Photography: Daniel Y. Go
Landing an assignment to shoot the cover of Vogue or fill the pages of the New York Times Magazine isn’t likely to happen to everyone. You’ll need a resume filled with publications, years of professional experience, and a contact list that contains the names of some top editors. But the giant publications aren’t the only magazines that take pictures. There are more than 20,000 magazines available in the US and many of them have significant readerships, are willing to look at the pictures, not the photographer, and pay for the photos they use – even when they come from people who usually shoot for fun.
Best of all, because magazines cover such a broad range of topics, it’s possible for just about anyone with interests that stretch beyond capturing images to find a market for his or her photos. One of the most obvious is your local surroundings. States, regions, cities and even towns can have their own publications and are dependent on local photographers who know the area, and know where to find the best views at the right times. While some will employ staff photographers, there’s often plenty of room for freelancers, especially when they can match a great shot with local knowledge.
Vermont Life, for example, is a quarterly magazine published by the State of Vermont. It’s a publication that likes landscape photography and uses them, from freelancers, in a huge range of formats, including calendars, subscription gift cards and engagement books, as well as the magazine itself. Fees range from $50 to $500 for the front cover.
Oklahoma Today provides information about the state’s people, places, food, culture and anything else to do with the area. Again, rates for the photographs start at $50 and rise to $600 for a major feature.
And New Mexicans can cash in too, although not as much. New Mexico Magazine’s prices for stock images start at $60 but peak at $300 for the cover. The photos must also contain detailed captions.
Clearly those aren’t the only states that have local magazines that take images from freelancers. But they do represent a good example of the kind of opportunities you can find in your area.
Specialist Magazines Offer Unique Opportunities
Everyone has a location that they can photograph, but what happens in those locations can make for sellable images too. Most magazines make their money by focusing on a niche activity rather than showing off a specific site. Those kinds of publications need photographers who understand that activity, whether it’s driving fast cars, playing guitars or breeding cats.
Rock and Ice, for example, is a climbing magazine packed with dramatic images of vertical cliff faces and dangling climbers. For photographers who climb (or climbers who know what to do with their cameras) the magazine offers an opportunity to get their shots in a large format publication and for a fee.
Trail Runner, which comes from the same publishing stable as Rock and Ice, provides a similar chance for people who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, even if they’re not on the road. Low-resolution sample images can be emailed to [email protected].
And Sail Magazine calls itself “the world’s largest circulation sailing magazine.” According to the publication’s website, the magazine uses images to illustrate points made in the text but also just because they like beautiful pictures. The submission guidelines don’t indicate prices but according to The Photographer’s Market, they can reach as high as $1,000 for a cover.
Again, there are opportunities here for photographers interested in just about any activity. But it is noticeable that Sail Magazine encourages its writers to be photographers. As we’ve suggested before, one useful way to get your foot in the photo editor’s door is to go through the commissioning editor. Pitch a story with illustrations rather than pretty pictures alone and you’ll be solving two problems for the magazine with just one purchase.
Pretty Pictures Do Have Their Place
Whether you’re pitching local landscapes for a magazine focused on your area or recording an activity for a publication covering your favorite activity, you’ll want those images to tell a story. They’ll have to fit the subject of the publication. But what if you’ve just created a beautiful image and want it shown as widely as possible — and ideally in magazine form?
Magazines aren’t art galleries, so your best bet will still be to find a publication that matches the subject of the photo. Alternatively, if the technical skill involved in capturing the photo is at least as important as the image itself, you can always shoot for a photography magazine but you’ll be competing with hundreds of other photographers, all at least as skilled and all brandishing equally impressive images. There are a few places though, where you might be able to place an artistic image.
Harper’s, a cultural magazine with a large following, also likes fine art photos and accepts as many as ten a year, paying up to $800 – although, usually less.
And if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can always try to get your photos in National Geographic. You might not get sent to shoot the shifting sands of the Kalahari but submitting it to the magazine’s Your Shot section might just win you the kind of bragging rights money can’t buy.
There is plenty of opportunity then for photographers hoping to put their photos in magazines, but winning the sale isn’t going to be easy. Competition will be fierce, magazines only take a handful of unsolicited images in each publication, and you have to get the shot exactly right. For a photo editor, saying no is always easier than saying yes. But you can improve your chances by reading and being familiar with the publication you’re pitching to so that you’re only sending relevant images. It also helps to have a Flash-free website that’s easy to browse and which offers a relevant portfolio. And it’s vital to understand that editors aren’t going to buy a photo just because it’s pretty. It has to meet their needs too.
Get it all right though and those editors might just see you not just as a freelancer but as a regular source for their images.