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Photo Contest Insider Blog

10 Reasons Why Your Photography Submission Got Rejected by a Magazine

August 23, 2016

It can often be disheartening when your photography submission gets rejected (or simply ignored) by a publication, but the good news is that you’re not alone. Even the most successful photographers will have faced rejection at some point in their careers!

I’ve been the Editor of an online photography publication for almost 4 years now and during this time I have reviewed countless submissions from photographers.

There are a number of reasons why a publication might not have chosen to publish your work, but it’s important that you see these as minor setbacks or mistakes that you can actually improve for future success. I’m going to share ten of these reasons with you below, plus, there’s a free checklist to download at the end of this post!

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Your Submission Didn’t Fit the Aesthetic of the Magazine:

This is probably the most common mistake that photographers will make when they submit their work. Understandably, they’re passionate about getting their photography published, so they pitch it to as many publications that they can gather the contact email address of.

While the perseverance side of this mindset is to be encouraged, it’s important that you’re a little more selective of the magazines you pitch your work to. Some publications will vary vastly in terms of aesthetic and the style of photography they like to showcase. Your work needs to fit in with their imagery in order to even be considered.

For example, my magazine focuses on quite a niche aesthetic, choosing to celebrate whimsical, dreamy, and ethereal photography. Its audience are mostly females, but that doesn’t stop me from receiving the odd ‘scantily-clad bikini model posing on a motorbike’ submission. When I receive submissions that are so far removed from the aesthetic of Whim Magazine, it’s obvious that the photographer isn’t familiar with the publication in the slightest. It’s the biggest waste of time for the photographer, as that time could’ve been better spent writing a pitch and uploading their work to a better-suited publication who might actually consider their submission.

So before you send that next submission email, be honest with yourself – is your photography 100% in-line with this publication’s aesthetic? If your answer is “probably not”, then it’s best to submit it somewhere else.

You Didn’t Provide Enough of a Selection in Images:

Sometimes photographers will pitch a photo shoot of two or three images, without the mention of any other images in the series. If the submission is extremely good, I’ll often follow-up asking the photographer if there are more photos in the shoot – after all, a publication will usually want to feature at least 5 or 6 images to get a narrative happening or just something a little more for their audience to engage with. While you might not want to bombard the magazine with every single image taken in the photo shoot, I would recommend sharing around 10 of the very best images from the series. Different magazines will vary in their submission guidelines though, so first double-check if they have a preferred amount.

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Your Submission Didn’t Fit the Brief:

The submission brief of a magazine might involve all sorts of things, from where you must be located in order to be featured, to how many different outfits are included in a photo shoot and even if the model has to be signed to an agency or not. Some publications can be quite ‘picky’ and may even require that a professional stylist or hair and makeup artist be used.

Every magazine is different when it comes to their preferences, so be sure to check out the publication’s website and look for any pages regarding submission guidelines or rules. You want to give yourself the best chance possible to have your submission considered and published.

They Couldn’t Access Your Submission:

This probably happens more than you think! It’s not completely uncommon for a photographer to forget to attach their images to an email pitch, or even for them to provide a broken link to their photo shoot online. Often, I will have to follow-up with them and ask for them to resend their images, however I can imagine larger magazines are simply too busy to be able to do this. You want to ensure all of your vital submission elements are there for the publication to assess, so don’t ruin your chances by providing a dodgy link, folder, or attachments!

Another word of advice when it comes to submissions is not to provide your images as a WeTransfer download. Firstly, these links expire within a relatively short time frame, and many publications can take weeks just to review your submission due to the sheer volume of emails they receive each day. Secondly, some of these downloads can be pretty hefty in size (I once received a set with a download size of almost 500 megabytes) and this makes it easy for the person reviewing the submission to put it to the side to deal with another day, only to forget about it completely. Not a good outcome! Try Dropbox, Google Drive, or links to online albums instead.

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Your Online Presence was Little to None:

I must admit, this probably isn’t something that would make me reject a fantastic submission that is so in-line with my magazine’s aesthetic, but I have heard that it influences other larger publications. Your online presence plays a huge part in terms of your popularity and influence with brands, publications, and other creatives.

