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There’s one way to get your photos published in photography magazines that I didn’t mention in my previous post, and that is to write an article accompanied by your photos. There are lots of good photographers that can’t write, and lots of good writers that can’t take a photo. There are far less people that are good at both. Any photographer who can write an article as well as take good photos has an advantage when it comes to selling their work.
The main benefit to supplying an illustrated article is that you get paid for both the words and photos used by the magazine. If you do it right, you can set yourself up with a nice part-time income and perhaps a future career. You may go on to write for other magazines, or photography ebook and book publishers.
But how do you get started if you’ve never had an article published in a magazine before? The first thing is to work on both your photography and writing skills until you are good enough at your craft to be worthy of writing an article for a photography magazine. This website is an excellent place to start when it comes to your photography skills, so I will concentrate on the writing side of things.
While you are unlikely to have the first article you write published in a photography magazine, you can publish it on your own website. There’s no excuse for not having a blog – you can start one for free at Google’s Blogger or at WordPress.com.
Remember your blog is your showpiece – it’s an advertisement for your services. It’s a good idea to treat each post as a commissioned article, it should be as professional as you can make it. You will go through a learning curve and the articles you write in six months time will be better than the ones you write now, but the more effort you put into each article the quicker you’ll get there.
How do you come up with article ideas? A good place to start is with the stuff you know. For instance, if you’re into landscape photography, write some articles about that.
Another technique is to learn some new skills and then write about that. For instance, if you’ve never attempted macro photography before, then research some macro photography techniques, buy the equipment you need to take some good macro photos, then once you’ve got some good photos write an article about it on your blog.
I write articles about stuff I start off knowing nothing about all the time for EOS magazine. I research the topic, try out new techniques for myself, and ask questions of people who know more about it than I do. By the time I start writing the article, I’ve become an expert on the topic.
It can be good to specialise. For example, Syl Arena has set himself up as an expert on the Canon Speedlite flash system. Note the professional design of his website and the quality of the articles.
I use Syl’s website when I’m researching articles for EOS magazine. Once, I had a question and I emailed Syl to ask him about it. He responded quickly and helpfully. A few months later we commissioned him to write an article for the magazine. He got noticed because we could see that he’s an expert on his chosen topic, he has some cool photos and the articles on his website prove that he can write.
You should also regularly read photography magazines, books and websites. You’ll learn new stuff and it will help you generate ideas for new articles.
Once your blog is up and running, you should think about writing some guest posts for other websites. One advantage is that it can bring traffic to your blog, building up the readership. But the main benefit is that it’s good practice for when you start pitching ideas to photography magazines. Here’s how it works.
Start by choosing a photography website or blog that you like. Read some of the posts until you have a feel for the style of article that it publishes. Think of an article idea and write an outline. Then you need to find out who to submit the idea to – the answer should be somewhere in the contact information on the website. Then contact the appropriate person and make your pitch. Hopefully the editor or owner of the site will like your idea and ask you to write the article. Once the idea’s been accepted, all that remains is write the article to the best of your ability and submit it.
This is exactly what you will be doing in the future when you write for photography magazines.
Another benefit of guest posting is that your articles may be found by someone who would like to buy your photos or commission you to write an article. I always search on Google when I’m writing an article for EOS magazine to see what I can find. There are certain sites that show up in the searches again and again, and having some articles on them will help you get noticed. Digital Photography School is one of them (that’s a hint!)
While most guest posting is done without pay, there are websites that pay for photography articles. I started off writing articles for Smashing Magazine. After a few months of doing this, one of my articles was noticed by someone from the Tuts+ network. She invited me to write for a new website called Photo Tuts+, and I’ve been doing so ever since. This taught me that one thing leads to another. Those guest posts you’ve just written for free may lead to a paid gig in the future.
Once you’ve had a few articles published on reputable photography websites, it’s time to consider approaching a photography magazine. Use the same approach that you did for guest blogging and study the magazine you intend to submit to carefully.
How many articles do they publish each issue? How many are written by staff and how many by freelancers? If an article doesn’t have a byline, that means it was written by a staff member. Try googling the names of article writers to see if they have websites. What do they do for a living? Are they professional photographers or established writers? What can you learn from their websites?
What type of articles does the magazine publish? Do they concentrate on photography techniques, the creative side of photography (ie topics like composition and lighting), portfolios, Photoshop techniques or a mixture of all of these? For example, at EOS magazine we publish a very specific type of article. Every article is written specifically for Canon EOS users. We never publish articles about Photoshop. We’re not going to make an exception for you, no matter how brilliant your Photoshop article is.
