It’s probably already happened to you – you were on vacation with your family, taking photos of that magical landmark that you’ve always dreamt of seeing, and it suddenly hit you! If you combined your passion for photography with your love of adventure, you could become … a travel photographer. There’s nothing more exciting to a photographer who loves to travel than the idea of vacationing around the world and getting paid to do it!
Unfortunately, the life of a traveling photographer is not as glamorous as it seems. Instead of snapping photos of your spouse having cocktails on the beach, you’re more likely to be sloshing solo through puddles in the pre-dawn darkness, hoping to capture that one photo that will sell.
Before you decide to shutter your photography studio and take an extended vacation, you should know the facts about travel photography. Listed below are ten truths about travel photography that will help determine if it’s right for you
1. You must love to travel. This seems incredibly obvious, but to become a professional travel photographer, you have to really enjoy the act of traveling itself. Not every assignment is going to be a walk on the beach and not every moment is going to feel like you’re on vacation. You’ll spend a lot of time waiting for transportation connections. You’ll be exhausted. You’ll get sick. You’ll be outside in terrible weather. You’ll find yourself in uncomfortable situations. You have to do this because you absolutely love to travel.
2. You need to decide if being a travel photographer fits your lifestyle. There is a huge difference between going on vacation with your family and making a living as a travel photographer. You’ll be alone most of the time – exploring new places by yourself, dining solo, and returning to an empty room at night, Are you okay leaving home for weeks at a time?
3. You must know photography! As a travel photographer, you’ll be photographing landscapes, people, architecture, food, events, and more! While many photographers are able to specialize in one type of photography, travel photographers are most successful if they have a variety of skills. Shoot with other photographers, develop new skills, and learn everything you can about light and exposure. Make a point of reading travel magazines and visiting web sites to view the types of photos you want to shoot. Look at every photo with a critical eye, paying careful attention to lighting, color and composition. Determine what you like about a photo, or what you don’t like. Finally, get out and take photos as often as you can! You will only get better with experience!
4. You’ll have to do research before you go! Once you’ve decided to travel to a location, you’ll need to learn everything you can about its history, customs, people, and sights. You’ll research stock photo and travel sites to see what has been photographed, and from what angle, and at what time of day. You’ll have to read itineraries, decide what elements you want to capture while you’re there, and develop a detailed shot list that you can bring with you. Using social media, you’ll want to make some local contacts. You should also consider the tours that are available and decide if you’ll want to take any of them. Some of the places you’ll want to shoot will require you to make advanced reservations. Being prepared for your trip will make your photography better.
5. You need writing skills and creativity! You’ll be able to market your images to a larger audience if you can provide a well-crafted article to go with them. If you keep a journal while you’re on a trip, you’ll find that you’ve captured stories and anecdotes that you can document with your photos, and instead of selling your photos once, you’ll open new markets by coming up with a variety of angles. It’s much easier for you to provide a story and photos of the experience you’ve had than to simply sell your photos for use by another author.
6. You must know your markets! Travel publishing has really opened up and accelerated over the past decade. With the ability to publish online, many independent publishers have joined the arena and at the same time, traditional publishers have had to adapt their print publications for an online audience. What this means for travel photographers is an unprecedented wealth of markets for travel images.
It’s important to think beyond travel magazines though. To really know your markets, you should consider every potential use of your images – other types of magazines, local Chambers of Commerce and tourism bureaus, ad agencies, postcard manufacturers, hotels, restaurants, stock agencies, business waiting rooms, book publishers, art galleries – I’m sure you can think of many more! Every place that you’ve ever seen a travel image is a potential market! You must know what those markets are and then create a marketing plan that will help you get your images into those markets.
7. Travel photography is a business! Being a successful travel photographer is more about marketing than it is about photography. It’s definitely true that you won’t get far if you can’t take a decent photo, but there are plenty of mediocre photographers making a great living from their photos and a lot of amazing photos that are never seen. You need to be able to actively promote your work and let people know why they should buy your photographs – they’re not going to look at your photos if they don’t know about them! You’ll also need to network with other travelers, photographers, and people in the travel industry. Knowing the right people and getting your name out will take far more of your time than your actual travel and photography. You’ll need to keep up-to-date on social media and create an online presence. If you don’t enjoy business and marketing, travel photography as a career will be very difficult.
8. You must keep shooting even when no one else is! Every great photographer knows that what sets them apart from the average shooter is the ability to capture something extraordinary. In most cases, unique scenes are created by interesting light, extreme weather, or by venturing to an offbeat location. When the average shooter is still happily snoozing in their warm bed, you will need to be outside looking for a scene that will leave your viewers breathless. You may be cold, wet and tired, but it’ll be your ability to persevere that will set you apart.
9. Your hometown has a travel market, too! One of the easiest ways to keep shooting when the other photographers have gone home is to tap into the strength of your hometown travel market. As a local photographer, you can scan the weather to see if you’ll have a beautiful sunrise or sunset, and you’re not dependent on weather on any particular day because if it doesn’t work out today, you can simply go out and shoot tomorrow. As a local, you also know about places and events that aren’t mentioned in any guidebook, No matter where you live, think about the reasons why people travel to where you are. Do you live close to a city? Ski resort? National Park? Whatever it is, you’re in a great place to add to your travel portfolio and get the best photos of your area. You also have a built-in market with local businesses and people who are interested in the photos you’re taking.
10. Your reward will not be in currency. If you’re hoping to get wealthy while traveling the world, travel photography is not the way to do it! Yes, there are a few travel photographers who make a generous living, but you’re more likely to be rewarded in other ways. As a travel photographer, you’ll have the ability to look closely and to reflect on what you’re experiencing. You’ll notice light and color. You’ll become a better traveler and you’ll appreciate the things that make each place unique. You’ll have a better understanding of the world, and you’ll meet interesting people. Being a travel photographer has huge rewards, but only you can decide if they’ll make you richer.
If you’ve read this far and you still aspire to be a travel photographer, we’re excited for you! The field of travel photography is a crowded one, but we look forward to seeing the experiences you’ll share and the world that you’ll open to your viewers. Deciding to be a travel photographer is the first step of an exciting journey. As you continue down this road, we look forward to meeting you!
written & edited by Symaa Navid