Guidelines for Photographers

Photos in Bird Watcher’s Digest

Bird Watcher’s Digest magazine has been publishing beautiful bird photography for more than 35 years. Many of our photos come from freelance photographers. We use images to augment our magazine’s content, and rarely run standalone photos or photo galleries in print. Our photo needs include birds, habitat and people engaging in birding. We seek both traditional images of birds—sharp, well-composed portraits of wild birds in their natural habitat—and nontraditional shots, such as behavior, birds in unusual postures and settings, and macros of feathers and other body parts.

We appreciate the hard work and love that bird photographers put into their craft, and we realize that bird and nature photography is a highly competitive field. We strive to treat with respect the photographers with whom we do business.

We encourage bird photographers to behave ethically both in the field and at the computer. We rarely publish images of captive or restrained birds, or images that have been manipulated to create a stunning but unreal final product. We encourage all photographers to read and uphold the code of birding ethics set by the American Birding Association.

Submitting Your Images to Us

It is an honor—and very difficult—to have your image/work published in Bird Watcher’s Digest both because of our highly selective vetting process and because of the volume of images we receive. We decline to accept for publication more than 90 percent of the images we are offered. We don’t share this to be discouraging—we merely wish to give you a realistic description of our selection process.

While preparing each issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest, we compile and send a list of our photographic needs—the “want list”—to a select pool of photographers. They respond by giving us access to photos from their collections that might meet our needs. If we publish such photos, we pay the photographer for one-time print use and for use in our digital editions, and credit the photographer for each photo used.

Ongoing image needs include remarkable portraits of birds—especially uncommon species and those difficult to photograph; bird watchers using binoculars or scopes; groups of birders; and birds at feeders, nest boxes, and birdbaths. We are less likely to need or be enticed by images of often-photographed species such as great blue heron, Canada goose, mallards at a park pond, pelicans or egrets at fishing piers, etc. We do not use images of birds that are pets, captives, stuffed mounts, or birds that are otherwise restrained, including those that are injured or undergoing rehabilitation.

If you would like to be considered for the Bird Watcher’s Digest‘s pool of “want list” photographers, please prepare a website of 20 of your best bird or birding photos, and email a cover letter requesting such consideration and providing the URL of the site you have prepared to [email protected]. Provide captions with each photo, identifying the species or activity and location.

Alternatively, prepare and print a contact sheet of thumbnails of 20 of your best photos. Captions can be with the photos or on a separate page. Also prepare a CD containing .JPG files with the images. Low-res files will be suitable for evaluation. Mail the samples with a cover letter to Bird Watcher’s Digest, P.O. Box 110, Marietta, Ohio 45750, attn.: Managing Editor. If you would like the CD to be returned to you, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope with sufficient postage for the weight of the CD and its case. Otherwise, the CD will be recycled after the photos are reviewed. Be sure your cover letter provides your email address.

If your images meet the high standards required for publication in Bird Watcher’s Digest, and offer extraordinary images that would complement and expand the array of images available to us from our existing pool, we will notify you via email that you have been added to our want list pool.

Our want list pool includes dozens of photographers who have consistently met our photographic needs. We evaluate all requests for consideration to be added to the group, but, due to the volume of interested photographers, respectfully decline most such requests.

Within four weeks of receiving your sample photos, the managing editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest will notify you regarding whether you have been added to the want list pool.

Online Photo Galleries

We heartily welcome submission of photos for inclusion on our BWD gallery and WBB gallery. We do not pay for photos posted on our galleries, but the photographer is given credit for each shot. Instructions for submitting photos to the galleries are on each website.

Unsolicited Images

Except for sample images submitted for want list membership consideration and for photos submitted to our online galleries, all image submissions that have not been requested by Bird Watcher’s Digest are considered unsolicited. Bird Watcher’s Digest is not responsible for unsolicited photos in any format. Hardcopy images and discs of photos mailed to us will be returned only if they are accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope with enough postage for the return of the materials. Otherwise, the images or disc will be recycled.

BWD Want List instructions

Bird Watcher’s Digest relies on bird photographers with large, active image libraries to supply the bulk of each issue’s photographs. We do not make photo assignments. We solicit images from a select group of such photographers through our bimonthly photo want list.

We ask the photographers to notify us when there is an image among their submissions that is being simultaneously offered to another wild bird publication.

Bird Watcher’s Digest does not maintain a photo library or inventory of any type. We do not have a photo database, and we do not retain discs of photos for future use. Sometimes, back-to-back issues have a common need. Because we do not retain images, we ask that photographers resubmit images that meet our needs, even if they submitted the same files previously.

Image Format

We accept only digital images. Images should be in sharp focus; color should be accurate; exposure should be perfect or nearly so, and the subject should be large in the image frame. When selecting images for submission, please be extra selective. Low-resolution .JPG images are preferred for initial response to the want list request. If your photo is selected for publication, we will request a high-resolution version.

Image Filenames

Each photograph should have a filename containing a terse description of the contents and the photographer’s name. Examples:


Please include credit and caption data for each image. Also include your contact information with each submission.

Digital Image Guidelines

  • Preferred formats for digital images are .JPG or TIFF. Images taken with digital cameras should be created using the highest-resolution setting. TIFF images should be saved with LZW compression. All images must be Mac compatible.
  • Submit low-res versions of the images in response to the want list request. If we opt to publish one of your photos, we will contact you for the high-res version.
  • DO NOT crop your images. Leave the cropping to us.
  • NO NOT alter photos. Images should not be corrected for color, sharpness, size, or color mode. Again, leave this work to us.
  • DO NOT send digital images of slides that have been scanned on consumer scanners. These images do not reproduce well in print.
  • We print images at 300 dots per inch (dpi/resolution) and larger.
  • Our page size is 5.25 x 8 inches.
  • Due to differences in color printers, proofs may not reflect colors in the final image.
  • Color and density of the final printed image may differ from the digital original due to a variety of factors, including scanner settings, monitor calibration, paper quality, press settings, etc.

Submitting Digital Images

In response to our bimonthly want list request, photographers may submit photos for our consideration via three methods:

  1. (Preferred) Prepare a gallery on your website for our perusal. The gallery should contain only photos that meet our needs. Email a link to the site to [email protected].
  2. Use HighTail or DropBox to send us low-res versions of photos you think would meet our needs. Our HighTail and DropBox username is BWD. If we opt to use one of your photos, we will contact you and ask for a high-res version of the photo.
  3. (Least preferred) Archive or zip (in a Mac-compatible format) low-res versions of the photos you think would meet our needs and email the file to [email protected].


Bird Watcher’s Digest pays $75 per image used regardless of size. We pay an additional $25 for images also used on our table of contents page. We pay $50 for each photo published that accompanies an article written by the photographer.

There is no payment for photos or stories used in “My Way,” or for images submitted to our various online image-sharing galleries.

Thank you for your interest in Bird Watcher’s Digest magazine. We look forward to reviewing your images, and we wish you great success in your bird photography endeavors.


Bill Thompson, III

Leave a Comment

Subscribe & Save!

ONE YEAR (6 ISSUES) of Bird Watcher's Digest magazine
GET FREE AND INSTANT ACCESS to our digital edition
SAVE 33% off newsstand prices
PAY ONE LOW PRICE of $19.99!
Scroll Up