The Value of Being a Published Photographer in the Digital Age

The Value of Being a Published Photographer in the Digital Age

With the advent of self-publishing and digital magazines, the landscape of print media has evolved. With many fashion magazines and communities that feature the work of many involved in the industry, the debate over the value of being published has been a hot topic in fashion circles. So what exactly is the value of being a published photographer in the digital age?


First and foremost, having your work published is a great means of marketing yourself. Whether or not your marketing strategy involves direct-marketing or a focus on building up social media presence, cover stories and editorials in magazines or websites are additional press for your name and your brand.

If your goal is to get your work in front of curators, editors, and clients, then be tactful in the publications that your work appears in. This can even apply to a geographical standpoint, as you may want to be featured in local publications that have a better chance of getting your work in front of clients residing in your market.

Team Building

Editorials can be a really great way to test new members of your creative team, while walking away from the test with published tear sheets. This helps to give you credibility with your team as a marketable creative, while adding reliable talent you can call upon for other productions. Editorials will also give the team a reprieve from repetitive catalog or commercial work by allowing them to embrace creativity to create looks that are viable for editorial publication.

The key is to ensure that you properly record team credits so that those that contributed to the editorial are appropriately listed. Ensure that you have credits for any products or brands that were used in the publication as well for reasons we will review below.

Social Media

The internet has taken over as the primary means of promoting one’s business today, with social media playing one of the most vital roles. Having your work published in a magazine with a large social media presence grants you their built-in audience, and an opportunity to gain some of their followers.

If you are submitting your work rather than having it commissioned, aim for the publications with a larger following. One aspect to be mindful of in your research is whether or not the publication itself credits appropriately. I have encountered several successful magazines who do not tag or link to the credits in their social media posts, which can be a waste considering the incredible reach they have. If your goal is to get your work to a larger audience, then pay attention to that point.

As mentioned earlier, credits when it comes to the brands used in your work are incredibly important. Not only do a lot of fashion magazines prefer independent or emerging brands, but it’s an opportunity for you to connect with those brands directly through social media tagging. Having your work reposted by these brands is free marketing, and may also lead to commissioned work by them.

Vision and Consistency

Editorials are a great way to demonstrate your individual style, as well as your ability to bring a creative vision to life. Through your choice of lighting, direction in styling, makeup, hair, equipment, and post-processing, you can demonstrate what a production under your direction looks like. Establishing your ability to convey a cohesive theme or element in your editorials proves your capability to potential buyers. Clients and agencies like to see that you can be consistent in your work, particularly when it comes to editorial and advertorial work that still exists in print media. Being able to produce one high-impact image isn’t always enough. Demonstrating that you can reliably yield uniform results will go a long way in gaining the right kind of clientele.

Submission Versus Commission

Many photographers hold differing views on when a photographer can truly label themselves as a “published photographer” in the face of these newer submission-based publications. When an editorial is shot for submission, it means that the photographer intends to submit the story to a magazine. However, said magazine did not reach out to the photographer prior to the shoot to guarantee that their story will be published.

A “pull letter” is a term referring to said guarantee from a magazine. Sometimes referred to as a commission letter, this allows you to gain better talent or wardrobe for your story due to the backing of the publication. Most modeling agencies will not provide an untested photographer with their working models without a pull letter, so keep that in mind when casting for your editorial.

A commissioned editorial, in and of itself, typically comes with some sort of compensation. This means that the magazine is hiring you to shoot a story for them, typically with a corresponding theme, style, or even subject. The main difference between the two when it comes to submission versus commission, is that the latter involves the vision of the publication, and should follow appropriate compensation. Editorials that were shot for submission (or even with a pull letter), should be personal work and demonstrate the creative vision of the photographer.

If a magazine is asking you to shoot their vision with specific instructions, without compensation, be wary. It’s one thing to put in the time and money required to create an editorial of your personal work, but it’s something else entirely to be asked to produce work specific to a magazine that may not benefit your portfolio in the long run.

When There Is No Value

While we have discussed the aspects of what being published gains you as a photographer, it’s important to know what to avoid.

