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How to get published

Many wildlife photographers dream of seeing their name on a huge, many paged photo story in a glossy nature magazine, but it's not always easy to get your work published. Magazine editor Sophie Stafford has compiled her top tips to help you improve your chances.

Tip 1: Tell a story. Magazines are all about stories, whether they are told in one image or a whole photo story. Focus on one species, place or project and aim to get the original content editors look for.

Tip 2: ‘Surprise me!’ This is every editor’s mantra. Don’t overlook familiar or common species – find fresh ways of portraying them.

Tip 3: Sell your work. Don't simply invite an editor to browse your entire website to see if anything catches their eye. They won't have the time (or the inclination!) to do that. You need to do the work for them.

Tip 4: Know what sells. Editors are always asked what they’re looking for, but inspiration is all around. Look at books, magazines, adverts, the news and online – and see the stories that life is telling you.

Tip 5: Be different. Don’t follow the hoards to photograph polar bears, tigers or lions. They’ve been covered hundreds of times in hundreds of different ways, and competition is fierce. If you must photograph these iconic species, look for a new story angle or fresh approach.

Tip 6: Be emotional. Take images of things that mean something to you.

Tip 7: Take heart. It’s not only professionals who get published. Editors are constantly looking for new, fresh and inventive photography – and creativity and innovation are not restricted to professionals.

Tip 8: Be committed. You may need to follow your subject for a year (or most likely even longer) to capture key behaviour and cover all aspects of its story.

Tip 9: Be inspired (but don’t copy). Study the sort of images that win competitions, sell as prints, turn up in calendars and are used in campaigns and try to understand what makes them work. Then apply what you’ve learned to your own work.

Tip 10: Stories are made of words, not just photos. If you’re not a writer, suggest an expert, researcher or writer who can help tell your story in your pitch.

Tip 11: Quality counts. Ask yourself (honestly) if your photos match the quality of the photos already published in your target magazine.

Tip 12: Ask a friend. It’s difficult to be objective about your own photos, so don’t be afraid to ask for someone else’s opinion, especially if they’re an objective peer and not your family (who undoubtedly think you’re the best photographer ever).

Tip 13: Don't give up. If your photos aren’t up to the magazine’s standards at the moment, take time to work on your technique and creative vision until they are. Seek out some professional coaching, if needs be, to help you identify how you can improve and learn new skills.

Tip 14: Enjoy it. Don’t do it if you don’t love it (or you just want to make money). There are hundreds of people out there who do love it – and it shows in their images.

Tip 15: Aim for stories not stock. Selling stock photos is no longer a way to earn big bucks (sorry). Most photo libraries now look for image portfolios that tell stories.

Tip 16: Get connected. Offer a science or conservation project your support and include some of their most engaging characters or ‘heroes’ in your photo story.

Tip 17: Stand out from the crowd. Every editor is swamped with content pitches every day, so you need to make sure yours catches their eye. Keep it brief and to the point.

Tip 18: Free your mind. You might think it’s impossible to show a lion, tiger, elephant or snow monkey in a new, fresh way. As countless competition entries prove – you'd be wrong.

Tip 19: Get something new. This might involve unprecedented intimacy, new, iconic or rare behaviour or a new technique or artistic interpretation.

Tip 20: Be original. Editors look for something that stops them in their tracks, so show your subject as it’s never been seen before.

Tip 21: Explore a photo library. If you know what you want to photograph, but don’t know how well it's already been covered, visit some agency websites.

Tip 22: Stick with it. Don’t assume that photographing a wildlife spectacle for one day, one week or even one month will be enough to tell its story.

Tip 23: Is anything missing? Before you embark on creating a photo story, sketch out a storyboard with all the pictures you need to tell the story in full. When you finish, look back at your storyboard and make sure you’ve covered all the key aspects. If not, keep going.

Tip 24: How to pitch. Once you have a story and some amazing new shots, you need to get to know your target publication in detail.

Tip 25: Buy the mag. Study several issues of the publication and ask yourself who it’s aimed at. Identify what sort of content it prefers.

Tip 26: Look closer. Try to identify the sections that make up the magazine – features, news, reviews, masterclasses – and what their content priorities are.

Tip 27: Be impressive. When it comes to your pitch, an editor will be more impressed if you can demonstrate an appreciation of their magazine’s needs.

Tip 28: Visit the magazine’s website. Look for advice on how they like to receive photo pitches and, most importantly, who to contact.

