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One of the first questions my editor at a national cruise magazine always asks is: “How are the pictures?” For him, good images are as important as a good story. In other words: No pictures, no sale.
Fortunately, I often have been able to take my own pictures to accompany my stories. Other times, I have known where to get the images I needed. Either way, my ability to provide the visual elements of the story in addition to the written words has greatly enhanced my ability to sell my work. Of course, it’s not necessary that you provide pictures with your story, but if images are available, you should always mention (but not send) them with your query.
Even if you don’t take your own photos or provide them with your manuscript, an editor may expect you to provide links to online photo libraries or media kits. The magazine will then download whichever images they like. Sometimes, magazine articles (especially personal experience stories) may be accompanied not by photos but by illustrations. In this case, you will not be expected to provide the drawings, as the magazine probably has a regular artist (or artists) they work with. But you may be asked to help develop the concept or to review a preliminary drawing. For one of the most recent stories I sold, the magazine wanted pictures of an antique book I was writing about. So I sent them the book, which I owned, in order for their art department to photograph its pages to meet their requirements.
When I first started shooting on assignment for my travel articles, magazines used slides (color transparencies) that were screened for publication. The cost of film and processing, which usually came out of my own pocket, could be upwards of $100 per trip. Of course, those days are long gone, thanks to the rise of digital photography. Today, you can take a picture and it’s instantly viewable, shared, or submitted via email or text.
However, there are still some technical aspects of photo production that all writers should be able to discuss with their editors. The first of these is resolution. Magazines require high-resolution photos, usually at least 300 dpi (dots per inch). This means the picture you took with your smartphone or point-and-shoot camera will probably not be adequate. If you plan on taking your own pictures, you’ll need a digital SLR camera.
Then there is the matter of a photo’s format. The most common file type is JPEG, but TIFF and RAW are also accepted and sometimes preferred (TIFF files are bigger and offer better resolution; RAW files are unprocessed data). When in doubt, simply ask your editor which format his or her publication prefers.
Improving your photography skills or learning more about graphic design may not be directly related to being a better writer, but it could hold the key to becoming a more successful freelancer.
—M.T. Schwartzman covers Alaska tourism and the cruise industry for consumer and industry publications. He also teaches adult-education classes on writing and publishing.