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People typically “come at” a story in one of two ways. Some have an idea in mind and head out with a camera in search of images to reinforce that idea. Others start “images first.” They take the camera with them and simply go looking for what appeals. Then, armed with those shots, they think about how they could use them to tell a story. Either approach is fine. What matters is that there BE a story. And that it be geared for a specific kind of reader. It doesn’t have to be an epic story. In fact, the smaller and tidier it is, the easier you’ll find it to sell. Think about what you can say — to a particular reader — in roughly 250 words (that’s about half a type-written page). Let’s look at this reader’s photo — submitted to this month’s Scavenger Hunt Photo Challenge. It was snapped on Lake Annecy, France: We learn from the photographer’s description that this lake is the second-largest in France, it’s a very clean lake, and it’s a popular spot for water sports. I’d say there are probably several stories you could craft from this photo. Several “angles” you could pursue. STEP 1. Ask yourself: Who would be interested in this lake? Who would find this “lake story” engaging or useful? I can think of several ways we might answer that question:

  • An eco-minded traveler. Ecology is more and more on people’s minds. The photographer tells us this is “‘Europe’s cleanest lake’ because of strict environmental regulations introduced in the 1960s.” You could start your piece by saying just that and then talk about the ways ecology has informed the activities and offerings in this area. Then recommend some ways an eco-minded visitor could enjoy it.
  • A water-sport enthusiast. This is a large body of water and popular for swimming and sports. In what ways do the operators here distinguish their offerings? Is there something a person who loves to sail would really appreciate? What makes sailing here different than sailing down in Florida, say?
  • An active family. There’s a young boy on the boat in the photo. Presumably you can rent boats here. Could a family on vacation take sailing lessons? Why would you recommend this lake as a destination for visitors with kids? What sets it apart?
STEP 2. Once you pick the kind of reader you’d like to entice, simply explain to that reader — just like you would in an email home to a friend — why he should come. Don’t worry about style… just get your reasons and the facts down. You can do this fast. (Give yourself 20 minutes.) STEP 3. Now that you have written down the facts and your argument for why your “target” reader would like the place, go back and simply tighten up your language. Concentrate most on the first few sentences. That’s where you’ll grab your reader’s attention (or you won’t). So make sure that’s engaging. You could put a description of the place there. Recount a story. Or even start with an astonishing fact. (Give yourself about 15 minutes.) There… in three steps — really, just 35 minutes or so — you’ll have in hand not only the photo you used as your springboard… but text you can sell along with it. And I should point out, too, that you don’t need to travel to France to do this. This process is something you could repeat every week right there in your own hometown. Snap a photo of something that’s going on and use it as a prompt for a story. You’ll have a track record of success in no time. [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.]

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