ADVICE

How to start shooting for magazines

And grow into a professional freelancer
Anton Zemlyanoy
photographer
From the begging of (magazines') time, editors would invite some of the best representatives of the arts to contribute to their titles as authors - from Dali to illustrate Vogue's covers to Truman Capote to write scandalous articles for American Harper's Bazaar.
To be featured in magazines is one of the highest forms of recognition for photographers, implying that the work into which you put your heart and soul, is going to be shown to the whole country and sometimes the world. When you're called to collaborate with the magazine - you can combine your efforts with the most talented from the visual industry - makeup artist, hair stylists, models, set designers, fashion editors and art directors. In other words, a magazine provides you with an opportunity not only to contribute and be recognised but also to get to another creative and professional level. In addition, you get a chance to photograph the most interesting people and sometimes gain access to otherwise forbidden locations, as we did inside the Moscow's Kremlin walls for Russian's Net-A-Porter equivalent Aizel.ru.
This is why so many starting photographers dream of shooting for the magazines. For some, it will remain a dream while making a living photographing whatever pays, while others give up on this dream very soon believing it to be something completely unreachable, "only for those with connections", or whatever else they find consoling to treat as the truth.

There are those, however, who get a little closer to this dream with every phone call they make, every meeting they go to, every shoot they do. And then, one day, you find yourself awake before everyone else at a luxury resort on your first ever overseas location shoot in Thailand, sipping your cup of coffee while watching the sun rise over the water, savouring the feeling of "I made it! So glad I didn't give up photography when I was tempted last year!". But then this feeling is short-lived as you find out that half of your shots there are being rejected by the new editor-in-chief. And you discover previously-unknown-to-you emotions of self-doubt and questioning your career choice once again, only before a new peak awaits you around the corner, but only if you keep going (here I refer to my first overseas shoot in Thailand for Cosmopolitan).

Image from our shoot inside the Kremlin walls.
This is why so many starting photographers dream of shooting for the magazines. For some, it will remain a dream while making a living photographing whatever pays, while others give up on this dream very soon believing it to be something completely unreachable, "only for those with connections", or whatever else they find consoling to treat as the truth.

There are those, however, who get a little closer to this dream with every phone call they make, every meeting they go to, every shoot they do. And then, one day, you find yourself awake before everyone else at a luxury resort on your first ever overseas location shoot in Thailand, sipping your cup of coffee while watching the sun rise over the water, savouring the feeling of "I made it! So glad I didn't give up photography when I was tempted last year!". But then this feeling is short-lived as you find out that half of your shots there are being rejected by the new editor-in-chief. And you discover previously-unknown-to-you emotions of self-doubt and questioning your career choice once again, only before a new peak awaits you around the corner, but only if you keep going (here I refer to my first overseas shoot in Thailand for Cosmopolitan).

Image from our shoot inside the Kremlin walls.
Those who have made this journey from self-doubt to becoming regular magazine contributors will tell you that it's a lot more simple than it appears (simple not being the same as easy). Let me walk you through this process, starting with what these mysterious magazines are and then how I went through this journey myself to having shot for Bazaar, Vogue and Elle among other titles.
What are magazines?
The primary objective of a commercial magazine, as of any business, is to bring in a profit. Until recently known as print media, magazines are now transforming themselves into "magazine brands" and include online plus social media content. A magazine title makes most of its income from advertisers, not on the actual sales of the printed copies. Advertisers, in turn, are mostly interested in readers and subscribers of the magazines they advertise in, whom the magazine attracts by producing beautiful and engaging content. And this is where we, photographers, enter the picture, so to speak.

Magazines collaborate with photographers to create compelling (this has to do with your style) and quality (this has to do with your experience) content to attract and retain their audience. Once you understand this principle, it becomes clear that in order to start shooting for magazines, you simply need to learn how to shoot interestingly and to produce these works of certain quality. Once these two aspects are covered, what will remain is to convince magazine's representatives (you want the editorial department) that you are up to the job.
Behind the scenes from our Kremlin shoot in Moscow.
Judgement consumes energy, and you have to hold on to your energy as only with energy can you create something.
– Nicolas Degennes, artistic director of makeup for Givenchy (interview)
The editorial cycle
A photographer needs to understand how the magazine operates, since sending the almost suitable portfolio at not so suitable time may result in dead silence. A monthly editorial cycle of planning-shooting-putting it all together-going to print starts with an editorial meeting during which the editorial team decides on the theme for an upcoming issue and start planning photo shoots.

This is when the team discusses which photographers will suit the upcoming themes the most. Some photographers are recommended by fashion editors, most often someone they worked with before and trust, while an art-director might want to give someone new a go and convinces the team to take a chance on them. Also, an important topic of budgets is brought up as each section has its own budgets and that's where a producer gets involved as he or she knows the requests that photographers tend to make regarding lighting and equipment.

