Photographers Guidelines

Thank you for your interest in contributing to National Geographic Traveler, which is published eight times a year by the National Geographic Society. Traveler's publishing goals are to find the new, to showcase fresh travel opportunities, and to be an advocate for travelers. Traveler's tag line is "Nobody knows this world better," and accordingly, a Traveler story must capture a place's essence in a way that inspires readers to follow in the photographer's footsteps.

What Types of Stories Does Traveler Publish?


Each issue of the magazine contains four or more features, roughly balanced between U.S. and foreign subjects. Generally, we are interested in places accessible to most travelers, not just the intrepid or wealthy. The types of destinations we cover vary widely, from mainstream to adventure travel.


Traveler features are usually narrow in scope; we do not cover whole states or countries. Subjects of particular interest to us are national and state parks, historic places, cities, little-known or undiscovered places, train trips, cruises, and driving trips. We want all of our articles to be tightly focused and to tell a story. The picture-to-text ratio is approximately 7 to 3. Occasionally we do photographic essays with minimal text on subjects appropriate to such treatment.


What Kinds of Proposals Is Traveler Looking For?


We accept freelance queries for most of our regular service-oriented departments. Ideas for features are generated both by the Traveler staff and by freelance contributors. Check the Traveler index, published each year in the January/February issue, to make sure we have not recently run a piece on the topic you are proposing. Be sure to include your credentials. We do not give assignments to photographers who cannot provide solid evidence of their published work taken on assignment. We do not accept phone queries. We do not accept proposals about trips that are subsidized in any way.


If we have to sell readers to consume our magazine, then freelancers must sell us with more than just notions and place-names, so please do not send us any unfocused wish lists of multiple queries. Restrict each submission to one or two well-developed proposals that have been crafted especially for us. A carefully considered proposal combines support for doing a particular destination with some premise or hook. A good query has a headline that suggests what the story is, a deck that amplifies on that, a strong lead, and not much more than a page that clearly sets out the premise and approach of the piece. The query should answer these questions about the story: Why now, and why in Traveler?


Proposals need not be accompanied by photographs. We do not send out want lists, nor can we provide information regarding our future editorial plans. We will consider previously unpublished coverage if the subject interests us. All proposals are carefully evaluated, but because of seasonal, regional, or other requirements, even excellent ideas may be rejected or delayed.


Prospective contributors doing preliminary research for a story must avoid giving the impression that they are representing the National Geographic Society or Traveler. They may use the name of the magazine only if they have a definite assignment. When Traveler gives an assignment, the terms are clearly stated in a written contract.


How Should a Portfolio Be Submitted?


Submissions should consist of a carefully selected sample of not more than a hundred images that were done on assignment and demonstrate your ability to meet our requirements. Thoughtful study of one or more issues of Traveler is the best guide to putting together such a portfolio, which should be submitted for review to one of Traveler's photo editors: Dan Westergren, Carol Enquist, or Krista Rossow. Please mail with SASE to 1145 17th St NW, Washington DC 20036.


I am interested in developing my writing/photography skills and building my portfolio. What organizations can I work with?


Glimpse.org is an online publication that features stories from abroad, and is supported in part by National Geographic Society. Their professional editors work with contributors to help them develop their writing, photography, and storytelling skills, and to publish their stories online. Some Glimpse contributors are also featured on National Geographic Traveler's website. For more, visit www.glimpse.org.


What Are the Requirements for Field Work?


Most Traveler assignments last from 10 to 14 days. The day rate is currently U.S. $425.


Other Requirements Are:


  1. Traveler stories usually include photographs of people involved in and enjoying the activities of the place being featured. This doesn't mean tourist pictures in the pejorative sense. Generally speaking, we are trying to show a destination from a number of different points of view: overviews from a distance, medium-length views, close-ups of interesting details, intriguing people, street scenes (where relevant), interiors, restaurants and interesting inns or other lodgings, cultural sites, scenics, and anything else that helps give readers a sense of what a place is like.
  2. Traveler stories feature places that are accessible to the public. Thus, we seldom go behind the scenes. The general rule is: If the average visitor can't do it, then don't shoot it.
  3. National park personnel occasionally object to activities being shown in photographs because they violate park rules or constitute a hazard to the visitor, the environment, or the wildlife. Please check with park officials and advise the illustrations editor if a potential problem exists.
  4. Photographers must furnish complete caption information, including who, what, when, and where. Failure to comply will result in payment being withheld. Please jot down any quotes that could be used in captions to illuminate the photographs, and obtain telephone numbers of any persons prominently featured in case the caption writer wants to interview them.
  5. Offset printing generally reproduces a slightly lighter exposure better than a dark, highly saturated one. The "right" exposure is difficult to define and varies greatly due to many factors, so subjective judgment is required. Flash may help fill in dense shadows.
  6. Traveler pays all field expenses for anyone on contract. Photographers must not accept complimentary transportation, lodging, meals, admission fees, or activities for which a charge is usually made. Exceptions can be made only when refusal might be deemed rude or offensive, or when authorized by Traveler. Our reputation for fairness and objectivity depends on strict adherence to this principle.

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