As a freelance writer, it seems like common sense that you will do the writing and someone else will provide the travel photographs to go with your story. When I first started out on my journey as a travel writer that’s certainly what I thought.
Sometimes this is true.
If you’re working with editors of glossy, high end, upscale magazines, chances are they will commission professional photographers to take the shots. All you have to do is provide the copy.
In reality, that’s not usually where you start out in your travel writing career.
During your early years as a travel writer, you will sell more travel stories by providing photographs to illustrate your article. In my estimation, you'll get published at least twice as often if you are able to provide your own photos.
In my first year of writing, editors would sometimes ask if I had any
travel photographs to accompany my story. If I was lucky and my wife
had been along on the trip, then I would have her gallery of photos to
offer to the editor.
After a while, I would simply pitch the editor my travel story and automatically offer a gallery of photos. And that’s how I learned about the power of providing a gallery of high-resolution photographs to accompany my articles – especially travel articles.
It turns out that editors love writers who can provide high quality images with their articles. Providing a photo gallery with your articles saves the editors time tracking down stock photos for the story. And, it may also save them money.
Providing your own photos enhances your story because the travel photographs that you (or your spouse) made will more closely relate to your words than some random stock photos taken by a stranger at a different point in time.
As I gained more experience I learned that some editors will only buy a story if it’s accompanied by photos. No photos, no sale.
There are also certain genres I would not
have been able to break into writing about without my own photos. As an
example, I write for a number of military vehicle and military history
magazines. Without photos, I would not have been able to write for
this genre. And I can tell you it’s a pleasure to see my military
travel stories published with the magazine pages packed with photos of
military vehicles and artifacts.
But be warned – sometimes while on assignment you’ll spend more time taking photographs of the place than you will interviewing the experts, such as museum curators or tour guides. The good news is that all of your photographs will help you to write a more accurate and interesting story.
Travel photographs will enhance your story if made well. To be publishable, they need to be in focus and well-composed. For print media, they also need to be high resolution.
What Kind of Camera Should You Use?
Cameras have come a long way in the past few years. The majority of cameras out there will provide a high enough resolution image for print media. If you’re publishing your story on-line, this is less of an issue.
I used a simple point-and-shoot camera the first four years of my travel writing career. This worked quite well and I was usually able to deliver a suitable number of images to accompany my articles.
As a novice travel writer I didn’t want to spend a bundle of money on an expensive camera that was bulky to carry and difficult to use, and I wanted to focus primarily on my writing. And when my wife was along on the trip, I relied mainly on her images to submit with my stories.
But my wife doesn’t always travel with me, especially on trips that include track & field events, or anything military. So the day came when I wanted to create higher quality photos of my own. That’s when I moved up to a DSLR. Because a DSLR has faster responsiveness and higher quality lenses, my travel photographs improved dramatically. (DSLR means digital single lens reflex.)
With only a little training on settings available on the camera, I was able to get some excellent action photos of distance runners at some track meets that came out so clearly they were worthy of publication. And the colors and clarity of the images also improved thanks to newer technology and a better lens. I still don’t know how to use the manual settings, but the quality of my photos is superb.
So which camera is best for you?
you’re just getting started and unsure of whether travel writing is
right for you, or you just plan to dabble in travel writing and usually
bring along a travel companion with a camera, you might be better off
getting a point-and-shoot camera (sample camera shown on left in photo). Most of these are less than $500.
Later, if your travel writing takes off and you have an escalating demand for quality photos to accompany your articles, you can always upgrade to a DSLR when the time is right. Including the body and a moderately priced travel lens, a DSLR will cost about $1000 and upward.
Will You Get Paid for Your Photos?
Every magazine has their own scheme about how they pay writers for their words. This also goes for travel photographs.
Sometimes you will be paid directly for your photos. And if you do get paid, one thing is certain – there’s no consistency in the amount you’ll receive from one magazine to the next. Editors have paid me as little as $7.50 per photograph and as much as $375 for a photo, and everything in between. For some photo shoots I have been paid a set fee (for example $450) for providing a photo gallery.
Sometimes the payment is indirect. Some magazine editors pay for articles “by the page” meaning that photographs are included in your payment.
Other editors pay for half page, quarter page, or full page photo spreads, so it depends upon how they use them.
And the bad news is, some editors won’t pay for your photos.
But the news isn’t all bad - in many instances, providing photographs is the deal clincher for the editor assigning the article. No photos – no article.
So the question becomes: how badly do you want to sell your travel story?
Being able to provide a gallery of photos to accompany your article will result in getting published more often. It has garnered me dozens of published articles over the years.
The way I figure it, I take photos everywhere I go anyway, just to jog my memory or use as background material when I’m writing my article. And if some of those photos can be used to enhance my story – it’s a bonus. The only extra effort is to select a few and set them up on a photo gallery for the editor.
With such inconsistency about whether or not you’ll be paid for photographs, how do you know what to expect? Simple. You can usually find out by reading the magazine’s “writer’s guidelines” that are often found on the magazine’s website. Once you read the guidelines, you can make an informed decision about whether or not you want to provide photos for your story.
As a writer I always enjoy seeing my work in print – as I’m sure you do, too. And when our travel photographs are neatly laid out in the magazine illustrating my story, it’s a very satisfying feeling.