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Calendar photography

How to break into the calendar market

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From January to May every year, calendar publishers around the country are on the lookout for photographs to illustrate their next range. Lee Frost tells you how to break into this ever-expanding market.

Every year, millions of calendars are sold in every country in the western world, so the demand for new pictures is on-going. At the same time, however, breaking into it can be difficult as the photographic requirements are very specific, and only those who can satisfy them succeed.
The vast majority of calendars are produced by a small band of companies who can be very choosy about which pictures they use. After all, a calendar needs only 12 images and lasts for a whole year, so it's rare for the picture buyers to find themselves searching around for suitable shots at the last minute when there are so many photographers eager to supply the market, and so many top quality pictures to choose from.
That said, don't feel that trying to break into this market is a waste of time - over the last decade or so I have sold literally hundreds of photographs for calendar use, and while the majority of publishers I target have been in operation for many years, I still find at least one new publisher each year simply by picking up calendars in shops, checking who published it and noting the phone number if it's a name I'm not familiar with so I can get in touch.

Branching out
There are two main arms to this industry - retail calendars that are sold to the public in newsagents, bookshops, post offices, greetings card shops, department stores etc, and corporate calendars that are produced for specific companies who use them to promote their services. Within the corporate wing, publishers often produce standard calendars onto which company logos can be added to personalise them, and also one-off bespoke calendars for clients who want, and are willing to pay for, a calendar that's totally unique.
Retail calendars account for the greatest proportion of business as a single calendar can sell thousands of copies on the high street, whereas prints runs for corporate calendars may only be several hundred. Most of the bigger calendar publishers cover both areas, however, so your work will be made available to a wider audience. Once you've found favour with a publisher it's usually quite easy to make repeat sales as they tend to stick with reliable contributors who they know can come up with the goods. For this reason, getting that initial foot in the door can be tricky.
During the early days of my freelance career I sent pictures out to just about every major calendar publisher in the country at least twice before anything was even kept on file for possible use, let alone guaranteed use, and in total it probably took two years before a single sale was made. After that it became easier, however, and before long I found that publishers were phoning me with specific picture requests, sending out annual 'wants' lists and using something from every batch I submitted on-spec. Today I supply four or five leading calendar publishers and make between 50-100 sales each year. The financial returns on this are never going to make me rich, but they make a worthwhile contribution to my freelance income.

Sales success
Landscapes and popular locations take-up the biggest part of the market, and the picture requirements of individual publishers tend to be so similar that you may sell use of the same shot to several different publishers over a period of a few years. Subjects vary enormously, from regions and counties to specific themes such as castles, country churches and pubs, beautiful villages, lighthouses, glorious gardens and so on. National calendars are also popular, such as The Coastline of Britain, Rural England and Lakes & Moorlands.
The more wide-ranging the subject or theme is, the greater the sales potential - a calendar depicting scenes in East Anglia is unlikely to sell as many copies nationwide and one that covers the whole country, for example. Equally, the wider range of subjects you have on file, the more sales you are likely to make.
To give you better ideas of how to break into this market, I spoke to the picture editor of a leading calendar publisher. Here's what she said...
'The way pictures are selected and used depends on which area the calendars fall into. For the retail trade we put together a proposal which is then assessed; with stock calendars I choose the pictures to be used, and with bespoke calendars our sales reps show portfolios of picture to the client from which they make a selection. 'During the busiest selection period, which is the first few months of the year, I receive maybe three or four packages of photographs each day. Some are from regular contributors who I'm familiar with, but others are first time submissions. I also receive a lot of telephone calls from photographers who want to know if I'd be interested in seeing their work. Inevitably I say yes, because it's always worth looking at new pictures.
'The main thing I've discovered in doing this is most photographers tend to concentrate on a particular area of the country - maybe the region they live in. This is good in one respect because it means they're likely to have some nice shots of that area, but bad in another because it means I could only ever use one or two shots from a submission.
'Most of the scenic calendars we put together are nationwide, so they must have a good cross section of areas. Therefore, the photographers who we use most often are the ones who make the effort to travel around and build up a good collection of pictures from all over the country. Ideally, I like to use just two or three different photographers to illustrate a whole calendar, as it's much easier logistically. If I used 12 pictures from 12 photographers, I'd have to produce far more purchase orders, and spend a lot more time clearing the pictures for copyright.
'So, my first tip for budding calendar photographers is get a wide selection of places on your files and you will stand a much better chance of selling your work.
'My next tip is to make sure your work is of the highest standard. When I look at a set of pictures they go through several stages before acceptance. Firstly, they must not contain traffic, lots of tarmac, dustbins, road signs, graffiti, lots of people or rubbish. If they do, they're out. Secondly, they must be attractively composed, bright and colourful, and shot in clean, crisp light. That doesn't necessarily mean beautiful sunny weather - we use sunrise and sunset shots or pictures taken in stormy conditions - but they must have lots of clarity.
'If those two stages are passed, I'll look at the slide through a loupe to check for sharpness. If it's anything other than pin sharp, then it's rejected, even if I love the picture.
'In terms of format, I'll accept everything from 35mm up and I don't have a preference for specific films. That said, medium-format slides sell better than 35mm to corporate clients as they're easier to look at on a lightbox.
'As well as scenics we also produce calendars featuring other subjects, such as glamour and vintage/classic cars. Actually, these areas are far more under-subscribed, so if anyone can produce top quality pictures they stand a far higher chance of making sales. We use one photographer for all our car shots, for instance, simply because he's the only one we know of with a good collection. Similarly, our glamour calendars are illustrated by only half a dozen photographers who make a lot of money.
'If I decide to use a picture for a calendar then I telephone the photographer and check for clearance - he may have already sold rights for that year to another calendar publisher, in which case we wouldn't be interested. This means having a good filing and record system is important on the photographer's part, otherwise problems occur.
'We then negotiate payment, which covers calendar rights for a specific calendar for that year. In other words, if we wish to use the same shot in another calendar the photographer will receive further payment, and after one year he can offer the same shot to another calendar publisher. This is pretty much standard procedure.'

