Hey, look at me! I’m a professional photographer!
Just like a movie actor who yearns to direct, I, a life-long freelance writer, have always had a yen to see one of my photographs in a glossy magazine with a byline attached (and a check in the mail.) And now it’s happened a few times, thanks to selling photographs that accompany my articles.
Now, I have to admit, I have a decent eye for composition and my digital camera is fairly idiot-proof when it comes to snapping photos under “normal” conditions. But I’m still not on a par with Rich Wagner (who teaches the Ultimate Photography Workshops by AWAI) so why are magazines paying me, an average Joe, for my photos instead of having a “real” photographer take them?
I’ll tell you why…
Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way that increase the chances that a magazine will buy photos from you:
1. Take a picture that only you could take.
I once wrote a story about an unlikely romance I had while traveling in Panama. The story begged for a photo of my paramour, to show how unlikely our pairing was. Who else could take this photo? A magazine editor certainly wasn’t going to fly Rich down to take a casual, unposed picture of my Panamanian girlfriend. So my photo got in by default.
Likewise, if your story revolves around an anecdote including a specific person you’ve met, houses you’ve visited or events you’ve witnessed, you have a picture that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to replicate. That means that unless you’ve really botched it, you stand a good chance of having your photo accepted.
2. Consider the photo-essay.
As a writer, you know the importance of having a strong angle. Make your photos an integral part of your angle. Let’s say your interest is “The Great Clock Towers of Europe,” or “Oddball Street Signs,” or “Unusual Bathroom Stalls in Bars.” Presumably you are taking these photos as you go along and spot them, and no one else is likely to have these particular photos, certainly not all in one place. Since your article angle and the photos are basically synonymous, without your shots, there is no article. You win by default, again.
3. Capture a spontaneous or unusual moment.
Last New Year’s Eve, I was in Buenos Aires, and went out at 11:20PM to celebrate, only to find the streets deserted. Totally devoid of people and cars. So unusual was this that I went back to my apartment, grabbed my camera, and stood in the middle of a major thoroughfare, snapping pictures in both directions, to document this eerie phenomenon. (It turns out everyone stays home till after midnight with friends and family, and then comes out to party.) I have photos of “New Year’s Eve in Buenos Aires” that make a unique statement.
Similarly, I think even the most rudimentary of photographers could have sold photos if he or she had been in New Orleans when Katrina struck. Be on the lookout for events and celebrations that can’t be recaptured.
4. Get the proper equipment.
Better cameras take higher-quality photographs. And with everything else being equal, higher quality photographs will sell for more money. But not only will a better camera make for a better picture but the adage “fake it till you make it” also applies…
You may have occasions when you need to pass yourself off as a “professional photographer” in order to gain access to a person or place. In these instances, pulling out a little point-and-shoot camera is not going to enhance your credentials. Pulling out a more sophisticated piece of equipment, however, will make you look and feel more like a pro.
What kind of camera should you buy? It should just about go without saying these days that you should “go digital,” if for no other reason than the convenience and speed with which your photos can be seen, edited, uploaded, and sped to their destination.
Beyond that, you may want to consider one of the new digital SLR’s, like the Canon Rebel or the Nikon D50. As I learned too late in Rich’s recent (and excellent) Ultimate Photographer’s Workshop, all pixels are not created equal.
At the time, I didn’t have a digital SLR, so my fabulous photos couldn’t be blown up enough to retain their quality at full-page magazine size (a five megapixel point-and-shoot camera is not comparable to a five megapixel digital SLR in terms of image quality).
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]