I'm an avid traveller and photographer, and I've got some cool travel pics. I'm not looking for money, just the recognition and satisfaction in knowing that my photos are good and useful enough to be published by a reputable publication house. I took a look at the usual suspects like Nat Geo and Travel+Leisure, but of course competition is really tight. Seems like everyone is a photographer today. I did post one photo to Nat Geo's MyShot section, so fingers crossed, but small chance.

Any advice?


4 Answers 4


I realize this probably isn't Exactly what you're looking for (because it is a bit of cold water in the face, potentially), but hopefully you'll find it helpful anyway... There are three main reasons that photographers get their work published:

  1. They differentiate. What makes your photographs different than every other photographer's photographs? If you don't know what the answer to this question is, you will simply not get published. The cold, hard fact is that in all likelihood every photo editor you will ever come in contact with has seen exactly what you are offering a thousand times... unless you figure out right now before you start taking more pictures how your photographs are going to be different than every other photographer out there and then take all your pictures that way and work that angle to the bone.

    The thing that makes your work different cannot be:

    • The location or subject matter of your photographs is so unique and different (unless you're taking pictures on Mars, you don't have the market cornered on unique locations or subject matter)
    • The technical proficiency of your work (Everybody's work will be as technically proficient as yours... Your work must be technically perfect just to be in the game at all)
    • The cool post-production effects you use (Leave the heavy Photoshopping at home, only amateurs do more than basic color correction, cropping, levels, dodging and burning)
    • How pretty your pictures are (Anybody can take a pretty picture. If your picture isn't saying something more profound than 'I'm pretty!' you're going to have trouble getting published)

    What does that leave for you to differentiate yourself with? Figure that out and you'll find publishing success.

  2. They network. Sorry to say, but the old cliche is true- it isn't what you know, it's who you know. Photo editors are human too. If they have the choice between someone they know and an unknown, most will choose the known quantity every time. The vast majority of editors are not out there 'lookin' to give a new guy his big break.' So how do you break through? Become known. There are a couple of ways to get known, but the absolute best way is to follow the advice in point #1 so the work stands out in the crowd of photographs that the photo editor will be looking through.

    Submit often, submit only your best stuff (never, never, never submit even a single photo to anyone that isn't of the highest quality. Never. Did I mention never?) and follow up with robot-like consistency. Ask for assignments. Even if they never result in publication, assignments can demonstrate that you're reliable and a 'go-getter.' Ask what a publisher has coming up in future issues and then take pictures that fit the requirements. Become someone who the photo editor (or at least the photo editor's receptionist) knows by name. If you've got a history of submitting exceptional work consistently (even if there wasn't room to publish it at the time you submitted it) editors will start to remember your name. And then one day you'll suddenly find yourself on the inside, instead of the outside.

  3. They work their @ss off. It's very simple... Part-timers don't get published. Now you can point me to dozens of part-timers who have been published once, twice, maybe even a few times over the course of a lifetime, sure... But you will never find a part-timer who publishes on a regular basis. "Now wait a second," you may say... "I can't afford to quit my job and be a full-time photographer! So there's no hope for me?" Ah... Here's the secret (minor secret though it may be)... Work your full-time job, and also work as a full-time photographer. Do that until photography becomes the full-time job.

    Now I say all of the above knowing full-well that you stated you weren't interested in getting paid, but another cold, hard truth is that part-timers may (or just as often they may not) get a few lucky shots published over the course of their life, but full-timers are working every day to generate enough output that they're no longer relying on luck to take the sorts of photographs that belong in publications... and there really isn't a whole lot of middle ground, unfortunately. If publication is your goal, then it cannot be reliably achieved as a part-timer.

Here's the thing... The above may sound harsh, or like a whole lot of work, and potentially it is both. But I've been a working professional photographer for 15+ years now and I'm speaking from experience when I say that you don't need a self-help book's worth of advice to get where you want to be. If you work these three angles like they're your last hope on earth you will become successful eventually (and probably sooner rather than later), and if you don't... You probably won't be. I've seen plenty of people go both ways over the years to know that the odds will favor you, or be against you purely based on how hard you work.

