Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dig Out Your Sludge And Take A Picture Of It.

We're fast approaching the long Easter break here in the UK, and it always brings back memories of an annual chore that we used to do as family when we lived in Greater London. The Easter holidays meant one thing - the annual clearing out of our fishpond. This meant taking everything out, from our large 10-inch long Koi Carp to all those little tadpoles, Water Boatmen and Pond Skaters. We'd then drain the water, clear out all the sludge that had accumulated over the year from the bottom, before straining the pond water and putting it back in and repeating the process with all the animals and plant life.

One year, I decided to take pictures as we went along. Now these pictures were pretty boring. You can see from the image here (click on it to see a larger version) there's a picture of pond sludge and even one of a pond repair kit. But as you can also see - they were published. Who says you need an A-list celebrity in a picture to sell it?

So how do you sell a picture of a pile of sludge? The answer is as easy as 1..2..3..

The article was published in Water Gardener magazine and was called "Freshen Up Your Fishpond." Along with 9 other pictures and about 800 words it helped to earn me £300. Whilst you come to terms with the exciting life that I lead, why not stop and think about your exciting life too?

Words and picture packages are an editor’s dream, and even better are those step by step practical guides. Not only is the editor getting their beloved words and picture package, but the feature also shows readers how to get involved and learn a new skill. So here are ten steps to creating your own step by step picture guide.

Step 1 – What tasks do you do that could be turned into a step by step illustrated feature? From packing a suitcase properly for your holidays, to growing your own fresh herbs, the ideas are out there.

Step 2 – When you’ve identified a task, write down the individual steps. Try not to think about writing the article at this point, just focus on each of the steps required to complete the task.

Step 3 – Look at your list of steps and begin to think about the photographs that you’ll need to take. For my fishpond article, as well as getting shots of us trying to catch the fish and putting them in temporary storage, I also wanted to take a ‘before’ and ‘after’ shot of the pond. This way, the editor could use these images to show the readers what improvements can be made by following the step by step process. Alternatively, do you need ‘create’ some images? For example, if you are doing an article on how to pack a suitcase, do you need to create an image of a poorly packed suitcase with socks sticking out the sides? Remember to think visually at all times.

Step 4 – Approach or analyse your target market. If you can get an editor interested in your idea before you start your task, the better. If not, study the magazine in detail, with particular focus on the pictures. In their step by step guides are there many close up shots? The photographs in craft articles for example, often include a model’s hands as they make the product in question. Look at the word count too.

Step 5 – Before you begin your task, try and arrange everything you’ll need so that it’s close by. Would it be easier to have someone else help you out and tackle the task so that you can concentrate on taking the photos?

Step 6 – Start by taking any of your ‘before’ shots. Do you need to take pictures of the equipment that’s needed too? If so, take them before you start, whilst they’re still nice and clean, and not at the end when they are dirty. Remember the basics of photography – fill the frame with the subject you are taking. If you’re taking a picture of your friend making an origami sailing boat, don’t take a picture of him or her sitting at a disk, zoom in on his or her hands and the folds they are making in the paper. (Think of those human hands in the close up shots in the TV series “Thunderbirds”!)

Step 7 – Jot down any extra notes as you tackle the task. If it is a task that you do regularly, you may have missed a step out when you originally wrote them down. If your task is too messy to have pen and paper around, use a Dictaphone instead.

Step 8 – Finish off by taking your ‘after’ shots. Remember to capture your completed task in all its glory. If you’ve created a hanging basket for example, leave it a couple of days before you take your final shot, to give it time to settle, bush out and provide you with a picture which will have much more impact.

Step 9 – Now’s the time to write up your article by referring to your notes and your pictures. Catalogue your pictures first and give them a reference number. This enables you to refer to specific pictures in your text. It is also best to do this particularly at any difficult stage in your task. Referring to a particular picture will also encourage the editor to use it, although don’t refer to every picture you’ve taken. The editor won’t use all 349 shots you took on your digital camera for your feature about how to stick down an envelope.

Step 10 – Finally, if you can, do you task one more time purely following your own guidelines. The last thing you want is for readers to mess up because you forgot one vital piece of information.

And there you have it - a recipe for an interesting article. Don’t forget that cookery magazines use step by step features too. Just make sure you don’t burn anything!

I hope you have a productive Easter.

Good luck!

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