A Picture Sells a Story
I wrote an article instead of a blog, creature of habit that I am. Still, it may be worth editing for a writing magazine. So now I’ve made it vaguely blog-like. Apologies if it’s too long. I’ve deleted loads. There’s just too much to say.
Having written features for travel magazines, I know it’s good quality photos that sell a story. Dare I say, as a writer? Perhaps the pictures sell it more than the actual words. The text must still be interesting and informative, but if my pictures don’t please the editor, I know there’s a chance of rejection.
So, what do editors want? Almost invariably, high resolution images. I’ve had editors ask for ‘a minimum of 1Mb, preferably much more’ or ‘a minimum of 2500 pixels on the longest side’. I’ve been asked for a selection of ‘thumbnails’ before an editor even considered my pitch. Most supply guidelines.
It’s easy to be deceived by the quality of pictures on a computer screen. Don’t they look great? But they need a high enough resolution to work as well on the printed page. It’s all about how many of those little dots – pixels – you can squeeze in. For publication on line, this is probably less important, as the images used are often smaller, unlike the full A4 page of a glossy magazine. My camera has 10 million pixels, and just adequate.
I hear you say, ‘But I just point and shoot. The pictures are fine.’ It’s almost true with today’s technology. But if you think ahead, you won’t need to trim later to get rid of dull foregrounds, overhead cables or patches of shade. Trimming loses you precious pixels. It’s all about framing.
Everyone knows the best pictures are taken early or late in the day. Nothing beats an early morning shot across the water, with reflections so clear you could use the picture upside down. But what if you’ve only one day – usually the case for me – to rush around getting material for an article? I plan ahead.
Inevitably, I’ll take some shots at midday, but I try to arrange museum visits or eating for the ‘bad light’ times and save the ‘good light’ times for my most important shots. For example, I work out when the sun will light up a particular place of interest, when that ‘bustling street’ will fill with people, and when the sun will be behind me for the shot I hope will grace the opening page.
I only include people in my pictures if they’re there for a reason. For an article about hiking in the Pyrenees, a figure with a backpack would add to the scene. In a picture of a salmon river, I’d search for a fisherman to fit in the frame. People are also useful to give a sense of scale. Think Ayers Rock. Or the biggest snake you ever saw. Without something to compare their size to, who’d believe you?
Most cameras these days have fully automated settings which work as well as most photographers. Personally, I like to take lots of shots, both manual and automatic. Listed below are what I try to remember and often forget. Please add your own. So I can steal them for my article!
Fill the frame, not forgetting to take a selection of upright and horizontal shots
Take your pictures early or late in the day whenever possible
Take lots of shots. Most, but not all, should relate to the text
Learn how to adjust the shutter speed and exposure settings for difficult light – night shots, snow
Use people and objects to make a point in the scene, or to give a sense of scale
Plan your day/visits with the angle of the sun. Time is money!
Experiment with different angles, side-lighting, quirky subjects. Editors want original shots and don’t want to resort to local tourist office pictures which have appeared elsewhere