Creating a magazine cover photo

July 1, 2020

You just never know when a photo you make catches the eye of an editor, who wants to make your image their magazine cover.

Sure, we’re living in a digital age when physical media like newspapers or magazines have taken on less prominence. But there’s still something about having your image on the cover of a printed magazine.

Validating? Oh yes, it definitely is.

Years ago I entered an Instagram photo contest using a hashtag I can’t remember anymore. The host of the contest was a local tourism advocacy group, and the image I submitted was of a Fourth of July fireworks display in Long’s Park, Lancaster, Pa.

This came at a time when I was just starting to expand my photography skills. No more auto settings. It was time to push myself out of amateur hobbyist into something more committed, and the annual fireworks show at Long’s Park seems a good place to try long exposure photography.

Summer Fireworks in Lancaster

I recall sitting among the crowd for hours, waiting for the sun to set, listening to a U.S. Army band fill the air with patriotic numbers. I pointed a newly purchased wide angle lens skyward. When finally dusk came and the 1812 Overture reached its climax, the whistle of the first firecracker pierced the music, followed by a percussion and streams of gold and green spilling down the night’s canvas.

After setting the timer for 30 seconds and a narrow aperture, I used a remote shutter release so the camera, mounted on a tripod, wouldn’t shake. The image you see at the top of this post, it was the best I did that night.

I think I might’ve garnered an honorable mention award from the Instagram contest. The contest hosts after announcing the winners printed a tiny version of the photo, framed it, and put it on display during a monthly arts event in Lancaster city.

A day or two later, the editor of Lancaster County Magazine contacted me, wondering if they could not only use the fireworks image in their magazine, but prominently place it on the cover.

Are you kidding? Is there any answer other than “yes?”

The experience built confidence, and it signaled that maybe, just maybe, someone like me could improve their photography skills beyond amateurish.

It remains my one and only cover shot. And that’s all right. I still believe magic, serendipitous moments like that are possible, even now for a full-time working Dad like myself, and that’s why you should post your photos where people other than family and friends can see them.

It’s true when people say, “You just never know.”

When did someone seemingly at random come across one of your images and displayed it in a magazine, a website, or other place? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer who’s had his share of fortuitous moments thanks to photography. He lives in Lancaster, Pa., with his wife and their three sons. You can reach him at

More about Dave Pidgeon

Dave is the author of and lives in Lancaster, Pa., with his wife and their three sons.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *