Writing for Photography Magazines - An Editor's View

Writing for Photography Magazines – An Editor’s View

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A Guest Post by Andrew S Gibson who’s new eBook – Andes – has recently been launched on Craft and Vision (for just $5).

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.

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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.

Getting started

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.

Guest posts

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!)

Websites that pay

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.

Photography magazines

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.

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Contact the editor

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.

Putting an outline together

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.

The editor’s response

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.

Writing the article

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.

Contracts

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.

Team effort

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 the submission

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.

Long term relationships

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.

EOS magazine

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.

A good example

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.

Andes

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.

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Some Older Comments

  • Ann Gagno August 8, 2011 03:27 pm

    Hi Andrew,
    Thank you for this post. I have learned a lot from your post. As I have been going through the motions of starting a career on photograpy, I have also rekindled my love for writing. I have already started blogging and would definitely take on your tips to approach editors. Your info was such a great help for me to start. Thanks again :)

  • dediari August 6, 2011 10:09 pm

    hi, Andrew
    thank you, your article really inspiring me much to start writing about photography..

  • David August 6, 2011 05:32 am

    The most useful article I've read on the subject. Note, if a magazine doesn't have a style guide they probably don't pay either. I recently wasted heaps of time on a new magazine who expressed interest in some of my photos of their sport, only to be told they neither paid not wanted the article I had proposed I write for them!

  • Lynn August 6, 2011 01:01 am

    I suggest new writers get themselves a good book on magazine writing - there is a formula for this particular style of writing - competition can be fierce. I suggest also, that you try to be as spot on with grammar,spelling and punctuation as possible. Many very good mags do NOT want to do that much work correcting someone else's article unless it's absolutely brilliant and just needs some tweaks.
    And get use to pink slips - especially for print magazines and journals. One must have a thick skin for the writing/photo business. And he's right - DO NOT GIVE AWAY YOUR COPYRIGHT. With prints and articles: they can be used in more than one way and can be reprinted. So articles can be shortened, altered, lengthened and re-sold. You don't want to have to get permission to use your own work, so make sure rights revert back to you apon publication or shortly there after.

  • Guillermo de la Maza August 5, 2011 03:33 pm

    Spot on article. Thank you very much for sharing this. Inspiring in every way!

  • THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com August 5, 2011 02:34 am

    Wow. It's been my dream to get paid writing on photography magazines. But I hand't really had a clear direction as to how to get there. But I think so far, I'm on the right track!

    I am a writer and a photographer for http://CustomPinoyRides.com - an Automotive Website.

    But that's as far as it goes. I was sort of waiting for someone to see my work and invite me to write for a magazine. But with the type of photography I do, the magazines that could possible invite me for work are automotive-based magazines. The problem is, the biggest local automotive magazine also has a website, and they consider me as a major competitor! Talk about irony...

    But at least my site is well supported by the local car tuning industry, as my sponsors are some of the biggest in the business. So technically, I do get paid for my photography and my writing. It's just that I can't get it into any of our local magazines. LOL!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck August 5, 2011 12:46 am

    Hi

    Although I have not been published in any magazine, I do write a descriptive story for each image I post to my Blog on a daily basis. I try to add a personal touch as well as some facts surrounding the scene. This shot is about Horse Racing, but also describes a bit of history with a Photography Twist.

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/2210/

    In addition, I have been a Guest Blogger on several well known Photography Blogs. Here I chose a specific technique to describe and accompanied the article with pictures I had taken to visually support the technical aspects described.

    Erik