So, if travel photography as a traditional career is dying, than how are these people making their money? Well, I wish I could give you the answer to that question, but I can’t. These days, everyone has a different method of money-making. All I can do is tell you my story, and how I manage to keep from sleeping under a bridge every night — though barely.

In 2014, I worked with a major car brand, a rental car company, and a couple tourism boards. So far, in 2015, I haven’t worked with anyone, though it’s mostly because I’ve been off doing my own thing. There’s a balance here between going where you want and where the money is. Unfortunately for the weight of my wallet, I’ve always just gone where I want and only take on clients like this if it’s convenient.


In comparison, the religious self-mutilations performed by the devotees during the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket are considered to be extreme and shocking. The entranced devotees who perform these acts of religious self-mutilation are called mah song. They wear elaborate costumes, enter into trances and ask the gods to enter their bodies. Men or women (they are usually celibate) puncture their faces with hooks, spears and knives amongst other sharp implements.
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. 
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.
Before I get into the “how”, let me tell you about the “how much”. In traveling the world, I spend an average of $2,000 a month. That includes accommodation, transportation, food, etc. I don’t have a home, so that $2,000 is in fact the entire extent of my expenses. Thus, to keep myself from non-under-bridge housing, I need to make that much each month… but preferably a bit more. And, before you ask: no, I don’t have savings, I don’t have a trust fund, and no I don’t have a sugar mama (although I want one). 

Commercial travel photography provides imagery for the $1 trillion global tourism industry. It might include photographing destination hotels and resorts, tourist attractions, scenery, outdoor adventures, local events, cultures, and customs. Images are used for advertising, merchandising, and print sales. With such a huge variety of subject matter, travel photographers employ skills across all photographic disciplines: portraiture, landscape, wildlife, architectural, reportage and event photography.
In comparison, the religious self-mutilations performed by the devotees during the Vegetarian Festival in Phuket are considered to be extreme and shocking. The entranced devotees who perform these acts of religious self-mutilation are called mah song. They wear elaborate costumes, enter into trances and ask the gods to enter their bodies. Men or women (they are usually celibate) puncture their faces with hooks, spears and knives amongst other sharp implements.
Knowing how to use your camera is essential to success as a travel photographer because more often than not, it’s those spur of the moment shots that generate the goods. If you can quickly adapt to the surroundings and know what settings to change in a split-second in order to capture a moment, you’re in with a pretty good shot of becoming a professional photographer.
My personal opinion -after having met many such characters- in India; either in Varanasi, Rishikesh, Vrindavan et al, as well as at the Kumbh Mela, is that the majority of them are fake in the sense that they're not dedicated ascetics, but individuals who are adopted a vagabondage lifestyle, begging for alms and food...under the guise of being holy and religious.
Whether at home or abroad, when you know the ins and outs of a particular location, you can provide photography tours and location-specific workshops to serve both tourists and serious photographers. In Greece I found a professional photographer offering pricey photo tours in Santorini, a popular island with stunning viewpoints that are difficult to locate. Part of this photographer's service was to unveil these secret locations. Back in Holland, photographer Michiel Buijse offers nighttime photography workshops in Amsterdam, helping photographers shoot stunning long exposures along the historical canals. Consider what you can offer in a location you know well. 
Content development complements your photography and helps you grow and earn beyond your photos. If you're a gearhead like photographer Colby Brown, you could write in-depth gear reviews, or publish post-processing tutorials like Elia Locardi, or write a how-to book like Nicole S. Young. If you enjoy travel writing, you could build a popular blog like photographer Chris Stevens, who writes travel guides and reviews popular hostels and adventure tours, complete with photos.
Knowing how to use your camera is essential to success as a travel photographer because more often than not, it’s those spur of the moment shots that generate the goods. If you can quickly adapt to the surroundings and know what settings to change in a split-second in order to capture a moment, you’re in with a pretty good shot of becoming a professional photographer.
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.
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.
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.

However, the most challenging of all the tasks involved in producing these photo films is to have the models literally become actors in the stories...not only because I want them to look the part of the betrayed lover, of the returning scorned avenger, of the famous singer haunting her past venues, but because I like them to narrate the story itself.


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.
Some of these 'singalong' parlors still exist, faded and tired but otherwise unchanged, offering a taste of popular and cheap entertainment from a past era. How these survive in anyone's guess. The parlors usually have an organist (who can also play a guitar) and a handful of habitual customers who sing Cantonese songs...and occasionally Western oldies such as "Sealed With A Kiss" by the Canton Singing House organist.
In 2014, I worked with a major car brand, a rental car company, and a couple tourism boards. So far, in 2015, I haven’t worked with anyone, though it’s mostly because I’ve been off doing my own thing. There’s a balance here between going where you want and where the money is. Unfortunately for the weight of my wallet, I’ve always just gone where I want and only take on clients like this if it’s convenient.
These two portraits are of elderly actors; the type that the cinematic world calls' "character actors" (these are generally defined as supporting actors who play unusual, interesting, or eccentric characters). I found these actors to be much more visually interesting than the glamorous divas; not because of their rugged and wrinkled physiognomies but because they had presence...and must've been part of these troupes for as long as they could remember.
There's much more to becoming a travel photographer than exploring exotic destinations and clicking your shutter. Getting up at stupid-o-clock to catch the perfect sunrise, carrying a camera that’s heavier than four backpacks, skipping meals in the quest for perfect light, and missing out on the travel experience because you’re too busy taking photos, are just a few of the downsides.

