How do I approach picture editors?

How to photograph what you actually see with your eyes

For a photographer there are few bigger buzzes than seeing their pictures in print. Some of the world’s most successful photographers still get that feeling of excitement when they see images published in magazines, papers or even online, but how should you go about getting your pictures published?

To help you to make the perfect pitch Steve Fairclough spoke to two vastly experienced imaging professionals to discover their advice for how best to approach picture editors with a view to getting your work published.

What you’ll learn

  • How to establish a relationship with picture editors
  • The importance of a good pitch
  • What makes a great portfolio
  • The best way to make an e-mail pitch
  • The major ‘don’ts’ to avoid when pitching yourself
  • Is it vital to have an online presence for your work?

What you’ll need

  • A concise précis of your career and work
  • A solid portfolio of between 20 and 30 images
  • A list of photo editors who might be interested in your work
  • An e-mail that explains your work and projects
  • Patience to wait to hear back from picture editors!

Photographers across the world are constantly looking to get their stories published through agencies, by print publications and via online media outlets, but how should they go about making a successful approach to picture editors? To find out the best advice we spoke to two of the world’s top picture editors – Jon Jones (former Director of Photography at The Sunday Times Magazine) and freelance photo editor and educator Amber Terranova…

Jon Jones is a former photojournalist who has covered major stories, including the conflict in Bosnia. He is a director of photography, editor, curator and photojournalist with over 25 years of international experience in newspapers, magazines, photo agencies and television; working across multiple platforms and formats.

Amber Terranova is an experienced New York-based photo director, educator and visual producer who is currently teaching at the city’s School of Visual Arts. Amber has extensive marketing, photo directing, commissioning and consultancy experience for multiple major brands and publications around the world. You can discover more about her on her website at:

For the purposes of this Camera Jabber blog I posed a series of questions to Jon Jones and Amber Terranova to get the definitive answers for exactly how to make a successful approach to a picture editors, as well as some great tips on what not to do! Here is the Q&A…

Q: How should photographers establish a relationship with picture editors?

Jon Jones: “I would say with regular contact over a period of time you get to a point where you can build a relationship with a picture editor. You can’t expect everything to happen straightaway. It’s a slow, long process but invariably it’s a rewarding process. It’s very rare that I would assign someone without having met them personally.”

Amber Terranova: ”Through face-to-face meetings at magazines or portfolio review events. The portfolio review event is a unique opportunity for photographers to meet one-on-one with photo editors. During the 20-minute reviews, the photographer and photo editor both have a chance to learn more about each other and potentially establish the beginning of a new working relationship. It can take photo editors years before they actually hire a photographer, once the appropriate story has hit their desk, so it’s beneficial to start these new relationships once the photographer has a body of work that is ready to be seen.”

Q: What questions should photographers ask before pitching themselves and their work to you?

Jon Jones: ”They need to look at whether their work fits the publication. They need to know what they bring to the magazine that is missing, or maybe I don’t have, or how can they augment what I have? They really need to look at what their selling point is.”

Amber Terranova: ”Since I’m working as a freelancer, photographers could check out my Facebook page – Amber Terranova PhotoEditor – or my LinkedIn page to find out about my current projects. I’m open to receiving pitches from photographers working within various genres.”

Q: What is your best advice for photographers who are approaching you with their work?

Amber Terranova: ”The best advice for photographers approaching me with their work would be to send a brief e-mail with a project description and goals for the work. Tell me what you hope to do with the project and describe what you’re currently working on, if it has a timely news hook, etc.”

Jon Jones: ”Find out who I am. Get my name right. Really look at the magazine and see what kind of work I commission. See what type of photographers I use and see if you’re applicable. When you make an approach be respectful but keep it short and open. You don’t always get a reply, even though we try to reply to everything. Don’t be too pushy and try and present something that you think I will want.”

Q: What advice would you give about creating a strong portfolio?

Amber Terranova: ”Spend a lot of time looking at your project and photos in a layout on a wall before doing the final sequence. Pay attention to the rhythm and flow of the photographs, understand the relationship of the images, make sure to include pauses, a consistent colour palette and an overall style and vision. Present a unified and dynamic visual aesthetic, one that you are proud of! Start strong and end with a memorable image.”

Jon Jones: “I prefer to see a really tight edit. I don’t like looking at huge amounts of work. I like seeing personal work. Personal work is very important – it helps me to see what you’re like as a photographer and what you are really into. But it absolutely has to be your best work; there can’t be anything in there that you think is not up to standard. It should contain at least 20 images, but not more than 30. Portfolio meetings generally tend to be short so I need to be able to get through it, see it, make a judgment and have a chat with you about your work. Obviously, if I want to see more, then we can go from there.”

Q: What kind of photographs and stories are you typically looking for?

Jon Jones: ”I’m always looking for something that’s original and unique. I like to be surprised and I like seeing ideas that I’ve never seen executed before. I like seeing things that the photographer has a real obsession about or a real passion for; where someone has an absolute knowledge of their subject and this is what they’re committed to doing – I really love those sorts of stories.”

