomes a numbers game.

Speaking of "numbers game," most agencies now take such a large percentage of very small sales that you need to have a minimum of 1000 great images before it begins to pay off. When I began my career, there were limited options for stock agencies, and those were taking 50% of the sale. Actually, 50% of the sale is a good deal compared to now days. Many want the lions share of the sale making it very difficult for a photographer to pay the electric bill unless they are producing at a mass volume or something so irresistible that editors and art buyers cant resist. If that is the case, I would suggest marketing yourself directly to the editors.

It’s a Business
When you finally get published be confident. Make sure you charge the right price for the licensing fee. Be sure to look up the going publication rates through one of several resources such as http://photographersindex.com/stockprice.htm or my favorite resource http://www.jimpickerell.com

All licensing fees should be based on the press run of the publication, the size the image will appear, and the location, such as cover or inside. Many publishers still live in the world that considers publishing to the internet should be free, so be careful when the buyer attempts to suggest that their use of your image online should not cost as much as in print! Also make sure to register your images with the library of congress.

I have been burned by publishers not paying or, in some situations, not even attempting to pay. As fun and sexy as it may seem to be published in a national publication, make sure your image is legitimately copyrighted with the library of congress and you hold a certificate for every image or group of images. You would be surprised by how many well-known publishers simply don’t want to pay or forget!

Images are power! Most important is the quality of the images you're submitting. If you're not moved by your own work, you might be in the wrong occupation!

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