A Guest Article By Jeff Colburn
Photographs can add a whole new dimension to your writing. Magazine editors often prefer to have photographs to go along with an article, as they will attract readers that may otherwise not read that particular item. Having photographs available not only makes your writing more sellable, but editors will sometimes pay more for the photographs than the article. And by taking the photographs yourself, instead of the magazine’s staff photographer, you get to keep all the money for your article.
Your photographs should do one, or more, of the following.
- Be attractive or interesting enough to make someone want to read your article.
- Clarify something in your article that you didn’t have the room to fully explain, or that’s difficult to explain, in words.
- Tell a story that is not mentioned in your article, much like a sidebar in an article.
When you have photographs, mention in your query or cover letter that photographs are available upon request. Also say if they are film or digital. Don’t send photographs until the editor asks to see them.
Always check the guidelines of the publication you are submitting to, but as a rule the following will be true for over 90% of the publications you will deal with.
- Magazines that accept film will want 35mm slides. A very few will want larger film size. And yes, there are still a number of publications that only want film.
- NEVER send your original slides, only send duplicates. A friend of mine was going to have an article about her appear in her hometown newspaper, and asked if she could take some of the photographs I had of her for the paper to use. I had taken many pictures of her when she was a dancer at Disneyland. Since I didn’t have time to make duplicates, I just gave her some originals. After all, the newspaper was a professional business that was used to working with photographs, right? A week later she returned, without the slides. She said the newspaper still had them. It took me two months of letter writing to the newspaper to have them returned. Of the ten I gave her, one was lost, one had been removed from the slide mount, had almost a quarter of an inch of the image cut off and put into a new slide mount and another had a staple in the middle of the slide. That was the last time I sent out originals.
- When mailing slides, put them into clear plastic slide pages, and sandwich them between corrugated cardboard. One piece of the cardboard should have the ribs running vertically, while the ribs in the other piece should run horizontally. Have one rubber band going from the top left to the bottom right corner, and another going from the top right to bottom left. This not only helps to protect your slides during mailing, but at the editor’s office too. I’ve had slide pages returned with boot prints on them, coffee stains, cuts, tears and more. Yet another reason to send duplicates.
- When submitting digital images, see if the publication wants a DVD, e-mail attachments or gives an FTP site to upload them to.
- Create a filing system for your pictures so you can track them. S for slides, P for print film, D for digital, then maybe a year and roll or shoot number. So S1024-5 would be a slide taken in 2010, the 24th roll you’ve shot that year, and slide number five on the roll. While D10SEDONA0251 would be a digital image, taken in 2010 in Sedona and it would be the 251st image on that shoot.
- If there is a person in your photograph, and you can see their face, you will need to have them sign a model release. You can find plenty of them online with a Google search. You don’t need a release if the image will only be for editorial use. You can also use some Photoshop tricks if you don’t have a release. I had an image where a little girl in a crowd was looking right, and you could see her profile. I cloned some of her hair, and some of her mother’s hair, over her face so it seemed that she was looking straight ahead.
You must be sure to use the proper film, or digital settings, in order to get the best possible image. Here are a few tips.
- The slower the ISO (ISO 25 is slower than ISO 100) the sharper the image when enlarged. For this reason, shoot at ISO 100 whenever possible. In low light conditions, you could go as high as ISO 400, but be prepared to deal with a lot of noise/grain.
- For digital images, shoot at the highest quality, and shoot RAW if possible. You will eventually convert the RAW images to JPG, but RAW lets you do the most manipulation of the image.
- A little known secret about film is that the color of the box often tells what the film does best. Fuji comes in a green box, and captures greens beautifully. Kodachrome has red on the box and captures reds wonderfully, while Ektachrome has blue on the box and shows blues at their best. All of these films capture all colors with excellent results, but these little color differences give just a little more “Pop” to the mentioned colors.
The problem with many pictures I see today is that they have bad composition, thanks to the photographer watching too much television. Television is notorious for putting the subject in the center of the screen, and this is horrible composition. It doesn’t look bad on television because the scenes change so fast, about every three to five seconds, that you don’t notice it. However, in a still photograph it shows up as a glaring mistake.
There is a simple solution to this problem. Do you remember what a tic-tac-toe board looks like, or the pound sign on your phone? When you look through your camera’s viewfinder, imagine this symbol being superimposed over what you’re looking at. Now, place the main subject of your photograph at one of the four points where a vertical and horizontal line cross. This technique is called the Rule Of Thirds, and it will greatly improve your photograph’s composition.
If you are going to be shooting a photograph for the cover of a magazine, be sure to check where the title goes. Magazines may have their title across the top or down one side. Leave a blank area in the photograph for this. You don’t want to have some important part of the photograph covered by the title. Also check to see if other text will be placed on the cover, to prevent this same problem.
The real secret to taking great photographs is to analyze images you see in magazines. What makes them look good, what composition did they use, what attracts you to this image? Along with this, take a lot of pictures. That means shooting thousands of photographs. But don’t just shoot, put into practice what you observed in those magazine images. Shooting as often as you can, and always striving to improve your craft will result in your images constantly improving, and constantly being more marketable.