How to Get Published in Outdoor Sports Magazines

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”.

We made this image last winter during a huge snow cycle at Breckenridge, CO. It was one of the only days I was not shooting on assignment and just out having fun with some buddies. It was snowing very hard which can wreak havoc on a cameras autofocus so getting this shot tack sharp was a testament to the abilities of this camera lens combo.Canon 1DX with Sigma 70-200 f2.8 lens. 1/1600 sec at f7.1 ISO 800
We made this image last winter during a huge snow cycle at Breckenridge, CO. It was one of the only days I was not shooting on assignment and just out having fun with some buddies. It was snowing very hard which can wreak havoc on a cameras autofocus so getting this shot tack sharp was a testament to the abilities of this camera lens combo.Canon 1DX with Sigma 70-200 f2.8 lens. 1/1600 sec at f7.1 ISO 800

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.

Dangerous living for my Canon 7D and Sigma 10-20 f3.5 that was tenuously attached to my chain stay. 1/125 sec at f10 ISO 320
Dangerous living for my Canon 7D and Sigma 10-20 f3.5 that was tenuously attached to my chain stay. 1/125 sec at f10 ISO 320

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.

Warm light blends with athletic gesture and an mountain/town backdrop to make for an inspiring photo. Canon 7D with Sigma 24-70 f2.8 lens 1/800 sec at f4.5 ISO 1250
Warm light blends with athletic gesture and a mountain/town backdrop to make for an inspiring photo. Canon 7D with Sigma 24-70 f2.8 lens 1/800 sec at f4.5 ISO 1250

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.

Powder Magazine two page spread opener "The Blind Spot". This was shot on assignment at Loveland ski area last winter. This was a scouting shot that ended up running as the opener to a feature article. We had planned to come back for sunset light but it was not to be. Luckily I take all my scouting shots seriously and set them up as though I''ll never get another chance. Canon 1DX with Sigma 70-200 f2.8 lens 1/1600sec at f11 ISO 640
Powder Magazine two page spread opener “The Blind Spot”. This was shot on assignment at Loveland ski area last winter. This was a scouting shot that ended up running as the opener to a feature article. We had planned to come back for sunset light but it was not to be. Luckily I take all my scouting shots seriously and set them up as though I”ll never get another chance. Canon 1DX with Sigma 70-200 f2.8 lens 1/1600sec at f11 ISO 640

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.

The cover went to print this year but the images was taken a few seasons back. It had been a lean winter in CO and it finally dumped down in Wolf Creek Colorado so we went down to shoot an adventure travel piece. Shots from this day ended up in four or five different magazines. Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20 f3.5 lens. 1/1250sec. at f11 ISO 640
The cover went to print this year but the images was taken a few seasons back. It had been a lean winter in CO and it finally dumped down in Wolf Creek Colorado so we went down to shoot an adventure travel piece. Shots from this day ended up in four or five different magazines. Canon 7D with Sigma 10-20 f3.5 lens. 1/1250sec. at f11 ISO 640
This shot was taken on the Colorado river during a multimedia shoot documenting issues facing the river. I framed the fisherman up with the sage brush and shot wide open at f 1.4 to help direct the eye directly to the action. Canon 5dMKIII with Sigma 35 f1.4 1/2000sec at f1.4 ISO 100
This shot was taken on the Colorado river during a multimedia shoot documenting issues facing the river. I framed the fisherman up with the sage brush and shot wide open at f 1.4 to help direct the eye directly to the action. Canon 5dMKIII with Sigma 35 f1.4 1/2000sec at f1.4 ISO 100

 

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.

    Trail Running Magazine. A classic alpine start of 4:30 a.m. got this shoot started. We had to get a couple miles and a few thousand feet up the trail before first light to get the image we wanted. Canon 5dMKIII with Sigma 24-70 f2.8 lens. 1/800 sec. at f 3.2 ISO 1600.
    Trail Running Magazine. A classic alpine start of 4:30 a.m. got this shoot started. We had to get a couple miles and a few thousand feet up the trail before first light to get the image we wanted. Canon 5dMKIII with Sigma 24-70 f2.8 lens. 1/800 sec. at f 3.2 ISO 1600.

 

Sigma Lenses Liam used to make these killer photos

 

Liam Doran is a professional photographer based in Breckenridge, Colorado. Read more blog postings here, and be sure to visit his website!

Comments (1)
  1. Great photos here. very Sharpe and full of colour and life. nice photography.

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