There you have it, straight from the horses mouth. If you want to make sales in the calendar market you must be capable of producing sharp, well exposed and nicely composed images. Thought should also be given to what you actually photograph, because despite not being exactly original, most picture buyers tend to go for well known locations and scenes rather than obscure places that no one has ever heard of.

Subject matter
This is particularly so in nationwide calendars, because there will probably be just one photograph used to depict a region, such as the Lake District or the Yorkshire Dales, so that photograph must sum up the character of the whole region. In regional calendars the most popular places tend to be preferred for the same reason, so you're more likely to sell photographs of, say, East Anglia, if they depict well known scene, villages or landmarks.
In terms of lighting, pictures taken in bright, sunny weather with blue sky and fluffy white clouds always go down well for retail calendars because they have a feel good factor, and most people want to see pictures that show a place at its best. Saying that, about half the pictures I've sold to calendar publishers have been photographically far more interesting, such as landscapes shot in the golden light of early evening, or in stormy weather.
Ultimately it all depends what the calendar is for and which area is being covered. A local company that manufacturers engineering parts will probably be happy with bog standard scenics, while a design agency will prefer something a little more creative and varied. Similarly, pictures of seaside locations are unlikely to sell if they're shot in stormy weather, but such conditions are associated with areas like the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands.
My approach has always been to take the photographs first then decide which markets they will be suitable for. Consequently, I never take a shot specifically for the calendar market and only a tiny proportion of the pictures I do take are ever sent to publishers for calendar use, but I continue to make regular sales to that market because the photographs I do submit have been carefully selected.
Whichever publisher you approach you'll probably find that most prefer medium-format (6x4.5, 6x6 and 6x7cm) over 35mm, despite what my picture editor said earlier due to the superior image quality it offers, while some up-market publishers only accept large-format. At the size most calendar pictures are reproduced, large format isn't really necessary but if that's what the publishers wants, that's what you must supply. Most of the pictures I have sold for calendar use were taken using a Pentax 67 camera with 45mm and 55mm wide-angle lenses, a 105mm standard or a 165mm telephoto lenses - the 55mm, equivalent to a 28mm in 35mm format, is the lens used most often. Film stock is always Fujichrome Velvia as it offers astounding quality, and I rarely take a picture without a polariser, warm-up or grey grad. filter. I also use a tripod exclusively, even in bright sunlight, as it makes composing the pictures far easier and removes any risk of camera shake.

Finding a publisher
To find out who publishes calendars, check out the listing in books such as the Freelance Photographer's Market Handbook or The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook in the UK and similar publications in North America, Australia and New Zealand. While you're out and about it's also a good idea to look at any calendars you see hanging in shops, offices and garages and noting the name of the publisher. A quick call to Directory Enquiries will then provide you with a phone number if it isn't printed and you can get in touch. Following up leads like this can be far more lucrative than submitting work to all the well known companies, simply because there will be less competition. To get you going, here are a few calendar publishers in the UK worth contacting:

  • Jarrold Publishing, Whitefriars, Norwich, Norfolk NR3 1TR. Tel: 01603 763300. Contact: Vivienne Buckingham

     

  • Bemrose Security and Promotional Printing, PO Box 82, Wayzgoose Drive, Derby DE21 6XL. Tel: 01332 294242. Contact: Jenny Cross

     

  • Rose of Colchester, Clough Road, Severalls Park, Colchester, Essex, CO4 4QT. Tel: 01206 844500. Contact: Ralph

     

  • Allan & Bertram Ltd, Cuffley Gate, Sopers Road, Cuffley, Herts EN6 4RY. Tel: 01707 876677. Contact: Derek Hutchings
If you think you've got something to offer, phone the publisher, explain that you've seen some of their products and that you are interested in making a submission. Key questions to ask are:
  • When is the best time of year to submit photographs?
  • Who should they be submitted to?
  • Which formats are accepted?
  • Do you need to enclose a stamped, addressed envelope?
  • Which year is being selected next?
  • What copyright terms apply?
  • Which subjects/locations are being sought?
  • Would it be possible to receive a product catalogue for the current range or some sample calendars to use as guidance?

