I want to start by saying that there isn’t one definitive answer when it comes to how big or small a travel photographer’s salary is.
How much a travel photographer can earn can range from just getting by each month, to running an extremely successful business.
Saying you’re a travel photographer is quite a broad statement.
It’s like saying you’re a consultant, without specifying what you consult on.
A travel photographer can be someone who sells stock photography on sites like Shutterstock, or it can also be someone who works for National Geographic.
The two are obviously very different jobs that provide very different levels of income.
If you’re looking to find out how much money you can potentially earn from travel photography jobs, then stick around because I’m going to try and put a number on every job on the travel photography spectrum, from the individual working for him/herself to the big players at the top of the ladder.
How does a travel photographer earn money?
No two travel photographers are exactly the same when it comes to how they generate an income. What might work for one person, might not for another.
Some of the ways to make money as a travel photographer include:
- Selling stock photography
- Selling photos directly to clients (magazines, tourism boards etc…)
- Brand deals if you have a big enough social media following
- Blogging/vlogging (advertising/affiliate revenue)
- Selling prints
- Online courses
- In-person workshops
We have a great resource that goes into detail about how to find work by selling your travel photos directly to clients and also one that outlines specific ways you can break into the travel photography industry.
So check them out after you’ve finished reading this article, they are really helpful to people looking to break into the industry.
What is an average travel photographer’s salary?
There are so many different ways for a travel photographer to earn money. It’s why putting an exact number on a travel photographer’s salary is impossible.
For argument’s sake, I’m only going to talk about the average professional travel photographer’s salary. In other words, I’m not going to count making $50 one month from selling stock photos as a salary, for example.
To make following along easier, I’ve come up with an estimate of an average salary for four hypothetical travel photographers.
Lucy, Julian, Joanna and Sai.
I will outline how each of them earns money and how much they make per month on average. That way you will get a better idea of which path to follow (or aim towards) yourself.
Remember, the numbers below are an average. Some people will earn more and some less. These are just hypothetical examples to give you an idea of how much travel photographers can earn.
Lucy ~ An independent travel photographer working for herself earns $2200 per month
As somebody who has no boss and no company employing her, Lucy’s monthly salary can fluctuate quite a lot.
It all depends on how she earns her money as an independent travel photographer and how many hours she has spent working towards her goals that month.
She has a large portfolio of high-quality photos (2000 images) uploaded to both Shutterstock and iStock which provides her with passive income. She adds new photos to her microstock portfolio monthly.
In addition to her earnings from microstock, she sells around 10 photos per month directly to editorial clients such as magazines and tourism boards.
Finally, she has built a good working relationship with a travel brand who pays her a retainer every month in order to get the first pick (and the exclusive image rights) to a selection of her most recent photos, before they are offered for sale elsewhere.
Breakdown of Lucy’s earnings per month:
- $750 retainer
- $550 from microstock
- $900 from licensing her photos to editorial publications
Total monthly salary: $2200
At the end of the month, she edits all of her photos taken that month.
She sends previews to the client who pays her a monthly retainer who can pick a number of images for themselves before anyone else sees them.
Then she chooses the best images from what is left over to offer for sale to magazines and tourism boards under an editorial license. She spends a day or two writing pitches and sending out emails.
All of the images that are left over and didn’t go to her retainer client and didn’t sell as editorial, get uploaded to microstock sites.
You’re probably following somebody like Julian on social media already.
He has over 100,000 followers on Instagram, a similar amount on Twitter and 125,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel.
It’s no surprise that having such a large and engaged following on social media can earn you a very good salary.
Julian has the chance to sell products to people who trust and value his opinion, as well as having advertisers constantly landing in his inbox who are keen to work with him.
Breakdown of Julian’s earnings per month
- $1250 in YouTube ad revenue
- $2000 from sponsored content where he promotes brands and their products.
- $750 in affiliate revenue mainly from the Amazon Associates program.
- $1000 from selling an online photography course he created.
- $250 from Patreon where people send him a small amount of money each month to show their appreciation for his content.
Total monthly salary: $5250
You’re probably starting to see a pattern now.
A travel photographer’s salary is made up of many different revenue streams. That way their eggs aren’t all in one basket.
If one source of income dries up for whatever reason, it doesn’t totally cripple their business.
Julian films, edits and uploads 3-4 videos of his life as a travel photographer per week to YouTube. They are a behind-the-scenes look into the life of a travel photographer.
He also posts his most recent photos to Instagram daily and engages with his followers on Twitter every day.
In the caption of every photo and video he posts, he will link to the gear he used to create that piece of content and explain why he uses it. Those links will be affiliate links which he earns commission from if someone clicks them and goes on to buy something.
From time to time he also promotes his own online course to his followers.
Finally, he networks and forms connections with brands relevant to travel and photography. He partners with them and strikes up sponsorship deals by leveraging his ability to put his content in front of lots of eyes.
