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Volunteering can offer you so many opportunities, all while helping to make the world a better place to be…
If you’re interested in taking your love of travel photography to the next level and making a career of it, then you’ll need to get some experience under your belt.
You can practice at home and research all you want, but at the end of the day, there’s no substitute for getting out there and getting real, first-hand experience to refine your skills, build your confidence, and build on your passion.
This can be as simple as jumping on a plane and backpacking around a different country, and that can be an excellent way to go about it. However, an alternative to this that can be even more constructive in a lot of ways, is to join a volunteer project abroad
It might not seem obvious at first, but being a volunteer can give you some valuable opportunities to utilize and develop your photography, whilst providing you with the motivation to do more, all while helping a good cause. I learned a lot in my first year as a travel photographer, and a lot of it came from my time volunteering in Thailand.
Here are some of the top reasons why volunteering abroad can be a great way to kickstart your career as a travel photographer.
Document your time as a volunteer
Setting yourself up with a volunteer program gives you the perfect excuse to get in some practice.
Think of the whole experience as a project with a beginning, a middle, and an end. You are there for a set amount of time, and you can put your skills into practice documenting everything around you from the moment you leave home until the time you get back.
You will be able to record everything you do, from the progression of whatever project you choose to the scenery and nature surrounding you.
You are there for a set amount of time, meaning you can set yourself manageable goals. When you return home you will have a wealth of material to pour through, which will keep you busy for a long time and help you to work on your editing skills.
Go to exotic destinations
This has to be one of the most attractive things about being a volunteer. The nature of volunteer work means that you are probably going to be staying off the beaten track.
The people and places that are most in need of assistance are almost invariably away from the most popular tourist spots. Tourist hot spots are generally significantly more affluent than rural areas, partially due to the influx of tourist cash and partially because tourists don’t often want to visit poorer areas.
Therefore, most volunteer programs that are actually doing any good will be located away from these areas, and in the real heart of the country.
The reason that this is of benefit to budding photographers is that you will have an experience that is completely distinct from that of pretty much every other traveler.
You will be exposed to a more authentic side of your chosen country – something that others won’t get to experience – so the material you end up with will inevitably be far more unique and interesting.
Meet all kinds of different people
Every kind of travel gives you access to more people and different cultures than you would be likely to find at home. Moving around regularly and meeting new people provides great opportunities to interact with people.
For a photographer, these more regular interactions and relationships with various kinds of people, however brief, provide valuable opportunities to discuss your work and improve yourself, as well as providing you with more stories to tell through your work.
Volunteering is arguably an even better way to guarantee that you meet a huge variety of people than you would just regular traveling.
Firstly, you will be living and working alongside a group of other volunteers, who will come from all sorts of different backgrounds, while sharing important characteristics with you and each other, such as empathy and a desire for adventure.
Besides other volunteers, you will gain unrivaled access into real local communities, a chance to bond with local people and learn about their way of life. After all, you are there to help. They will recognize this and welcome you as a result. Your work will be able to reflect this openness and warmth.
Find your inspiration
Being a volunteer will get you well and truly out of your comfort zone. While this may sound like a scary thought, it can make a vast difference to your state of mind and help you to push your boundaries in other ways, such as your photography work.
Surrounded by so many new things and being so far out of your comfort zone can make it much easier to be inspired in ways that would simply not be possible back home.
Volunteer to improve your work, yourself, and the lives of other people
Volunteering will always primarily be about giving something back to the countries in which you travel and helping a good cause. But volunteering can also help you to further your career, and develop as a person.
I hope that this article has convinced you of just a few of the amazing benefits that being a volunteer can bring.
I’m a professional travel photographer, and I’ve been living the digital nomad lifestyle since 2016. I make money by working on client assignments, selling stock photography and helping other photographers by sharing my experiences on this website. I move around at my own pace (I hate fast-paced travel) and like to spend a few months getting to know each place I base myself in.
My writing and photos have been featured on industry leading websites such as Digital Photography School, Atlas Obscura and the world’s leading underwater photography resource The Underwater Photography Guide. I authored an eBook called “Breaking Into Travel Photography: The complete guide to carving out a career in travel photography” that has been published on Amazon. My stock images have also appeared in ads promoting destinations and companies that sometimes has been a surprise, even to me. But I guess that’s the nature of stock photography, you never know who will license them!
I’m always happy to connect, so feel free to reach out!