Being a published photographer is a landmark achievement for many professionals. Besides offering potential compensation, being published is a key form of credibility, not to mention it gives you plenty of bragging rights. I’m still incredibly proud of the first time I was published in Rolling Stone and still get a goofy grin on my face when it happens today.
The process of getting published is similar to how to get a press pass. It all boils down to the important skill of being able to pitch your services. I got my start in freelance photography by blindly pitching dozens of photo editors and actually ended up being successful in some instances. Based on those experiences, I share my strategies on how to pitch a photo editor, along with a real life example from when I scored my first major editorial photography gig.
Submission versus Commission
There are two ways to get your work published. One is by submission, meaning you have photos that you’ve already taken and are now offering them for use in a story. The second way is through commission, where a publication is hiring you to shoot a story or cover an event for them. If you shoot for submission, you’re typically allowed to use your full creative vision. However, if you shoot through a commission, you will typically have to abide by the publication’s style guide or theme. In this blog post, we’re going to focus on the commission aspect.
When do I bring up compensation?
Both submission and commission assignments may involve monetary compensation, or they may be jobs for exposure. It’s up to you to negotiate fair compensation with the publication or decline an assignment if nothing is offered. Personally, I would not mention compensation in my initial email pitch, but I would definitely ask about it before officially accepting an assignment.
5 Tips on How to Get Photos Published
1. Solve a problem.
Keep in mind that the goal of most editorial publications is to publish interesting content. Sometimes editors will have a story or idea in mind and will connect with a photographer later. But it is always helpful if you pitch a story or photo gallery idea to editors off the bat. Make your usefulness known immediately.
2. Prove you’re the best photographer for the job.
In addition to pitching a story or idea that’s hard to refuse, it’s also important to show why you are the best person for the job. This means having a solid photography portfolio website that displays relevant, updated content. If you’re pitching a story for concert photography, don’t send your wedding photo portfolio.
3. Show related work.
When a publication agrees to send you on an assignment, you are representing their brand. Thus, you need to prove that you are a trustworthy ambassador while you are on assignment. This is best demonstrated by including a link or two to previous coverage of similar events that you have covered.
3. Keep it short and sweet.
Always keep your email pitch short and to the point. Getting that initial response to your email pitch should be your first goal. Pitch your freelance photography services in an email similar to the samples below.
Sample email pitch to media outlets
Below is a screenshot from an actual email exchange that helped me land my first national concert photography assignment for Pitchfork.
First, note that my email pitch is short and indicate my experience via two external links. A note on links: I would aim to include no more than two, which is why it’s important to deck out your main personal website with all of your qualifications, tear sheets (screenshots of your published work), and very best portfolio pieces.
Second, note the date that I sent my email pitch, and the date of the reply I finally got. It took several months before the Pitchfork editor emailed me back. This was probably because he had a photo gig in Seattle pop up at the last minute and immediately remembered that cold email pitch I had sent him. The lesson here is two-fold. First, make sure your email pitch is memorable and at the very least you convey your service and your location. Second, realize that pitching is all about timing. You’ll receive a response if your services fit a specific need that a publication has at the time. With that in mind, feel free to reach back out to photo editor periodically if you don’t hear back from them.
This is another email pitch template that I used recently to get a freelance photography assignment to cover a food event for a national publication. I sent this email pitch to 7 photo editors and only heard back from 1. Despite these low odds of success, I only truly needed 1 photo editor to say yes, and that’s what happened.
My name is _____ and I’m a _____ photographer and writer based out of _____ writing with interest in contributing to ______ coverage. Specifically, I’m reaching out to offer photography and/or writing coverage of ______.
As a food and events photographer here in the Northwest, I’ve photographed the menus and portraits for a number of local chefs and restauranteurs, and also have extensive experience with event and festival photo coverage.
Samples of specific event photography work:
Let me know if you have any interest in working with me for _____ coverage, or any other Pacific Northwest photo needs!
Thanks for your time,
4. Find the appropriate contact to send your pitch
After you draft an email pitch, it’s time to find the right email address to send it to. Even if you find a phone number or physical address for a publication, don’t call or make an in-person visit. Stick to email.
The best way to get the attention of a photo editor is to get introduced by a mutual contact. Just keep in mind that even a personal referral doesn’t guarantee a reply. If you can’t get a personal introduction or referral, don’t worry. Visit the main website of the publication you’re trying to pitch, and head to the Contact page or Masthead. Every editorial site should have one, with email information listed, since every publication is always hungry for a tip or story idea. How to find contact information:
- Start with a specific writer or editor. If their email is available, send the pitch to them.
- Go for a news tip or photo submission email. Again, almost every site with a news section will have this.
- If all else fails, email the publication’s photo editor. Worried that you’re emailing the wrong person? Simply add a preface to the beginning of your pitch to the tune of, “I have a story to pitch. Could you forward my email on to the appropriate contact?”
When it comes to learning how to get photos published, it’s all about the art of pitching your photography services. Keep your pitch short and to the point and always try to have a specific story or event in mind. After you secure a photo assignment from an editor, move on to the next step of requesting a photo pass or media credential.
P.S. That Fleet Foxes photo gig for Pitchfork worked out! The final published story is in the below tear sheet.