Does the magazine have a website? If so you should study that too. Some photography magazines have a section where you can upload photos. This can be another way to get noticed – some UK photography magazines regularly publish photos submitted to their websites.
Your next step is to email the editor of the magazine to ask for writer’s guidelines. This is a set of instructions outlining the type of article that the magazine is looking for and telling you how to submit it. It’s also worth checking the magazine’s website to see if the guidelines are on there.
Normally the editor will respond by sending you the writer’s guidelines. If you don’t get a response, don’t worry too much. Editors are busy people and it’s easy for your email to slip through the cracks. Wait two or three weeks and follow up with a polite email. You should never be rude or impatient, or accuse the editor of ignoring you. This is unprofessional and will guarantee that you won’t be commissioned.
When you have the writer’s guidelines, make sure you follow them to the letter. Stepping outside them will probably mean your submission will be ignored. Generally speaking, the editor will ask for a brief outline of your article plus some sample photos.
Keep your outline brief and to the point. Here’s a sample outline that I sent to an Australian photography magazine (the article was accepted). Bear in mind your article idea will be accepted or rejected on the strength and suitability of your article idea, not the way in which the outline is written:
My concept is this – to write an article about converting a colour portrait to black and white. The emphasis is not just on how to do the conversion, but on the different interpretations available. Do you want to create a cold image? A warm one? Create an ‘antiquing’ effect by adding a texture overlay? There’s more to black and white than desaturating the image – it’s a chance to get really creative. Take a look at the attached photos; the names explain the process in each image.
If you like the idea let me know how many words or pages there are to play with and I can write a plan according to what fits in the available space.
Hopefully, you’ll get a fairly quick response from the editor. If you don’t, again wait two or three weeks and follow up with a polite email. If the editor still doesn’t respond, then forget about it and move onto another magazine. It’s unfortunate, but not all editors will respond to every email. Get used to it, it’s a fact of life in this industry.
The editor loves your idea and has commissioned you to write the article. Now what? If it’s your first magazine article, don’t panic. The editor has confidence in you, and you’ve earned the right to write the article.
The first thing is to ask when the editor needs the article by. This is your deadline. Always meet your deadlines. I try and send my articles in by two or three days prior to the deadline at the latest.
By this stage you should have had plenty of practise writing articles for your own and other websites. Now, all you have to do is repeat what you did for them.
Some magazines will ask you to sign a contract before they commission an article. Check the wording carefully. If there’s anything you don’t understand, query it with the editor.
The main thing to watch out for is copyright grabs. Some magazines will try and get you to sign a contract handing them copyright of your photos. If a magazine does that, I ask them to amend the contract so that I retain copyright. If they refused to do that (no-one has yet) I would walk away. I never give away copyright.
When I started off as a writer, I thought that the writer’s job is to turn a perfectly written article every time. I’ve since learnt that isn’t true. Writing is often a team effort. Most photography magazines have sub-editors whose job is to knock the copy you submit into shape. They’ll make it fit the house style (that’s the way the magazine spells certain words, phrases and punctuation) and edit your copy to improve the article where necessary. So don’t feel under pressure to submit a word perfect article. You need to submit the best article that you can, but understand that you’re part of a team now. The copy editors will improve your writing and the design team will make your article look awesome.
After you’ve submitted the article, you may not hear anything back from the editor. That’s normally a good sign – it means that your article is going through the production process.
After the magazine has been printed, some editors will send you a copy of the magazine. Not all do though, so feel free to email the editor and ask for a copy. Believe me, seeing your first article in print is a good feeling.
Send the editor an email thanking him for the opportunity – and send him another idea for the next issue with it.
You should be looking to develop long term relationships with editors. You don’t want to sell just one article – you want to sell a hundred, an issue at a time.
If you’d like to submit an idea to EOS magazine, your best chance is if you have a specialty in something. For example, in the most recent two issues, two articles were contributed by freelancers. One on panoramic photography, and the other on astrophotography. Your first step is to read our writer’s guidelines here.
There’s one photographer who’s done an excellent job of writing articles for many photography magazines in the UK over the last few years (he wrote one for EOS magazine too a year or so ago). He’s a great photographer and writer and he’s worked hard for his success. His name is David Clapp and I recommend that you check out his website and blog. If you want to be a writer for photography magazines there’s no better example to look up to. With hard work and a bit of luck, there’s no reason why you can’t do the same.
The spreads illustrating this post are taken from the first article that I ever had published in a photography magazine – Practical Photography. You can see more photos from the Andes in my new ebook Andes which has just been released at Craft & Vision.
Andrew S Gibson is a freelance writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. He is the Technical Editor of EOS magazine and writes photography eBooks for Craft And Vision. including The Evocative Image. Follow Andrew on Facebook here.