There are a growing number of publications that now require the photographer to pay a fee. These fees are often labeled as an administrative fee, submission fee, or even a design fee. This is a major sticking point for a lot of professionals, for understandable reasons. Every editorial is a combination of the team’s talent, time, and respective equipment. There is always a cost involved when producing said work, so asking a photographer to then pay to display their images can be very insulting.

For some photographers, they are able to square with these fees as marketing costs. Just as running an advertisement in a magazine has a set cost, or running an ad campaign through Google or Facebook, it’s not unheard of to invest in the smaller submission fees of some of the larger publications with a reliably large audience.

That being said, do what is right for you and your brand, as there are many respectable magazines who will accept your work with gratitude, rather than charge you for work that you have already invested in.

What are your own experiences and opinions on the changing landscape of publications? Please do feel free to share your thoughts below in the comments.

Team Credits - Photographer: Kendra Paige | Model: Valeria of Front Management | MUA: Lina Zuniga | Hair: Mikki McCarron and Maria Occhipinti | Wardrobe Stylist: Alyssa Blanco | Wardrobe: Alessandra Gold | Designers: Reverie - Ela Acosta | Cosmetics: Darling Girl | Retoucher: Svetlana Pasechnik & Taichi Hatano | Assistants: Chris Brodsky and Monica C Baker | Publication: VEUX Magazine
Kendra Paige's picture

Kendra Paige is a fashion and beauty photographer based in South Florida, with a passion for whimsical and colorful imagery. She discovered her love of photography while developing film in a middle-school darkroom, and has strived to be a positive influence in the photographic community ever since through education and mentorship.

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In the print era, it was considered bad taste to show multiple photos of the same model in the same clothing in the same fashion series. In the digital era, there's no such thing as bad taste.

If it's any consolation, those were just images taken during the editorial, but not the way they were presented in the editorial itself. In the spread, they were presented as the individual looks.

I do find that more common now as a growing trend, though. A lot of editorials show the same look but different angles.

I've got tear sheets older than some of the members on this site, but I can't think of a single company I work with now that even prints. It's all online.

It's sad to see such a decline in print, because I still feel that there is something magical about viewing art and photography in print. However, the operating costs of running a print magazine versus digital makes it an obvious choice to focus on digital publications.

The only time I object to publication trends is this new approach to making a profit by charging their contributors, rather than a proper mix of advertisers and subscription fees.

I truly believe that there are more print magazines now than there have ever been before, every country has its own edition of Elle, Harpers Bazaar, Cosmo, L'Official the list goes on and there are so many good quarterly magazines that print on great paper and with great content. There is also more competition than ever before.

I have a nice library at home of photo books. Barnes & Noble is within walking distance, so I get a coffee, and browse for books that interest me. And they are usually deeply discounted.

Hey Kendra, just wondering if the article I suggested is in the works because that would be awesome! :)

I had my first publication when I was 16 but I haven't been published again since. It was kinda random how it happened, a friend of a friend needed a photo of this actor for an article in this magazine, the photographer whom was already late with the deadline overdosed on cocaine before the day of the shoot and it being a small town there weren't really any qualified players that could be there on time. This friend mentioned that I was a starting fashion photographer and they decided to give me a chance. It got published plus I got paid 500 bucks, i wasn't expecting to get that much especially knowing how poorly mags pay these days! It also was my first paid job ever and suddenly i stopped being the geeky girl and I was popular at school and met my first boyfriend, all because of one photo!

As always, thank you for your comment, Alice! I have been outlining for your suggested topic of "when I took it to the next level," just working on making it more than an opinion-piece.

Wow, that has to be the best story I've heard when it comes to being published, that's awesome on a lot of levels! Connections really can afford some of the rarest and most amazing opportunities.

Out of curiosity, is there any reason why you haven't pursued any editorial work since?

I guess it just never really happened. Now I am part of a photographer duo with my boyfriend and we work under a brand name. I do most of the shooting and he does most of the client catching, planning, accounting, and all that stuff.

I hope you wrote about geting your first real gig in your article. :)

Oh how I would kill for an opportunity like that. Most recently I seem to get asked for a reference for other photographers when I can't shoot them (Ex: Graduation photos, because I was graduating!) Only for them to get paid, and I never have been.