Tip 29: Email the right person. Sections have different editors. Targeting the right one can mean a prompt reply instead of a long wait while your email gets bounced around.

Tip 30: Avoid obvious mistakes. Never send your photos to a publication you’ve never even looked at. Editors aren’t stupid – they can tell.

Tip 31: Be interesting. What every magazine wants is to sell more copies or reach greater or more diverse online audiences, so ask yourself how your photos can help them do that.

Tip 32: Build personal relationships with key editorial contacts. Getting published can be largely about who you know.

Tip 33: Tailor your story. Don’t assume that one size fits all. Adapt your story angle to the readership and priorities of the magazine.

Tip 34: Getting published is not just about photos; patience, persistence and a willingness to study the magazine's needs are what count.

Tip 35: Ask your friends. Ask other photographers if they have had success pitching to that mag before and, if so, how they approached them.

Tip 36: Get personal. Putting a face to a name can make the difference between getting an answer to your photography pitch – or not.

Tip 37: Introduce yourself. If the magazine is based in another country, you may need to build your relationships remotely. There's never a good time to phone – email is best!

Tip 38: Avoid the hard sell. Once you’ve made contact or even had a story rejected, ask if the editor minds you sending over a few new shots or story ideas every so often and what format they prefer. Make it clear that you don’t expect a reply unless some of your new or future work catches their eye.

Tip 39: Stay in touch. Once or twice a year, send your stand-out shots with a friendly but brief message. People do business with people they like.

Tip 40: Meet up. Identify key contacts on the publications you wish to target and arrange to meet them at the next big photography event.

Tip 41: Ask intelligent questions. Inquire about the mag's future photo needs and the suitability of any projects you are working on.

Tip 42: Be aware. Editors are always up against a deadline and don’t have a lot of time. It’s in your interest to make their job easier for them.

Tip 43: Give advance warning. Tell your chosen editor about anything big you are working on that you think they might be interested in, especially if you know they like your work. That way, they can ‘pencil’ you in. This will help you to avoid the problem of pitching your best work the day after they already agreed to publish someone else’s story on the same species.

Tip 44: Phone calls aren’t always the best way to promote your photos – every editor's time is tight. And never, ever pitch via social media!

Tip 45: Less is more. Email the editor about 10–15 of your best low res images that showcase the quality and variety of your work.

Tip 46: Choose wisely. When pitching, concentrate on the pictures that are best-suited to the mag, its readers and your story idea. Don't just send everything you've got.

Tip 47: Target a section. Show you are familiar with the mag and have considered its needs by specifying which section you are targeting.

Tip 48: Think ahead. Many mags are “long-lead” which means that they work several months – or even years – ahead, so pitch early.

Tip 49: Keep it brief. Anything longer than a few hundred words will have the editor flicking to the next email (or making tea).

Tip 50: Be honest. If you’ve manipulated your images, used questionable techniques or captive animals, highlight this to the editor so they can make an informed decision about whether they want to use them. It’s much better they find out now, rather than after they’ve unknowingly published them.

Tip 51: Every story needs an angle. This is not just a description, but the narrative purpose that drives your story.

Tip 52: Edit your photos. Only put your best work on your website. Don't force an editor to wade through mediocrity to get to the good stuff.

Tip 53: Treat everyone you encounter – in the field and in the office – with respect. It’s a small world and people talk.

Tip 54: Ask about rates. Most magazines have fixed rates for photos and won’t budge. If you think your work deserves more, then negotiate diplomatically to preserve your long-term relationship.

Tip 55: Don't be aggressive when agreeing publication terms – or the magazine may be wary of working with you again.

Tip 56: Raise your profile. To get ahead you may have to think about working on a conservation project for free. Evaluate the exposure you'll gain or can achieve to decide if it’s worth it for you.

Tip 57: Providing a free website gallery to a prestigious magazine with a large audience may not earn money, but you could use the opportunity to promote a talk, tour, book, prints or drive traffic to your site.

Tip 58: Enter photo competitions. It is time-consuming, but if you win a big contest it can be truly life-changing. Don’t forget to visit our feature on how to win photo competitions (give url).

Tip 59: Give talks. This will hone your nose for a story, teach you how to engage audiences and help you to identify your “editorial voice”. Please see our webinar C4 Atelier - The art of entering Wildlife photo competitions

Tip 60: Support a good cause. Use your photography and skills to help charities make the world a better place. You will not only get a warm glow, you may also get access to great stories and competition-winning images!