This is my biggest source of income these days. I have one company that has me on retainer for $1,000 a month for a year. They get the pick of a couple images each month that they’ll use for social media and marketing purposes. They have a specific style of image that they want, so I spend a good part of my time trying to create those images for them.
When I was just eight years old I would flip through the pages of National Geographic and imagine being a photographer in Africa. I was captivated by the faces and places that seemed worlds apart from my typical Middle American hometown. Fast forward years later, and I'm living the dream as a travel photographer working throughout Africa and Europe. If you've ever wanted to travel the world with your camera, here's my advice to help you get started and thrive in professional travel photography.
Get lost. Wander down alleys. Sit in cafés and watch life pass by. Don't eat where the tourists do, but where you see locals. Just set off down a street and see where it leads. Look around the bends, over the rises. Get away from the crowd. I find that if I meander away from the tourists and tourist sites, away from what is too familiar and comfortable, it's much easier to adapt to the rhythm of a place, and to be more observant.
It was in 2006 when I traveled to the sacred city of Varanasi for the third or fourth time; this time in search of real sadhus rather than those I encountered on the ghats of the river Ganges. The more photogenically flamboyant of those would "earn" a few rupees from tourists and photographers who sought to augment their inventory of exotic portraits of these characters; perhaps paying them a tidy sum if they agreed to be photographed in a rowing boat or next to a temple.
If you are a top notch, worldwide known photographer, it is very likely that customers from all over the world will want to use your services (for fashion, events, sports, architecture, products etc.). But as we are focusing on travel photography, commercial organizations that deal with traveling and tourism are more likely to hire you. Notable examples are hotels, tour companies, airlines and so on.
The Beijing style of opera, widely known as Peking Opera, was popularized under the Qing Dynasty, which was brought down by the Chinese Revolution of 1911. It had ample support from the court and spread because it was sung in a language widely understood across China, while regional varieties such as Cantonese, Shanghainese and Sichuanese opera stuck to their own dialects and songs.
A pretty picture is not enough. It needs to be high quality and it needs to be original. For magazines, you need to consider issues such as leaving space on the image for word placement, positioning your subject off-centre so it doesn’t fall down the page join, and possibly placing the subject on the right-hand side of a landscape shot for maximum impact.
Make use of people to give your images life and scale. If the facade of a particular building appeals to you, the picture may be that much better if you show people walking in front of it. They will give it scale and also let viewers know what sorts of people live there, how they dress, and the like. An outdoor café may be more interesting crowded with people than empty.
When you travel, saving money is often the exact same as earning. Quite often, exchanging a couple images with a hotel for a free room or a tour company for a free tour is totally worth it. In fact, when I was in Southern Africa, I did this a lot. Safaris are expensive, so I’d create a couple images for a company to use for their marketing purposes in exchange for a free safari. It really is win-win.
In March 2018, I traveled to Shanghai to give a lecture and a street workshop at Imaging Group, and recall doing some location scouting in Laoximen with Tamia Tang (my assistant). We met an elderly resident who had lived in her small rooms virtually all her life, and had been told that she would have to vacate them soon. She claimed satisfaction that the city would be offering residents alternative housing or monetary compensation as the weather in Shanghai was too cold for her.
I introduced myself, telling Chan I had read articles about him. He didn't seem surprised at all, and brought a photo book -carefully wrapped in plastic- to show me more photos and a write up about him, along with other craftsmen in Hong Kong. I had seen Sunset Survivors; a book that tells the stories of Hong Kong’s traditional tradesmen and women through imagery and interviews. It covers a number of curious professions that are quickly falling into obscurity, from fortune telling to face threading and letter writing to bird cage making in the streets of old Hong Kong.
After spending the last 6 years fiddling and learning photography, my wife and I are about to move to Cambridge, UK from Melbourne. We are planning to post and write about our European trips in a capacity that is more than just telling our family what we are doing with the goal of allowing our work to eventually pay for our travel. Our first real post will be up soon, looking at our short weekend trip into the Wimmera/Mallee to visit the new Silo Art in the region. My Wife is a much better writer than I am and is currently editing!
