The Masterclasses with National Geographic Traveller returned on Sunday 2 February with a packed day of expert-led workshops and seminars on travel writing and photography.
Following on from a successful first event in 2018, The Masterclasses saw more than 350 attendees gather to learn from 24 award-winning writers and photographers. The speakers and moderators included the editors and long-time contributors to National Geographic Traveller (UK), all sharing their technical know-how alongside tricks, tips and anecdotes.
Held at the University of Westminster, the event covered everything from pitching winning ideas and creating standout landscape photography to the do’s and don’ts of travel writing. Here are 10 takeaways:
1. Don’t pitch the same story to multiple publications. “Pitch to a publication and send reminders up to three times,” says travel writer Emma Thompson. “Then move on to the next title.” Keep it concise — between 100 and 150 words — or you run the risk of being ignored.
2. Find inspiration for your first writing assignment. “On your first attempt at travel writing, don’t feel bad about travelling somewhere off your own financial backing,” advises Jonathan Lorie, director of Travellers’ Tales, a training agency for travel writers. “You probably won’t get a commission, as the editors don’t know you — but make sure to still look for stories and interviews!”
3. Write up your notes as soon as possible. “All the imagery will be in your mind; it’ll be fresh,” says Kate Simon, travel writer. “While most people start writing once they get back home, it can also be good to write as you go along,” she added.
4. Keep yourself out of the narrative. “The only reason you should be in a travel piece is if it’s telling readers something about the place,” says Julia Buckley, a regular contributor to National Geographic Traveller. “People going on about ‘me, me, me’ is one of my bugbears in travel writing.”
5. Always think about the sense of place. “The most important thing is what you’re viewing, smelling, feeling,” says Adrian Phillips, managing director of Bradt Travel Guides. His top three tips: look at the tiny details; avoid cliches; and see it as if you’re seeing it for the first time.
6. When writing long-form, know what your ending will be before you start the piece. “If you don’t know your ending, the whole piece can fall apart,” says travel writer Emma Gregg. Julia Buckley suggests playing around with chronology, too: “I like it when the start and the end [of a piece] tie into each other.”
7. “When planning a travel shoot, remember to include both landscape and portrait images,” says location photographer Richard James Taylor. “You’re more likely to get a cover image with a portrait shot.”
8. If you’re taking an adventure shot, always consider the risks. “When it comes to risk versus reward… as much as the creative image sells well, always think: what if?” advises filmmaker Richard Pencott.
9. Landscape photography involves being creative. “Don’t shoot what it looks like — shoot what it feels like,” says photographer Lola Akinmade Åkerström. “And remember to be creative: a landscape shot doesn’t have to be horizontal.”
10. Consider the environment. “Fly less and make every flight count,” suggests Emma Gregg. “I wouldn’t suggest everyone stops flying, but that they think about how often they’re flying and why.” And thinking thoroughly about your reasons for travelling is key. “The poorest countries in need of tourism are often the furthest away,” says Adrian Phillips.
Missed The Masterclasses? Check the National Geographic Traveller website for our upcoming events.