As the new year draw closer, many people begin looking for new calendars for the home and office. With many fine photographs of your own on-hand, have you considered creating your own calendar?
Well, now’s the time! Below is advice from pros who have worked on calendars for years, useful links to calendar printers, and a host of options to consider as you create your first masterpiece.
Pick a Theme
The first thing to consider when making a calendar is theme. What will be the piece’s organizing principle? At holiday time, many people think of giving as gifts calendars with portraits of family members. Some photographers specialize in subjects such as wildlife or travel or macro and may wish to focus one of such a topics.
Long-time Sigma shooter and professional photographer Walter Arnold specializes in photographing neglected buildings and other subjects. Each year he creates a calendar titled “The Art of Abandonment.” He occasionally creates landscape or regional titles, too. According to Walter, each of his calendars “has a specific unifying theme unto itself.”
“Having a theme will definitely help your calendar overall,” Sigma Ambassador Jack Fusco offers. Night sky images are his specialty. Jack’s astrophotography features everything from time exposure star trails to glowing auroras.
In my case, I specialize in macro photography of natural history subjects. For years I depicted fungi for mushrooms calendars. This often involved finding mostly wet areas, squeezing under close-to-the-ground tripod legs to capture images of tiny fungi, and often getting bitten by mosquitos while doing so!
These calendars were narrowly focused: North American mushrooms. Across the continent I looked for variations on this theme: different colors, shapes, textures, habitats, and seasons.
My most recent calendars feature my Curious Critters images. Shot in a light tent to produce even lighting and plain white backgrounds, this high key series is the animal-world descendant of the portraiture of Richard Avedon.
When selecting images, aim for variety. Try to avoid what bird photographers refer to countless, almost identical images of perched avian subjects as “bird-on-a-stick” photography. The best bird photographers depict their subjects flying, nesting, courting, feeding, wading, preening, molting, taking off, landing, and so forth. When creating your calendar, spark interest from page to page by varying your subjects, perspectives, focal lengths, colors, textures, and other image-building choices.
For family photos, look for individual and small group shots; indoor and outdoor images; subjects dressed formally and informally; and people posed and candids. I often suggest that, when people are shooting within a particular theme, photographers should consider how a set of images would look together on a wall. Imagine framing and putting up a dozen shots in a gallery space. How interesting would your set be? Twelve nearly identical-looking images, regardless of each shot’s merits, would get boring quickly.
Jack Fusco, in creating his nighttime images looks for variation. “I try to feature photographs that have different types of landscapes and different objects in the sky, such as the Milky Way, star trails, and auroras.” In addition, Jack varies his locations from page to page.
When I pick animals for Curious Critters Calendars, I look for different types of animals: aquatic, aerial, land-dwelling. I pick a birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, reptiles, etc., creating variation among the types of animals depicted. And I look for color variation—for example, a red male cardinal and a green praying mantis to offset a gray screech-owl and a brown snail.
While certain images may rise to the top of your list, you may find that matching the orientation or proportions of your image to the calendar may outweigh certain stunning shots. That is, if you are printing a rectangular (landscape) calendar, you might choose a landscape image over a portrait image. Not matching the shape of the calendar will result in a lot of empty space surrounding the image.
As you turn from one month to the next, think about creating different looks. If June features, for example, a sunset shot, it might be best to save a stunning sunrise until August or September rather than place it in July. If your family calendar features your dogs and cats, alternate between dogs and cats and stagger them throughout the year. Mix up colors, textures, and other design principles, too..
If this is your first time creating a calendar, you can still look ahead to what your calendar will look like next time around. One of the keys to successful calendars each year is the same as with image selection: variation.
Perhaps most important is not repeating the same location. If you shot in a travel shot in Charleston for this year’s calendar, look elsewhere for next year’s images. Walter Arnold says that “from year to year, I try not to repeat too many images. I don’t want someone who is a repeat customer to have an image repeat from the prior year’s calendar.”
