How To Get Your Photos in the Tabloids

Most people who read a celebrity magazine don't have a clue how they get their photos. They think a bunch of paparazzi stalk celebs by hiding in the bushes and then sell them to the tabloids. Its not that simple.

A lot of the most valuable photos come from regular folks who stumble upon a picture that makes its way into a magazine.

A simple snapshot of Sen. Gary Hart and his girlfriend, Donna Rice on the aptly named boat "Monkey Business" makes it way to the cover of the National Inquirer and history is changed. Sen. Hart drops out of the 1988 presidential race.

So what should you do when you have that valuable photo? Who do you call? How much is that photo worth? It's something they don't teach in any photography class.

  • First a few questions about the photo. Is the photo exclusive? If not, who else has similar photos. A hundred people could have shot similar photos but if your the only one marketing them, it might as well be exclusive. A lot of people have cell phone cameras but they don't know how to actually sell the photograph.

  • The second question is content. Is the photograph newsworthy? What makes a photograph valuable is the storyline. If a writer is doing a story about something it usually needs some kind of photography to illustrate it. The more important the story, the more money a magazine will pay. Its not always how famous the person is that sells a photo. A picture of a famous person walking out of Starbucks with a latte is of little value, a snapshot of Elizabeth Smart with the people that kidnapped her, much more interest.

  • The third question is the photo real? Verification is important. Your cat just had a kitten with one eye, can you prove you didn't Photoshop one eye out? Can you back the photo up with several other pictures and witnesses? Tabloids and magazines do get sued and they want to be safe, especially if they receive a photo from an unknown source. Professionals who shoot for the magazines on a regular basis are trusted more than a guy off the street.

Okay, your photo passed all three tests. The clock is ticking. Every minute that passes means the photo is worth less and less. A magazine somewhere in the world might be finishing up their layouts and your photo is not in their hands.

The first thing you might think of doing is try to get your photo to biggest possible magazine and hopefully make the most amount of money. Wishful thinking.

I don't recommend you try to market your photos yourself. Unless you do this sort of stuff everyday, you will get taken and basically ripped-off. No contest. You are a guppy with the sharks.

The most important thing is to have a photo agency sell the photo for you. They deal with editors everyday and they know the value of a photo in the marketplace. Agencies usually get a 50/50 split of the gross sales. The more they sale, the more you make. You get paid after the publication pays them. They issue you a statement of how much a photo sold and to whom.

The agency I use is Landov in New York. The reason why I use them is because the market a wide range of photos from news to sports to travel along with celebs. You can use any agency you want, but not all agencies understand how to sell all kinds of photos. Some agencies only sell celebrity candid photos taken on stake-outs, others only at red-carpet events. You might have a newsy photo that is not celebrity related.

You can get an idea of photo agencies from looking at the photo credits of magazines. Unfortunately, some photo agencies have relationships with the actual celebrities and don't sell photos that are unflattering to the stars. Those agencies may or may not be right for you.

The photos that get the most money are the ones where an agency gets the magazines to bid for it. An auction with phone bidders. The deepest pocket wins.

To get the most mileage out of a photo, a photo has to be sold to different markets. The first market in the U.S. is the New York City tabloid market. The New York Post and the New York Daily News will bid on photos depending on value. I remember ten years ago in 1997 when I worked at the New York Post when they bought a photo of Bill Cosby with his son, Ennis, who was just murdered, from a photographer for $10,000. They used that photo on the front page.

Was the photo worth that much? The deadline for the next day's paper was drawing near and that was the only photo they could get their hands on. There might have been a few snapshots of the two in someone's album, but whoever had them wasn't calling the Post or the Daily News.

Did that sale kill other sales? No, because that sale was just for usage rights for newspapers in the U.S. The photographer then sold a similar photo to Time magazine. Time magazine doesn't care if a New York City newspaper used that photo, the magazine sells all over the country and readers in Peoria haven't seen the photo. Actually the sale of the photo to the New York Post increased its value. Every major magazine in America has offices in New York and every photo editor reads the New York Post and the Daily News. When they see the credit for a photo with the photographer's and agency's name on it, they know who to call to acquire rights for it. Photo agencies love when the New York tabloids run their photos, it is like a free ad.

The London tabloids are even more rabid than the New York tabloids. They invented the tabloid. They too bid crazy money for photos. Photo agencies make sure what time it is in London, and try to make their deadlines too.

A valuable photo can be sold to every country on Earth. Certain photos may not have a lot of value in the U.S. could be big in Germany, huge in Japan. A street-wise photographer and editor knows each market. David Hasselhoff and Heidi Klum, small celebs in the U.S., huge in Germany.

Here is a real-life case study. I shot a few photos of Britney Spears two weeks ago on the red carpet on New Year's Eve at the nightclub PURE in Las Vegas. She posed quickly and left. My photos sucked. I thought maybe I could get a few photos of her outside when maybe she was on the club's balcony during the fireworks they have on the Vegas Strip. Got a few photos of her on the balcony and left. I figured it was a wasted night. Sent the photos to my agency in New York anyway.

Next morning Robin Leach writes in his blog about how Britney passed out. I call my agency to tell the story. They call the New York Post and Daily News to see if they want the photos. The Post uses a photo shot by a photographer paid by the club. The Daily News uses my photos of a very unflattering Britney. The London Sun sees my photos in the News and contacts my agency to buy them. Other publications around the world contact my agency to buy the photos. This week the National Inquirer writes a cover story about Britney and runs the photo on the cover and big inside. Star magazine runs my photo this week inside small.

What made the photo valuable? First, it was Britney Spears, the magazines run a story on Britney every week.

Secondly, there was news value, Britney having an incident.

Was it exclusive? Nope. They could of been other photos from the party. I bet every person at the party had a cellphone that could of taken a photo of the incident. A professional photographer was there but he can't release any unflattering photos because he basically works for the club.

That basically leaves my photo, which is not the best quality, but it illustrates the story and it was shot very close to the time frame when she supposedly collapsed.

Can I verify the photos? Yes, I have a whole series of photos of her and I just happen to get some business cards of people that attended the party that the tabloids can call to verify the story.

Am I going to get rich off the photos? Nope. But because I understand how the system works, I can maximize the value of the photographs and any other photographs I take.

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