Before co-founding NYC photography boutique, Anée Atelier, and making my transition to full-time photography, I was blessed to have an incredible career in the publishing industry. What began with a position at Essence Magazine, later led to People and People StyleWatch, eventually culminating at Condé Nast, as Director of Integrated Marketing for Teen Vogue. There, my role largely involved creating content in collaboration with Teen Vogue editorial and our select partners across the fashion industry.
Though my journey into photography was rather unconventional, I wouldn’t change my background or trade this foundation for any other. Looking at our business today, I can see a thousand ways this former experience has shaped my vision as a creative, sharpened my focus as an entrepreneur and now informs so much of our process and aesthetic at Anée Atelier.
One way in particular, is our approach to wedding submissions. After years of working side-by-side with magazine and digital editors, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to position our work so each submission is poised for optimal visibility, even in the often-inundated inboxes of the industry’s most-coveted editors. So to break it down, here’s some insight for new submissions, and a few ways to leverage your existing portfolio for future feature success.
I. Crafting Submissions That Serve the Editor's Objectives
Catering to the Editor’s Eye
Let’s begin by setting the scene here. “Busy” doesn’t even begin to cover the workflow for most editors, tasked to consistently churn out quality content, while graciously ignoring the fact that their expected quantities are usually a complete contradiction to the primary target.
Editors, like most of us, have a lot to accomplish, usually in a very limited time frame. They’re always assessing the pulse of the industry, identifying what’s new and next in the world of weddings. Now imagine the fatigue they experience while wading through hundreds of submissions, in search of one that presents a fresh new light. Editors are always looking for something different and want to be the first to declare and define what’s coming to take the wedding industry by storm. With that in mind, how do you position your work to stand out?
Aim to be a breath of fresh air. This doesn’t mean that all of your weddings have to be produced with earth-shattering innovation. After all, not every couple is the dress-up-some-llamas-and-have-a-marble-encrusted-wedding-cake, type. Instead, the distinction can simply offer a new perspective on the day, or highlight the ways a couple has chosen to diverge from tradition and incorporate their own personal touches into the wedding day.
Also keep in mind that no two couples are just alike. Neither are their stories or their personalities. Paying attention, both the details of the day itself, and to the couple’s individuality is often the key to crafting a story that captures the editor’s eye. Are the bride and groom two firefighters who met in training? Was the entire wedding planned in four months? Is the bride one of five siblings, all getting married within the year? Were the groomsmen's suits all custom creations, designed to reflect each one’s personality? Or perhaps the couple transformed their childhood summer camp into their reception venue. Often, these are the nuances that infuse a submission with the life and emotion needed to differentiate a wedding from every other.
Aim to Intrigue!
When crafting a submission, always lead by giving editors an solid idea to latch onto. Use descriptors that strike visuals in their mind’s eye, and dimension, spark curiosity and invite them in to learn more about the wedding you’re bringing to the table. Keep in mind, their job is to present compelling, well-curated content that draws readers in. Your submission should do the same for them.
Ever notice how your favorite websites use headlines with buzzwords, teasers or questions to pull the reader in? Guess why—it works. And with a little thought, you can put that strategy to use for yourself as well. Be thoughtful about the packaging and presentation of your submission, aiming to lead with a captivating headline, subhead and intro that grabs their attention and pulls them into the story. Use language that allows them to envision the mood that surrounds the photos and helps them to latch on to a concise, impactful concept. Your goal should be to start off strong, leading with a point of differentiation or story concept that’s quickly digestible to the editors. This not only ensures the submission can be presented to their readers in an appealing way, it’ll help them immediately grasp the character of the submission and want to read on to discover more.
II. CURATING THE CONTENT YOU’VE ALREADY CAPTURED
Look for the Blue Ocean
We’ve all seen it. The fall weddings with all groomsmen in navy and bridesmaids in (some iteration of) burgundy/bordeaux/marsala/merlot—you name it. It’s the exact same color of red wine… plus or minus one degree of saturation. And if we, as the vendors, all feel that way, IMAGINE how dire the situation is on the editors’ front? But find yourself with one wedding of emerald, embroidered groomsmen jackets or burnt orange bridesmaids dresses, and that’s your chance. Curate your submission to highlight the color story, give this new palette a creative nickname and shout it from the rooftops of your submission. It definitely won’t go unnoticed.
Likewise, if you find the aesthetics of your recent weddings falling into a pattern of uniformity, look for ways to identify and create storylines around details or celebrations that go against the current.
Watch the trends, watch the horizon
What topics are currently trending in pop culture and water-cooler news? The royal wedding, upcoming elections, the final season of Game of Thrones? What’s on the horizon that everyone will be discussing in the coming months? Publications aim to produce content that aligns with hot topics, because, strategically, that’s where mass audience attention currently lies. It’s an opportunity for them to ride the wave and hopefully capture a spike of new readers already fishing in that particular pool of interest. For this reason, submissions that touch on topics relevant to pop culture, are far more valuable, and more likely to get ushered to the front of the queue.
Moreover, whenever there’s a major cultural moment, you’ll also see a ripple effect of interest that continues for months to come. Ask yourself, "what topics are buzzing right now?”. Or "what’s next on the horizon?”. Then go back through your recent weddings—you may discover new opportunities by reviewing your existing portfolio through a new lens of the upcoming trends.
Lastly, be sure to keep an eye on Two Bright Lights’ submission requests tool. It’s the perfect way to get a sneak peek into the ideal trends and upcoming styles editors are hoping to feature.
Pitch something other than the standard wedding feature
As photographers, planners and cinematographers, we’re the ones on the ground, right in the middle of the wedding world, experiencing the latest trends and happenings in real time. In fact, we’re likely attending more weddings than even the editors themselves. Which means you may be able to spot an upcoming trend even faster than they can. Use that to your advantage and put together a brief outline or article to spotlight an upcoming trend in the wedding world, complete with photos from various weddings to support your angle. You’ll immediately separate yourself from the crowd, position yourself as a resource to editors on the hunt for what’s new and next and you may be able to get featured in the process. Plus, in the future when editors are tasked with writing a particular article, you may find yourself on the list of go-to professionals they turn to for photos, feedback, or featured quotes.
The reality is, the art of the submission process may go against the grain of how many of us function as photographers. But, by wrapping your head around a few of these practices above, you can find yourself submitting and succeeding, with more efficiency than ever before.
Photos & article by Sheena Meekins, Co-Founder + Principal Photographer of Anée Atelier
Sheena Meekins is Co-Founder and Principal Photographer of Anée Atelier, a New York City photography boutique specializing in weddings throughout the New York tri-state area and destinations across the world. Together with best friend and business partner Gina Esposito, the duo bring a unique spirit of chemistry and artistic adventure to photography; crafting the elevated, aesthetic seen throughout their weddings and the travel content of sister brand, Anée Away.