While Walter often chooses from among his best-sellers, he also looks for images that match a particular month. He that for January and February images, he looks for shots that have snow or trees without leaves. For April and May, he looks for spring-like images. And for August and September he looks for a back-to-school connection.
If you have several seasonal shots—say, pumpkins in a field or a pair of jack-o-lanterns—use one this October and save the other for next October. Be sure to shoot throughout the year with seasonal uses in mind.
Designing your Calendar
Creating a wall calendar is something like writing haiku. While there may be a few more variables to calendar-creation than composing in 3 lines with 17 syllables (plus a “turn” at the end), calendar form is generally set. You need to create 12 months with an image above and a date grid below, plus a cover and a back. Some calendars offer an extra spread with a four-month grid and one additional image.
Within this framework, however, many things can change. Some calendars are square; others are rectangular. The images can go all the way to the edges (full-bleed), or they can be framed by white, black, or various colors. The image area can consist of one shot or multiple shots. In some cases, photos are sometimes added to the date grid. These are just some of the variables for wall calendars.
One important consideration as you design your calendar is working within the options offered by a given printer. Some companies offer more flexible design services while others limit your choices. If you want the most flexibility in online creation, look for a design interface that allows you to use multiple photos, add custom events (for example, family member birthdays), change background colors, add graphics, opt for heavier paper or different coatings, and include captions.
These options can be important in the overall design. For example, Walter Arnold lately has been enjoying adding photos to the date grid. “I’ll have the main featured image on the top page, and down below in the month/days section I will crop and insert additional related images into the boxes that are usually blank from the overlap of the previous month’s days. This just gets a few more of my images into the calendar, but also makes the lower section more interesting overall.”
Adding captions can be an important part of designing a calendar. Many professional calendars include copy to help viewers know more about the depicted subjects. Even if you know that the April image shows your granddaughter in an Easter dress, visitors to your house may not know who is shown. Adding names, locations, and other identifying information can make your publication more meaningful to your viewers and look more professional.
Custom Calendars Manufacturers
Options for where to get your calendar printed are extensive. Online photo companies, such as Shutterfly, Mpix, and Adorama, offer calendar design and printing services, but you have many other options, from drugstores and big box retailers to local camera stores and small print shops.
Many custom photo calendars are designed with and printed by online businesses. These companies offer slightly different user interfaces, and their product options vary.
Some calendar design interfaces are intentionally simple; others are much more feature-rich. Which company you choose may depend upon whether you want to lay out your calendar quickly or wish to take more time to add custom features.
Below are some options worth comparing among printers:
- Sizes of calendars
- Shapes of calendars
- Full-bleed framed photos
- Single vs. multiple pictures per page
- Paper choices
- Background colors/patterns
- Professionally designed layout themes
- Ability to add grid photos
- Ability to add custom events to date grid
- Option to start with the month of your choice
- Stock graphics
- Photo editing during online design
- Options to add captions and other text
- Direct mailing
- Bulk Pricing
- Current discounts
- Types of calendars
- Shipping costs
- Printing time
- Storage of your photos on their server (vs. on your computer)
Types of Calendars
While most people think of wall calendars, there are other options. These include variations suited for your office, home, kitchen, and more. Here are some calendar types to feature your photography:
- Wall Calendars
- Desk Calendars
- Poster Calendars
- Mouse Pad Calendars
- Easel Calendars
- Dry Erase Calendars
- Accordion Calendars
- Magnetic Calendars
Appearance, Cost, and Other Practical Considerations
Excellent reproduction of your images is even more important than design options. To figure out which company will make your images shine may require pouring over user reviews, looking at sample calendars of other photographers, or trying out different printers as you hone your craft.
Cost is another issue. Look for specials on pricing, especially during the holiday season. Figure out how many copies you want. Some printers offer better bulk pricing than others.
Finally, look at production time and shipping. Most calendars can be uploaded and printed in a week or two; some companies, however, can have your product out-the-door in a day or two. And, while you may find free shipping at some places, others may be able to drop ship your calendars to each of your recipients, saving you money and time in the end.
