You’ve got an idea for a body of work that you’re passionate about; maybe you’ve started or even completed the project. And now, you want to see if it has legs. These three preeminent photography professionals who teach at Santa Fe Photographic Workshops explain what photographers should and shouldn’t do before, during and after contacting photo editors.
Sarah Leen, director of photography, National Geographic Magazine
“[National Geographic] is as interested in the ‘journalist’ part of ‘photojournalist’ as we are in the ‘photo’ part,” says Sarah Leen, director of photography at National Geographic magazine. She advises photographers to become comprehensively versed on their topic and make sure it hasn’t been covered in the magazine recently. In addition, photographers should confirm that what they would like to pitch is actually happening during the suggested timeframe and that it is doable in terms of access, she says.
Leen expects photographers to deliver images with accurate caption information and releases as needed or required. Images should not have undergone heavy digital manipulation with content added or removed. If photographers already have images for the pitch, all the better, she adds. “That way we can really see what they are talking about and whether they are the right photographer for that story idea.”
Case in point: Evgenia Arbugaeva, who Leen met at a portfolio review. Arbugaeva’s series on the Russian Arctic was in the magazine’s “topic wheelhouse” she says, but it needed improvement. After Arbugaeva spent more time photographing in the region, the work was published. “This is a perfect case of the photographer working on topics that are perfect for us and then collaborating with us to add more to the project for publication.”
DO: Thoroughly research the subject and execution of a pitch; be patient, you may not receive an immediate response
DON’T: Pitch stories that are off-topic or have similar themes that have recently been published by the magazine
Krista Rossow, freelance photo editor
“Photographers who want to get my attention should be responsive, professional and organized,” says freelance photo editor and photographer Krista Rossow. “I understand that everyone is busy, but being able to convey [those qualities] in a professional manner really matters. I dislike when photographers clearly don’t read through my emails and send hasty, casual responses with spelling and grammar mistakes. If you aren’t going to present yourself in the best light to me, then why would I want you out in the world shooting for my publication?”
Rossow also advises photographers to send images that are appropriate to the photo editor’s goal. “I’m always surprised when someone shows me work that is irrelevant to my needs as a photo editor,” she says. Also, be careful not to show too many images from the same series. Says Rossow, “It makes me think the photographer doesn’t have a lot of experience,” so try to curate a diversity of images from a number of projects for your portfolio.
Finally, Rossow suggests that photographers identify every image, including a descriptive caption with location details, copyright and contact information. “As a photo editor, I need to know what I’m looking at and I don’t have the time to reach out every time I have a question,” says Rossow.
One exemplary photographer she’s worked with is Ethan Daniels. Not only did he deliver images promptly, she says, but she was also able to quickly identify subjects and locations in his imagery because of his comprehensive use of captions and metadata.
DO: Be professional, organized and polite
DON’T: Show irrelevant work; send files with no metadata; present too many images
Ilana Panich-Linsman, visual journalist
Photojournalist Ilana Panich-Linsman has been successfully building her freelance photography career for years, and one aspect she underscores is that photographers should only present the work they are truly passionate about. “Photo editors become photo editors because they love photography and visual stories—you’re trying to tap into that. If you’re interested in the subject matter you’re showing, they will be, too,” she says.
To achieve that positive rapport, it’s important to have confidence and faith in your own work. “Relax, be humble and don’t make assumptions,” she adds. “You can talk about the work you’re showing, but you don’t have to walk through every single frame. The images should speak for themselves.” It’s also important to ask questions, such as what the editor wants and whether specific instructions will be given regarding approaching a story. “Be interested in their process and publication,” she says.
But while your creative passions may align, Panich-Linsman advises against over-casual social media interactions. Don’t tag an editor in your work unless you’ve collaborated on that project together, she suggests. “Like many of us, editors use social media for both personal and professional use, and it’s better to let them opt-in to looking at your new work.” Instead, Panich-Linsman suggests reaching out to editors via email, and when doing so, making sure all files are easy to view and download.
As for follow-up contact with editors, “There is a fine line between persistent contact and annoying contact,” Panich-Linsman says. “Try to keep follow-up notes short and sweet.” Don’t take silence personally either. “I think most editors feel a lot of guilt around not being able to respond to every photographer who writes to them. They are only human and have to sift through a lot of cold emails. It’s daunting.”
DO: Keep follow-up concise; ask questions; show genuine interest in the work you present
DON’T: Randomly tag editors in social media posts; send files that are hard to open
You can find all three creatives this summer at Santa Fe Workshops where they’ll be teaching workshops on how to create and promote work that truly stands out. Click here to view a complete listing of business-focused classes offered this summer, including Mary Virginia Swanson’s “Marketing Your Photographs.”
—Sponsored by Santa Fe Photographic Workshops