Amber Terranova: ”Work that could be a good fit for a potential book or fit into cross-platform outlets. I enjoy looking at strong personal projects, documentary, fine art, commercial and editorial work since my freelance jobs often require knowing about various styles of photography. I might be looking for commercial photographers or compelling personal projects, depending on the type of assignment I’m working on. Since the industry is quite small, photo editors often call on each other if they are looking for something specific, so even if the work doesn’t fit within my current project, it might work for another photo editor’s assignment.”

Q: Do direct e-mails work as a method of approach or do you prefer to be approached in another way?

Amber Terranova: ”Direct e-mails sometimes work although I prefer in-person meetings. Facebook messages are usually hit or miss but promo cards work.”

Jon Jones: ”They [e-mail approaches] do, to a point. As you can imagine I get hundreds of e-mails from photographers. I like a nice, short introductory e-mail that’s addressed to me with a brief outline of a proposal, what they’ve done, who they are, how they got my name – a lot of people will say ‘so and so has recommended you’ or ‘I know so and so’ – just a brief introductory thing. I like to see a PDF of the work and not a link.”

Q: What, in your opinion, makes a great e-mail pitch to a picture editor?

Jon Jones: ”It’s something like… ‘Dear Jon, my name is so and so, this is the project I’ve been working for however many years, I thought this would be something you’d like to see, thank you for taking the time’, and then a PDF sample of the story. That’s the best way – it’s quick to read, I get the point, I can see the pictures and then I can decide what to do.”

Amber Terranova: “A good subject line that makes me want to open it. A targeted e-mail pitch to a magazine that you have been reading. Knowing exactly what kind of story to pitch based on the themes covered in the magazine. I appreciate when a photographer will suggest that I consider their pitch for the ‘XX column’ and include just a few image examples.”

Q: How important is the use of social networking sites and blogging is for photographers? Do you look for work online?

Amber Terranova: ”It’s very important to let photo editors know where you are and what you’re working on. Your personality has an opportunity to come through on personal blogs, which is important for photo editors since we need to match the right photographer to a certain kind of story. It’s a quick way to know what you are up to; it’s about staying present and relevant in photo editors’ minds. I look at a lot of online blogs and magazines.”

Jon Jones: “I think it’s really important for the photographers for their footprint in the photographic world. I do look at some of it, although the caveat would be I don’t think I’ve ever assigned anyone because of it. It’s nice to know what people are doing and what projects they’re working on. Sometimes it’ll be photographers that I know who I haven’t talked to in a while and I kind of think ‘Oh, look, they’re doing that’. It’s good for that but I don’t think I would ever search for someone to do a job via a social network site. But it’s part of the ‘radar’ that we use.”

Q: What are the absolute ‘don’ts’ when approaching you?

Jon Jones: ”Don’t send me an e-mail with a Bcc, with no name, that’s going to everybody… starting ‘Dear Sir’. Someone who obviously hasn’t read the magazine and sends me inappropriate work. They have to make an effort to read the magazine and find out who I am. I don’t like being hassled – I’ve had e-mails where someone has e-mailed me on a Friday night and then has e-mailed me again on a Saturday morning asking why I haven’t replied. That’s just a turn-off; I would never work with someone like that. It’s that lack of preparation that’s the worst thing. It’s not hard to find out who I am, read the magazine and look at the content of the magazine and see if it’s applicable. Why would I assign someone to work for the magazine who can’t prepare an e-mail? I get requests through all sorts of other sites – LinkedIn, Facebook or whatever it is – but I like a direct e-mail to me, by name. That’s the key.”

Amber Terranova: ”Constantly writing and checking in if I haven’t replied to a Facebook message or an e-mail [is a major don’t].”

Q: What is the most successful approach you’ve ever had and why was it so good?

Jon Jones: “I had a young guy who sent me a pitch eight or nine years ago – he was just out of college and he sent me a really nice, short pitch with a really nicely done black-and-white story that was almost there but not finished. I wrote back and said ‘Thanks very much, I really like the piece but I don’t think it’s fully formed and done yet.’ About eight months later he sent it back saying he’d finished and asking ‘what do you think?’ It was really, really good and so we [The Sunday Times Magazine] published it. We have gradually built up a relationship with him and I’ve been working with him on and off for the last few years… that’s all on the basis of one e-mail.”

What to remember…

All of the above should have given you a very clear indication of the key factors to consider when approaching a picture editor with a view to getting your work seen, getting some feedback, making sure that your approach is right and your portfolio is well formed.

Always do your homework, pitch the right stories at the right publications, maintain your professionalism and respect that picture editors are very busy people who get hundreds of approaches, so they are highly unlikely to answer you overnight! If you heed the advice of the experienced picture editors interviewed here you will be very much on the right track.

How do I approach picture editors?
Article Name
How do I approach picture editors?
To help you to make the perfect pitch, we spoke to two vastly experienced imaging professionals to discover their advice for how best to approach picture editors with a view to getting your work published.
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Camera Jabber
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