Working simultaneously as a freelance digital news photo editor and photographer for CNN, Sarah Tilotta has seen both sides of the commissioning process. Before her current roles, she interned at National Public Radio and documentary photography agency Noor, having graduated with a master’s in photojournalism from the University of Ohio in 2014.
“Having a sense of a picture editor’s day has given me a better idea of how to get in contact, what format to send the work in – all the practical logistics that aren't really taught in university programmes,” she says. Here are Sarah’s top five things to perfect before pitching your work.
“Consider the purpose of your work – what is your motivation? – and think about your audience. Who do you want to see the work? Make sure you’re pitching to the person who represents that audience. Also, consider what impact you want the work to have. Do you want people to change their minds about something, to be more aware, to donate money, or to change policy?
“How will you present it? How do you want the audience to interact with the format? It might be a digital publication, exhibition, or a book; maybe it has multiple audiences, multiple formats – either way, you need have a strategy for how to get that to work in the various forms and to the audiences that you want to experience it.”
Photo editors want to see pitches that cut through the noise
“Personal projects are really important. Look at how saturated the photography market is now – photo editors want to see pitches that cut through the noise. News organisations have subscriptions to agency photos, so as an emerging photographer, you need to offer something different to what they provide. For example, we had a recent feature by Diego Ibarra Sánchez, who photographed the impact of ISIS on the school system in Iraq. By picking out that one issue from the whole conflict, he gives you a way to enter that subject matter, and it shows you the long-term effect on a population. It's not just images of destruction and refugees.”
“Pick a beat. That could relate either to your subject matter or the region you cover. Establish yourself as an expert on a certain topic or a certain place, and that will help you get work initially, at least in that place. You can always branch out later.”
“You will get work through referrals. People don't want to hire people they know nothing about. It's important to go to festivals, or to interact with people on social media if you can't get to festivals. Do what you can in your area of the industry to make contacts, and not just with other photographers or editors. Also network with writers and publishers across different disciplines. If you build up a reputation for yourself, that's what will sustain your practice.”
Lots of people can take great photos, but not everyone’s great to work with
“Be reliable. Be nice. It's a small industry, so these are the things that will get you hired again once you get your foot in the door. Lots of people can take great photos, but not everyone's great to work with. Make sure that you are professional, dependable and a decent person to work with.”