We’ve all heard a picture is worth a thousand words, but to a travel writer, photos are money. The sooner you learn to collect and organize photos, the sooner you will launch your career. In my first year of travel writing, I amassed over 10,000 images of destinations, attractions, food, wildlife, and wine. Unfortunately, I didn’t know much about organizing that collection. I wish someone had told me back then how important it is to collect, sort and organize a photo library.
Where do all these photos come from? Most of us travel writers will have the bulk of our published stories in one or more regions. It’s vital to collect pictures of the cities, states, or countries you visit the most because those photos will have multiple lives. In my home state of Maryland, I have a photo library covering the Baltimore area, Annapolis, Frederick, Baltimore County, and the Eastern Shore. I write about these areas often. The photos I have amassed make it possible to conjure up a story without even leaving my home office.
Let’s take a look at my style of photo organization—maybe not the best, but it works for me. To start with, you need to label your categories and sub-categories. For instance, I have a Maryland album (category) that has smaller towns like Frederick, Havre de Grace, Port Deposit, and more as sub-categories. I have a Baltimore album for all my attraction, food, hotel, and scenery shots in this popular city. The Eastern Shore of Maryland is so big that I need a separate album for all the small towns I’ve written about or intend to cover.
The states around my home offer lots of story possibilities. I’ve created separate albums for Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Since my camera is always with me, I take shots of food, historical markers, hotels, and other images that might prove useful and place the images in their own folders.
I travel to Japan every one to three years, and over my four years of travel writing have accumulated a couple of thousand photos. It’s OK to use photos taken before your travel writing career began. I use pictures from trips to Tokyo, Colorado, and Alaska taken years before I was a travel writer.
At some point, you might have too many photos, and you could crash your computer as I did with my previous Mac. Once you get several thousand photos, spend time each month and thin them out. I like to cull digital images while on a long plane ride. I find it’s a good use of my time, plus I often get story ideas just from looking over my photo library.
You can source photos from CVBs, visitor bureaus, and PR companies for your stories, but I rarely use such photos because I want to have a shot no one else is posting. With over 400 published articles now, I’d estimate only 2% featured images that weren’t taken by me.
Currently, I have a library of over 19,000 photos to use. These images have more uses than just travel and food writing. Two years ago, while sitting in the dentist’s chair, I noticed the TV display was showing just one tropical scene. I told my dentist I could sell him a slideshow from my collection, and he ended up paying me $850 for 240 of my photos.
Edible Delmarva magazine has stuck with me since launching four years ago. I attribute that relationship partly due to the quality of my photos. The editor seems to like my images. Once an editor knows you can furnish good shots, your chances of getting a regular gig improve significantly.
With such a collection of valuable photos, I always back up my computer every two to four weeks. My choice of storage is an external hard drive, but the cloud should work just as well. The important thing is to protect your photo library. In the future, I might sell some of my best shots as fine art or more slideshows and would hate to lose my photos to a computer crash or theft.
If you’re going to be a serious travel and food writer, I urge you to pay close attention to photo collection, storage, and usage. It will serve you well and take you many places you previously only dreamed of visiting.
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