How to Find Photo Ideas

In my recent post How to Succeed as a Freelance Photographer I wrote about the importance of coming up with a constant flow of good picture ideas if you want to succeed as a professional freelance photographer.

So where do all these wonderful photo ideas come from?

Well, photo ideas are gleaned from a wide variety of sources and are usually found after a great deal of hard work: reading through local newspapers and between the lines of press handouts from travel companies, theatres, museums, and publicity departments attached to businesses and government departments. You must be on the mailing lists of all these people.

They come from watching television, listening to radio programmes and cultivating personal contacts. Above all these days, the internet is the finest resource of photo ideas you are likely to find. It is also the best research tool I can imagine – Wikipedia, Google Earth and Street Maps are fantastic tools for a photographer, enabling him or her to check out and uncover facts about a location even before a wheel is turned.

The list is long, and the time involved in sifting though all this material and information is considerable.

Ideas are worth money
But ideas are worth money, and the freelance who can place the right idea with the right newspaper or magazine should be rewarded for all the trouble. The more actively ideas are sought, the more will be uncovered and the more pictures the freelance will get published. Once the ball is rolling, one idea often leads to another – perhaps requiring a slightly different approach for a different publication.

The important thing is to maintain the momentum and drive.

If you have a particular interest or expertise – use it. For instance, if you have a passion for cycling, it is far more likely that you will have contacts in the cycling world and that you will understand the sport and be in a position to come up with ideas involving it.

The freelance who is really ‘tuned in’ to events, and who works for newspapers on a regular basis is will be more aware of the sort of stories worth involvement. He or she will be in constant touch with the picture editors, PR people and fellow photographers and journalists working for a whole range of publications.

Research and Groundwork
Often a receptive freelance picks up a seed of an idea just by talking to these colleagues. Then, usually after a considerable amount of research and groundwork, the idea might develop into a worthwhile picture project.

An awareness of current trends and the editorial requirements of all possible markets is essential is a freelance is to be successful in marketing ideas and pictures.

In the search for picture ideas, it must be constantly borne in mind that the most profitable pictures are those that can be sold again and again long after the first sale to a particular newspaper of magazine. These are the pictures with initial news/relevance value plus the potential to attract future sales either because of their aesthetic or human interest content or because, as with pictures of public figures and personalities, they will be in demand as library stock.

The ideal situation is for the freelance to ‘sell’ an idea to a magazine, which then funds the initial expenses and pays a fee for the first publication. A professional photographer should never relinquish copyright at this stage because he must be free to syndicate the pictures again after this first publication.

If the magazine insists on the photographer signing a contract that signs away the photographer’s rights. Go elsewhere. If it is felt that the idea has sufficient merit, then it will be worth the photographer funding the expenses himself and retaining all his rights.

Tips for finding and selling photo ideas…

  • Get on all relevant press release mailing lists
  • Read between the lines of press releases
  • Research locations with Google Earth, Street Maps & Wikipedia
  • Build personal contacts
  • Use what you already know
  • Don’t part with copyright

Of all the thousands of tips I can give for selling pictures and features to newspapers and magazines, the one single most important and vital need is to ‘know your market’. I will explain how you can do that in my next post.

You can learn more about how to succeed as a professional photographer on Philip Dunn’s Photography Holidays and Photography Courses


  1. Lovely…!!! Great share about on how to develop one himself/herself as a professional photographer, I am very interested in photography and just diverted my field from stressful IT to photography and I want to learn a lot about photography and come forward as a good professional, I recently found another site about photography jobs and I joined there at the same time, I explore the internet to find more and more for my photography career thirst :)


Speak Your Mind