Tips to Land a Magazine Cover as a Photographer

One question frequently asked by budding and advanced amateur photographers alike is “How do I get one of my digital images published on a magazine cover?” This is an important question for two reasons:

cover photo

The Coveted Cover for Photographers: National Geographic

  1. Cover images earn more money than images published inside a publication.
  2. As an artist, it feeds your ego. Seeing your image splashed across a magazine cover conveys a sense of accomplishment like no other. Sometimes, this is more important than the money.

But, to answer the question, it comes down to four basic elements:

1. Publication Theme

Study publications in which you would like to have a cover shot published.

  • What kind of images have they used on past issues?
  • Do they use people shots or non-people shots?

Try to match the images you submit to type of shots the publication uses.

If the publication has an editorial calendar, download it or request a copy so you can see upcoming themes. This gives you some ideas as to the types of images they might use on an upcoming issue.

Make sure you’re working at least four to six months ahead of the issue publication deadline. For example, if you are looking at getting published in the December issue, then you need to start working with the publication around July.

While it’s a lofty goal to shoot for a top publication, such as National Geographic magazine, it’s more realistic to begin with lesser known publications. As you collect published covers using your images, you then have the clout to move up the ladder to higher rated magazines.

2. Subject Placement

Creating potential cover images is a different kind of shooting and because of that, most of your past images will not work.

In a cover image, the top one-third of the image must not contain the subject. Why? Because of where the cover masthead text is printed. This area of the image must have a non-distracting background and be subtle so as to not draw attention away from the text.

For some inspiration, here is the story of how the most famous cover photo of National Geographic was captured:

For cover shots, center the subject horizontally and locate it from the center and down to the bottom one-third vertically in the image. Generally, this goes against the composition Rule of Thirds, which is why most of your past images won’t work as cover shots. But for this type of image, “bulls-eyeing” to slightly lower than center works best. The next time you’re out shooting, take a few extra shots thinking about how they could be used as cover shots and place the subjects accordingly.

3. Image Format

Most publications use images in the vertical format. With a cover page generally measuring 8 ½ inches wide by 11 inches long, the vertical format makes a perfect fit. Rarely do publications take a vertical cut out of a horizontal image. Both the image and file size would have to be very large and the subject extremely rare for that to happen.

Speaking of file size, most publishing companies previously wanted only slide transparency submissions because only slides had the resolution needed for the image to stay sharp when enlarged and printed. Today however, most publications have transitioned to using digital images. When you submit digital images, do so in the TIFF format with a file size of at least 10mb, and sized at a full-frame 8″ x 12″.

4. Image to Text Color Contrast

When checking past issues, look at the text color on the cover. If the publication uses a consistent color from cover to cover, then make sure that area on your potential cover image has a contrasting color. Otherwise, your image will not be selected because the text would no show through. If a cover does not use a consistent text color, then you increase you chances of that image getting selected for a cover.

To a photographer, seeing one’s image published on a magazine cover is as exhilarating as it is for writers to see their articles published as features. While it’s exciting to shoot for the moon, start here on earth and work your way up gathering clips for your image portfolio as you go.

About the Author:
Ron Kness is a digital photography specialist from Sunlight Media. You can find his website at Digital Photography by Ron Kness for more digital photography tips and technique articles.

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2 responses to “Tips to Land a Magazine Cover as a Photographer”

  1. Mark Bolton says:

    Wow, not a single mention of the most important, and really the ONLY important factor…. take good photographs. You can worry all you want about ‘lead times’ and format, but if its a rubbish image, they wont want it!

  2. Steve Graham says:

    Why does the link in the article above ‘digital photography by Ron Kness ‘ redirect away from your site twice and go to an ad site for an app purchase?

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