Basics of Freelance Editorial Photography

Chris Jordan Kings County first African American sheriff

Chris Jordan, Kings County Sheriff Candidate raises his arms in triumph, while supporters cheer after hearing polling results, at his headquarters, Tuesday night.

Photography records the gamut of feelings written on the human face, the beauty of the earth and skies that man has inherited, and the wealth and confusion man has created.  It is a major force in explaining man to man.  ~Edward Steichen

By Ralph Berrett (Full Metal Photographer)

Ken Malloy, anchor for CBS 47 in Fresno

Ken Malloy, anchor for CBS 47 in Fresno

Editorial work can be extremely rewarding and is one of the great methods of gaining photographic access to sporting, concerts and news events.

With the depressed economy, it is a great opportunity for freelance editorial photography.  Unfortunately this is because newspapers, magazines and other publications have cut their photo staffs, but publications still need images. So what we are seeing is a rise in freelance editorial photography to fill the void.

Editorial photography refers to the images in magazines, newspapers and other publications, that aren’t ads. These are the photographs that go along with the articles – even the cover of a magazine. Photos in publications validate and illustrate the stories. So you need to think content, words and pictures.

There are some things you need to keep in mind when dealing with a publication. Look at the publication, and see what types of photos it runs. Does your work match the type of work seen in the publication? This sounds simple, but you will be surprised how many photographers send in portfolios that do not relate to the publication.

E-mailing alone is not an effective way to communicate with a publication. You need to create a relationship with different publications and editors. Pick up the phone, call them, and if you need to, meet them in person. Introduce yourself to the managing editor and ask who would be a good contact for submitting work and what their requirements are.

There are many types of portfolios out there. You need to think about how you are going to deliver your work and make a good, memorable impression. There are some basic rules to remember when assembling a portfolio. You are only as good as the weakest shot and less is more. A weak shot will stick in the mind of an editor as much, or even more than a strong image.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger takes questions from the press.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger takes questions from the press immediately following the budget rally in front of Fresno City Hall.

These days you really cannot survive without an online portfolio/Web site. Flickr and MySpace are not a way to show your work.  You don’t have to spend a fortune on your Web site to effectively display your images. Look at services like SquareSpace, WordPress and iWeb/MobileMe.   Don’t have music on your site unless it is part of a slide show.

Let’s say you have a story idea or you are covering an event. You will want to pitch the idea first before the shoot if possible. All publications plan their publication in advance. So if you want the best chance of getting the shoot published, contact them early. If you are shooting a breaking news event, contact the publication as soon as possible. The value of your images decrease the longer you wait.

Determining what you charge is based off of a couple of factors. The first is usage. Usage is determined by where the image is placed in the publication, how it is used and the circulation of the publication. Second is the time to capture and edit the images. Last are the expenses to create the images.

War Gods

Kiko Lopez (black trunks) Knocksout Jorge Ruiz (Mexico trunks) in the second round at the Wargods’ Mixed Martial Arts Event in the Fresno Convention Center, Saturday night.

I use a program called Fotoquotes to determine my usage. It is a program with a database that has industry standards for usage. It also lists the standard rates of many publications. If you are serious about editorial, commercial and stock photography, this is a great program for quickly figuring the usage fee. This is great for negotiating on the phone, and avoids haphazard guesses.

One major tip: Do not bring up your inexperience when negotiating. All that will do is cost you the job or cut your profit.

Here is my basic formula for figuring out my rates:

Hours to Shoot + Editing Time (Computer time or lab time) + expenses (Raw Materials, Mileage, Assistants, Wardrobe, MUA, Hotels, Location Costs, Rentals, etc.) + Usage (Magazine, Web site, Advertisement) = Price.

When delivering images, there are many ways to do this. This is mainly determined by the publication. This can be through a Web site, email, FTP or snail mail. I use I can set up a password-protected Web site that allows clients to view their images, read the captions and download images in minutes.

George Thorogood at the Hanford Fox Theater

George Thorogood at the Hanford Fox Theater

Editorial photography gives you some of the most creative opportunities in the professional photography world. Remember to think beyond just getting a single photo. Think about telling a story and to have basic cutline (caption**) information with your photos. The best way to get your images published is to build relationships with different publications.

Tips for shooting editorial:

(1) Photojournalism is words and images. So you need to write cutlines (See AP Captions* below) for your photos. That means telling who is in the photo, what is happening in the photo, when it was happening and where the people are from.

(2) Timeliness is extremely important when covering an event. For a daily paper and Web think within 1-3 hours of the event is your best window, for a weekly or monthly publication within a day.

(3) Image quality is one of the most important things you have to worry about when shooting for a publication.

(4) Minimum digital image requirements on average are a 6.5 inches wide photo should be at 200 pixels per square inch. JPEG format. Do not send raw.

(5) Keep the Photoshop to a minimum; just some burning, dodging and color adjustments. Avoid sharpening images. This is usually handled by the backshop or art department of a publication for their printing needs.

(6) Think beyond just one photo. Tell a story with your images.

(A) Main shot. The strongest shot that tells and represents the story.

(B) Opening shot. The shot that starts the story.

(C) Overall shot. This is the shot that shows the general scene and activity.

(D) Detail shot. A close-up or a detail that most people would not see.

(E) Closer shot. This is the shot that shows the end.

(7) Story information. If you can write a story, great, but if you can’t, get sources and phone numbers for a publication to contact (Event organizers, local authorities and participants).

AP Captions:*

Nearly all AP captions follow a simple formula:

• The first sentence of the caption describes what the photo shows, in the present tense, and states where and when the photo was made.

• The second sentence of the caption gives background on the news event or describes why the photo is significant.

• Whenever possible, try to keep captions to no more than two concise sentences, while including the relevant information. Try to anticipate what information a newspaper editor or reader will need.


The Mississippi River flows through a hole in the Sny Island, Ill., levee, flooding farmland and homes 10 miles south of Quincy, Ill., Sunday, July 25, 1993. About 2,000 people were evacuated from the 44,000 acres that flooded. (AP Photo/Bill Waugh)
(source AP Style Book)


Freelance editorial work is a great way photograph events and publications offer a great avenue to get access to events. The best way to gain editorial work is to build relationships with different publications this means more than sending an email. Make sure you tailor your work to the needs of the publications you are contacting. Remember if you do get a rejection from a publication that does not mean you can’t contact them again. You need to persistent if you do get rejected try again, and learn from the rejection.

Two good organizations look at for more information is Editorial Photographers (EP) and ASMP-American Society of Media Photographers.

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