Thursday, February 9, 2006

MediaBistro Tips for Travel Writers/Photographers

Hindu Pilgrims by Carl Parkes

MediaBistro may sponsor ongoing seminars for prospective travel writers, but they rarely post articles about the craft, so I was surprised to see this story today with a very sensible tips for any and all travel writers. Take your damn camera along and take your best photos, to illustration your story and perhaps boost your paltry income from the writing itself.

Freelance writing and freelance photography often seem like completely different worlds. However, there is one genre where writers and photogs are often the same people: travel writing. To save money, publications often ask travel writers to turn in their trip pictures if they're useable for the piece. Not only do you get a nice clip with a published photo credit, you get extra money as well. Most of us though are new to invoicing and formatting photos for publication, so I spoke with a few travel writers on what other writers should know about selling their pictures.

"I have sold my pictures with several other non-travel stories to national magazines," says Gayle Formon, who teaches mb's Travel Writing Boot Camp. "Editors usually asked me to take photos and if they used any of them, I would simply ask them what their page rate was and who I should bill."

"The issue of shooting for your own articles did come up in my last class, and students had an opportunity to talk to travel editors about it. Certainly, when working for, or pitching, a smaller (poorer) publication, if you can come back from a trip with some fantastic shots, that can only work in your favor. If I had a good photographic eye, I would certainly tell an editor, maybe even show a portfolio.

Some editors will be glad to get two for the price of one, but the bargain should be simply that they don't have to pay to send a writer and a photographer to a place. Writers should expect to be paid separately, even if it's just a token amount. Otherwise, they're letting themselves be taken advantage of--which happens all too often in the freelance world. If I were given the assignment to shoot and report, I'd take it with the understanding that the photography assignment is on spec.

If they like something enough to use it, they should pay for it. Again, most pubs have a page rate, and pay a set amount based on size of the picture. I never brought up payment until after pictures were chosen for a layout, and then I simply asked how much the rate was and who I should bill."

Travel writer Bill Becher very helpfully sent me several tips on how writers can take and tell the best pictures they can to supplement their pay for a travel writing clip:

"'Do we have art?'" is the constant refrain of newspaper editors. (For some reason, newspaper people refer to photographs as "art"). If you can say yes, you'll increase the chance your story will be published and you'll earn more money. If you're writing on assignment for a glossy magazine, congratulations, but you'll probably find that the magazine will assign a photographer. So the rest of this discussion will focus on newspaper travel sections.

Pay for photos depends on the paper and its circulation, most will have a going rate (from $25 to $150 per photo and up, depending on size, quality and black and white or color).

Here are 10 tips for budding travel photographers:

1. Think like a movie director. Don't turn in all shots of scenery from a distance. Take an overall establishing shot, then a closer shot of people doing something that helps tell your story, then a really tight shot of something. An example might be an overall shot of a pink sand beach with palms and thatched huts, a shot of a couple of people coming out of the surf, and a close-up of starfish washed up on shore.

2. Get caption info. You don't need model releases for editorial use, but you should be able to supply a couple of sentences describing what's in the photo and names and hometowns of people featured in your shots. Check spelling.

3. Hold the camera steady! Many photos are too fuzzy ("soft") because of camera shake, especially with point and shot cameras. Use a tripod or lean against something when you shoot. But be sure to move around between shots and try different angles. For best light, shoot early or late in the day.

4. Most newspapers are entirely digital these days. If you only have slides or prints the paper will probably be able to scan negatives or slides, but digital is the way to go. Your camera should be capable of taking an image at least 2,500 pixels on the large side, this usually translates to a 5 mega pixel camera or better. More is better as it allows cropping. You may be asked to summit photos via e-mail, FTP, or a CD. Advanced digital cameras should be set to Adobe RGB II mode and sharpening turned off.

5. Good equipment like a digital SLR camera with selection of lenses and flash helps but I've sold many photos shot with a 5-7 mega pixel point and shoot camera. Set the camera on the highest resolution .jpg file. Don't edit it in Photoshop, even if you think you know what you're doing, let the paper's photo editors do that. Especially don't sharpen photos, as this needs to be done to press requirements.

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