What exactly is travel photography anyway?
At first you might think that the answer to what travel photography is, is a simple one. Well unlike say, landscape or portrait photography it’s not so clear cut. Travel photography can involve elements of landscape shooting, portraits or even product photography.
For example, you know what you’re going to be photographing as a wildlife photographer, wild animals. As a travel photographer however you have to be prepared for, and skilled in, many different situations.
The main idea behind travel photography though is story telling and sharing your take on the world we live in.
I’m not here to tell you that it’s easy
Far from it.
Becoming a full time travel photographer who gets paid to travel the world, camera in hand, takes a lot of work, but you knew that already. It goes without saying that these kinds of opportunities to live your life on your own terms don’t come knocking on the front door. You have to go out, find them, grab them and claim them as your own.
I know it’s a cliche but being motivated and working hard really are two of the biggest pieces of the puzzle when it comes to making it as a travel photographer. You have to be able to take rejection and failure, because you will face it, but learn from it and move on. If you don’t see every failure or setback as making it one step closer to being successful you’re going to find it tough.
In short, you need to know you will make it and that it’s just a matter of time.
Okay, so where to start?
After you’ve stood in the mirror and recited your best motivational speech the next best thing to do is make sure your camera skills are up to the job. You can have all the motivation in the world but if you take terrible photos then maybe travel photography isn’t for you, not just yet anyway.
Don’t ask your mum, dad or best friend if you’re photos are good they have to say they are. Join a good Facebook group for photographers (shameless plug time: our World of Travel Photography group is awesome) and ask for a photo critique. Or if Facebook isn’t your style try posting on www.thephotoforum.com and asking for a critique.
Just know how to take it well, it’s not always easy hearing other people point out the faults in an image you thought was great. If you don’t take it personally and instead see it as an opportunity to learn you’ll bring your photos up to standard in no time. I see a lot of people trying to sell their work before they have asked other more experienced photographers what they think, it amazes me sometimes. Soak up as many free expert opinions as you can! Ask directly if they think your work is good enough to sell to clients.
What to shoot?
Start by shooting what’s around you. Like I said before travel photography is all about telling a story and sharing the world as you see it. Start building a portfolio of the iconic locations in your area. Get some cool street shots of people going about their business on a typical day or that epic shot of your cities’ skyline, or some stunning landscapes at sunrise. Use whatever you have.
If you already have a portfolio try building on it but from a travel perspective. Think what best depicts your home and what makes it unique. Think about what kinds of photos tourism boards would use to promote the area.
I’m not going to go into specifics of how you should take photos, that part is up to you to decide as a creator, but think about what you love about where you are and why you think people should come and see it.
The number 1 thing you should start doing as soon as you’ve finished reading this article is start working on your social media presence. If you don’t already have at least an Instagram and Twitter account get yourself one of each. A Facebook page is good also although it’s hard to get free organic reach these days as Facebook wants you to pay for adverts to get your posts in front of anyone.
Instagram is your online portfolio these days so put effort into it and make it look professional (no selfies or pictures of your breakfast!). Plus it gives potential clients an idea of whether or not people actually like the work you produce. You stand a much better chance of landing an assignment with a client if they can see your photos get people talking and engaging with them.
Twitter is a great way of actually interacting with your followers and can be a little more personal.
Equipment for travel photography
As a travel photographer your going to want to keep it fairly light but at the same time have enough to cover all different situations like we talked about before.
The standard stuff applies here:
I always recommend mirrorless cameras for travel photography because they are smaller and lighter than conventional DSLR’s. The one I currently suggest to anyone looking to go pro is the Sony A7Riii.
The new Sony isn’t cheap but you certainly get what you pay for, it’s one of the best all-round cameras, packed full of super useful features, and in my opinion beats anything that is currently on the market.
You will obviously need a few others pieces but we’ve got a whole other article solely about equipment so if you’re interested check that out. In that article I’ll talk more about specific recommendations and other bits and pieces you’ll find useful if you’re going to carry your studio around with you on your back.
