You Can Be Next — How I Pick the Travel Writers and Photographers who Contribute to My Guidebooks
By freelance travel writer and photographer, B. Howard in Cleveland, TN
In The Bahamas this past November — where we hosted our first Photography and Guidebook Writing Workshop — the idea was that the attendees would help me update the new edition of my Adventure Guide to those islands.
I had suggested that at least three attendees would have their photographs published in the book and thus gain a nice by-line. And I had also agreed to publish any articles, reviews or postcards that might help the overall content of the book.
Well, the response from attendees was incredible. I had so many articles to consider — submitted by more than a dozen attendees — it took me almost three months to sort them out and make some decisions.
The photography submitted by almost everyone was outstanding, and far beyond what I was expecting.
You know, we see people arriving at these workshops with small digital cameras, some of them know so little about photography they are barely able to turn those cameras on. But when they leave us after three or four days, these people are shooting great images — far better than even I thought was possible by such inexperienced amateurs.
Is it the instruction they receive from Rich Wagner and me? I hope so. In fact, I know so.
But beyond that, I think they bring an overwhelming desire to succeed and an enthusiasm for writing and photography that bears no defeat. And that’s what it takes: a will to win and a strong desire to learn how the pros do what they do.
Of course, there are, practically speaking, a few things you can do to increase your chances of success. Here’s what the folks whose work I chose to include in my Bahamas book did right —
THREE TIPS FOR BETTER WRITING (EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT A WRITER)
Some of the best writing I got for this book came from one of the non-writers in the class, Joseph Satto. Joseph did three things well…
1. He said what he meant. Instead of focusing on “the way” he said something, he focused on “what” he had to say. People who write novels and poems for a living tend to get wrapped up in their own words and end up paying more attention to how they want to say something rather than what is actually interesting to the reader. You should keep that in mind the next time you sit down to write. Joseph did an outstanding job of reviewing places and submitting exactly what I needed for my book. Any editor will appreciate that.
2. He was observant. Instead of trying to fill the page with purple prose, his writing was packed with information the reader really needs to know. His reviews are well-written – with no added fluff of superlative adjectives that turn an otherwise useful review into an editor’s nightmare. He stuck to the facts, wrote about them as he saw them, cut out the BS, and turned in a number of very useful pieces of writing.
3. He spent his time asking questions, listening to the answers and acting on them. When he was told that something might be of interest, he sallied forth and took a look. If HE, and I do emphasize “HE,” found it to be interesting, he figured that our audience would be interested too. Then he sat down, took notes, analyzed what he learned, then cut out the superfluous and built a series of articles he knew I would love; and I did, and so will my publisher.
FIVE TIPS FOR BETTER PHOTOGRAPHS (NO MATTER WHAT KIND OF CAMERA YOU’RE USING)
I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating – there are certain things you can do to transform your pictures into extraordinary images, no matter what kind of camera you have. Here are five things the folks whose photos I chose did well…
1. They made their pictures unique — A beach is a beach is a beach. It’s hard to get an ugly picture of the water in The Bahamas. Most people are fascinated with the beautiful colors alone — blue waters lapping up on white sand. An untrained photographer will snap away and try to capture the many hues of the ocean. But no matter how perfectly they capture the color, the picture is useless if it doesn’t have a dominant POINT OF INTEREST.
And that’s exactly what our winners included: they made sure there was at least something in the immediate foreground that would grab the viewer’s interest: a fish, a beach chair, but more often than not — and most important — they put people in their pictures.
2. They trained themselves to be more observant – An untrained photographer might not notice the trash can, the dirty diaper, or the crumpled beach towel. You MUST survey the scene.
I have said this so many times I know that by now you must be bored stupid by it; but it is very important. Just a few days ago I saw a photograph taken inside a manufacturing plant, and it was to be used for advertising. Right there in the foreground, on top of a machine’s worktable, was a dirty, oily wiping rag. It completely spoiled an otherwise great image.
Folks, this is photography 101. You have to train yourself to see this stuff. It does take practice. But it’ll pay off, I promise.
3. Include people… oh dear, how many times have I said this? People sell pictures. If there is one thing you will learn from me it is that. DO NOT wait around for the people in your image to leave. Instead, watch what they are doing. Wait for them to do something interesting (people being people always will) and then shoot the image. You have no idea how this simple concept will improve your photography and increase the number of photographs you sell.
4. Use what you know about composition. In Turn Your Pictures into Cash, AWAI’s photo course, you learn the Rule of Thirds, diagonal lines, and framing in one of the first few lessons. Learn these… master these. They’re critical keys to success.
5. Finally, the guys who have won places in my book didn’t try to re-invent the wheel. Rich and I told them what would work – what does work – and they listened. Then they went out and did as they were asked. The result was a vast number of saleable photographs. (Heck, I have seen images shot at our workshop in the Bahamas, by rank amateurs, that I would have been proud to have shot myself.)
[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.]