Travel photography as a genre is one of the most open in terms of the subjects it covers. Many travel photographers specialise in a particular aspect of photography such as travel portraits, landscape or documentary photography as well as shooting all aspects of travel. Much of today's Travel Photography style is derived from early work in Magazines such as National Geographic magazine from photographers such as Steve McCurry. This genre of photography entails shooting a wide variety of subjects under varied available conditions, e.g. low light photography indoors, available ambient light photography for exteriors of buildings and monuments, shooting on the streets where sometimes conditions may be hostile, capturing moments which rarely recur, capturing the magic of light while shooting landscapes, etc.
Yes, I know that’s a fairly meager living. Especially when spending $2,000 of it a month. But, how many people can say that they get to travel every day of their lives? Sure, I’d love to be making more, but I have no complaints. On a daily basis, I get to see places and do things that people spend their lives saving to enjoy. I wouldn’t trade my career for anything at this point.
When you really love photographing a certain subject, it shows in your work. If you've built a cohesive collection of images around a particular people or place, consider hanging it in a gallery or selling prints or photo books online. Share your work with artist's galleries in and around relevant locales until you find someone who bites. Southwestern USA photographer Brett Edge took it a step further and opened his own gorgeous fine art gallery in Moab, Utah. Photographer Vivienne Gucwa published a coffee table book featuring her New York City photography. Just getting started? Share your work online for exposure, and upload it to print-on-demand websites for effortless print sales.
Despite that previous statement, I do believe that the travel photography community is stronger than it has ever been. Yes, traditional forms of income-generation are dying, but the evolving world has opened up a thousand different doors for those willing to take the risks to make it in the industry. And, yes, there is a lot of competition out there in the travel photography world, but the community is strong and the amount of camaraderie rather than jealousy in the business absolutely floors me nearly every day.
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.
When you are making pictures of your friends, try to strike a balance between a picture of them and a picture of the place. A friend of mine once made a close-up portrait of me in China. It wasn't a great portrait, but more important, it could have been made in my backyard—there was nothing of the place in the frame. Of course, you may want to shoot portraits, or to capture someone's expression at a particular moment, but often you are making the picture as a way of documenting your shared experience. You want to show enough of your friend to be able to recognize him—that vertical speck in the distance could be anybody. But you don't want to be so close that there's no context. If your friend is the primary subject, he has to be strong enough to draw attention and be recognizable but still keep some sense of where he is.
To Thuvan Dihn he explained that he had been but testing an invention of his own with which his flier was equipped--a clever improvement of the ordinary Martian air compass, which, when set for a certain destination, will remain constantly fixed thereon, making it only necessary to keep a vessel's prow always in the direction of the compass needle to reach any given point upon Barsoom by the shortest route.
Always have your camera with you and always keep your eyes open. Serendipity plays an enormously important role in travel photography. You never know what you are going to run into, and you have to be ready. Many times you will see what could be a good photograph but decide that the light is not right, or there are no people around, or too many—something that means you will have to come back later. But sometimes you get lucky. You happen to stumble upon a scene at just the right moment. If you forgot your camera, are out of film, or your digital card is full, if you have to fumble around getting the right lens on, the moment may be gone before you can recover. This is true whether you are doing street photography or visiting a natural or man-made site. Mountains, trees, monuments, and other static subjects are, of course, not going to go anywhere, but the ray of sunshine, the soaring eagle, or the embracing couple that add the needed element to your photograph are unlikely to hang around. Think of it as hunting—whenever you leave the confines of your camp, you should be ready and able to capture whatever pops up.
Whatever kind of landscape you are shooting, think about what the essential qualities are—and not just the visual ones; think about how the place makes you feel, what kind of emotions it stirs in you. Then look for ways to get those qualities and feelings onto film. Is it a rocky, violently wave-washed coast or a bright and sandy one? If it's the former, you want to show waves crashing against the shore, probably in stormy weather. Blue sky and sunlight are more appropriate for the latter unless you want to show the desolation of a resort beach in winter.
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.
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.
Readers of The Travel Photographer blog know of my current long term involvement in documenting Chinese Opera of the diaspora; an involvement that will culminate into the production of a coffee-table book bearing the same title. It is for this reason that the blog has been recently populated with posts with excellent work of Chinese opera by travel and documentary photographers.
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.
For better or for worse, the wealthiest travel photographers in the world these days are not necessarily the best photographers, but the ones who are the best at marketing themselves. Brands, tourism boards, restaurants, and hotel chains are constantly vying for big-name photographers to use their gear, visit their destinations, eat their food, and stay at their hotels.
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.
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.