This is Part One in a series of four articles on Travel Writing and Photography by Blair Howard. Blair is a travel photographer who has written and photographed dozens of books and hundreds of travel articles.
Getting Started: From Notes to Published Page
Over the past couple of issues, we’ve been discovering the secrets of what I call the Photo Essay or Round-Up article and how to shoot the photographs to support it. But how, specifically, do you move from the idea stage to building the actual article? Here’s the way I go about it:
You’ll Need to do a Little Research – Find at Least Five Attractions
First, I do a little research. If I know I’m going to visit a specific location, I’ll pull it up on the web, research the visitor’s information, and even buy a guide book.
Next, I sit down with a yellow pad and do some thinking. I’ll make a list all of the significant features of the location: the landmarks, attractions, historic sites, hotels, country inns, beaches, museums, and so on.
Having done that, I look for groupings of at least five subjects (museums, restaurants, beaches, whatever) that I consider have “universal appeal.” The idea is that each grouping may possibly provide me with a publishable photo essay or round-up article.
Once I have my list, I head out, camera in hand, and visit a couple of sites in each of the groupings, shoot some pictures, and then it’s back to the yellow pad to make a few notes.
Now to Contact the Editors
Hopefully, I will end up with at least two or three viable projects – projects I feel I can sell at least a half-dozen times. If I do, I make a few phone calls, write an e-mail or two, and even send out a couple of queries. The phone calls and e-mails will be to editors I already have in my client database and I know will publish the type of articles I’m proposing.
The queries are to editors I’ve never dealt with before: the idea being to expand my database. By the time I even put pen to paper (ok, fingers to keyboard), my plan is to have sold one or more of my projects several times.
Go Shoot The Photos
If I get a response from just one of the editors on my client list, I head out again to photograph all of the sites I intend to include in that particular project. This may take several days, depending upon how far-flung the individual sites may be. It took me a couple of weeks to photograph all the sites for the Battlefields article I told you about in the last issue.
When the photography is complete, I’ll have several hundred digital images on hand. And it’s at this point that I do some serious editing (and so should you)
You MUST Eliminate the Substandard Shots
I edit my images down from several hundred to maybe just a couple of dozen, or so. I will not keep any image that is anything I consider to be less than technically perfect. I don’t mean that I set the substandard images aside: I toss them, get rid of them completely. Now that doesn’t mean I keep only stunning or spectacular images. The way I have to shoot – on the fly and under all sorts of adverse conditions – my images aren’t always stunning or spectacular. They do, however, have impact, variety, and eye-catching color. What I mean is that I get rid of any image that’s not perfectly composed, perfectly focused, and perfectly exposed. Remember?
Choose the Images and Write the Descriptions
Once I’ve removed the garbage, I will choose two or three images that I feel will effectively illustrate each subject in that particular grouping (attraction, museum, restaurant, beach, or whatever). The idea is provide the editor with a choice as to which images he will use. Yep, they DO like to have some input.
Then I’ll number each image and write short piece of text that will effectively describe the particular site or location, but which is also applicable to the two or three photographs that go with that particular site or location. What I mean is this: The text I write must be related to any one or all of the two or three images I’ve chosen to illustrate the attraction, or whatever.
Finally, I write a lead for the article – something that will grab not only the editor’s attention, but that of his readers as well. That, along with the descriptive, transitional chunks of text I’ve already written, now comprise a complete package – text and photographs. All it needs now is some proofing, maybe a little re-writing, and the package is ready for the editor.
(c) Blair Howard