Submitting photos to magazines


I get a lot of questions about how you should prepare your images for magazine submissions. Should you just whack all your images on a CD? Is it worth including the RAW files or should you only send JPEG files? Should you leave all the images in a folder, or should you organise them?

Obviously, things differ from magazine to magazine, and many publishers have guidelines – if they do, try to get a copy of them, and follow them. If you’re submitting unrequested material, however, there are a few things you can do to encourage the image editor / art editor to keep hold of your photos.

The most important thing you need to remember is that magazine production is hectic stuff. That means that decisions are often made quickly, and if you do your submission wrong, you may not get another shot… 


File formats and directory structure

When you take photos digitally, always shoot in RAW, and submit the RAW files on the DVD you are submitting. When shooting, you should probably take your photos in RAW+JPG – it doesn’t matter if the JPEG files aren’t in full resolution – they will frequently be used for composition, and replaced with optimised RAW files later on in the workflow – In effect, you’re saving the crayons (that’s magazine slang for the arts department – layout and designers) a lot of time, and you’ll be remembered with fondness.

Depending on what you’re photographing, you need to put a little bit of time into how you put the images on the DVD. If you’re doing glamour shoots, for example, having a separate folder with ‘recommended shots’ will be beneficial, and you’ll find that these are the photos that will be used most of the time. The reason for this is two-fold: As the photographer, you’re likely to know which shots worked out better than others, so your selection (of 10-12 photos or so) will probably be right on the money. Secondly, the commissioning editors often have a lot of things to do. Give them the choice of choosing from 10 or 100 photos, they’ll take the former, and everybody saves time.

If you’re photographing at a trade show or similar, it’s worth putting the photos in different folders (‘Kitchenaid stand’, ‘Sebatier stand’, ‘Bosch stand’ etc) to allow the arts people to find the photos they are looking for more quickly.

Contact sheeting

The word ‘contact sheet’ comes from the old days of darkroom photography. Instead of copying each frame individually, you’d do a contact print, which means you put your negatives on photosensitive paper, and develop that. It means you could get a load of negatives on the same sheet, look at the photos properly, before deciding which ones to invest more time into developing properly.

csheet.jpgThe digital variant of this practice is still known as a ‘contact sheet’, and is basically a load of photos printed on the same sheet of paper. This is then handed over to the writers / editors, who select which photos they want to use. This sheet is then passed to the designers, who lay out the page based on the selections.

Contact sheeting can easily be done automatically (in Photoshop, choose File – Automate – Contact sheet), but it’s a pain in the neck, because it can easily take about an hour to contact sheet a large photo shoot. This is downtime in the production, and is generally despised by arts people.

The best thing you can do, therefore, is to make their jobs easier. Run the contact sheet command, and either save the resulting files in a folder on the DVD you send in (that way, you give them the option of printing them off, or making their own contact sheets), or do that and print them off for them.

When contact sheeting, make sure that your photos are big enough to be useful, and small enough to save you from printing tons of pages – trial and error is the key.


Presentation is incredibly important if you are submitting work unsolicited, but even if you’ve been commissioned to do photos, think about how your DVD arrives. I’ve worked with photographers who sent me a loose DVD in a brown envelope – it worked fine, but these were important photos, and I was irked at the photographer obviously not giving a damn.

cshell.jpgInstead, at the very least use a c-shell case (they are light-weight and sturdy, so they can be sent in the mail easily). Having said that, we also frequently work with a photographer who send in his DVD in a full-size DVD case (like the ones films come in) and prints off two of the best photos on the front and back cover of the DVD. It probably takes him 3 minutes – if that – but we never lose his DVDs in the mail, and it allows us to see at a glance what is inside. It sounds mundane, but we love the guy for it – why not be remembered by the arts people as someone who does everything they can to be on their side?

Cover letter

If you’re commissioned, don’t worry too much about the cover letter – a quick note is enough, and include an invoice as well, so it can go into the queue of invoices that need paying.

If you’re submitting work unsolicited, the cover letter will be far more expensive. For one thing, make sure you’ve got your contact details in the letter, but also be sure to write it on the DVD itself. Also make sure that these photos are copyrighted (a small (c) and your name on the DVD is enough), and include details on your rates in the cover letter.

Follow-up call

2-3 days after you’ve sent the DVD, give a quick follow-up call. Catch up with the people who commissioned you, make sure the DVD arrived, and find out if they have more work for you.

If you are trying to cold-sell your photos, it’s a good idea to invite the magazine to file your images away – who knows, if they suddenly decide to run a feature along the lines of what your photo shoot was about, you may end up getting paid 4 months later – always a welcome bonus!

Oh, and finally, Good luck!

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