Working on personal projects can be both personally gratifying and financially rewarding for photographers when they pitch the project to possible clients after it’s completed. Unlike when on assignment, a personal project imposes no limitations on style and creativity. Perhaps most importantly, it’s an opportunity to shoot something they are passionate about.
After completing a personal project, the photographer can post it on their website and social media and/or pitch it to a magazine/publication for the possibility of being featured. The exciting part of this process is to see how many publications choose to run your story, getting your work and photographic brand into the world!
One helpful hint before getting started is to consider a story to go along with the images; sometimes, the narrative is what will bring the whole project together and create emotion and thought into a project pitch.
Nick St. Oegger happens to have a love for the written word already, so when he took a trip to join the shepherds of the “Albanian Alps,” he was taking notes — and pictures. Using his imagery and words, he explored the relationship between these shepherds and their environment, drawing a striking illustration of modern development and industrialization encroaching on an ancient, traditional, and humble way of life. When he brought the project to Point.51 his photos fell in line with his story, making it a beautiful piece of work perfect for the long-form journalism magazine.
If you can’t write the story yourself, having everything prepared and lined up will make your pitch far more likely to succeed. For instance, when Will Crooks brought his project, Studio Visits, to TOWN Magazine, he came with a complete concept proposal and a full set of images.
I pitched my completed personal project Studio Visits to the editorial team at TOWN magazine for their May issue. I came to them with a complete proposal and a full set of images to make the feature as easy to implement as possible. This, I believe, is essential when pitching work to editorial clients as it is an incredibly competitive space, and editorial teams are stretched thin in the current times.
Will had spent six months hunting down artists he admired and photographing them in their most intimate spaces. At the end of those six months, he wanted to make the story as easy to implement as possible. With this personal project, he gave them a concrete example of his style and showed them what he’s passionate about photographing. This forethought and effort can even lead to future assignments as it did with Will. TOWN ended up featuring the project in their arts-themed May issue before hiring Will to return the next month.
This editorial feature showed their team how focused and personally excited I was in photographing artists in their spaces. Editors love to know what kind of work and communities you are personally drawn to and involved with when assigning work.
Sometimes though, getting everything in line is extremely time-consuming. If the publication you had your sights set on doesn’t like it, you might need some help pitching to others. Our process at Wonderful Machine involves first talking to the photographer and finding out what the ideal publications are for the pitch. We ask them to create a list of between 5-10 priority clients. This way, we can get a feel for the type of client being considered.
At this point, we will request a brief description of the project and any appropriate imagery. The more information we have, the better we can communicate the project to clients. The consultant will create a smart list of 40-50 clients along with an email describing the project. This is like a match-making process where the consultant can get creative and generate prospects for publication. Then we will send the email with appropriate imagery as well as a link to the work on their site. What photographers like about this is the benefit of removing themselves from the marketing part of the project and thus leaving them more time for creating.
Several years ago, Honolulu-based photographer Marco Garcia contacted us about a project that he wanted to pitch to magazines around the country. Over the previous few months, Marco had photographed a series of portraits of Pearl Harbor veterans and, after collecting their stories and obtaining a library of images, he was convinced that the project would be a fantastic fit for publications looking for content related to the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
We worked with Marco to develop a tailored list of news and photojournalism-focused magazines that would be looking for content related to the anniversary, and we quickly started to compile contact information of photo editors, directors of photography, web editors, and art directors at relevant outlets. The list included large publications such as Newsweek, National Geographic, the New York Times, and smaller, more targeted magazines such as Naval History Magazine and the Naval Institute Press.
Marco originally supplied a large library of images, which our photo editors weighed in on to help him create a strong selection of great images to present. Next, our publicity director took his written proposal and helped him rework the wording to present a concise, well-written story that would capture the attention of our prospects. We then began a series of emails to pitch the story, including a few samples of his work and a link to his website. Here is what the email looked like (click to enlarge):
We eventually got a handful of contacts on the phone to remind them of the story and had some great conversations to learn more about what they are looking for and how Marco’s story might fit into their publication. About a week later, something finally stuck. We received an email response from a photo editor at Smithsonian Magazine interested in presenting the story to his editors. He liked the images and thought the story would be timely, so we began to correspond about what sort of additional content Marco had to supplement the story.
It was apparent that the photos would most likely be a better fit for the website than the magazine. Still, this multimedia opportunity allowed Marco’s imagery to reach people who might not subscribe to the magazine. Marco then reached out to his contacts at the USS Arizona Pearl Harbor Memorial and began to talk about obtaining audio interviews from the veterans. While the audio didn’t end up being used in this case, supplemental content (interviews, slideshows, videos, etc.) can add to the value of your package and improve the chances of having your story picked up. Fortunately, Marco did have personal accounts from the stories the veterans told him, which proved to be a great addition to the photo essay.
A few months later, on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, Marco’s images ran on the magazine’s website.
Overall, both Marco and the team at Smithsonian were very pleased with the results, and the images proved to be a fantastic addition to a timely story.
Self-assigned projects don’t have to be timely to get picked up by well-known publications and other big-name outlets. Take Mary Beth Koeth‘s examples, for instance. The Miami-based photographer has had substantial success pitching self-commissioned series like “Off-Season Santas” and “Porn Moms.” Neither project is particularly timely, but both have attention-grabbing titles and intriguing premises (what do Santas do during the summer? How do adult film actors balance motherhood and work?).
To learn more about how Mary Beth conceived of and pitched these series, check out our Member Open House on the topic:
For Mary Beth, one of the most important things to remember is “keeping your intention on getting your work out there.” Being published and compensation is secondary.
Magazines aren’t the only places that accept self-assigned pitches. Just last year, while we were still in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clark Vandergrift — whose wife is a frontline nurse — put together a video saluting her and other medical professionals who battle the virus every day. Timely and compelling, this project was sure to generate interest and get picked up by a client, and Clark came to us asking for help with the pitch.
Lo and behold, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont was in search of content that would be ready for National Nurses Day on May 6, 2020. The fact that the point person at BCBSV knew who Clark was from her time in the Baltimore-Washington metro area (Clark is a Beltway-based) didn’t hurt. Still, the timely (there’s that word again) personal nature of Clark’s love letter to frontline medical professionals made this project appealing to the client.
Here are the main points to successfully pitch a story: