By Glenys O’Connell @GlenysOConnell
Even the greenest freelancer knows that they should follow the publishers' guidelines to stand a chance of having work accepted. So, because many publications state they will use their own photographic contacts to illustrate an article if they decide to purchase, many writers don't send photos with their work.
That's a mistake.
The old adage that 'A picture is worth a thousand words' holds very true in the case of space conscious print media. Photos are important, but must be of the best quality, serve to illustrate a point in the article and attract a reader's attention, and must be used sparingly because they add to production costs and take valuable space. But if you are submitting a text piece that has photo potential, don’t hesitate to send some good shots along with the copy.
There are two reasons for this: 1) your pictures will add an extra dimension to your writing, enabling the editor to visualize your subject more clearly, and 2) The reason magazines and newspapers send out their own photographic staff, or hire professional photographic stringers, is that they need quality, professional pictures. No family snapshot type deals; your editor is looking for clear, well focused, well-thought out scenes that will complement the written article. You have the advantage of knowing your story and subject matter, so if you can provide top-quality photographs to go with your work, why should the editor look elsewhere?
This is a lesson I learned some years ago when I got the go-ahead for an article for Physicians' Management Manuals, a Canadian journal for medical doctors. They said they would send out a photographer to the rural home of my subject, but I sent in a few photographs with the text to illustrate the work he was doing. My pix were intended just to give the editor an idea of the wild, rugged area and the impact of my subject's work, but they were as professional and focussed as I could make them. They used my pictures, saved the cost of sending out another photographer, and I got the photo-credit, the extra bucks, and another assignment. Nice lesson.
Whether the editor decides to buy the article and photographs, or to use their own photographic staff’s work to enhance your article, you are still ahead in sending your own pix because photographs add a whole new dimension to the written article. They say a picture says a thousand words – including pixto illustrate your article, even if they aren’t used in the final publication, could be the make-or-break factor in the decision to purchase your work. After all, this extra dimension is the reason photographs are used in publications, right?
It goes without saying, of course, that you can't just send in snapshots. Photographs must be good, clear, well focused, well-composed and thoughtful. Here are a few 'flexible' rules to getting maximum mileage from your photo submissions:
1) Study your target publication and learn how they use photographs. You'll find that, due to layout considerations – most print publications do their layout on a column basis – that vertical photographs that will go across one or two columns are the most popular.
2) Don't try to cram too much into a single shot. If you're doing a travel piece about a village, for example, home in on a single house or building with special architectural features that illustrates a point in your article.
3) Head and shoulders is generally the norm for a photograph of a person, but if your subject is being featured because of a special skill, try to get a clear shot that illustrates his work. For example, a potter sitting at a potter's wheel, or a sculptor up to her elbows in clay.
4) Take the time to focus and frame your photographs. Use natural framing in your composition – doorways, archways, trees and shrubs, etc., make a natural frame that draws the viewer's eye to your central subject. And watch out for extraneous objects. I once took a photograph of an anti-hunt protest leader, using the setting of a rustic log cabin restaurant. My subject was standing in a casual shot with one elbow resting on the heavy log lintel of a fireplace. It was only later when developing the prints that I noticed that all but two of the shots showed the man with moose antlers sticking out from his head. I'd completely failed to notice the set of antlers from some long-ago hunting trip that decorated the lodge chimney breast!
5) Your photos must be technically good. If you have camera shake, invest in a tripod. And you must have a good-quality camera – sometimes you can get marvellous artistic shots with a cheap camera, but the quality simply isn't there. Remember the quality demands of newspaper or magazine print reproduction. Good equipment is worth the investment – I used a glorious second-hand Pentax for about 20 years and that camera paid for itself many, many times over in published pix and accepted articles. Now I use a Canon digital camera, and love the convenience of the screen which allows for seeing the ‘framing’, lighting, angle, etc. before you take the shot.
6) Even if you’ve always used a film camera and delight in the effects you can get using different settings, etc, it’s still time – or long overdue – for you to go digital! Learn about pixels, etc., and update yourself on the language and settings for digital pix. The age of digital photography is here. Most publications will now accept digital submissions online, so learn to use a digital camera, and I can’t stress enough the need to invest time and money in a good digital camera and a photo program – although I’ve seen really great pix taken with an iPad or iPhone, or good quality phone & table equivalents. Learn how to scan your stock of hard copy photos into your computer, enhance them, and send them over the ether.
7) Don’t forget there are lots of photo competitions. These can be a great way to find a home for that quirky, unusual, or very artistic photo that doesn’t seem to belong in an article but you love, anyway. And you can make a few extra dollars while adding to your list of accomplishments, too.
The last word: make sure you label your prints, whether hardcopy or digital, with your name, article sub line, and short identifying caption. Mark for the attention of the relevant editor, cross your fingers, and send!