Joanna ~ A travel photographer who gets sent on assignments by different clients earns $3000 to $4000 per month
Companies have a constant need for fresh and exciting imagery. Especially photos that promote their brand or product.
That’s where Joanna comes in.
She is sent on assignments to photograph products in exciting and exotic locations.
For example, a company that sells backpacks has recently sent her to South America where she spent two weeks travelling around with their bags taking photos of people wearing them in places like the glaciers of Patagonia.
These photos are then used to market their products on social media, their website and through paid advertising.
Breakdown of Joanna’s earnings per month:
- $1500 per week per assignment (length of assignments varies)
- All expenses (travel, accommodation food etc…) is paid for by the client.
Total monthly salary: $3000 – $4500
Joanna takes on 2 – 3 assignments of different length every month from different clients so her income fluctuates.
But one of the biggest advantages Joanna has is that almost all of her living expenses throughout the month are covered on top of her salary.
She has developed a strong professional relationship with a number of clients who repeatedly hire her a few time per year. She spends time interacting with them and further developing the relationship.
Joanna also spends time updating her portfolio on her website with her latest projects and testimonials from clients. Then she spends time pitching her services directly to potential new clients.
Finally, she is part of an agency who put her in touch with new clients. She talks to new clients who are interested in her services over Skype to understand what they are looking for. They then draw up agreements which will form the basis for new assignments in the future.
Sai ~ A National Geographic photographer earns $10,000 per month
A lot of people would argue that, within the travel photography industry, things don’t get much better than working for National Geographic.
It’s the top rung of the ladder.
So it might surprise you that a Nat Geo photographer’s salary isn’t astronomically high. But the kudos that comes with it is.
But don’t get me wrong, it’s still a good salary. It’s just not quite what most people expect it would be.
Sai, like all Nat Geo photographers, actually works for the organisation on a freelance basis. He goes on about 1 assignment per month for Nat Geo lasting about 2 weeks.
Breakdown of Sai’s earnings per month:
- $7000 for a 14 day Nat Geo assignment.
- All expenses paid when on a Nat Geo assignment.
- $3000 from other photography work such as studio shoots and other commercial projects when not working for Nat Geo.
Total monthly salary: $10,000
As you can see, just from Nat Geo, Sai earns $7000 per month. That’s $84,000 per year. It’s a very good salary, but a lot of people would have guessed it would be higher. Especially after you take things like having to pay for insurance and expensive camera gear into account.
But, since Sai works for National Geographic on a freelance basis for only 2 weeks every month, it leaves him the other half of the month to work on other things.
He is a well-respected and reputable photographer in the industry so finding additional work is easy and he can charge accordingly.
Two weeks out of the month he is on assignment for Nat Geo. It could be anywhere in the world.
The other two weeks he is working from his studio on other projects that his assistant has organised.
Because of his reputation, Sai is in the enviable position of being able to choose what he works on and often has to turn down work.
What is it like to be a travel photographer?
But it’s one of the most amazing jobs in the world.
When I first started out on my journey to become a full-time travel photographer, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
But I didn’t quite realise what that meant.
Any self-employed person will tell you that not having a fixed and guaranteed income every month can be stressful. At least in the beginning.
One month you might earn more than expected, another you might earn nothing. Quite literally $0.
You need to be prepared both financially and mentally for that stress.
As your business grows, those stresses start to become few and far between, thankfully.
You begin to understand how to manage the bad months because they will inevitably come. You begin to feel as though you can sustain your lifestyle doing something you love.
Because travel photography is about more than just making money.
It’s about the freedom of being able to work remotely. The freedom that comes with being your own boss and the opportunity you get to see the world.
Being a travel photographer is hard work. You have to work at it like you’ve never worked at anything else before.
You will face a lot of rejection. Most people are going to say thanks, but no thanks, to buying your images.
Building a large and engaged social media following is hard.
But none of it is impossible.
If you want to be able to earn a full-time salary from travel photography, then there is no reason why you can’t.
You just need to know what your strengths are, look for untapped opportunities, be persistent and above all else, work hard.
I was naive.
When I first decided I wanted to travel the world and pay for it as I go using my camera and laptop, I thought it would take a year of building up my reputation and making connections then it would become a reality.
Needless to say, after a year I think I’d earned $100 max. Hardly a salary.
And I had worked hard, very hard.
But I was persistent.
I didn’t give up and after a couple more years of focusing on building my brand alongside my normal day-to-day life and job, I brought a one-way ticket to Asia and started my new life.
Asia is cheap and I wasn’t making a lot of money. But I was sustaining an exciting new life in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.
In my eyes, I’d made it.
I hope this has opened your eyes to how much you have the potential to earn as a travel photographer.
But that you also understand it’s not easy to get there.
I would never lie and say that it’s easy.
I’m not one of those people that promise fame and riches after signing up to Shutterstock for the first time.
But if you’re motivated enough, then with a little guidance, you can achieve the dream.
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Thanks for reading.