Writers are primarily words people, so it surprises many to discover that editors of magazines and newspapers often want writers to supply artwork to accompany articles, too. A photo, chart or other illustration makes an article more appealing to readers, and helps break up long stretches of text.
Art also provides content to the layout at no additional charge (since many publishers don’t pay extra for photos). Sometimes, it’s easy to get art. Some sources offer an ftp site where writers can help themselves to a bevy of high-resolution artwork.
Other times, sources don’t have any photos, or don’t have the technology savvy to email photos (I’ve had some actually offer to fax me a photo!). Some send fuzzy photos taken with a phone camera or ones that don’t relate to the subject matter.
When the source lives too far away to warrant driving there to take photos yourself, try these tips to get your hands on art to accompany your articles.
DIY art can accompany some business articles, how-to’s and consumer pieces. Read a recent issue to get an idea of the types of photos taken and mimic their style.
I was writing on wintertime auto safety and none of my experts had photos of themselves or representative art of what to carry in case of car trouble. So, I photographed my own car’s trunk full of the safety gear I artfully arranged in it. I removed items not pertinent to the article, and held an open umbrella behind me to eliminate the glare from sunlight streaming in the garage windows over my shoulder. The results were good enough to get published with the article.
Use your camera’s highest quality setting. Shoot in natural, indirect sunlight if possible. The flash often creates glare, as does direct sunlight.
Carefully examine the entire frame before you click. Is there anything in the photo that detracts from it? Try zooming in closer to fill up the frame with your subject. Too often, non-professional photos have too much foreground or background, which minimizes the importance of the subject of the photo.
Use a tripod or hold your breath while clicking if your camera doesn’t have an image stabilization feature (most newer ones do). Take many photos and take them at different perspectives and camera settings so you will have at least a couple of good shots. Most professionals don’t get it right with just one try.
Ask sources if they have friends or family members with photos and tech savvy. My sources are usually surprised that a non-professional photo of them will suffice. Most snapshots will work for a “head shot” to accompany a profile or to use alongside main art with a multi-sourced article as long as the photos are:
- above four megapixels (higher if it needs cropping)
- with plain backgrounds
- without superfluous people/pets/objects
- in season/appropriate to the subject matter.
Visit the websites of organizations for representational art. Look for “newsroom” or “media” links. For example, if you’re writing about safely cooking beef, the Beef Checkoff’s site, maintains a photo library with free high-resolution photos for members of the media to use with articles. Always notify organizations that you plan to use their media photos and where. Give credit to them as the source with “Photo courtesy” preceding the organization’s name. Some organizations request a photographer credit, too.
Search online for “free high resolution photos” to find websites that offer stock photos. Again, you will need to cite the source and you may need additional permission to use it. Read all of the site’s guidelines before you download and use anything. While this option for obtaining art is quick and somewhat easy, you risk that the art may be used elsewhere first.
Don’t take art without giving credit or without notification. General web photos are low resolution, so culling them for use won’t work anyway. And it’s unethical to use art without permission or without the implied consent of using art from a media page.
Many small businesses don’t have good photos that depict their companies. In these cases, I appeal to the local chamber of commerce or travel bureau. They are often very willing to go take terrific photos for you if the article will give positive exposure to a local business. When you call a chamber or bureau, explain how your article will promote the business in question, tell them the circulation of your periodical, and offer sincere thanks for their help.
Ask sources if they have been interviewed by a local newspaper and have been photographed by their staff. You will need to credit the photographer, but you may get an inexpensive or even free photo this way.
Websites such as fiverr.com and craigslist.com can connect you with people willing to email you photos of far-off businesses for not much money. It certainly is less expensive than hiring a professional and can result in photos that may work for you.
I once hired a professional for $300 to photograph a car for an auto magazine, only to receive an inch high stack of out-of-focus, ill-suited photos nothing like what I wanted. Most amateurs could have done better.
Consider contacting a community college near your source to connect with photography students eager to build a portfolio. You may need to pay them, but you will probably end up with some decent photos for not much money.
If your article is fact-heavy, a chart can help bolster its visual appeal. Gather statistics from reputable websites such as those of non-profit organizations, government sites and general industry sites. Specific company web sites may use skewed statistics to improve sales. Cite the source and create a chart in a program such as Excel. Charts help readers visualize figures and, like photos, they create a lasting impact.
Deborah Jeanne Sergeant writes from her home in Clyde, N.Y. about a variety of subjects for magazines and newspapers. She also completes copywriting projects. Visit her online at http://www.skilledquill.net.