This guide has everything you need to know about how to become a travel photographer.
If you dream of becoming location independent or making any amount of money from travel photography, then you’re in the right place.
Make sure you finish reading this article.
I’m going to explain step-by-step how to kickstart your career. From selling images, to building a social media presence.
By the time you’ve finished reading this article you’ll have all the tools you need to go out there and make a name for yourself.
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 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 to shoot in many different situations.
The idea behind travel photography is storytelling and sharing your take on the world we live in. Whether that’s through a landscape, cityscape, portrait or even macro photography.
You need to be prepared for it all.
I’m not here to tell you that becoming a travel photographer is 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 opportunities to live your life on your own terms don’t come knocking on the front door.
You have to go out, find opportunities and claim them for yourself.
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 successful travel photographer.
If you want to become 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 have the mindset that you know you’ll make it and that it’s just a matter of time.
How to get into travel photography
First, stand in the mirror and recited your best motivational speech.
Next, 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 your photos are good because they have to say they are. Instead, join a good Facebook group for photographers and ask for a photo critique.
There are plenty of groups for photographers on Facebook. Use the search function and look for one that interests you.
Just know how to take criticism 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.
What to photograph?
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. So start by 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 about 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 as a creator. But think about what you love about where you are and why you think people should come and see it.
The second biggest question I get asked by people after they ask how to become a travel photographer, is how to build a social media following.
And yes, building engaged social media accounts is an important part of becoming a travel photographer.
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 also good, 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, well, anyone really.
Instagram is your online portfolio these days.
So put effort into it and make it look professional (no selfies or pictures of your breakfast!).
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.
Managing social media accounts as a photographer
Building a following isn’t easy.
Building an engaged following is even harder.
The first thing you need to do is obvious, you need to post amazing photos. Photos that are unique and that get people’s attention.
They should be only your very best images. Anything that is second-rate shouldn’t see the light of day. Don’t worry about posting every day, you’re better off posting once a week but posting amazing photos every time.
The second step is getting those images noticed. You do that by using travel photography hashtags that get the most engagement and by interacting with other people on the platform.
By interacting with other people on the various social media platforms you’ll be creating a network and also getting your own name out there. It’s a slow process, at least at the beginning, but eventually people will start to notice your name popping up more and more.
Reply to all comments, ask other people questions and just generally show your appreciation for other people’s work. A little praise goes a long way.
Before you know it you will have a handful of people who you get to know and who exchange meaningful comments with you. The number of comments your photos get is how the social media platform’s algorithms judge whether to show it to more people or not.
More comments equal more exposure.
Equipment all aspiring travel photographers need
As a travel photographer you’re going to want to keep your bag fairly light, but at the same time have enough equipment to cover all different situations. Just like we talked about before.
At the very least you need to have:
- Mirrorless or DSLR camera
I always recommend mirrorless cameras for travel photography because they are smaller and lighter than conventional DSLRs.
In the last few years, the photography world has crept closer and closer to becoming a mirrorless one. Sales of mirrorless cameras have exploded and manufacturers that weren’t previously interested in producing them have had to rethink their approach.
There are so many great mirrorless cameras on the market these days to suit all budgets. We regularly update an article with the best mirrorless cameras for travel photography currently available, so check it out.
Obviously, you’ll need a few other pieces of gear as well. But we’ve got a separate article solely about equipment so if you’re interested, check that out.
In that article, we’ll talk 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 photos as a travel photographer
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. Make sure the images in these folders are not watermarked but are low-resolution. That way, it will prevent people from using your photos without authorisation but won’t spoil them by having a horrible watermark imposed over the top.
- Write a short story 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 need for fresh travel-related photos. Find an email address and send them a short, but informative, pitch (how to pitch your travel photography to clients). 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.
TIP: Be upfront about how much you charge per image. Use the Getty Images Price Calculator to get a rough idea of how much you should charge.
- 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 approved, 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 microstock agencies so that’s why I suggested doing this before moving onto the next step.
- Make non-exclusive accounts on microstock 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 microstock. That way you should have very few ‘burner’ images left (ones that you just cannot sell at all). Following these 10 steps will help you squeeze out the last bit of remaining value from your photos.
Stock photography brings its own challenges to the table, so make sure you read our guide to selling stock photography for more in-depth information.
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 two reasons. Firstly, it pays the best and secondly, it opens a dialogue with people who you know are always looking to buy images.
The main idea behind travel photography is storytelling 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 the client again.
Nurture the relationship and the next time you have some photos that relate to their business email them first and say something like this:
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 what will happen. After working with the same client a few times and building a good working relationship, they might offer you assignments.
This is where your travel photography career really gets interesting
Assignments are the best way to make a good salary as a travel photographer.
When people first think of getting into travel photography, jetting off on assignments is the image they most likely have in their head. They imagine you getting a phone call to go off to some exotic destination and take photos.
All expenses paid and getting a nice paycheck 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.
Frequently asked questions
How much money does a travel photographer make?
This is a question that isn’t easy to answer. It totally depends on how you make money. Is it assignments? Stock photography? Editorial?
These are all things that determine how much money you can make. If you’d like to know more about the money side of things, this article about an average travel photographer’s salary is a great resource.
What education do you need to be a travel photographer?
None! That’s the great thing about photography. Your background doesn’t matter. You can easily learn everything you need to know about taking great photos online these days.
While I’m not belittling people who have studied photography, I’m just saying it’s not strictly necessary to have any formal education in it. Some of the best photographers I know have no formal education in the subject.
Do I need to take a course?
Again, no you don’t. While taking a course can be a great way of becoming a travel photographer in the least amount of time possible, it’s not something you need to do.
You can find plenty of great information online for free.
There are some benefits to taking a course though. You won’t have to spend time searching the internet and with a course, you’ll get an experienced mentor to walk you through the lessons step-by-step.
Over to you…
Now the focus is on you to act.
If you’ve ever thought to yourself “I want to be a travel photographer” then today is the day that journey begins.
Which one of the things I’ve talked about above are you going to implement today?
Are you going to start asking more experienced travel photographers to critique your work?
Are you going to start pitching editorials?
Or are you going to focus on building a following and a community on social media?
Whatever it is, I want to know.
Leave me a comment below!