Your time will come. Perhaps one of these friends will recommend you some day! Keep trying! :)

A "pull letter" is in no way a guarantee for publication only a confirmation that you are pulling clothing for the publication, for larger publications the showrooms are also guaranteed that you are insured for the clothing you are pulling.

That is true! There are instances where a publication provides a pull letter but doesn't publish the images due to it not fitting for a specific issue, theme, etc. However, a pull letter is typically only provided to a team that is believed to be worthwhile, so while it may not be published with that specific magazine, chances are very good that it will be picked up by a similar publication.

Great insight and knowledge as always Kendra. I enjoy the perspective you bring here.

Thank you for that, Peter! I always appreciate your feedback.

Thanks again Kendra for the insight! Questions as usual from me! :-)

I'm not sure how you gained your relationships with your normal go-to publications for editorials, but I'd assume you went to them. If so what was your method of point of contact, did you send them a mailer, email, tweet/tweet msg, facebook message/post. Reason why I'm asking as it may sound slightly off topic is cause it dictates submission while some are public submission links on the websites where 90% of them are rights grabs, and the other submission method is contact person of interest like directly to the editor... Other ideas I thought of doing is making business relationships with actual writers who normally submit to the magazines I want to have my work featured in... thoughts?

You're welcome!

It's always important to read over the agreements whenever looking to publish editorials, as there can be some fine print that can be alarming. That being said, most publications are only interested in your images for promoting their magazine, which can be a win-win so long as proper credits follow. The magazines I tend to avoid are the submission-based ones that forbid you from displaying your work elsewhere. Embargoes are understandable and common, for unpublished images that the magazine wants to ensure are not displayed prior to their magazine's publication date, but demanding sole-rights after the fact isn't kosher.

When it comes to building a relationship, it's been a bit varied for me. At first I would follow the submission guidelines outlined in the publication via e-mail, but I now try to engage with the publication via social media. I'll like a lot of their work and follow them, as well as comment in an effort to interact with them. I've had a lot of luck with this and have had said publications reach out to me for editorials.

The larger publications such as your Elle, L'Officiel, Harper's Bazaar, etc, require a very different approach. Connections and the proper agencies play a key role here. I have heard of photographers sending out mailers, but I find that a lot of publications ignore these due to the amount they receive, so it's best to grow your social media presence and get them to notice you.

In the end, the most important thing is to ensure your work lines up with the style of the publication. I feel this is the biggest issue for a lot of photographers, who find it difficult to be objective when analyzing their work. Showing them something new is wonderful, but it needs to connect in some way with their publication.

Hope that helps!

Thanks for the insightful response Kendra! I wanted to clarify when you say submission you mean a public webpage the publication has or coordinating with someone inside the publication to send your submission?

Another question, is when I don't see a public page for submissions and contact an editor or etc. staff for publication's submission guidelines they ether ignore me or say they'll pass along my information to the proper departments. Is that normal procedure? I thought if you request a submission guideline they generally will give it, but I'd assume some publications keep a very small circle of accepted photographers and if they consider anyone new they'd need like a photographer rep to contact them.

I agree Kendra, there's nothing like seeing your photos in print. My latest was in last months Shutterbug Magazine. I certainly don't complain about seeing my images online, but there's something magical about print.

Have Fun,

Congratulations on that, Jeff! I think it's just about that tangible connection with your work, because I definitely love a great digital publication, but being able to touch and hold it is different. Part of it for me, is the consistency of it. With digital work, you have to contend with the audience's viewing experience. Are they using an older device, are they outdoors, is the monitor not rendering the colors correctly? But when it's a print publication, the experience is very much the same regardless of who is viewing it.

I'm curious about basic protocol for publishing images - will the publication care if the image you are submitting has already been posted to your own social media and website?

Most publications will have guidelines or rules on their website, and will often cover this. Most magazines (but not all) want exclusivity, and social media is definitely a big part of it. For submission-based magazines in particular, they want you and the team to wait until their magazine comes out to share on social media, so that they can be benefited by your own exposure.

Some magazines, especially the smaller ones, do not need exclusivity, so my advice is to look at their guidelines before contacting them.

This is all very true. Many of the photographers who we published in Nephilim Magazine were almost immediately contacted by new models wanting to get involved and it meant the photographers getting paid to do it.