This piece originally appeared in our guide Building Your Outdoor &…
Christopher D. Thompson is an action, travel, and studio photographer based out of Boulder, Colorado. He’s also the former Associate Photo Editor of SKI, Skiing, and Freeskier magazines. Having experienced both sides of the coin, Chris knows a thing or two about how photographers should approach the delicate professional relationships with photo editors.
He advises building a solid foundation of knowledge about all aspects of your work – being familiar with not just the publication, but the athletes you’re shooting, as well the photo editors themselves. He also reminds us that while your photo work is incredibly important, it’s also your working relationship with the photo editor that holds great weight. Read on to get Chris’ top 5 tips for aspiring adventure photographers looking to break into the world of print.
1. Research each magazine before emailing your photo editors
There are a number of things to research before contacting a photo editor, and they are more about the magazine than the photo editor themselves. Check to see how often and when a magazine is published – seasonal publications work on a specific yearly editorial calendar, and there will be a specific deadline to submit story ideas, and a completely different deadline for general/stock submissions. In the winter sports category, pitches should be sent in before late fall, and general submissions sent in before the end of spring. Be sure to ask for these dates. Also be specific about which sections of the magazine you are pitching for. The more well formed your pitches are, the easier they are to assign – the fewer the number of revisions, and ultimately the better for everyone involved.
2. Be concise in emails & follow instructions
When emailing a photo editor for the first time, include all the important information about yourself in the ‘inverted pyramid’ writing style – base location (and recent shooting locations if you’ve been traveling), past experience, and then your pitch. Be sure to ask for each magazines submission guidelines before submitting a folder or zip file of work. If you can keep your first email short and to the point, the likelihood of hearing a reply is exponentially higher. The work itself is important, but the working relationship is more important. Set the tone for an ongoing relationship by following their instructions to a ‘t.’ The more a photo editor can trust you with the small things, the better they’ll feel about sending you on an assignment halfway around the world or into a remote area.
3. Build and nurture relationships with athletes
Most adventure photography illustrates the activity, and so it needs to include someone else enjoying the adventure or performing an exceptionally difficult trick or navigating the ‘gnarliest’ terrain. One of the most important building blocks of a professional career shooting adventure & action are strong relationships with athletes and other adventurers. If you’re passionate about the subject you’re shooting, this part will be easy and will grow organically (as long as you aren’t an a**hole – so be cool). If you find rookie athletes who are motivated for coverage, shoot with them and continue shooting with them. They need you as much as you need them, and if you’re lucky, you can work together to achieve your goals through the years.
4. Make friends with your photo editor contacts
Remember that photo editors, though not always able to spend a great deal of time with you, are your best ally at a magazine – and surprise – want to help you! Magazines depend on amazing photography, and while there are plenty of other photographers out there, the ones that stand out as the most creative and reliable are depended on repeatedly. You can develop these relationships by following instructions, checking in on an occasional basis (quarterly is good), and doing amazing work.
5. Get out and shoot!
The majority of imagery in action sports magazines is shot on spec and submitted at the end of the season as a general submission. You should only be submitting ‘A’ and maybe ‘B’ grade shots, so get out there and keep shooting. It’s almost always the photographers who show resilience and brilliance in their general submission who receive assignments.
Chris D. Thompson is an adventure photographer who lives in Boulder, CO and has photographed skis in the shape of a dollar sign, everyone else getting their snowmobiles stuck, Shaun White upset after a loss, elderly ski racers, Elvis’ ceramic monkey, American Exceptionalism embodied at the XGames, a ‘No Photography’ sign at the MoMA, live melting ice in a studio, and once hung out of a helicopter with a seatbelt tied around his waist. He believes in powder days, airtime, WTF moments, and good light. See more of Chris’ work on his PhotoShelter website.
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