  • \$\begingroup\$ INCREDIBLE ANSWER! I really have no comment other than to say THANKS! I guess at the most basic level it still comes down to hard work and who you know, just like every other business in the universe. \$\endgroup\$
    – rabbid
    May 19, 2011 at 12:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not publishing anything else than your very best picture makes totally sense to me, but would that imply that you wouldn't use a flickr account for example just to share or post some pictures of the second class quality range? And by that I mean you were using this account just for fun and not for professional purposes. Or would you consider this as a career killer? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dr.Elch
    Jul 4, 2011 at 11:23

Find a series of likely publications that you think your work would be appropriate for and make direct contact with them. Include a link to some examples of your very best work. Apply to various photography magazines for their "featured" sections (most mags feature photographer's work each month) as well.

Keep trying to make contacts, make sure you get to a variety of exciting locations and keep promoting yourself.

Putting photos on the internet doesn't mean the work will come to you, you need to get out there pushing yourself and getting in people's faces and really do the leg work. It will be tough going and the whole process might take 5 or 6 years before you start getting a decent hold.

Avoid mentioning you're happy to work for free. A lot of magazines / publications will pay their photographers as a matter of course and working for free just undermines and de-values those out there doing it for a living (you hope to be one of these one day I would imagine so keep that in mind).

I offer images free of charge to good causes and non profit organisations and I say as much on my website. If the photo is required for a commercial venture, they will be making money from it - it is a business, they wouldn't expect their printers to produce copies of their magazine for free would they?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks a lot for your answer. I will indeed apply to photography magazines! All of them! :) \$\endgroup\$
    – rabbid
    May 19, 2011 at 8:22

As you noticed, the competition is massive. And that competition exists mainly of 2 groups: 1) professionals with established contacts and a large portfolio of quality work to show to potential buyers. They're going to take most of the publication slots. 2) wannabees who think they can sell their vacation snapshots for massive money. They're just making things harder for serious people to enter the marketplace as people looking for new content their regulars can't provide will likely give up after the first 10 pages of garbage on websites where people can show off their work.

Sounds like you may be in category 3), people who are serious and trying to get noticed. The only times I've been published (4 shots over the last decade only) it was people contacting me for publication rights after seeing a photo they liked on a website dedicated to the genre (this wasn't travel photography). Some might have luck through microstock agencies, or by contacting small publications directly (don't try for NatGeo without a published portfolio, they'll probably laugh you out of their offices).

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks a lot for your answer! I am indeed in category #3. Sadly, photography has become such a commodity today and as you say that makes it hard for serious photogs to get noticed. :( \$\endgroup\$
    – rabbid
    May 19, 2011 at 8:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ If they really laugh at you at NatGeo for that reason, then we have a clear evidence whats wrong with journalism... \$\endgroup\$
    – Dr.Elch
    May 19, 2011 at 9:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I doubt they would laugh you out of the office based on portfolio size. If your images are remarkable and are relevant to them I am sure they would show interest. Turn up with a bunch of iPhone photos and the former might happen. \$\endgroup\$
    – JamWheel
    May 19, 2011 at 11:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ not sure, Jam. NatGeo has a large pool of professionals working for them on contract basis as well as full time. They wouldn't laugh in your face if as a rookie amateur wanting to get published you send them something, but they'd probably laugh as they send you an automated rejection notice. \$\endgroup\$
    – jwenting
    May 23, 2011 at 6:50

One more slightly different approach: IF (and as you can see it's a BIG if), you have a coherent body of work -- all on one theme, or of one subject, or with some other unifying and distinctive idea or aspect or quality, it's possible you could have the beginnings of a book. In this case, you might approach a photography "book packager" or "book producer" who can help find the theme (if it's vague), match you with a writer if text would enhance the book, and then find a publisher. Sometimes they also help with publicity after the publisher distributes the books to bookstores.


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