my story: magazine / editorial photography
Have you ever wanted to see your images published as a photo story in a magazine? A key to getting photos published is understanding your chosen subject and market. Today I’d like to share some tips that helped me make a living as a freelance motorcycle magazine photographer for a number of years.
Breaking in to the market
No matter what your interest is, get out there and shoot it. Then find the different outlets for your work and study how they use photos, tailoring your submissions to their potential needs. My goal was to shoot for motorcycle magazines and that meant going to where the action was. While working a 9 to 5 job during the week, I’d attend national championship motorcycle races on the weekends to take photos.
At first I was buying my own tickets to the races and shooting from over the fence with no special credentials. This was in the days of slides so I’d prepare a submission of images afterward and send them off to magazine editors completely “on spec (speculation)” with no guarantees (note: these photos were shot a few years ago with my trusty Nikon D70, SB-800 strobe, 50mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor Lens and 80-200mm Nikkor lenses).
With no prior introduction, I’d find the editor’s and art director’s names on a magazine’s masthead. After sending my photos I’d follow up with a phone call to make sure the package was received. No, they didn’t take my calls at first but they were getting used to hearing my name! Now, in the age of digital cameras, this would mean preparing a web gallery and emailing a link to editors immediately after an event. Regardless of the medium, a professional presentation and attitude helped me get their attention from the start.
After awhile the magazines began helping me obtain press credentials to events so my photos would be even better. They saw my dedication and professionalism and knew there was little risk in helping me obtain closer access. When I started getting published my name got around and soon there were phone calls from not only the magazines but also the magazine’s advertisers, looking for photos from events. This was a very welcome additional stream of income.
This was also a chance to meet the popular racers of the time and one of them, Scott Summers, happened to live very near to me. Scott was a multi-time national cross country champion and, as a result, his image was in demand. Because we were in the Midwest and the motorcycle magazine industry is in Southern California, my presence here became even more important. I became “the east coast guy” for some different publications.
A couple times a year I would visit Scott for a day, creating photos at my own expense that had an instant market. His motorcycles, racing van and clothing would all be shined to perfection, prepared for a day of marketing photography.
This was an ideal situation because Scott had twenty or so sponsors that wanted fresh photos and magazines around the world were interested in his image. When his clothing, helmet, motorcycle, tire, exhaust, etc., sponsors needed an image for advertising they would come to me and I‘d pull something out of the file for their needs.
These kinds of demands meant fully understanding the potential needs of editors and advertisers. We would shoot for a variety of photos during the day, creating action pics, portraits and even images of just his racing bike (often featured in technical articles).
Each specialty is different and there were some definite tricks for marketing motorcycle images. Viewers liked to see the side of the motorcycle, particularly, so technical details could be seen. This meant photos had to be SHARP. While I liked artsy, motion-blurred images that conveyed speed, that wasn’t what the editors and readers preferred.
I also understood that the action needed to be photographed going both left and right to suit different layout needs. A bunch of images all heading just one direction might not work and, because there are numbers and letters on the bike, the images can’t be flopped.
It was always a goal to leave space for layout type and graphics above, below or around the action. I always tried to shoot verticals as if they might be a cover shot, with space left for the magazine logo overhead. Covers pay much better than small inside photos!
Horizontals would be shot so that the riders helmet never fell in the exact center of the photo. Here I was always gunning for a double-page spread and wanted to make sure that the gutter and staples wouldn’t wreck the double-page potential. Again, there’s more money for an image used larger rather than smaller.
This is how I made my entire living some ten or so years ago and it was the fulfillment of a dream, following a sport that I love. It involved hard work and the constant study of how to make my images better and how to make my editor’s and client’s lives easier.
I’ll be honest, though, motorcycle photography wasn’t a path to monetary riches for me. Many photographers are willing to give their work away when it involves fast vehicles, pretty models or rock ‘n’ roll and that makes for tough competition. And, as long as we’re talking realities, we have to acknowledge that many magazines are struggling as publishing moves online.
Okay, that’s the disclaimer I felt compelled to throw in but, hey, I’ve always been one to follow my dreams. The wonderful memories and stacks of tearsheets are proof that it was worth the effort for me. If being a magazine photographer is on your “bucket list”, then no matter what your interest is, get out there and shoot it!
- Jim T.