Look at this photo. Shaofeng Xu's photo of a protestor…
First things first – it’s good to know how the nature photography market operates. There are a few categories for selling: stock sales, print and online editorial publications, and fine art, just to name a few. Then there are the tours, workshops, books, and podcasts that are also part of the nature photographer’s market.
If we stick with editorial licensing, the market is further divided into magazines, journals, websites, newspapers – the list goes on. In fact, publications of almost any sort (whether they have a natural bent or not) have a need for nature photography. Photo buyers can attest to the competitive market and the high bar set for natures photographers.
In our free guide to Selling Nature Photography, buyers told us that making it in the industry comes down to knowing how, when, and where to pitch. Senior Photo Editor Elizabeth Krist from National Geographic says that a photographer who has specialized knowledge of a topic or “access to rare events or hidden worlds” gets her attention. Meanwhile, Venita Kaleps, Photo Editor at German GEO, says that when it comes to finding new photographers to work with, “Our photo research methods cover the world market. We go from Google searches to international magazine clippings, and book publications to photo competitions.”
In this competitive market, it’s very important to know how the editorial selection process works. So we put together 6 questions that you, the nature photographer, should ask yourself before pitching to editorial clients:
1. What type of shots does this publication run?
Don’t send 100 images of migrating cranes to a sports publication and expect them to trust your ability to capture their audience. Knowing the content of a magazine before you send photos is key to making a good first impression.
2. Does my work fit in the publication AND add something extra?
This can be a fine line to walk – as German GEO’s Photo Editor Venita Kaleps says about nature photography, “It’s all about raising the bar and finding new angles.” And there are always trends, but in the end, many buyers still goes for a classic, well-crafted image. Molly Scharfenaker, from art consulting firm Nine dot Arts, says “While trends are interesting and new, there is nothing better than a perfectly executed nature photograph.”
3. Can I utilize my own expertise?
Because nature photography is such a competitive market, one way to make yourself stand out is by becoming an expert on at least one particular topic. If you have made it your business to stay up-to-date on the environmental status of a certain type of fish, you are much more likely to get the job photographing them than another photographer. Regardless of how beautiful the other person’s images are, your captions will be more informative – and this helps reduce the work of editors and writers. Adds Nat Geo Senior Photo Editor Elizabeth Krist, “Photographers who happen to focus on needed specialties – like archaeology – have a better chance of attracting my attention.”
4. How can I promote my brand, but not be too pushy?
Adventure photographer Jody MacDonald says that when she sends an email to prospective clients she makes sure to list her past work, explain what she can offer, and then lets her images speak for themselves. And as wildlife photographer Martin Bailey says, “You just have to be nice. If you treat people with respect then they will respond in kind.”
5. Do direct mailers still work?
You might think that everything is done digitally these days, but some editors still like a good old fashioned mailer. Heather Marcus, Photo Editor at Yankee Magazine says, “I still like old school print promos in the mail. If the image is intriguing to me, it will definitely make me want to check out more work on the photographer’s website.”
6. What makes a good email pitch?
When you’re pitching, be sure to include information that shows you have a good understanding of the story’s topic. Vanita Kaleps, Photo Editor at German GEO says, “Email promotions work best for me if there are small edits. I’m looking for a series of images with captions that show [a photographer] knows the subject, tells a story, or makes [the images] relevant and focused.” Elizabeth Krist of Nat Geo says that securing a referral ahead of time, if possible, and including it in the subject line is another good way to reach out.
Want more tips from photo buyers and successful nature photographers? Download our Selling Nature Photography guide for more on how to market your work and bring clients through the door.