I’m not saying that you need to have thousands of followers or anything like that – but it’s all about how you present yourself online. Have a professional website or portfolio which demonstrates only your best work and keep this in mind for your social media too. You want to wow the publication with both your submission and the links you can provide for them to further check out your work.

Failure to provide links to at least a website and / or some professional-looking social media accounts may have a negative impact on your submission’s potential.

Publications will often (secretly) want a little bit of exposure in return for showcasing a photographer’s work, so if you can show them that you engage with your followers regularly and showcase your features, then this puts you in a favorable light.

Your Submission Contained Nudity or Other Mature Themes:

There are some brilliant publications out there who frequently publish work containing more ‘adult’ or mature themes such as nudity. Other publications might steer clear of these themes, however, and that is often purely because their audience may include a younger age range. I would suggest going through as many web features or issues of a magazine as possible before submitting to them, just to see if they accept work containing any of these themes. It could be things like smoking, references to drugs or alcohol, provocative imagery, or even supernatural themes. If in doubt, you can also send the publication a quick email inquiry to be on the safe side.

You Didn’t Address the Correct Publication:

Surprisingly, this sometimes happens! Photographers may simply re-send a pitch they already wrote for one publication but forget to change the name of the publication they’re addressing it to. As the first sentence a magazine editor will read in a submission email, it’s off-putting. Can you really blame them for not reading any further and simply discarding the email because they feel as though it’s not intended for them? Always make sure that you’ve addressed your submission to the right person or publication!

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You Didn’t Submit Your ‘Best’ Work:

Once you’ve finished a photo shoot session that you’re incredibly excited about, it might be a little tempting to simply upload all of the unedited images and email them straight to a publication. This is a little bit like sending the first draft of an article to a scholarly publication, rather than taking the time to polish the work and then send the final, extraordinary version of the article. You want to impress people with your work and give yourself the best chance of getting published – don’t sell yourself short like that!

Take the time to select your best images from the session and ensure that they are of the highest quality that they can be. Do they require any post-processing? Often, the answer will be yes (unless you like to capture the natural beauty of situations using film, which is totally ok!). While publications can often turn down a submission for having not been provided with enough images, they can similarly reject a submission which has given them an overwhelming amount of choice (such as 50 images). Simply ‘wow’ them with 10 – 20 of the most stunning images from the shoot – unless their submission guidelines state otherwise!

You Were Unreasonably Demanding:

I’ll admit, this rarely happens, but I’m sure some publications have stories about having to turn down a feature of a photographer’s work simply because they became too demanding or difficult to work with.

Understandably, the images are the work of the photographer, and there is an element of protection and ownership that they feel. However, some photographers may go that step too far, wanting to dictate things such as the individual page layout of each image, or even what font the publication can use in association with their series (such as in the title or credits).

Again, this behavior rarely happens, but it’s something to keep in mind just to give yourself every chance possible of a favorable relationship with publications.

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You Simply Don’t Have Enough Experience Yet:

When you’ve just begun your journey as an emerging photographer learning the tools and tricks of the trade, it can be easy to become overly ambitious. Ambition is certainly a quality to encourage and admire, but it’s important to note that your first ever photo shoot probably won’t get accepted for publishing in Vogue (or any other publication of that size and popularity…unless you’re an absolute photography prodigy). When publications receive so many submissions each day or week, it can be quite easy to separate the novices from the professionals, so inexperience will stand out.

Don’t be too hard on yourself though, as we all have to start somewhere! Just keep taking photos, collaborating with others, building your online presence, and gaining as much experience as possible. Stay passionate and keep believing in yourself – who knows, perhaps your work will be published in Vogue in no time 😉


If you found this article helpful and would like a handy, printable checklist of things to keep in mind when submitting your photography to a publication, then you can download one for free here (it contains a few extra tips!). Simply go over it before you send each pitch and it’ll ensure that you don’t make any of the mistakes above.

Best of luck with your future photo submissions!

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