This period of editorial meetings is by far the best time for a photographer to get in touch and remind of himself. If your name comes up during this meeting - you are already half way to your goal.
kogda-visilat-portfolio-v-zhurnal
Once the styles of shoots are agreed upon - time for the producer to take over. It is she who talks to everyone to put shooting teams together and organises studios or locations for these shoots. If the photographer requested by the fashion editor isn't available, someone else gets the call, most often the fashion editor's choice number 2, then choice number 3. Sometimes it even gets to someone new and here is your chance number 2 (chance number 1 being if your name was brought up at the initial editorial meeting). One of my biggest current clients came to me after such a situation - when a shoot was already confirmed, but the photographer pulled out for some reason, and they called me. I've been shooting for them for three years now.

Next up is the period of photo shoots and since the process has already started, it isn't the best time to write to anyone since the fashion editors and producers are extremely busy putting all of the shoot's elements together, and simply don't have time for someone new. However, this is a good time to get in touch with art directors. They are currently putting together layouts and are waiting for shoots' results to come through, so their busiest periods are yet to come.

Once the shoots are done, and the art department receives the image selection in a preview format, the art director, together with his designers, are combining text and images to create layouts to tell a visual story, and a photo editor requests the confirmed images from photographers in high-res and retouched. A photo editor also ensures that these images are received on time before the magazine goes to print. Fashion editors are often still shooting at this time while producers are still organising shoots and saving things from falling apart. This is a very good time not to push your latest portfolio onto them. And a few days before going to print - here comes chaos. Writers, art director, designers, editor-in-chief, executive editor - all work late hours, often on weekends, rushing to polish up the issue in order to send it to print on time. During this week I wouldn't recommend inviting any of them even for the tasting almond latte in town.

Once the issue is sent off to the printers - the whole editorial team switches off just like after final exams in college. Everyone takes a few days off to recover and regain strength before they start the next cycle. It is towards the end of this recovery, once everyone is rested, that you should remind about yourself with whatever means are available to a modern human.
If you're trying to get meetings without making improvements to your projects, you will seem annoying instead of persistent. And you will get nothing.
– Gay Kawasaki, one of Apple's first employees and Silicon Valley's venture capitalist.
What type of work are commercial magazines interested in?
A typical glossy magazine is one that interests us, commercial fashion and portrait photographers. And a typical one comes out on average once a month and each issue usually includes the following types of photoshoots:
portraits (from small portraits on 1/8 of a page to celebrity covers)
reportage
still life
beauty
fashion
portraits (from small portraits on 1/8 of a page to celebrity covers)
reportage
still life
beauty
fashion
Each type has its own requirements and opportunities. For example, when shooting portraits of real people (meaning not professionals used to being in front of a camera), it is important to make them feel safe and that they are in good hands since this could be the first time they are photographed. At other times you will need to shoot a cover and an 8-page editorial with a celebrity in under 3 hours simply because you're not given more time (this is exactly how we shot actor Danila Kozlovsky for GQ).

All of this can be extremely exciting! Although you realise this only after the shoot is over, once the adrenalin wears off and the stress is behind you. And with each shoot, you either learn to stress less or to hide it better.
Actor and director Danila Kozlovsky for GQ Russia
Now back to types of shootings or "How to get invited to shoot?"
From the magazine's point of view, a relevant photographer is one who can shoot one of their usual sections mentioned above. And not stuff it up. So how do you get in? Build a good enough portfolio and accumulate experience. Once that's done, you need to convince certain people working at the magazine (believe me, they are very similar to you and me) that:

a) your style matches theirs (remember the "a picture says a thousand words" saying? This is that case since the photos in your portfolio will either convince them of this or not), and