The awards are judged by leading photographers and experts in the field, whose distinction and integrity add greatly to the prestige that comes with being one of our winners - or even being shortlisted. But whether you’re a winner or not, it’s also about fun – the fun of challenging yourself to shoot to a theme, to look at your images with fresh eyes, to be a part of the TPOTY experience. To be part of the adventure!
Knowing how to use your camera is essential to success as a travel photographer because more often than not, it’s those spur of the moment shots that generate the goods. If you can quickly adapt to the surroundings and know what settings to change in a split-second in order to capture a moment, you’re in with a pretty good shot of becoming a professional photographer.
Honestly, I think this is the smallest source of income thus far in 2015. There just isn’t a lot of demand these days. Yes, I’ve had some works published in major media outlets. I had a two page spread from Iceland in The Guardian, for example. But the traditional journalism work isn’t something I chase anymore. It’s too much work. You spend 95% of your time pitching, and 5% of your time in the field. I really only do traditional journalism work these days if a newspaper or magazine approaches me. In 2015, I have made about $150 a month from traditional journalism.
To be honest, I do not think I will ever make it as a travel photographer. I love travelling and I love capturing my adventures in pictures. And I know that I have some decent ones, but selling them seems like a daunting task. I think I might be better off as a travel journalist, to be honest, if only because that’s an area where I am more confident (and in a way, this article applies to becoming a travel journalist as well). I have, however, tried selling pictures through microstock sites. Getty Images, Shutterstock and Adobe Stock are the ones I have uploaded the highest number of images to. From my experience, these websites require you to spend a long time creating hashtags and correctly labeling your photos for very little reward. It is great because once the work is done, you can earn money forever. But chances are high that you will only get a few cents, if any at all. I think if you are serious about being a photographer, this one is not an option to consider.
Once a black image is created, I clicked on File> Add Layer(s) From File, and used the Quick Mask tool (yellow arrow on left) to "paint" a line around Gui Lian. The Quick Mask tool wasn't sufficiently precise in blacking out all of the targeted areas, so I also used the Masking Brush tool (red arrow) and went over these areas on complete the task....a task that took me no more than 12 minutes; well within my range of tolerance. I then pumped up the saturation using Iridium Developer tools...a task that took under a minute.
As an approved photographer on stock libraries, you can possibly get access to client briefs where you can submit your work direct to the client, meaning they’ll consider you for the project and see your profile. Otherwise there’s usually a marketplace type system for you to upload your images and have them added to collections based on themes, destinations and seasons.
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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.
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 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.
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.
The most interesting sites for people photography in both Taipei and Hong Kong are in and near temples such as Man Mo and Longshan. The night markets are also a trove for photogenic characters such as the tattooed fellow who stood akimbo guarding his inventory of bric a brac items that lay down in Xichiang market...whether this inventory was honestly procured or otherwise is left to the imagination of viewers.
The Lower Omo River in south west Ethiopia is home to eight different tribes whose population is about 200,000 and it is there that they've lived there for many centuries. The tribes such as the Daasanach, Kara (or Karo), and the Mursi live along the Omo river and depend on it for their livelihood. The annual flooding of the Omo River feeds the biodiversity of the region and guarantees the food security of the tribes especially as rainfall is low and erratic.
The awards are judged by leading photographers and experts in the field, whose distinction and integrity add greatly to the prestige that comes with being one of our winners - or even being shortlisted. But whether you’re a winner or not, it’s also about fun – the fun of challenging yourself to shoot to a theme, to look at your images with fresh eyes, to be a part of the TPOTY experience. To be part of the adventure!
These two portraits are of elderly actors; the type that the cinematic world calls' "character actors" (these are generally defined as supporting actors who play unusual, interesting, or eccentric characters). I found these actors to be much more visually interesting than the glamorous divas; not because of their rugged and wrinkled physiognomies but because they had presence...and must've been part of these troupes for as long as they could remember.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Like landscapes, each city and town has its own look and feel—a distinctive setting, architecture, or skyline; a famous local site; a particular kind of food or dress. There's always at least one thing that is unique. When covering a town or city, even a small village, you need to do three basic things at a minimum: capture a sense of place, which is usually a wide shot that shows the setting, skyline, or other view that gives a feeling for the whole; landmarks that the place is famous for; the life of its inhabitants. For the cityscapes and wide shots, as well as for the landmarks, it's a good idea to check out the postcard racks in your hotel lobby or at kiosks. They will quickly give you an idea of where the best views are and what is considered well-known enough to warrant a postcard.
As with all types of photography, smart business sense is key. There are many ways to make a living with travel photography, and much of it extends well beyond your photo gear into social media marketing, content development, negotiation and sales. But the first step is to get out into the world and shoot. Start with anyplace you've been dreaming of traveling, and go! Plan ahead, do some research, and don't shoot like a tourist. Can't afford to travel? Search for opportunities in your nearest city to begin building your portfolio.
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.
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.
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