Picture Perfect: Using Photos to Sell Your Articles
by Christine Ridout
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Given a choice between an article with photographs and one without, most editors will choose the one with photos. Good photographs often help sell an article that might otherwise be rejected.
Taking Good Photographs
- Take as many photography courses as you can. A photography course will teach you everything you need to know about your camera and how to use it to capture people, pets, scenery, children, and special subjects like flowers and wildlife. If possible, take a course that specializes in your area of interest, such as nature, pets, children, people, or sports.
- When you take pictures, focus on the subject of interest. If you are photographing pets, focus on the animal, particularly its face, and avoid a lot of clutter in the background that detract from the subject. This is also true for people, particularly children, as well as for wildlife, flowers, and sports photography. Ask yourself what you want to illustrate, then focus on it.
- Take lots of pictures of the same subject. You don't know what will turn out, and you don't want to be left without good photos when it's too late. Professional photographers say they get 3-4 great shots per roll of 36 exposures.
When you take multiple shots, adjust the settings on your camera each time, because different settings alter the photo and one may produce better results than another. Also, shift the angle of each shot, perhaps changing the way the light falls on it. If possible, go back at different times of day to get different kinds of light. The softer the light, the better the photograph; early morning or late afternoon light will usually give you the best shots.
- Develop an eye for composition. Think about what you want your photograph to convey and then frame a composition that focuses on it. Here are a few hints: the subject does not have to be in the center of the photo; it can be slightly off center. Or, you can balance several subjects in the photograph simultaneously. Experiment to see what looks best. This is another instance where lots of photos will pay off. It's also important not to have too much blank space in the foreground or background. This is a common problem with water shots: too much water in the foreground with a small boat in the distance is a dull shot. Focus on the boat, if that's your emphasis.
- Take horizontal and vertical shots. Some subjects look better vertically, some horizontally. Look through your viewfinder to see which looks best. If in doubt, take it both ways and decide later.
- Use slide film, not print. Although many newspapers and magazines will accept prints, most prefer slides because they are sharper, give better color, and reproduce better. Most professional photographers take slides.
Do not send photographs with queries or completed manuscripts. Instead, state their availability in your cover letter. Editors will request photos if they are interested in your article, and their availability will increase the chances of acceptance. (However, I have occasionally violated the "don't send pictures" rule by sending inexpensive prints with my query on the assumption that seeing the photos will help make a sale. Sometimes it works.
When you send slides, send duplicates, because slides are often lost or damaged. Be sure to find a photo lab that makes high quality duplicates. Never send poor quality slides to an editor!
If You Have No Photographs
Invariably, there will be times when you don't have photographs. Many agencies and organizations, however, will give you free photographs. Consider the following:
- Chambers of Commerce. If you are writing an article about tourist attractions, outdoor activities, sporting events, museums, or restaurants in the region, these organizations will be happy to give you photographs.
- Departments of Tourism. I wrote two articles about my trip to Bermuda but was disappointed with my photographs. I called the Bermuda Department of Tourism and got all the photographs I could hope for.
- Nonprofit agencies and organizations. Many nonprofit organizations will be happy to give you photographs because your article provides publicity for them. I wrote an article about a conservation trust and they provided wonderful photographs.
- Businesses, for-profit organizations, and trade associations. If your article relates to a particular business, industry, or trade, these organizations can often provide excellent photographs, again usually free.
- Other photographers and stock agencies are wonderful sources of photographs, but you or the publication you're writing for will have to pay for them. Stock agencies have thousands of photographs. Look in the Yellow Pages or Photographers Market. Also, ask your photography teacher about photos and other photographers in your area.
One final note: When you receive free photos, find a photo lab that makes high quality duplicates and return the originals to the organization with a thank-you note. It's important to maintain good relations with these organizations because you may need them again.
If you have some great photos but no specific use for them, don't put them in a drawer; build an article around them. When my photography class took a field trip to a wildlife reservation near my home, I got some great shots that were too good to put aside. I put together travel, recreation, and local activities articles about the reservation. If you have some terrific shots of children or pets, ask yourself what activity they were engaged in, or what's special about your pet or child that would make an interesting article, and write it.
Most of us are happy if our photos are good enough to submit with our articles. But if you enjoy photography and become good at it, nudge yourself into the writer/photographer group. Remember, the better the pictures, the more likely the sale, and, you can market your photographs separately and increase your income.
My camera has become an integral part of my writing gear and goes wherever I go. Sometimes, I capture images I didn't expect and later find a use for them. Other times, I think about images to accompany an article I've already written and go in search of them. But there is a lot of serendipity in this search: sometimes I get what I want, other times I'm frustrated, and other times are full of surprises and I get photographs I never anticipated.
Keep your camera loaded and easily accessible, and make it a complement to your writing.
Find Out More...
- Eight Steps to Professional Travel Photos - Bob Difley
- Expanding Your Range as a Writer – with Your Camera - Audrey Faye Henderson
- Using a Camera to Collect Stock Images - It's a Snap! - Gail Kavanagh
Copyright © 2000 Christine Ridout
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Christine Ridout has published over 200 articles in various magazines, and also syndicates articles through the New York Times Syndicate. A teacher as well as a writer, Ridout is the director of the BostonWest Center for Writing and Photography in Wayland, MA, where she offers numerous workshops for writers and photographers.
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