One of the most challenging tasks stock photographers face when trying to sell photos to magazines is deciding which images to submit. If you submit, say, beautiful images from Mongolia to a magazine, it’s unlikely that the editor just happens to be looking for those very images.
On the other hand, when an editor contacts you directly and asks for certain images -- and if you have those images to provide -- you have a good chance of making a sale. Many magazine editors do, in fact, have a mailing list -- a “go-to” list -- of trusted photographers who supply most of their stock images. Here are five steps to get your name on editors' go-to lists.
How to Sell Photos to Magazines
1. Shoot the Eiffel Tower.
Make a list of iconic landscapes, buildings and events in your area -- the “Eiffel Towers” of your town -- and photograph those first. Although I encourage you to eventually capture subjects that go beyond the obvious, focus on the icons just to get started. However, since most photographers are probably doing the same thing, photograph the icons under unique conditions such as exceptional light (early or late in the day), at twilight, using blur to denote motion, after a rain when everything is wet and lush, as a reflection off a mirror, window, or puddle, and so on. In other words, photograph the obvious in not such an obvious way.
2. Select the Right Magazines.
Not all magazines are created equal, and all of them have a distinctive editorial flavor. For example, some travel magazines use only traditional imagery with perfectly exposed pictures and nary a slanted horizon, while others are more edgy and not afraid of overexposed highlights and dynamic (read “not straight”) photos. Review as many travel magazines as you can and determine which ones publish images in your particular flavor. Then add those magazines to your mailing list of potential clients.
3. Select the Right Person.
Every magazine has a person in charge of selecting and licensing stock images, and it is important to add this person to your mailing list. Typically this person’s title will be Art Director, Photo Editor, Photography Editor, and the like. Look at the magazine’s masthead to obtain this information. Some magazines are small and don’t have dedicated art or photography editors. In these cases I add the Editor to my mailing list.
4. Using the Mailing List.
Once you have a nice collection of iconic images and a working mailing list with magazines’ names and contact information, it’s time to put the mailing list to work (and you should begin using your list with as a few as a handful of entries, but keep adding to the list as needed). Write a one-page cover letter to each magazine offering your services as a stock photographer, and specifically asking to be placed in their mailing list. Include a set of your best images (up to 20 should be more than enough, but quality is more important than quantity) for their visual reference, and invite them to contact you or visit your website to view more images. Make sure the pictures are printed, since they are easier to look at than they are on a disc, where the editor will have to make an effort to view them. I typically prepare a letter-sized sheet with nine images that are representative of my work.
After my initial mailing, I follow-up with a promotional card featuring only one image, and in the cover letter I include a list of my most recent subjects. I usually send three to four mailings per year to those on my mailing list. This process takes a while, so be patient and persistent. It might take months or more for an editor to respond to your requests. Using this approach, I have not only made sales of stock, but also landed assignments. With any luck, you might even get an image request for those beautiful images from Mongolia.
[ED NOTE: Efrain Padro is best known for his travel, fine art and nature photographs. Based in Santa Fe, NM, Efrain’s photographs have appeared in Outdoor Photographer, Frommer’s Budget Travel, Geographic Expeditions catalogs and other publications. He is also the author of The Photographer’s Guide to New Mexico and he just recently finished Frommer’s Puerto Rico Day by Day guide.
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OPPORTUNITIES AND RESOURCES FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS:
Efrain Padro was a guest at our Ultimate Stock Photography Workshop in Santa Fe, NM this past October where he talked about selling travel photographs as stock without using an agency. You'll find recordings of that event, here.
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