Copyright considerations
The normal deal with calendar publishers is that you agree to relinquish calendar rights for one year - the year of publication. After that, you are free to submit the same shot to other calendar publishers, and you can offer the same shot to non-competing markets such as magazines or postcard publishers while calendar rights are owned by someone else. Avoid selling calendar rights to the same shot to more than one publisher for the same year. If you do this, and one of the publishers finds out, you could land yourself in hot water. At best you will probably be black-listed by both publishers and never used again. At worst, the publisher which purchased calendar rights from you first could insist that the second publishers withdraws in product from the market, in which case you will probably be sued for compensation to cover any costs and lost revenue for the calendar that can't be sold. This situation would be pretty extreme, but it's not unheard of so be careful. Also, if you sell a picture yourself and the same shot is being held by a picture library, inform them so they don't end up selling rights to another calendar publisher.

 
Calendar photography
Bustling harbour full of colour fishing boats and nets piled by the quayside make great calendar shots and are almost certain to sell. This is Mevagissey harbour in Cornwall - not the most exciting photograph you've ever seen but it has sold several times to date and more than paid for the cost of the whole week I spent in Cornwall shooting stock images.
Pentax 67, 55mm lens, Fuji RDP100, 1/15sec at f/16
 
Calendar photography
Waterfalls and rivers are another popular calendar subject as they're so tranquil and soothing to look at. Overcast days provide the best conditions as the light is diffuse and contrast low. Use an exposure of one second or longer to record a nice blurry effect. This is Watersmeet on Exmoor.
Pentax 67, 45mm lens, polariser and 81B warm-up, Fuji Velvia, one second at f/16
 
Calendar photography
Picturesque villages are a staple part of the calendar publisher's picture requirements, so never miss the opportunity to shoot them. This is Widecombe-in-the-Moor on Dartmoor, photographed from a high point on the moors to show it in context with the surrounding countryside.
Pentax 67, 165mm lens, polariser, Velvia, 1/8sec at f/16
 
Calendar photography
Here's a good example of a classic calendar shot - perfect weather conditions with blue sky and cotton-wool clouds, a dramatic scene looking towards Bamburgh Castle and a strong composition, using mollusc-encrusted rocks as foreground interest. Images quality is superb, too, thanks to the use of a large-format camera.
Woodman 5x4in camera with Nikkor 90mm wide-angle lens, polariser and 81B warm-up filters, Fuji Velvia, one second at f/32.
 
Calendar photography
You don't have to take pictures in clear, sunny weather to make sales in the calendar market - if the location suits it, stormy weather can be just as commercial. This is Rannoch Moor in the Scottish Highlands, caught during a break in an autumn storm.
Pentax 67, 55mm lens, 0.6ND grad and 81B warm-up filters, Fuji Velvia, 1/8sec at f/16
 
Calendar photography
Opportunities exist locally for selling complete calendar packages to businesses and organisations for use as corporate gifts or promotional material. I was approached by a reprographics company in my home town a couple of years ago and asked to do exactly that. To date I have provided the photographs for two calendars and in each case have received a very useful fee for my efforts. Here you can see the cover and an internal page from the 1999 calendar. The shot used for September, shown, was taken on a tranquil late summer's evening in the Lake District and shows rowing boats moored by the banks of Lake Ullswater.
Pentax 67, 55mm lens, 0.6ND grad and 81B warm-up filters, Fuji Velvia, one second at f/16.
 
Calendar photography
There is some scope for selling sunrise and sunset shots to calendar publishers, especially if they feature well-known scenes like this moody photograph of the autumnal sun rising behind Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland coast.
Pentax 67, 45mm lens, 81C warm-up filter, Fuji Velvia, 1/15sec at f/22
 
Calendar photography
Seasonal coverage is vital if you want to maximise sales. Scenes that were obviously taken in spring, summer, autumn and winter are especially in demand. It's also a good idea to take both upright and horizontal shots so you can supply landscape or portrait format calendars.
Nikon F90x, 28mm lens, 81B warm-up filter, Fuji Velvia, 1/60sec at f/8
 
Calendar photographyCalendar photography
Flowers are becoming an increasingly popular subject for calendar use and I have found markets for both traditional images like this shot of sunflowers, plus more contemporary, graphic shots like these yellow daisies against a deep blue background.
Nikon F90x, 105mm macro lens, Fuji Velvia (sunflowers) and Fuji Sensia 100 (daisies)
 
Calendar photography

Calendar photography
Some publishers produce calendars with an international theme, giving you further scope for sales. These two shots were taken on the Greek island of Santorini, and strangely, one of the publishers I supply has a Greek Islands calendar in its range.
Nikon F90x, 28mm lens, polarising filter, Fuji Velvia
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