For micro-stock, I have portfolios on a dozen different sites. However, I really only publish images on a regular basis to ShutterStock and iStock. Between my micro-stock sales, I have averaged about $250 a month on average. The best part of micro-stock for me is that it’s fairly residual and passive. I spend very little time on it, and it keeps coming month after month even if I stop working at it.
You cannot always ask permission, of course. If you are shooting a street scene or a wide shot of a market, you can't run up to everyone and ask if it's OK. In general, people do not mind this sort of photography—it's only when they're singled out that they get uncomfortable. But not always. Be sensitive to the scene in your viewfinder. If people are getting nervous, ask permission or move on.
You can offer photography services to any business in the travel/tourism industry at your destination of choice. Opportunities are plentiful, whether you're selling your services or offering a trade. Going skiing in Colorado? Get in touch with local lodges about trading photography for a free stay. Vacationing in Vienna? Talk to the local tourism board about shooting a few photos for a fee. I recently made a deal like this in Cape Town shooting a month-long campaign with their tourism board, which resulted in a promotional blog post and lead to even more work. Remember that a strong portfolio goes a long way, and as it grows, so will your opportunities.
The Yuen Po street Bird Garden in Hong Kong was built in the late 1990's after the former "Bird Street" at Hong Lok Street was demolished. It was built to preserve the spirit and popularity of the bird stalls that once were in Mongkok. The Chinese have traditionally liked to keep birds as pets, and this tradition is maintained in this small garden. Men (I've not seen a woman there except those selling birds, birdseed and live crickets) walk around; whistling at the caged birds, from delicate canaries to colorful parrots, admiring their plumage and a few walking their pets in cages.
The other challenge is to scout for and find the locations for the photo shoots; locations that provide a "badge" of authenticity to the resulting photo films. In the the case of The Girl of Nanjing, it was the water town of Qi Bao near Shanghai....and in the case of The Legend of Hua, it was the water town of Xinchang' at some distance from Shanghai as well...while the backdrop to The Songstress of Temple Street was Hong Kong's famous Tin Hau Temple and the Canton Singing House.
It's best to ask permission if you want to photograph someone, especially if you are working in close. Engage them before you pull out your camera. Learn at least how to say "hello" and "May I make a photograph" in the local language—just showing that you've made a little effort helps. Explain to them what you want to do and what it is about them that made you want to make a picture. If approached in an open and friendly manner, most people will be agreeable—many are flattered that someone has shown an interest in them and what they do. In places where there's a lot of tourism, you may run into people who are tired of being photographed—many tourists are not courteous enough to ask permission, and local people can come to feel abused and exploited. The only way to overcome this is to spend time with the people or to go to parts of the place less frequented by tourists.
This year and I signed a long-term travel photography contract with Cape Town Tourism, the official tourism board in my favorite city in Africa. Meanwhile, I've sold tens of thousands of image licenses through multiple agencies over the years, host local workshops and photowalks in the cities I visit, and I'm constantly working on partnership and sponsorship deals behind-the-scenes. Even my travel photography website works hard for me, as I often get offers and inquiries directly from visitors.
Setting goals and thinking about the reason you want to be a travel photographer sounds like a pretty easy step to skip but believe me, you want those goals to look back at one day. When you’ve had a bad few months without work, when you’re knee deep in mud because you took the term ‘getting the shot’ a bit too far…you want to be reminded of why you’re doing it.
I think that there are more people wanting to learn photography than there are people that want to buy images. And for that reason, teaching has become a major source of income for a large number of photographers. In fact, some of the world’s highest earning photographers aren’t always the most talented, but the ones who can teach effectively. Lots of photographers sell books, video tutorials, and host workshops to help supplement their income.