Magazine Editors Share What Publications Want from Photographers

Submitting your work to publications may be a daunting task, but you can up your chances of landing a spot in their pages with these tips from editors themselves.

It’s the dream of every photographer to get their work published in magazines. Whether it’s getting sent on assignment to remote locations, seeing the spotlight on a personal project, or finding your work on the physical pages of esteemed publications, it’s something that we’re all striving to hang on our credit belt. If you’re yet to have yours featured, you must be wondering how you can increase your chances of getting your work accepted. We’ve touched base on this topic a few times already, but since it helps to get as many insights as possible, we might as well bring you more inputs from three more influential photo editors.

This Exposure article featured Q&A answers from Dustin Drankoski of Mashable, Genevieve Fussell of The New Yorker, and Sarah Leen of National Geographic on the topic “What Photographers Need to Know Now”. It may be around two years since, yet their answers still resonate with many publications today.

For example, some publications find it more interesting to run stories told from photographers’ point of view, instead of doing traditional photo assignments. “We want photographers to tell their stories…they experience so many things on shoots, and we love telling those stories,” said Drankoski, who added that 95% of what they publish on Mashable comes from projects pitched directly by photographers.

This is where project pitches come into the picture. Each publication and editor have their own preferences when it comes to pitches, but the safest way to do this is to study the content they publish and check their submission guidelines. As Fussell stressed, “Know who you’re pitching. It feels like people who pitch aren’t looking at the magazine. Think about who you want to work for, and then work towards that.”

“We want photographers to tell their stories…they experience so many things on shoots, and we love telling those stories,”

Understandably, bigger publications that run several stories in a year, like National Geographic, tend to assign a story to a team, and bring in a photo editor to also come up with a list of potential photographers for a project.

“We publish twelve issues a year, with four full features per issue, so 48 stories a year. We have a very high bar for the photographers that we work with,” Leen said on how National Geographic does it. “In terms of story teams, we build them with social media, digital story-telling, video, etc. Halfway into the deadline for a story we’ll do a review process, and do a presentation to the editor-in-chief.”

“Personal projects that are too personal are like ‘this big,’ (makes a tiny gesture) and they need to magnify.”

Now, what about the content of your work itself — what makes it to the cut, especially when it’s personal work? All editors agree that don’t make it too personal, because the work tends to be either too niche, inappropriate to what they cover, or there’s just nothing to make them or the reader care. In essence, the project you’re pitching needs to be bigger than yourself.

“How do you get that in there? Be in a community of photographers that push you to reach that level of successful yumminess,” said Leen on pitched projects ideally being on a certain level of wonderfulness. “Personal projects that are too personal are like ‘this big,’ (makes a tiny gesture) and they need to magnify.”

Another highlight that we’re sure all of you are curious about is the editors’ thought on Instagram. As expected, they put a great deal on the social media platform, but only when it’s a well-curated, professional-looking feed. Make it an extension of your portfolio website, if you will. From an editor’s standpoint, Leen said “Instagram puts the photographer right where they can be easily found.”

“Photographers need to understand that Instagram really is a tool that editors are making heavy use of,” Fussell added. “Some photographers’ websites drive me nuts; whereas Instagram is right there, it’s right in my hand, and it looks the same for everybody.”

Do check out the full article on Exposure to get more insights on the subject. While you’re at it, you may also want to check out more editor tips on how to pitch your project to a publication.