Pitching the Photo Editor

- - Working

In general pitching stories, that aren’t photo essays, to the Photo Editor is not a bad idea. Everyone on staff at a magazine can contribute to the line-up so the Photo Editor can get something made if they’re in the mood to take it to the right people and make sure something gets done about it.

Here’s a little hint though: The absolute fastest way for photographers to get a story made is to approach a writer that the magazine uses on a regular basis (don’t ask front of book writers if you’re pitching a feature story for chrissake’s) and if they’re interested in your idea ask them to pitch their editor. You’d be surprised how many good writers are looking for good ideas. I’m assuming your idea doesn’t suck, not always the easiest for people to determine on their own.

Let me just repeat something that’s very important here, find a writer that the magazine already uses or would be interested in using. There is no better way to kill a good story idea you may have than to attach a writer nobody wants in the magazine. You’d also be surprised how often this happens.

Now, if you want to go through the Photo Editor there are three ways this can shake out, in order of effectiveness:

1. The Photo Editor passes along your email to the appropriate department head and lets them respond if they want to.

2. The PE will follow up with the section or features editor to see if there’s interest and act as a go between with the photographer.

3. The PE will help craft the pitch and take it directly to the Editor or pitch meeting and try to get a green light for the idea. Depending on the magazine, if there’s interest in the story it will usually get sent back for clarification on certain points the Editor is concerned with or a writer who the magazine likes working with will be sought before a green light is given. This is the deadly yellow light and can cause stories to hang in limbo for months or even years.

It can really add to your workload as a Photo Editor to start pitching story ideas but it’s also extremely gratifying to see something go from a pitch to printed pages and I’ve alway found it to be some of my most memorable work.

There Are 15 Comments On This Article.

  1. Just a question: what happens if you pitch an idea that the PE likes but the director (or whom it may concern) likes it but on a different tone than the photographer that presented it? I’ll try to explain myself better: the story is pitched by a straight forward kind of photographer and the director wants the story but wants it more soft and likable… so that the photographer that pitched it is no more suitable to do it. Would the magazine do the story anyway with another photographer or just not do the story?

  2. Depends on how ethical they are. The story idea belongs to the person who pitched it. Keep in mind that several people can pitch the same story and that can ruffle a few feathers when the person who didn’t get the assignment sees the story in the magazine.

    I would just drop the idea if we didn’t think the photographer who pitched was appropriate to shoot. Sometimes a finders fee is paid to bump a writer or photographer off but that’s always a difficult conversation.

  3. A cautionary tale…

    I spent a month shooting behind the scenes at The UK’s biggest airport, I had complete access land and airside (this was pre 9/11). I offered the story to The Independent Magazine who immediately agreed to run it….I was delighted. The day before publication I happened to see the page layouts, I was horrified to see they had used my pictures over several pages with a written story about the controversial building of a new 5th terminal..the article was titled ‘Terminal Damage’. This was not the story I had shot…I located the Photo Editor, now the PE of a major Conde Nast publication who I am very tempted to name and demanded the removal of my pictures. When it transpired that it had been printed and this would result in the pulping of several hundred thousand magazines….I eventually let it go…but I was and, as you can tell, still am furious.
    I was a young naive photographer at the time and the PE should have known better…..you know who you are.

  4. Thanks for the info on this, I am just starting out and your advice in this post is really helpful, especially for someone who wants to work on stories. Thanks.

  5. I’m a relatively new recruit to APE, very insightful, would love to see an example of this if you’ve got one handy

  6. warmdriver

    News hooks seem to dominate the editorial process of even the most artsy publications. I’m not surprised by Nick Turpin’s experience. The sad thing is, a news hook-driven story based on a week or two of physical research by an assignment writer or contributing editor rarely speaks to the deeper contextual overview and authority embodied in a serious photo project. At least that’s my experience. The time and investment — and inspiration — just aren’t there. But it could be worse, as way more idea-stealing is going on in the name of portfolio reviews and photographers’ and writers’ pitches than Rob seems to be aware. At least in Turpin’s experience, his name is now associated with coverage of that environment, in the event that he chooses to take it further, for exhibition or book publishing.

  7. warmdriver

    P.S. That’s not to diminish the validity of his frustration or anger, but simply to recognize an upside that speaks to the resilience and shelf-life of a powerful photograph.

  8. What about sending an idea directly to an editor or the eic (at a smaller publication)? Sometimes I know or have a better relationship with the editor than the pe?

  9. This very situation presents itself at my magazine pretty often: a photographer calls (we’re don’t have a dedicated PE, so we share the duties of one) and pitches a story. Most times, I turn them down because the balance of “get” to quality of photographer is not in the magazine’s favor.

    But, I’ve had a few cases where it was worth digging into. I pay close attention to exactly what the photographer wants to put into and get out of the piece and I do as much as I can to make sure there are no assumptions, no misunderstandings and no doubt as to what the magazine needs from the project.

    And here’s something I think is important to take into consideration: I’ve NEVER agreed to one of these shoots without magazine staff art direction in attendance. Hey, if you’re confident enough in the story, you’ll be confident enough to welcome me to the shoot. If not, something smells a little funny…

    STONER

  10. So, what about situations where you are a writer/photographer. Does this indeed bring a value add to the table (assuming you can show adequate writing samples etc.) or does this turn off the magazine? Typically, do you then see the magazine trying to only pay what they would for photography or do they see the additional savings in expenses and the convenience of working with just one person a plus?

  11. @11: Well, the question for me wouldn’t necessarily be a cost-savings one because I’d already have a budget for writing and a budget for the shoot and if I can save a few bucks by combining both, that’s great – but not necessary.

    My biggest concern is whether or not you’re the best of both for the story you’re pitching. If you’re a great photographer, I’d expect that you spend your time perfecting your craft. And I would question your talent as a writer – especially for the voice of my magazine.

    It’s surprising how many people think they can “write.” I find that most folks who pitch themselves to me as writers really aren’t. And I usually pursue the writers I think would be good for my book. So, you’ll get a helluva lot further with me by pitching a story as a master of one discipline and not a one-stop shop. Don’t worry, we’ll find a great writer to complement your great images!

    STONER

  12. Hey Rob,

    I’m planning a two week trip to Thailand with a bunch of climbers this winter. Do you think it would be feasible to pitch some sort of “Climbing in Thailand” story (or even just a general Thailand travel story) to a magazine? I didn’t know whether it would be workable, considering that I’m traveling without a writer. Any advice?

    Thanks,
    ~Lacey

  13. Hello,

    I am a fashion and beauty photographer just starting out and I’d love to find the best way to photograph stories for magazines.
    Should I get in touch with photo editors and just send them a link or should I submit stories I have been thinking about, and if so, should I just write a description of what I have in mind..?
    Also ,the only editor I ever contacted like that asked me for specs…what does that entail?
    thanks