Photos Add $$$: Learn to Include Photos with Your Next Submission

Penny J. Leisch | March 2005

Today, editors want quality writing, great photos, and one-stop shopping. You don’t even have to own a camera to submit a great package; yet, two editors I know pass up articles due to the lack of photos every day. Writers take note-if you write travel, news, sports, interviews, crafts, nostalgia, or memoirs, adding photos can secure sales and increase pay.

Publishing, like most businesses, endures staff and budget cuts when the economy slows. Publishers must also find ways to compete with television, the Internet, and video games, for their audience. In a society that spends hours every day using visual media, good photos become a key competitive feature. The reality is that writers must now compete in this arena, too.

One way publishers stretch their budget is to purchase freelance material from writers who include photos. All of the markets listed above use photos; and because these stories deal with a specific person, place, or event, the editor can’t easily pull a stock photo to fill the gap. So let’s explore how you can take advantage of this opportunity.

Why are photos important?

Dramatic travel photos showcase exciting scenery and attractions. They encourage readers to book a trip, recommend the destination, or purchase books about the location. Any travel article needs photos for maximum effect.

News and sports publications show winners and losers’ emotions. Because photos reveal humanity and reality, readers can share in the triumph and the tragedy of the moment. In other words, people like to see people.

Likewise, when writing nostalgia or memoirs, keep in mind that nothing tugs at readers’ emotions like photos of the old Victrola next to the family matriarch as a young bride, for example. In these cases, a photo can also visually preserve history for future generations.

When writing about crafts, photos may spark the desire to buy a project kit, sign up for a class, or purchase instructions. Well-selected photos clarify instructions and describe sequences that may be difficult to follow through written instruction alone.

How do you know what publishers require?

Publishers offer guidelines for photographers, just as they do for writers. The next time you request writers’ guidelines and a sample copy, request photo guidelines too. Read the guidelines carefully. Do they accept digital photos, prints, or slides? Next, analyze the publication by asking:

  • Are all photos in color?
  • Are they large or small?
  • Do they illustrate the story, or add new information?
  • Does each photo include people?
  • How many photos accompany the type of article you are writing?

Many publishers are working to incorporate the Internet and digital photography into publishing. The transition is especially difficult for small publications that lack computer-savvy staff, extensive software, and the time to learn the nuances of a technology that changes daily. Therefore, not all publishers accept all photographic media yet. The good news is that you only have to learn to ask questions that define which resources to use in order to produce appropriate photos for your publishers.

By asking the right questions, you’ll produce an acceptable photo package for most publishers, and the following questions will help guide you through this process:

  • Does the publication want photos of specific items, people, or places?
  • How many photos do they want?
  • Do they prefer a certain brand and/or speed of film?
  • Will the photos be used in print, online, or both?
  • Do they require you to submit prints, slides, or digital photos?
  • If prints, what size, what finish, and do they also need a negative?
  • If digital, what file size and file format is required?
  • Do they accept digital files transmitted electronically?
  • Do you need to send the publisher electronic copies of the images on a CD?

The most important question concerns the end use. Will the photos be published online or in print, and what photographic media does the publisher want to receive?

Once you’ve determined the answers to these questions, take the guidelines and your film or digital media to a photography store for expert help. Good photo stores can copy photos, scan photos, or burn photos onto a CD. Be sure to have an extra copy made for yourself.

If you need help physically taking appropriate pictures, local universities are wonderful sources of assistance. Technically savvy journalism and photography students love seeing their names listed as photographer under your byline. Find a partner, and you can help each other.

Another convenient resource may be your local drugstore. Many stores offer CDs with film processing, and most have kiosks that create photos or CDs directly from the memory media in a digital camera. These machines are easy to use, and allow you to make a variety of adjustments to any photo from any media. When the adjustments are complete, the finished product prints out on high quality photo paper. The result is a film quality print.

Do you need an expensive camera?

No. Any type of camera and film works, even a disposable camera. However, if you have a digital camera, take pictures with film too. Film converts to digital easily and cheaply; but digital to film conversion is not cheap, and most writers can’t justify the expense.

At the low-end of the digital market, a cheap two mega-pixel digital camera produces acceptable e-zine and website material, but digital photos for print work require a slightly better three mega-pixel camera. However, if your goal is to shoot cover art, you need to invest in lessons and a professional quality digital camera.

When you shoot digital pictures for publication, select the best quality setting on the camera. You can’t store as many images, but high quality shots can be manipulated to suit editorial requirements. Do not edit in the camera, and do not use the LCD screen; you’ll get better pictures and a lot more mileage from your batteries.

