Early in my writing career, two incidents informed me that, if I wanted to make money writing for magazines, I had to take good photographs. Unbelievably, photos were more important than my words! I stumbled into a monthly gig writing for Toy Farmer magazine, a start-up badly needing writers. For six months, I happily cashed my checks until one day the editor called and said, “Can‘t you take better photos? Like our other writers?”
Yikes! I knew an ultimatum when I heard one.
At the same time, the now-defunct Discovery magazine used a single one-eighth-page photo of mine, and paid me the staggering sum of $500. For the photo alone. Talk about added incentive.
So I determined to become proficient, through practice, practice, and more practice. In those days, processing cost money, so I planned each practice picture before snapping the shutter. I processed only the film, examined each negative frame with a magnifying glass, eliminating a plethora of bad shots–objects poking out of the main subject, blurring, poor composition, poor light, bad angles, etc. Then, I paid to print a few best for study. Hundreds of shots later, bit by bit, I got better.
I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered photography, but since then I’ve published more than 8,000 photos in magazines. They’re small niche publications, but the pay and publication is consistent: every month for 27 years for Toy Farmer, every month for 17 years for Farm Collector, 66 consecutive issues for Gas Engine magazine–as well as many other magazines. Hobby and antique magazines are good bets for anybody. Though photo pay is low, $5-10 per, totals add up as they often use ten or more per article.
My improved photography also pays off in cover photos, including a recent string of five in a row for Farm Collector at $100 a pop. That kind of consistency doesn’t come without good photos.
Everybody can learn to take good photos. These basics will get you started:
- Buy a good digital camera and good lens, like an 18-200 mm all-purpose zoom.
- Use the camera’s automatic feature as you learn.
- Get close; fill the screen with your subjects.
- Pay attention to light.
- Make sure objects aren’t protruding from your subject.
- Take many photos, at different angles.
- Learn solid composition–how a good photo is laid out.
- Study and emulate pictures in the magazines you‘re targeting.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that good photos can sell average writing…but never–NEVER!–the other way around.
- Somebody Stole My Photos…And They Ended Up In A Book!
- Can you publish photos of paintings?
- Stories + Photos = More Sales
- Want to Get Sued by a Model? Put His/Her Stock Photo on the Cover of Your Controversial Book!
- Does That Website Really Own The Photo They Just Gave Me Permission To Use? Not Likely!
Bill Vossler has published more than 3,400 articles in 212 magazines, as well as 16 books. He is a columnist for the St. Cloud Times Life section, won an award for “Best Photo” from N. D. REC magazine, sells photos in istockphoto.com, shows four new photos per day on his web page, is working on his memoir, tentatively titled Stories from the Silent Streets,and speaks to groups about his unusual growing-up days, with topics like, “Lessons in Ethical Living,” “The Morality of Writing,” “Childhood Terrain,” “Demons of the Fall,” and others. His only regret in life is that his cat, Anjo, will still not sit on his lap.
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