Whenever I travel to photograph, I usually have a couple of story ideas to work on during the trip.
Creating pictures with a story in mind is a great aid in determining what I’ll photograph on a particular day, since it’s impossible to photograph everything anyway.
Of course, you should also be open to the unexpected (that’s part of what travel is about), and be flexible to modify your story ideas depending on what you find in the field. To give you a real-life example…
A few years ago, I was preparing for a trip to the Iguazú Falls that straddle Argentina and Brazil. Because my preference is to write photography “where-to” articles, I conducted my pre-trip research focusing on when the falls look their best (the water flows vary depending on a number of factors), where the best overlooks were located, whether photo permits are required (no), opening times for each park (Argentina and Brazil have national parks on their respective sides), sunrise and sunset times, etc.
I also identified a photography publication called Shutterbug, which publishes the type of article I was considering, and obtained a copy of its submission guidelines (these are instructions on how to submit your work for review — always follow them).
During the trip, I not only took photographs from the locations identified by my research, but of some others that I felt would work nicely with the article.
I jotted down information that would be helpful to include in the article, but which my research did not uncover (for example, “bring shower cap or other plastic cover to keep camera dry while photographing at La Garganta del Diablo”).
When I returned to the office I wrote my story, selected about 20 images, and filed my submission with Shutterbug.
It usually takes a few months to hear from magazines after sending a submission (following these steps may help reduce the wait), but within a week I received an email from the editor informing me the story had been accepted for publication. A few months later the article and images were published. The pay was about $900.
Here are some tips on how to sell your photos to magazines:
Pick a Good Spot
As a freelance photographer self-producing a shoot, you have discretion as to where you travel. Picking a place that’s photographically interesting but has not been overexposed (pun intended) will help your chances of being published. An article about photographing the lighthouses in Puerto Rico, for example, will be easier to sell than one about photographing lighthouses in Maine.
Pick Your Subject
I like writing about photography, but you might like writing about food, history, general travel, music, etc. Deciding what it is you want to write about will determine what to photograph to illustrate your piece.
Pick Your Magazines
Based on what you want to write about, determine which magazines might be a good fit for your article, and get their submission guidelines before you leave. Most publications have their guidelines posted online.
Research Before You Go
There’s no such thing as too much pre-trip research, since what you learn will help determine what you photograph. Research is also great for coming up with ideas.
For example, years ago I wrote (and sold) an article about photographing lighthouses in Puerto Rico, and during my pre-trip research I discovered a number of historical tidbits that I incorporated into the article.
Take More than One Shot and Be Picky About What You Submit
During your trip, keep in mind that magazine editors like choices when laying out their pages—meaning they will appreciate if you have photos of the same subject in different configurations (horizontal, vertical, tilted, lots of empty space the magazine can use to insert words, and so on).
Of all the pictures I took of Iguazu Falls, I only submitted about 20, making sure to include at least a couple of each subject mentioned in the article, some establishing images showing the big picture, medium-range, and detail shots.
Now get out and shoot something.