Friday, May 8, 2009

Writing your way to a career in travel photography Part 4

Once you have a few publishing credits under your belt, and have established a rapport with editors then you can think about approaching tourism bodies and airlines to get some sponsorship for your travel. Ah, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Free travel. Only if you think it's free, think again. You have to work damn hard for it. You have to provide your sponsors with some bang for their buck.

Using my trip to Hokkaido as an example, I was fully sponsored by the Japan National Tourist Organisation and JALPAK, a travel company that specialises in Japan. Having already published a number of articles on Japan I approached them both with an itinerary, the type of article I was planning to write and a couple of letters of assignment from editors. In return for free accommodation and flights, I promised to publish articles on the area in a number of magazines and newspapers. I also agreed to do a slide show on Japan here in Cairns and down on the Gold Coast. Again this is not only great for my sponsors but I get to show my travel photographs to an even wider audience.

Sounds like a dream doesn't it? Only there is one glaring fact I forgot to mention. You do actually have to write something! But what if you don't know the first thing about writing? I certainly didn't. Fortunately, there are places to learn. One of the best of those is the library. Read, read and read some more. Study how other writers shape their articles and describe what they see, hear and smell. Copy the structure of their pieces on your first attempts. Again, by studying the magazines you hope to write for you can get a feel for the type of articles they publish.

I have some references that I found invaluable when I was first starting out. The first is Travel Writing: See the World, Tell the Story by L.Peat O'Neil. Another fantastic book, although a bit old now, is Michael Sedge's The Writer's and Photographer's Guide to World Markets. Published in 1998 the specific magazine contact information is well and truly out of date but it has a lot of good information on how to take your travel writing global.

My writing training ended with Year 12 English Literature. I had no idea what a travel article involved, let alone thought about writing one. After years of traipsing around the world photographing, I just assumed I would sell all my photos as stock and make a million dollars. I quickly discovered that it doesn't work like that. Some of my first published photographs accompanied that five page article on trekking in Nepal in Backpacker Essentials, and led me to one of my favourite clients. I knew very little about crafting a travel article but I did know about trekking and I had some great photographs that I wanted to show the world. Is it easy to become a travel writer? If it were we'd all be doing it. But it's certainly not impossible. With hard work and honing of the craft of writing I'm sure that you'll find a lot of joy in being able to say, "Hi, I'm a travel photojournalist".

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Writing your way to a career in travel photography Part 3

So you've sent your query letter and contact sheet of pictures off to an editor. What happens next?

If the editor likes your idea they will tell you to go ahead 'on spec'. This means that they agree to look at your article package but there is no obligation for them to buy it. When you have been writing for an editor for a while they will give you assignments but when you're first starting out expect everything to be 'on spec'. So now it's time to put everything together and send it off.

A month or so down the track and hopefully you will get an email out of the blue. They love your piece and are publishing it in the upcoming edition. You'll have a five page spread with 20 photographs and your name in shining lights. But now is not the time to rest on your laurels. You need to sell that article somewhere else. What, the same article? Yep. To another magazine? You bet. No travel photojournalist can ever make a living selling an article only once. The pay rates are just too low. For a big double page spread in a state newspaper here in Australia, you might get $250 on a good day. The trip alone cost you thousands, not to mention the amount of time it took you to write the piece, prepare the digital images…$250 doesn't buy a lot so you need to get a greater return on your investment.

Time to head back to the books and find another market for your piece. An article that sold to a newspaper in your home state could then be sold to a paper in a different state. An article that sells to a women's magazine could then sell to a caravanning magazine - obviously with slight alterations for the different market. As long as the publications are non-competing then editors know and understand that you have to sell the same piece multiple times. My piece on Japan sold to a local newspaper, a medical journal which runs travel articles, a backpacker's magazine and a travel magazine in the United Kingdom. Yes, the United Kingdom. (which doesn't seem a long way away for my UK readers but is a world away for my Aussie ones!) The picture above is the opening spread from the UK version of yesterday's Aussie version.

Look at overseas magazines for potential markets. The library is also home to books such as the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook (UK) and the Writers Market (USA) which lists thousands of magazines and newspapers in Europe, North America and Asia. Remember that Australia is a popular travel destination for the rest of the world.

