Cold Contacting: A Way To Break In

Amanda Baltazar

A mail promo created by Kaplan that shows his conceptual, refined aesthetic for still life and advertising photography.

Sam Kaplan

Cold contacting clients is the stuff of nightmares for freelance photographers hoping to get their career off the ground.

But one photographer has made it work for him. Within five months he transitioned from assisting to shooting full time, and now shoots for the likes of The New York Times Magazine, Fortune and Men’s Health.

Sam Kaplan graduated from Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, in 2007, and then moved to New York City and began assisting photographers. But what he wanted to do was shoot photos and realized he could break in through editorial. 

“I did some cold calling,” he says. “I’d send e-mail blasts to 500 to 5,000 people, but then I decided to make it more personal.”

Cold Contact E-mails

Kaplan started focusing on the specific magazines he wanted to work for, as well as smaller magazines “that might take a risk hiring me as a relatively unknown photographer.” He’d spend some time looking through the magazine, and then he’d contact the photo director, mention specific photography he’d enjoyed in a recent issue, or a certain section of the magazine he’d admired, to show he’d done his homework, and then pitch his services.

“That got a better response,” he says. “I’d find something in the magazine that connected with them; otherwise it’s just another e-mail, and people get hundreds of e-mails a day.”

He was still one of those hundreds, though, so how did he get the editors’ attention? “It’s timing and persistence, but not being too badgery,” he says. “Sometimes I’d just put ‘Checking in’ or ‘New personal project’ as my subject line so there was a reason to contact them.”

It still took about six months before he landed his first meeting with a photo editor—at Popular Science. And it was another year after that before he got his second (with Wine Spectator). “Somebody needs to see your name six or seven times before it sticks, so there’s the persistence factor,” he says.

A thick skin also helps. Lack of responses rolled off Kaplan’s back and he kept plowing forward. “You’ve just got to suck it up and know that eventually work will come,” he says. 

Direct Mail

There’s another string to Kaplan’s cold-contacting bow: He also sends out direct mail pieces that are mini works of art.

He feels this is even more effective than e-mail. “It’s more personal,” he says. “I cut them from nice paper and spend a lot of time designing them. I feel that people appreciate a printed-out piece more.”

© Sam Kaplan

Kaplan typically mails out 250 to 600 mailers three times a year. They are usually 5.5 x 8.5–inch double-sided cardboard, each side featuring three or four related images. 

“I send them out on thick Moab paper, and I design them really nicely, clean and simple. A lot of times they’ll be on the wall if I go in to see a photo editor or art buyer,” he says. “It’s a physical thing you’re sending out to represent you, so it should be something someone would be proud to hang on their wall.”

There’s no way around cold contacting, Kaplan believes. “If there’s an easy way to do it, other people would have figured it out. If you believe in the work you’re sending out, you have got to just trust in it.”



PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue



Tout VTS


Tout VTS


Contact PDN | About Photo District News | Camera Reviews and Gear Guide | Photography Blog | Photo News | Photo Magazine- Print Subscription |
Photography RSS Resources | Free Photography Newsletter | Photo Magazine Advertising | Photographer Features & Resources | Stock Photographs
© 2016 Emerald Expositions, LLC. All rights reserved. Read our TERMS OF USE and PRIVACY POLICY