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From Pixels to Payments
by Shannon Caster

Cameras—admit it, you probably own more than one. If you’re like me, you have a digital camera (maybe even two if you’ve upgraded anytime in the past ten years) and possibly one on your cell phone. My count? Two digital, one on my cell phone, one on my husband’s cell phone, and if I dig deep in our moving boxes, I’m sure there’s one of those antique cameras that actually requires film. Point is, we own them so it’s time to use those cameras for business.

At first it seemed obvious. If the family headed out for an adventure, I took my camera to capture my kids in all their ice cream spilling glory. Then it occurred to me; if I was taking a picture of Multnomah Falls anyways, why not get paid to do it? Along with a thousand other people at the waterfall that day, I grabbed the perfect spot and took a high-resolution picture. I wanted to make sure the photo would be large enough that it could be cropped and scaled as needed. With one quick camera adjustment, I was ready to go. Picture of the kids, then picture without the kids. Hey, it’s digital so what do I have to lose?

Back home I looked over the pictures, decided on a few that were sharp and clear, and began researching. Should I write an article for a travel magazine? Local newspaper? Children’s magazine? There are plenty of markets looking for excellent articles with supporting photos. I opted for The Christian Science Monitor. After choosing a unique angle for my article that fit within their guidelines, I began writing. Instead of reiterating facts about waterfall height, location, hiking trails, I went for the not so obvious. I wrote about undercutting, the process that makes the large pool of water at the base of waterfalls. I had the article, the photos, and now I was ready to make the sale.

I’ve since made numerous sales to publications that purchased my supporting photos. And most of the time, I get paid more for the pictures than I do the article. It’s a nice way to boost my sales and my paycheck.

Then the other day I rediscovered the need for my camera. I was running the usual errands around town when I saw a sign at the hair salon. The sign mentioned this salon recycled hair to ExcessAccess. Huh? Of course, I had my stylist’s full attention, so I asked her about it. Sure enough, they recycle hair clippings and send them off to a company that turns them into hair mats. The mats are used in emergency situations to clean up oil spills. My brain started to click. I quickly took out my phone and snapped a picture of the sign. Now I had the company’s name and website so I could do some research at home. Later that day I struck inspiration again. While at the store I saw an old diagram of a Model T engine with the crank start handle, complete with tips on how to start the car and not get run over. I got to thinking about the differences between starting a car with a turn of a key and actually having to open the hood and flip levers, chokes, and crank handles. Once again, I whipped out my cell phone camera and took a picture. While these pictures weren’t exactly high-resolution, and not exactly something I would sell, they would be the perfect reminder of my article topics and angles. Plus I had all the information I needed like websites or names of individuals in writing, well, in pixels anyway.

I’ve since sent off my articles on hair mats and Model T engines and I’m waiting to hear the good news. Sure I’m optimistic and with my cameras providing me more photos to sell and ideas for researching, I just might treat myself to a camera upgrade. It has been three years after all.

© Copyright 2008, Shannon Caster

Shannon Caster resides in Portland, Oregon where she can be found reading at the park, watching her kids at sporting events, walking her dogs, or writing on her laptop. Shannon frequently writes for children, parents, educators, writers, and any other audience willing to listen. Shannon welcomes visitors to her website at www.shannoncaster.com.

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