I thought I would write a little bit about submitting work speculatively to Magazines, mostly because a lot of people ask me about it, and secondly, because I was fortunate to talk to a “person in the know” about it fairly recently. This is not a “How To”, because if there were such a thing then I wouldn’t be writing this. I would be shooting the cover of Italian Man Vogue instead.
I work with other Photographers, Stylists, Models and Makeup artists very often, and I constantly see hours of hard work and imagination go into something that by all accounts and purposes should be published. I am in the position where I now have a small body of published work under my belt, and so here are a few things I wish I had known when I first started getting rejected submitting work for publication.
Show them what they are missing. Nobody, unless they are very lucky gets their work published straight off the bat. The best advice I was ever given was to create opportunities where there previously were none. If you aspire to see your work in a Magazine such as ID then shoot as if you were working for ID! Focus on creating the best possible work you can afford in terms of time and effort. In other words- show them what they are missing. Not only does this give you an opportunity to find your niche, it also gives your portfolio a boost. Shoot for the gig you want as if you already have it.
Do the legwork. There is no magic bullet to this bit, you are going to have to go knocking on some doors and make some contacts to get your work noticed- hopefully if you have been putting a lot of effort into number 1, then you should get some attention. If not, create something that really WILL turn heads and identifying the appropriate person to show it to is a good start. There are loads of books and resources containing the contact details of publications which might be a good fit for your work, go and make a list of 10 potentials right now.
Focus on the right publications and keep at em! It is unwise to submit story ideas speculatively to lots of random publications, it is time consuming and means you inevitably spread yourself too thin. Have a passion for Gritty Urban Fashion? Get down WH Smiths and check out who you are dealing with- I bet you will come back with a whole list of publications that would be a great fit for your work that you had never ever considered. Similarly if beautiful landscapes or wildlife are your thing, you might want to read Country Living or other similar lifestyle title. Wedding Photographer? Brides Magazine might be your bag, baby. Live Music enthusiast? You might want to go down the blog route to gain access to the Music Press. Keeping abreast of your intended targets photographic style will not only influence your work, it will also help you create work that in time will become on par with anything you might see on the shelf.
Accept that you will get rejected and that there are better Photographers, Stylists and Models. This one is a bit controversial, I know. Having been part of a team that has produced, what I consider to be outstanding work, which then gets rejected is disheartening to say the least. Lord knows, it is positively galling to have something that has taken hours of your time cast aside after barely a moment’s consideration. There are, of course lots of reasons why images get skipped over, so you might want to look again and see if you are guilty of any of them. Here are a few:
The work is the wrong fit for the publication– simple as. Goodbye.
It’s a cliché. Model wearing creepy Rabbit mask anyone? Some ideas just get done to death. Simply, someone else did it first. And they did it better.
The processing is bad: I look back on work I have done sometimes and cringe at my heavy handed editing. Of course, every Photographer and his or her process is different but I would say that, having been shown examples of poor editing I can understand why often really great images get passed over. Flat, smooth, masked over skin. Cross processed filters and tacky boarders seem to be the main reasons given. “I don’t know why they do it” said my contact, “It just makes me sad and makes the images unusable”. If you suspect this is what is holding you back, dig out those RAW files and start again.
It’s just not print worthy…. In the digital age, we rarely consider how our images will look in print because it is a dream for so many. The truth is, it will continue to be a dream for so many because they have not considered how the dodgy filters will make skin look when it is printed. Get the pages printed up, just to see what you are aiming for. Better still, if you know a graphic designer, why not collaborate with them to lay your work out as if it was a spread? I did this very early on with some interior design work I did and landed a shoot for a boutique hotel off the back of it.
The selection is poor or the story you are telling is either confusing or weak: This one has always intrigued me. Even as I am reviewing my shots from the day, I already know which ones will be in line for Lightroom, whilst I am shooting I am mentally piecing together the order in which the story will be put together and I like to think I can second guess which submissions will make it to print.
I am nearly ALWAYS wrong. A Photographer’s job is to submit a consistent selection of images to a publication. The publication then has to see if they have enough to create the visual story they are trying to tell, or images appropriate to support the article. If you have ever seen The September Issue where Anna Wintour shows her barely concealed displeasure at Testino’s descision to shoot a concept she requested you will know that no matter what the Photographer envisages, sometimes the Magazine will have its own story to tell. Beware of pushing your agenda too much with your speculative submissions, just because of the lack of brief. A common mistake I have made in the past was to submit every_single_good_one. It is so easy to forget that a visual story is not a portfolio or showcase. If you look at an actual Fashion editorial, there are a lot of what I call “filler” or “secondary” images, which support the really knockout shots. Do not overlook these. What is killer to you, might not be to somebody else, always seek a second opinion and provide a well selected contact sheet if need be. There is a whole other post here about “people pleasing” in Photography but I have learnt that it is as much about the images working collectively than it is them competing with each other. Remember, a portfolio competes, a submission harmonises!
What to do if you get rejected. You have to remember that, unless you are called Rankin, Tim Walker or on an Art Departments speed dial, it is unlikely that anyone is going to call you and offer you the opportunity to shoot in Milan just like that. Assuming you have knocked on enough doors, produced enough good examples of your work and gained enough attention with your images then you should be in the position to submit and pitch ideas. And yes, those ideas will, at some stage be rejected. They might be rejected in favour of a job the magazine or paper wants you to shoot, so it’s not all bad.. but what then, to do with the images?
Overshare: It is REALLY tempting to post every single photo ever, all at once, in order on your Website/Blog/Facebook. I often do this, especially when I am really pleased with something I have done. Not anymore. My friend says “I had a niggling feeling we had missed a trick with some fashion images we were sent, and so went to the Photographers website to contact them, only to see that they had posted the shoot in it’s entirety. An oversight on our part perhaps, but a pity because we were reluctant to use images that had already been published online”. I think that whilst sneak peeks, previews and teasers are a really useful tool to gain interest in your work, I do think that too much is a bit off-putting and like saying “Oh well, this was for nothing” Treat ALL work as work, paid or unpaid and disclose it accordingly. Apply a judicious hand when selecting the key images for portfolio and perhaps share those. If a client wants to see more, they will ask.
Moan: A Model I worked with once made a fatal error in complaining about a lesser known Magazine on Twitter. Annoyed that a (really very good) Photographers shoot featuring her was not considered she, quite understandably posted the images she felt should have been included, along with detailed reasons why. I would recommend that you keep your disappointment offline wherever possible. A negative attitude towards the industry you want to impress is not a good way to start out. Be graceful and never, ever gripe about what a publication has decided to do (or not do) with your work.
“If all else fails we will have some brilliant photos for our portfolio!” Of course, in the case where you have submitted a speculative TFP shoot to a Magazine, then the images serve a dual purpose of boosting your portfolio. This means that the Model, MUA, Stylist and Hairdresser will all have access to the images. As a Photographer you also have to manage the expectations of your team, all of whom might have some ideas about how they want the shots to look. Bluntly, it is your Photography and you ultimately have creative control over the outcome. It is not okay for someone else to “have a go” on Photoshop and try to improve the images, no matter what their involvement. Remember, that if you mess with an image that is not strictly yours to mess with then you are diluting the vision and undermining the Photographer. It is good courtesy to ask before attempting anything with images a Photographer has provided you.
Get your releases and permissions sorted. A whole other blog post which is for another time. Until then, get out there, get shooting and get rejected. Then go away, do it again, do it better and get it published!
If nobody will publish you and you have an idea for a glossy coffee table book containing your fashion shots then blurb will do it for you, you can even sell your book through the site. It is amazing how much more seriously people take you when things are on paper.