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Perspectives in photojournalism: 8 pitching tips for photojournalists

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Perspectives in photojournalism: 8 pitching tips for photojournalists

Clothilde Goujard | January 03, 2018

This is the fourth installment in our six-part series, Perspectives in Photojournalism. Click to read part one, part two and part three.

Pitching can be a complicated and daring task, especially as a beginning photojournalist.

IJNet asked several photo editors, as well as photojournalists, to find out their best tips and advice for success when pitching a project.

Story is key

All editors interviewed for the series insisted it’s not so much about a photojournalists’ technical skills, but about the stories and characters that he or she depicts.

“The way I look at photo stories is the exact same way that we look at other types of stories, which is the story comes first,” said Pauline Eiferman, photo editor at Roads & Kingdoms. “A great photograph doesn't matter to me if the story is not good. It's more if the photographer was able to get really deep and intimate with the person or people they were photographing.”

Tom Hundley, a senior editor at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, also agrees that the project should be centered around a story, not just photos.

“We don’t send people to, let’s say Syria or Iraq, just on speculation that there might be cool pictures to take,” Hundley said. “We want a specific story or project.”

Be specific

Paul Moakley, photo editor at TIME, said the pitches he receives are often too general.

“I’ll have so many photographers write to me and say ‘I want to go to Puerto Rico, here are my pictures, I went there once,’” he said. “Is there a more specific story or angle that you want to take?”

He believes photographers need to put themselves in the shoes of journalists at the publication  and be specific in order to stand out among all the pitches he receives.

Find uncovered stories to stand out

Marie-Pierre Subtil, editor-in-chief of 6 Mois Magazine, encouraged photojournalists to stand out and pursue different topics.

She remembers a photography festival where photojournalists came to pitch her their projects. One photojournalist told Subtil she was based in Rio de Janeiro, and pitched a project on favelas. It was the third Brazil-based photojournalist to present a project on that topic to her that day.

“There’s entire parts of societies throughout the world that are not being covered,” she said.

Partner with other journalists

Hundley said the Pulitzer Center often partners print journalists with photojournalists to get even stronger stories.

“It sometimes helps if photographers can’t do it alone to pair them up with a writer,” he said. “That often makes it easier to pitch to an outlet and to get a commission.”

Think about the publication you’re pitching

Moakley said photojournalists should really think about whether their stories fit into the publication’s tone and focus.

“I get a lot of pitches that really aren’t for us,” he said.

At Roads & Kingdoms, for instance, Eiferman explained they craft their stories according to their particular editorial style.

“We’re really looking for an R&K story, which is a story that has a lot of layers,” she said. “Sometimes it’s [about] one dish in order to tell the story of one country. It’s using something pretty narrow in order to explain a larger trend.”

Use your contacts

Photojournalists Alex Potter and Allison Shelley said they exchange contacts with fellow photographers since, based on their experiences, the photojournalism community tends to be friendly.

Potter also said attending industry events such as the Eddie Adams workshop and The New York Times Portfolio Review helped her make contacts.

“You might not get an assignment from there, but it will help form relationships,” she said, adding that the industry is very “connection-based” and it can help to ask friends for editors’ contact information.

“Even if you have a remote connection, a friend of a friend, say ‘Hey, I’m looking to place this story, I’m pretty new to the industry but I’d like to make some connections. Would you have an email you wouldn’t mind sharing or would you mind connecting me with this editor?’” she said. ”More often than not, people will say yes.”

Shelley warned that there can be a big learning curve while trying to develop relationships with editors.

Moakley advises new freelancers to get their project started before pitching and to have some photos to show. Once he’s worked with a freelancer once, the pitching process changes a bit.

“If you have a relationship with (photo editors) and they know how you shoot, how you work and what you’re capable of, then it’s different and I think you can pitch some things that you haven’t started,” he added.

Don’t wait for assignments, be proactive

Shelley insisted on “drumming up your own work” and not just waiting for assignments. When she was freelancing with Reuters and Getty Images in Haiti, she would send them two or three story ideas at the beginning of each week and they would usually pick one of them.

When she did not have assignments, she said she would get up early to start working and find inspiration.

“(I would) meet people and take pretty pictures and find leads for stories that I would then pitch, and that would be sort of my cycle,” she explained.

Be short and practical

Make it easy and fast for photo editors to read your pitch, advised Moakley. He said you should be able to pitch your project in a couple of lines.

“You should really write a short thesis, include some examples of your work or if you've started the project,” he said. “Include a couple pictures that are really strong, that open up right away and make it easy and convenient in a way that starts a conversation.”

What are your tips and advice to pitch photo editors? Tell us in the IJNet Forum on Facebook!

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via home thods.

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