In this day and age you need to think globally. At the beginning you might be writing about your local area but you should be trying to write for a global market.

Tomorrow in the final installment we'll talk about the golden pot at the end of the rainbow - having somebody pay you to travel and take photos, and of course write.

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.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Writing your way to a career in travel photography Part 1

Hi, I'm a travel photographer'. Who wouldn't love to be able to say that, even once! From giant billboards to glossy magazines, travel images are everywhere. If you have a portfolio of terrific photographs then there are customers for your work, but they might not be where you think they are. And they might want more than just your photos.

Although the market for travel photography is virtually unlimited, the market for beginning travel photographers is not nearly so large. Many advertising agencies license their images from stock libraries that can supply tens of thousands of images to choose from. Can you do the same? If a customer came to you for pictures from Japan one day, and then from Tanzania the next could you fill both requests? A client will only keep coming back if they know they can get what they need.

The same goes for assignment work. Sure there are always opportunities for talented up and coming photographers but if a major magazine or tour company has a big job coming up, chances are they'll give it to the tried and true pro. Feeling disillusioned? Don't be, because there's a sure-fire way to get your name and travel photographs seen by thousands of people all around the world, and get paid for it. And all it requires is for you to not just think of yourself as a photographer, but as a photojournalist.

Without a doubt, the best way to get your travel pictures published is to write some words to accompany them. Take a look at the magazines you subscribe to. How many of them use stand-alone photographs, or even a series of images run as a photo essay. Not many I'm sure. If you look closely, all the images are contained within articles. And if you look even closer you'll find that many of those photographs were taken by the author of the article.

Editors love a package. Give them ten stunning photos of India and, although they might love them, they have nowhere to put them. Write a 1500 word piece on that trip to India and again, they might be entranced, but they need some pictures. Give them both the words and the photographs and the editor will love you, and so will your bank manager when you deposit a nice cheque.

The first step on your road to being published is to find some customers. For travel photojournalists customers are anybody who publishes travel articles with photographs. These might range from Sunday travel supplements in your local newspaper to thick, glossy travel magazines. There are literally hundreds of publications in Australia alone that buy freelance travel material and one of the best places to find them is your local newsagent.

Don't just head for the travel section though. Take a browse through some magazines that you may never have opened in your life. Women's magazines, health magazines, 4WD magazines, motorbike magazines. Chances are there is a travel article in every single one of them. But these are just the tip of the iceberg. Trade publications, in-house company magazines and motoring body magazines will never find a space on the shelves next to your favourite photography magazine but often publish travel material. How do you find these magazines?

Well for the answer to that one you'll have to tune in tomorrow where I'll continue to talk about how I got started in travel photography - writing.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday's Link

There's something to be said about the simplicity of film. You took a photo and after doing the same thing 36 times you took a little cassette out of the back of your camera and handed it over to the processing lab where they took care of everything for you. If you were shooting print film you could ask for adjustments to the colours but if you were shooting slide film you were out of luck. What you saw was what you got. So you chose your slide film according to the colours you wanted. Maybe a Fuji Velvia for bright, saturated landscapes. Maybe a Provia for natural looking colours for documentary work.

Then slide scanners came along and suddenly we had the ability to change the colours in our pictures. How wonderful. Suddenly Photoshop and the computer gave us the ability that the black and white folks had had for a hundred years or so.

But it was a double edged sword. How did we know that the colour we saw on our monitors were the same as our clients saw? Why did our pictures published in magazines sometimes look nothing like the digital file we saw on our own screens. We were thrust headlong into the world of colour management.

Then digital cameras came along and changed things even more. Now we had a choice of colour spaces (whatever they were!) - sRGB vs Adobe RGB. We were suddenly told we needed to calibrate our monitors and our printers and to get proper colours we needed to say a few Hail Marys at the same time.

Joking aside, colour management is really important in ensuring that what you see on your monitor looks like what you get in your prints. I found a great little site which has an introductory primer to colour management and you can find it here. There's a few pages to read but I'm sure it will help you if you're finding it all a bit hard to understand.