|Calendars & Postcards
Get Your Stuff in There
by Gary W. Stanley
One of the greatest rewards for your photographic efforts is to see your work published. Seeing your photographs in a major magazine or calendar in a competitive market can be very difficult. Being an excellent photographer will not insure your success, it's only a part of the overall process. Knowing what to expect and how to identify your market will play a bigger part in seeing your work published than any other single effort.
The Photographic Side: I'm going to assume that you have a good basic understanding of how your camera works, the rule of thirds, good compositional techniques and how to get correct exposure, although I will review a few points. (see my article on 'Back to Basics'). Probably the most important photographic element in getting published has to do with making choices within your composition.
Ask yourself these questions: Is my horizon line straight? Do I have any junk in my frame that I didn't notice when I first set up this shot? How is my depth-of-field and my focus? Is everything sharp front to back? Is there anything in this composition that allows me to use the basic design elements of line, shape, texture and form? How is the lighting? A hazy day or harsh midday light won't help give you that crisp sharp image you need to get published unless you have a valuable photograph that no one else has. Am I using any foreground subjects to ad that three-dimensional look to the composition?
Basically what you're trying to do here is, give yourself a photographic edge that will catch the publisher's eye. As you know, poor photography and poor technique won't cut it in a competitive market.
My success in the calendar market has prompted me to pass along a few tips that may just make the difference for you.
1. Know the Odds: Having a few good nature shots to send to Audubon will probably leave you saying, "hey, my stuff is as good as anyone's, how come they didn't pick me?" The answer is real simple, numbers. You are far better off picking a market that gives you better odds of success, and one that you personally are more familiar with, like the area where you live for example.
2. Know Your Market: Your own backyard may indeed be your best bet. I live in northern New England and have better access to coastal Maine lighthouses and Vermont fall foliage for example than people who live out west and visit the area but once a year. The odds are in my favor that I'll have the kind of shots my calendar company is looking for.
3. There are Twelve Months in a Year: This is another good reason to shoot locally. Calendars need winter, spring, & summer shots not just pretty fall foliage shots. I live here and can be ready to go as weather and lighting conditions change putting myself in a better position for great photographs.
4. More Than Just Pretty Pictures: In the majority of marketable images you need identifiable subject matter. Besides familiar landmarks, you need photographs that typify the area you are photographing. I try giving the viewer that familiar New England feel for example. I want the viewer to feel he or she has visited the essence of the area through the pages of the calendar or postcard.
5. Who Do You Sell To? Basically you can sell your work to any company that has a need for your work. My photographs are sold to non-competing markets in Maine and British Columbia. The Maine distributor supplies the local markets like L.L. Bean, Wal-Mart, and numerous gift shops. In B.C., that company may sell to customers like Allstate, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors, etc.
6. Where Do I Find a Buyer? The Writers Digest book; "Photographer's Market" is one place to start. Browse the pages to find buyers with photo needs that match your stock, and then send a letter of inquiry requesting submission guidelines. You can also visit your local gift shop or book store and pick up postcards and calendars of the area making notes as to who the publisher or distributor is and make similar inquiries.
7. Establish a Relationship: Probably the best-kept secret to continued calendar sales is the relationship that you develop with the company you sell your work to. I tend to gravitate toward companies who treat me like a friend instead of just another photographer in a long list of disposable photographers. In this `small town atmosphere, I am better able to fill their needs and more.
8. And More? I make a point of shooting in-camera originals. What does that have to do with anything? Well, having more than one original of any given shot allows me to use the calendar company as a small stock agency. I have found they are more likely to use your images if they have them in-hand when the need arises. By having more than one original I still have slides for my magazine articles, my stock agency, my lecture series, and for other non-related submissions.
9. What About Money? The Bad News: Well, I have good news and I have bad news. First the bad news; Again, it's a numbers game. Contrary to what you may think, you may only get $75.00 for an image used for a postcard and $100.00 for a calendar, and a cover may get you $150.00. Obviously the more images used, the better. You generally don't get paid again for reprints and, you usually get paid on publication (that's once a year folks, so you better be prepared to sit on film and processing expenses for a while).
The Good News: Because I have developed a good working relationship with my New England distributor, I have received advances on potential sales based on my ability to meet their needs. Because they are not only a distributor but also the U.S. sales rep for the European publisher, I have received numerous shooting assignments, taking me outside of New England, shooting stock for other card and calendar companies. All my expenses are paid by the publisher, with the exception of film and processing, (my choice, so that I can market these photos elsewhere). Many of my calendar shots have also become postcards, magnets, and key chains as well (multiple sales). Add all of this together, and your chances for success will increase.
10. What about self-publishing and distributing? How much time and money do you have? This sort of project can easily become a labor of love instead of a profit deal. For me the choice is simple: I'm a photographer and an instructor, and I have absolutely no desire to pound the pavement trying to sell my stuff. If you are retired or have a lot of extra time on your hands then go for it. If you are looking to start a small business, and can combine your shooting time with calling on gift shops, drug and department stores etc., then this might be just what you have been looking for. Also, it doesn't hurt to have a trusty companion who shares your interest.
Successful calendar sales boil down to knowing your market like you know your own backyard, with a common sense approach consisting of working closely with your calendar company. It means understanding there is money to be made but it will take patience, determination, and creativity. Lastly, don't fall into the trap of just trying to produce material. Shoot because you love photography, and let your creative side produce lasting images that we can all enjoy.
Gary is a working professional landscape photographer based in New England. He leads popular photo tours, seminars and workshops across the country. For questions and information check out Gary's ad in the back of this magazine under Light-Chasers or on his website at, www.garywstanley.com