Where do you find ready-to-use photos?

In the US, and in many tourist destinations, local tourism offices or Chambers of Commerce offer free photos of local attractions for publication use. For news and sports events, there may be school photographers taking photos, or your neighbor may be shooting snapshots because their child is in the game. In my experience, just as for students, offering to include their name, as photographer, usually nets all the photos you want.

Likewise, you can contact clubs and organizations for photos of special projects, historic club events, or to connect with someone who may already possess high-quality photos of specialized items.

When you need photos of people, check the archives at local newspapers, libraries, and museums. These sources may or may not charge a fee for photos; and of course, you should credit the original photographer, if the information is available, as well as the source.

High profile individuals who get frequent publicity have professionally prepared publicity photos they hand out. In fact, some personalities are adamant about approving all photos for publication. On the other hand, friends and neighbors often enjoy seeing almost any photo published alongside their memoirs and nostalgia stories.

Anytime you take photos, or use photos others provide, obtain a signed release giving you permission to use the photo. If there are any questions about your right to use the work, clarify the terms of the release before publication. Photography reference books, such as Photographer’s Market (published annually by Writer’s Digest), provide business advice and sample release forms. Check local laws and regional publications for proper procedures outside the US.

How do you present a package?

First, obtain carriers to organize and ship photographic material. Carriers are sheets of photo-safe plastic with pockets sized for photographic media. Carriers for slides, diskettes, CDs, and photos are sold at photo stores and online.

After obtaining carriers, type a list of the pictures. Assign a number and caption to each. Then, include the same information on the back of each photo by attaching a typed self-stick note, or by creating self-adhesive address labels on your computer and affixing a label. To avoid damaging your pictures, never write on them-not even for home use. Remember to always send duplicates of any media. Keep the originals safely at home.

If you submit slides, use slide labels. Most word processing programs have settings for self-adhesive slide labels, which are available through office supply stores.

Next, when you send diskettes or CDs, enclose a typed list detailing the contents, and affix a diskette or CD label containing the name of the corresponding article and photos. Again, commercial labels are available, and word processing programs have preset format selections for most.

Electronic submissions require a separate document file listing the photos and captions. In the cover e-mail, state the file names of the article and photos. Next, list the photos and indicate how many items are in each file. Last, indicate the number of e-mail messages the recipient should expect, if large files must be sent separately.

When you mail photo-writing packages, use sturdy envelopes that do not require the contents to be folded. A file folder slipped into a sturdy envelope provides excellent protection against damage without adding excess weight. To prepare the package for mailing, type the article title on a label and affix it to the file folder before inserting the folder into the envelope. Next, type two address labels-one with your return address and one with the destination address. Last, be sure to include a self-addressed envelope large enough to return the photographic media (use the return address label) and stamped with adequate return postage.

How do you learn to take photos that sell?

The cost of training depends on how much you want to invest and whether you enjoy photography. Composition basics are the same when shooting film or digital. Initially, concentrate on learning to shoot simple compositions that portray the subject well and compliment your written topic. Be sure the focus is perfect, and the light is balanced. Most libraries offer a variety of basic photography books for beginners who are motivated to study on their own.

City recreation departments and local clubs may offer inexpensive photography classes, and some companies host employee photography groups. Also, watch neighborhood newspapers to find local photographers who teach classes.

Some large photo stores may also offer lessons; but they hope students will "fall in love" with the latest camera, so expect a sales pitch too. The major camera makers, such as Fuji and Nikon, offer excellent seminars throughout the US as well.

Academic courses are offered at colleges, universities, and online at schools such as the New York Institute of Photography (NYIP). Although most writers don’t want to make a second career out of photography, the NYIP site is a great self-teaching tool and reference guide.

Here are a few basic composition tips to help get you started:

  • Know the subject. Then, clearly, obviously feature your subject.
  • Do not center the subject; move off to one side slightly.
  • Move in as close as possible.
  • Use flash when the subject is in shade or shadow.
  • Keep picture composition simple.

Now, grab a roll of film, start adding photos to your work, and soon you’ll see an increase your article sales and your income.


Penny J. Leisch is a freelance writer in Arizona. Her clients include the City of Tempe, Walsh America, Camping & RV Magazine, Warner Wrangler newspaper, Loving Pets Magazine, Garden and Hearth magazine, and Cup of Comfort for Mothers & Sons, due out in April 2005. She also teaches writing and photography locally and online.

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