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Selecting Photos for NF Articles

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For those of you who write non-fiction articles for mags, and send stock photos to support the article, can you share what criteria helps you select just the right photo?

I wrote my first nf article, which got rejected this week with a note that the photo support was weak.  I, on the other hand, thought the photo was perfect.  So I'm wondering if anyone can give my any tips about what to look for in a photo.

Obviously, resolution is important.  But what else?

#1 - February 05, 2006, 12:00 PM


I just sent in my first nf article, and I had a photo directly from an expert in the field, who I interviewed also, for the article. So, it wasn't a stock photo, I don't know if that will make a difference, but it's a great shot of my topic, taken on site, and very current (2005).

I hope others will chime in~ I'd be interested in opinions on this as well, since I'm starting to write more nf.
#2 - February 05, 2006, 12:12 PM

I got my photo off a college course listing on the internet (with permission from the owner/instructor, who was also an expert in this particular field), so it wasn't really a stock photo either. 

I'm beginning to wonder, though, if the photo should have some kind of kid-appeal.  My article certainly did have lots of kid appeal, but the photo was strictly a clear, vivid shot of the subject I described in the article.  There wasn't any real ZING to the picture at all.  Still, I am puzzled at the editor's comment about the photo being weak.

Anyone else have any insights?

#3 - February 05, 2006, 03:17 PM


Perhaps it was that there was only one photo?  There are many things an art director might like to choose from in photos.  He/she might want a vertical image or a horizontal one, so it's helpful to provide both. If it's of a person or animal, he might want (depending on which side of the page or spread the photo will be on) for the person to be looking left, or to be looking right.  If the photo is small, he may not be able to blow it up big, so a big picture is good.  If the picture is very "busy", it may not work when reduced to quite small. 

Your picture might also have been too dark, or too light, or framed too closely.

So for all those reasons, it's good to offer more than one photo, even if the photos are all of the same subject.

I'm sure there are other considerations, but i'm no expert!
#4 - February 05, 2006, 04:58 PM


I've sold many photographs to magazines, most of them mine, some in the public domain, some I found myself and asked the photographer if I could use them. The photos need to be very clear and in focus. They do not need to be "winning" photographs. I also compete, and judge photo contests, and these photos are different from those I submit to children's magazines. For the magazines the editors seem to want a good photograph depicting the subject, not some artistic winning picture that would be in a photography magazine. I think it's important to keep that in mind.

I also send in three or four if I have them, and let the editor pick. Sometimes the editor picks them all, sometimes just one or two. There's not much money in this, but then there's usually not much money in being an author either -- again, it's just for the passion of the art.

Shirley Anne   :D
#5 - February 06, 2006, 12:27 PM


Bringing up this old topic...

When you send in photos, do you have them printed up?  Or do you include them in the MS as it might be laid out in a magazine?  What about the query letter?  Do you include photos there?  Thanks!
#6 - December 07, 2006, 02:04 PM
« Last Edit: December 07, 2006, 02:08 PM by maddog »

Most of the national magazines use their own photographers and so have the regional ones I've written for, so I'm not sure if I can help.  Whenever I've pitched something new, I never include photos but write that photos are available (if they are).
#7 - December 07, 2006, 02:39 PM
THESE THINGS COUNT! award-winning nature series Albert Whitman
TWIGS (YA)  Merit Press



I try and take my own photos. I'm no photographer, but a digital camera makes it easier. Yes, I also state that photos are available if sending a query. If I'm sending the entire ms. I send prints or hard copies of the photos I have. I try and make them as kid-friendly as possible, such as having the/a child showing/doing whatever it is.
I would send as many as a half-dozen, that way the editor can pick and choose. Yes, they'll probably only use one or two, but give them more than they need and you'll have a better chance. I don't try and lay them out, that's not my job, and I don't know what the magazine's needs are for that page or pages. I second what richmond said, use both vertical and horizontal.

My two cent's worth.

#8 - December 07, 2006, 02:57 PM


I've used my own photos too. I send prints if it's snail mail. I include them as attachments in emails when guidelines say they accept attachments. I take a lot  of pictures of my subject so I can pick and choose. And I send as many as I can so an editor has a lot to select from.

As far as selecting what to send. I have a bit of experience, tho I'm by no means a professional photographer, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind when taking a picture. Framing the subject is important, making sure it's not way off center. ALWAYS check the back-ground. You don't want it cluttered with stuff. You don't want your subject, particularly if it's human to have say, a telephone pole growing out of his/her head! You don't want your shadow in the pic. If it's people, you don't wnat them squinting in the sunlight and having a lot of shadows across their faces. When it's animals try to get face on photos as well as from the side. When it's an object, sometimes having a person in the picture helps to show it's size. If the object is small and unfamiliar, use something kids might recognize, like a thimble to denote size.  You probably know all this stuff already, so forgive me for being wordy.


I know nothing about stock pictures. Where do I find stock pictures? Are there pictures "out there" one can use that don't require a "permission slip?" I'd LOVE to look into that!
#9 - December 08, 2006, 04:32 AM
« Last Edit: December 08, 2006, 04:48 AM by Bish »


Thanks for the tips, guys.  Time to pull out the old digital and start experimenting! 8)
#10 - December 08, 2006, 07:55 AM


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