Photo editors receive dozens, if not hundreds, of emails a day with prospective photo stories. If you've got an idea – or maybe already started a project, or even completed it – do you know how to take it through to publication?
Pitching to photo editors at a website, newspaper, magazine or agency can seem a daunting process. Here we speak to three photo editors – Thomas Borberg, Francis Kohn and Fiona Shields – who have decades of experience of receiving photographers' pitches, commissioning, and reviewing portfolios. We ask their advice on what you can do to improve your chances of success.
"Photographers should always take the time to get to know the publication they are addressing with a pitch," says Thomas. "Sometimes I get a group email with an idea that could go out to anyone – a magazine, a newspaper or even a book editor. I feel like saying, 'Hey, if you want to use my time, let it be something you really want me to print or publish, not just anyone."
"I'm not being arrogant, but my time is precious. I probably receive between five and 10 stories per day. So if a photographer submits a story which is not even halfway done, consisting of, say, 40 images I have to skip through, and I can see there's a lack of editing, I just throw it out. I'm not there to edit their story. They should do that by themselves," says Thomas.
"But I like it when people take a constructive approach if I say no, and respond, 'What should I have done to make this a story for you?' Maybe it's the editing, maybe it's the timing or something else. I like to give them something that they can develop from in the future, because it's helpful to both of us."
"I worked as an AFP Photo Director so I mostly worked with staff photographers I already knew, and I would sit down and discuss ideas with them. However, we also have photographers from outside the agency pitching stories, and I always looked for someone who could present an idea in a very clear and professional way," says Francis. "It has to be concise, and if I don't know the photographer they should include some photos, not necessarily of the project but of what they do generally [to give me an idea of their typical style and approach]. As a photo editor, you can sense whether a story will work or not very quickly."
"It's good if a photographer pitches a creative idea to me that I've not heard before – a different approach to a topic that will get my attention," says Francis. "But the story also has to be doable. Sometimes you get a photographer asking you to do a story that can be a bit crazy and not well thought through in practical terms. The budget is also an issue, but if it's a good story that can be discussed."
"Include something that's easy and accessible to view the images, like a PDF. If I have to go through the palaver of downloading files from WeTransfer or Dropbox, which then drop in without any captions... That is just hugely elaborate. A PDF is straightforward," says Fiona. "It's important to give caption information, so that we know who, what, when, where, then I can swiftly make a decision about the quality of the work and the relevance of the story, and we can move forward."
"I receive about 250 emails a day. I'm totally overwhelmed, so when the pitches come in, they have to be really precise," says Fiona. "I was taught something on a management training course about getting the attention of a very busy person: start with something that is like a headline, then expand a little bit (just a couple of lines), and then you can go into more detail a little bit further on in the pitch. It's hard to catch any of us on the phone, but if you don't hear from me it's usually not because I'm being rude or want to dismiss your project, it's that I haven't gotten to your email. I would suggest gently nudging."