I can’t speak for other magazines, but I can speak for my Rangefinder days and with both print and online publications, today there are more opportunities for cover shots. Here are some things to think about:
- Covers shots are typically selected from the photographers whose articles appear in the issue. It’s extremely rare that a cover shot would be chosen from outside the editorial framework.
- Cover shots have to be representative of the rest of the photographer’s work. No magazine is interested in a “one hit wonder”. In fact, the only time that typically happens is with that once in a lifetime shot, typically in the world of photojournalism.
- There are a lot of stunning images to review, but you have to remember the format of the magazine. Rangefinder, for example, has its title across the top of the magazine. There’s also consideration given to where the postal label goes. Your image has to fit the format of the publication.
- Pay attention to the editorial calendar when you’re submitting work. Most issues are themed and the editorial calendar is usually shown on the magazine’s website.
- Don’t submit any work that doesn’t have a model release! I know it seems basic, but I’m always amazed at how many photographers forget that “little” point.
- Submit big files! It’s heartbreaking when you have a great image you want to use for the cover, but it’s being pushed to the max to get it to the necessary size and in the end starts breaking up! It's even more pathetic when you can't find the artist because they're traveling or just don't return phone calls. Stay on top of everything you use to communicate so you're not at the airport when your ship comes in!
- Share information about the products and companies used to create the images you're submitting. You never know when your work might be passed on to somebody else. For example, every editor is close to a long list of vendors/manufacturers. You might have work that’s so unique it gets passed on and considered for a totally different application.
- Network, network, network...build relationships with the staff at the magazines as well as with the advertisers supporting the publications. Cover shots are about great images, but also relationships. While a cover shot is still the least political of any image you'll see in a magazine, it still helps if you're on everybody's radar. That only comes with building relationships.
But the biggest point of all relates to just being patient and following through on the process. If you’ve never been published, then work to build a relationship with the magazine’s staff. Submit work that's relevant to the magazine and never submit anything but your very best work! Don’t attack the book looking for a cover shot. Instead, submit your work for editorial consideration, because it’s interesting, there’s a story behind the technology or there’s something newsworthy about the images and your style.
Being published with a cover shot is one of the highest honors any photographer can hope for. It’s a slow process, but so worth it when you finally catch that first break.