b) that you have enough experience and can pull it off.
There are several phases of a photographers' growth:
1
A photographer = a person + a camera.
2
A photographer that has a chance of making money from his craft = a photographer + portfolio (style).
3
A relevant photographer to a magazine = a photographer + portfolio + experience (this can be seen from your portfolio).
4
A photographer who is very close to shooting for a magazine = a photographer + portfolio + experience + someone from the magazine knows that you exist.
5
A contributing photographer = a photographer + portfolio + experience + someone from the magazines believes in you.
6
A professional photographer = someone from the magazine believes in you + you are not stuffing up shoots + you create beautiful images while conforming to the magazine's specifications and you are not telling people to f*** off.
Where to start?
First, you need to choose which magazine you want to work with and for which section you want to contribute. Reportage is as different from beauty as beauty is from portraits. And it is with this section in mind that you need to work on your portfolio. Let's say you want to shoot jewellery for Elle. The goal is set - great! Now you need to initiate the "goal-shoot-analyse results" cycle and repeat it a few times until you gather a body of work that you can call your portfolio. Ok, some photographers have gotten their breaks after having a picture of a dog of a sister in their book, but this wasn't my case. Once you think you are ready to show it (and I'd say take out the weakest and leave 1/3 in your book) - send it away.
You might not hear back for one of the following reasons:
You wrote at the wrong time (for example, when they're trying to make it to the printing press on time).
Your style doesn't match (you did a poor job examining the section you're aiming at, the magazine itself or the current trends).
You're not shooting on the level you need to be, and this can be seen from your portfolio.
You wrote at the wrong time (for example, when they're trying to make it to the printing press on time).
Your style doesn't match (you did a poor job examining the section you're aiming at, the magazine itself or the current trends).
You're not shooting on the level you need to be, and this can be seen from your portfolio.
The goods news is that all of the above have the same solution:
Analyse your shoots and compare them to those of the best photographers currently working for similar titles.
Shoot new work.
Send new work to editors working at the publications you want to shoot for.
Analyse your shoots and compare them to those of the best photographers currently working for similar titles.
Shoot new work.
Send new work to editors working at the publications you want to shoot for.
And you repeat this cycle until you start shooting. I've been doing this for twelve years. Sending my latest work to people I want to work with or just sharing my aesthetic accomplishments. These days Instagram can help you do all of this work without feeling like you're pestering someone. That is if they "follow" you.
I don't want to see and won't have much confidence in someone that shows me a portfolio that includes every style of photography (still-life, food, fashion etc.). Stick to one or two areas that you love and do them well.
– Brendan Allthorpe, art director (interview)
I was invited to my first shoot at Vogue after my 8th attempt at a meeting with them (both phone calls and emails) in August of 2008. I thought I made it, but then came September 2008, the Global Financial Crisis and that was another surprise, but that' for another time. With Elle, it was a bit quicker, while four more years went by before I came back to Elle with my portfolio number 5. On the 11th year for Esquire. l'Officiel - on a 3rd month of going on my own after assisting for over a year (the first stint) while working on my portfolio.
Who should you write to and how?
I did it in a classical way - you look up the phone number in a magazine, call the reception, introduce yourself as a photographer, and you will be connected with an editorial department. Or will be given the general editorial email address. Brendan Allthorpe, former art director of Vogue Russia, in his interview advises getting into the magazine circle by assisting established photographers, which is another way to get to know the people working at magazines.
If you can get in touch with a person directly - this will be more effective.
Here are a few job titles that can help you:
Editor-in-chief
If he/she wants you to shoot for their magazine - it will happen.
Art director
Can ask an editor to shoot with you.
Fashion director
She is trusted both by the editor-in-chief and the art director, and she can influence whether the other editors shoot with you at all.
Senior fashion editor
Sometimes a freelance stylist, she shoots with photographers that they trust. Their requests are often respected.
Fashion editor (and junior fashion editor)
Shoots smaller features and often it is through these features that young photographers are given a chance, but the decision is usually made collectively.
Producer
Responsible for putting teams together and is an important middleman (or woman) between the magazine and a photographer from the stance of "can we organise this shoot with this photographer having this budget?".
If you can get in touch with a person directly - this will be more effective.
Here are a few job titles that can help you:

Editor-in-chief
If he/she wants you to shoot for their magazine - it will happen.
Art director
Can ask an editor to shoot with you.
Fashion director
She is trusted both by the editor-in-chief and the art director, and she can influence whether the other editors shoot with you at all.
Senior fashion editor
Sometimes a freelance stylist, she shoots with photographers that they trust. Their requests are often respected.
Fashion editor (and junior fashion editor)
Shoots smaller features and often it is through these features that young photographers are given a chance, but the decision is usually made collectively.
Producer
Responsible for putting teams together and is an important middleman (or woman) between the magazine and a photographer from the stance of "can we organise this shoot with this photographer having this budget?".
How many chances does a photographer have to get into a magazine each year?
This math is rather simple and should inspire your. If a magazine is a monthly and an editorial meeting happens 12 times a year - you have 12 times per magazine. If you are aiming for 3 magazines at the same time - that number becomes 36*. Plus all those moments when a photographer cancels a shoot for whatever reason or the shoot dates chance and the previously-confirmed photographer isn't available.

Just remember, that there is no point in sending the same work twice. Each time you use your chance of getting in touch, you should be sending new and better images. And it is these better images that will speak on your behalf and eventually your name will be heard during those meetings. TU
* If you want to be more realistic you need to divide 36 by the number of photographers getting in touch with the magazine along with you.
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I decided to make all of the content available for free to all of you, my dear freelancers, as you go on this journey of discovery and growth. It does, however, require time and resources. So, if you are finding my work useful and want to support me in creating more of such content — it will be much appreciated by me and (guess what?) — also by the freelancers that are helping me deliver it here. If you're not sure where to start — the price of a coffee, a lunch or a visit to a shrink are some of the benchmarks available to you.
"The circle of life" as one king said in a cartoon.

My sincere thanks for your support! Anton


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