Selling travel photos
If you’ve got this far, well done, I guess the end game is to make some money as a travel photographer then?
So where do you start?
Let’s assume you don’t have any assignments yet as you’re just starting out. If that’s the case then your workflow should go something like this:
- Edit, name and keyword all of your images at the end of the day.
- Start by going after editorial work. Group related images together in a Dropbox or Google Drive folder, groups of images should tell a story and compliment each other which will make the next step easier. Make sure the images in these folders are low resolution and have NO watermarks on them.
- Write a short story or a piece of text that goes with each group of images to help bring them to life, this is your chance to really sell your images so get creative and get people’s imaginations working.
- Contact travel magazines, tourism boards of the destination your images were taken in, or just about any other company that has a constant need for fresh travel related photos. Find an email address and send them a short but informative pitch (look up how to pitch if you’re not sure how to do that but one thing is for sure, keep it SHORT). Include the links to the Dropbox or Google Drive folders containing the photos and short accompanying stories that you think they would be interested in. Do no include the photos directly in the email, just leave the links and let the recipient click through and view them if they are interested.
TIP: In your pitch you should be upfront about how much you charge per image and if that grants them exclusivity or not. Use the Getty Images Price Calculator to get a rough idea of how much you can charge. It tends to overprice images slightly so, especially while you’re getting established as a travel photographer, it might be a good idea to quote a slightly lower price.
- If you get a positive response and someone wants to license some of your images then send them full resolution versions and treat yourself to a cold beer, you just made your first sale!
Now this is what you do with the images you have left that didn’t sell as editorial in steps 1-5.
- Sign up to a rights managed stock agency (do some Googling to find a good reputable one that is accepting new photographers, it can be tricky)
- If you get accepted then upload your images there and see which ones get accepted. You get a much better cut of the sale from rights managed agencies compared to micro stock agencies so that’s why I suggested doing that before moving onto the next step.
- Make non-exclusive accounts on micro stock websites such as iStock and Shutterstock and upload the images that didn’t get accepted by rights managed there. Make sure that you have given them good descriptive titles and lots of keywords (if you use Lightroom then you can add keywords for each image there, if not you can do it when you upload).
- Any images that didn’t sell as editorial in steps 1-5 and also didn’t get accepted by rights managed stock agencies in steps 6-7 will end being thrown into micro stock that way you should have very few ‘burner’ images left (ones that you just cannot sell at all) and can squeeze out the last bit of remaining value.
Once you have a good portfolio on the micro stock websites, and a few months have passed, if one preforms better than the other make the best preforming one an exclusive account which means that the images you upload there can’t be sold anywhere else, you will get a bigger royalty % that way. Forget about uploading new images to the worst performing micro stock agency, just collect any future royalties from images already uploaded.
Creating relationships with clients
Even though it’s a lot of effort to write a ton of individual pitches and backstories for your photos, the reason I say you should go after editorial work first is for 2 reasons. 1) it pays the best and 2) it opens a dialog with people who you know are always looking to buy images.
The main idea behind travel photography is story telling and sharing your take on the world we live in.
If you make a sale you shouldn’t just leave it at that and never speak to that client again, nurture the relationship and the next time you have some photos that relate to their business contact them first and say something like “Hey, I’ve got these images I think would be great for you because (INSERT REASON HERE), since we’ve worked together in the past I thought I’d give you first pick if your interested.” Just make sure you don’t spam people, only offer images that would be a good fit for them, you’ll gain more respect and build trust that way.
Then you never know, after working with the same client a few times and building a good working relationship they might offer you assignments or contact you if there is some photography work they need doing.
That’s where things really step up a level.
Assignments are the number 1 best way to make a good living as a travel photographer. When people think of travel photography that’s the image most people have in their head, getting a phone call to go off to some exotic destination to take photos. All expenses paid and getting a nice pay check at the end of it.
It’s not easy to get to that point and it will most likely take a few years of hard work and building relationships to get there but it is possible.
You’ll face setbacks along the way but if you persevere and know that one day you’ll achieve your goals then carving out a career in travel photography will one day become a reality.