Below are is a list of just some of the companies producing custom photo calendars:
Selling Your Calendars
The practical considerations above come into play especially if you plan on selling your calendars. Producing marketable calendars requires special attention to design, content, print quality, and cost.
For his “The Art of Abandonment” calendars, Walter Arnold says that he has “moved away from using the big online printing houses.” He now works with a local printing company in Asheville, NC, where, as he puts it, “I can work directly with the lab and even proof the colors before the final run.”
Fulfilling orders can also be tricky. You may not want to have lots of calendars on-hand and frequently have to box and ship them. Jack Fusco suggests finding “a service that will print on demand or take and ship orders, saving you time.”
And, even if you don’t sell your calendars, you may want to produce sufficient numbers of them to be given away to show people your work, namely, in hopes of getting future shooting opportunities.
Walter Arnold suggest paying careful attention to the calendar design and production. “If you are creating your own calendar with only your images, remember that this will be like a mini portfolio/business card that people will have up all year.” Make sure to do it right, whether for sale or as an advertisement.
The Next Step: Submitting to Calendar Companies
You now produce calendars that receive rave reviews from family, friends, photographers, business partners, or consumers. Perhaps it’s time to take your calendar work to the next level: submitting images to a calendar publisher. Calendar companies always need content. You may be able to provide them with just what they need.
The first step is to find a calendar publisher that matches the work that you do. One of the best ways to do this is to peruse the calendars for sale in November and December. Visit bookstores, big box stores, specialty retailers, and other places that sell titles featuring your type of work. When you find a nice calendar that, say, includes wildflower images similar to yours, check to see if it is a single-photographer calendar. If all of the images are produced by one individual, she may have the corner on this title for this publisher, requiring you to look for another publisher with a similar title. But, if there are contributing photographers, you may be able to contribute alongside others already working with the publisher.
Once you find a fitting calendar, write down the publisher name and contact info. Next, research the company online and check out any information in the current-year Photographer’s Market handbook. Write a letter to the editor, requesting to be considered for next year’s titles. Follow the guidelines on the company’s web site, in any documents they send you, or in the Photographer’s Market handbook.
An understanding of publishing timelines is crucial to success. Jack Fusco emphasizes the importance of knowing publisher schedules. “Start looking early in the year to find submission times for different publishers. Quite often publishers will require image submissions very early in the year with some others accepting images a year or more in advance.”
Submit only your best work. Sending 20 excellent images is far better than inundating the editor with 200 images and expecting her to sort through them for the best shots.
As far as pay, the rates are not high. You will likely not get rich producing calendar images, but a few extra hundred dollars here and there could help you buy your next wish-list lens. To make sure you are getting paid enough, consult a photographer’s stock pricing guidebook or consider investing in pricing software, such as fotoQuote Pro.
When you communicate with editors, be professional and prompt. There are plenty of good photographers out there. You will separate yourself from others by being polite, following guidelines, and acting in a timely fashion.
Shoot for Calendars
Once you get the calendar thing rolling—whether its custom calendars in small numbers or commercial calendars through a large publisher—think like a calendar photographer. In the field, focus on a theme. Vary your subjects, perspectives, focal lengths, locations, and seasons. And think about the format of your calendar. If you are producing a square calendar, frame subjects to be cropped to a square.
Finally, work a location. While you may not want to repeat shots from the same spot in next year’s calendar, in two or three years you can return to the same location…just make sure to offer a fresh take on the already-used location or subject.
Sigma equipment used in this entry:
- Sigma SD1 Merrill
- Sigma 15mm F2.8 Fisheye
- Sigma 70mm F2.8 Macro
- Sigma 500mm F4.5
- Sigma 12-24mm F4 Art
- Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 Art
- Sigma 17-50mm F2.8
- Sigma 18- 300mm F3.5-6.3 Contemporary
Where to Buy the Calendars Featured in this Article