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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Writing your way to a career in travel photography Part 2

This is an image of the first travel article I ever had published - in Backpacker Essentials magazine way back when Y2K was a scary thought. Yesterday I started talking a little bit about different markets. Today I want to continue by talking about how to find unusual outlets and how to first approach them. Yesterday's leading question was - where do you find magazines not on the newstands. And the answer?

Your local library. The reference section has books that list every magazine published in your country and the best of these for those of you in Australia is The Australian Writers' Marketplace. Unlike other publications, it is aimed at writers and gives all the information you need to approach a magazine, including whether they accept freelance material or not. For those in North America the Writer's Market is a great resource, and for those of you in the UK you have your own version. For those of you in the rest of the world I am sure you have an equivalent - you just need to ask your friendly local librarian.

Now that you have some potential clients, you need to get a copy of their submission guidelines. This is a sheet of paper (or more likely a PDF file these days!) which lists everything the magazine requires of contributors. It will tell you how they want their images (photos, transparencies or digital files), how long they expect the articles to be, when and how much you will get paid and what rights they purchase. Many magazines also publish their guidelines on their websites, or else a quick, friendly email to the editor will sometimes get you a copy.

The second thing you need to do is study the magazine. Not just flick through the pages but really study it. The submission guidelines give you the bare bones but they don't give you the whole story. Studying the magazine will tell you how many images are usually used. Whether they are mostly verticals or horizontals. Whether the subjects of the photos are local people or travellers. You can also see what areas they have covered over the last few months. This information helps you tailor your package to each magazine.

Tailoring your photographs to different publications means that when you're on location you have to photograph a wide variety of subjects. One magazine I write for likes photographs of local people, another features abstracts, yet another likes landscapes. So you need to make sure you cover all bases. Building up a complete photographic and written record of a trip requires you working with a photo essay in mind. Tell a story with your images, as opposed to just grabbing beautiful single shots of this and that. A hundred photos of locals won't fit in an article but a couple of people, some landscapes, a couple of food shots and some animals just for good measure will give you a comprehensive coverage.

Usually a magazine will want to see somewhere between 20 and 40 images. Submit photographs that complement the writing, as opposed to simply illustrating what you have written about. I recently came back from a trip to Hokkaido in northern Japan. I wrote an article on the beautiful national parks but I also included photographs of signs, cherry blossoms and my father-in-law on top of a mountain. Not all of those things were mentioned in the piece but they created an overall impression of Japan - not to mention scoring me brownie points for getting my wife's dad's picture in the newspaper!

Before you spend days putting together a fantastic package, only to have it returned with a rejection letter though, query the magazine first. Find out if they are interested in your idea. Send a one-page letter to the editor outlining what you would like to write about. And don't forget to put some examples of those stunning images on a contact sheet so the editor knows you have photographs as well.

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