It’s a funny thing nowadays…the world is telling us that nobody reads print magazines anymore; and yet the ultimate expression of success for any photographer’s work is the inclusion in the print edition of the leading magazine in their niche. Websites, blogs, and social media in the outdoor and adventure sports category are often filled with mediocre, uninspired stock photography because it is cheap, there’s a deadline, and it is “just today’s quick online refresh”.
Many print titles, on the other hand, are staying true to the roots and publishing nothing but the best work. And I would argue that the bar has risen to an impossibly high standard in the last few years. What was a cover shot six years ago might not even be considered for a thumbnail today! Flip through the pages of today’s best outdoor sport publications like Powder, Surfers Journal, Climbing, Bike, The Drake and your mouth drops in awe. Powerful images thoughtfully crafted by insanely talented photographers explode from the pages and burn into your retinas.
So how do they do it? What is the magic formula? How do I get myself published in outdoor magazines?
Well let’s start off with the one thing that nearly all of these shooters have in common: They live and breathe the sports they shoot. What does that mean? Well, it means that they are active participants in the sports they cover and nearly every aspect of their lives is set up to capture the most elusive of moments in skiing, biking, climbing, surfing or whatever they shoot. While anyone regardless of fitness or athletic skill can cover MLB, NFL, track and field sports, from the sidelines; in general only a big wall climber/photographer will be shooting big wall climbing and only a backcountry skier/photographer will be covering backcountry skiing day in and day out.
So let’s say you’ve quit your day job, moved out of mom’s basement or ditched your insurance sales career and moved to Jackson Hole, Yosemite, Whistler or wherever your dream location may be. The next thing to do is shoot, shoot, shoot and then go out for a shoot again. Be sure to study the photos in the magazines you want to be published in and when you think you have 5-10 worthy shots….send them in. If you don’t already have a photo editor’s email ask other photographers or writers that you know. If that doesn’t help simply go to the magazine’s website and find it there or even just fill out the contact form stating that you are looking for the editors contact info.
This is where things get interesting and you need to have some thick skin. Unless your are the newest wunderkind of photography there is probably little chance that anything from your first submission will go to print…so get over it, move on, and keep shooting.
I remember the response I got from my first submission years ago (all slides no less!). “Mr. Doran please take a look at our magazine and notice the quality of the imagery. Please keep on shooting and when and only when you have images that can stand on the same level should you consider sending another submission” Ouch! That stung. But I kept at it.
And years later that very same editor would hand me the “Photo of the Year” award for Powder Magazine.
I did keep shooting and so should you. Maybe professional photography will work out and maybe it won’t but at least you’ll have a blast trying. Here are a few more tips.
- Submit often but only send in your best work for starters. Once you are working with an editor you can loosen up a bit and send in bigger submissions. And when you are on assignment send in everything!
- Remember not to just shoot the action. but also the entire lifestyle aspect of the sport. Morning coffee, putting on gear, loading up the car, downtime, nighttime, working on equipment, beer swilling etc. This adds color beyond the typical peak action shots.
- DO NOT put your best work on social media the day after you shoot it, especially when it is for a key assignment…editors hate that and it can cost you a publication.
- Treat your athletes like superstars. Pay when you can and if not be sure to pick up the bar tab.
- Mind your manners. If an image gets cut from a planned run don’t whine about it either to the editor, or worse, on social channels. And when an image does run be sure to say thanks.
- Submit to the local and regional magazines too. They always have a need for fresh photography and can be a bit easier to break into than the bigger national pubs.
Sigma Lenses Liam used to make these killer photos