Travel, Shoot and Sell: How to Become a Travel Photographer
Do you view life through a wide angle, telescopic, fixed or fish-eye lens?
Are your index fingers and thumbs always framing what is in front of your face?
Do you want to capture a moment in time that will never again be repeated the exact way you experienced it?
Do want to share those moments with the world?
Your calling might be to become a travel photographer.
Travel photographers are their own unique breed. They possess a level of patience that only the Dalai Lama himself has mastered. Their eyes are creatively attuned to see a photograph in everything they look at.
They have incredible stamina and unbreakable flexibility. Not to mention an inspiring passion for traveling and taking pictures that fuels their unwavering dedication to the art and work of travel photography.
While the life of a successful travel photographer is enviable, it is not a life of mere leisure. Being a professional travel photographer is hard work—work that does not necessarily pay off for everyone who attempts this career path.
If you want to become a professional travel photographer, get ready to invest a good chunk of change in camera gear, persevere through countless rejections, be on the move all the time and be self-motivated.
This career and life path is far from easy, but for those who really have the heart, soul and eye for it, get ready for a life that everyone will want to undergo through your photographs.
Here’s how you can start your path to becoming a travel photographer.
Travel, Shoot and Sell: How to Become a Travel Photographer
How to Hone Your Travel Photography Skills
Set your photography goals
When you think about traveling the globe and taking pictures, what types of images are you most interested in capturing? Does your lens gravitate toward landscapes and natural wonders, wildlife, people, art, cultural landmarks and events, food, architecture or all of the above?
Do you prefer to shoot in wild environments or concrete jungles? Are you more interested in modern life or ancient traditions?
Do you want to ultimately work for a major travel publication like National Geographic? Are you interested in having your own gallery one day? Or do you want to travel the world as a freelancer?
It is important to ask yourself these questions so that you can work toward achieving your goal or goals as a travel photographer. While you are free to change your objectives and interests as often as you see fit, picking an initial direction will help you hone in on your craft.
Take a photography course
The art of photography can be quite complicated. There is a lot that goes into taking professional-level pictures. It is also very valuable to have a solid grasp on photo editing.
It is possible to teach yourself everything you need to know about photographs and editing if you are extremely self-disciplined. However, taking a photography course is a wonderful way to learn the basics or to advance your skills.
If you live in a big city or town that has a community college, you can likely find a photography course to attend in person. There are seemingly endless photography courses available online, though.
You can find a short class that focuses on one particular lesson, or you can enroll in a full-length photography course that specializes in travel photography as a whole.
There are both free and paid options available. If there is a particular skill set you are trying to acquire, you can likely find a how-to video on YouTube, as well.
The New York Institute of Photography offers a comprehensive and completely online travel photography course.
Udemy, CreativeLive and KelbyOne have a solid selection of photography courses ranging from learning the basics, mastering the ins and outs of Photoshop and taking your pictures from good to extraordinary.
Complete an internship
A truly enriching and exciting way to learn the art of travel photography is by studying under someone who is already a master. While you must apply and be accepted first, photography internships offer the opportunity to gain valuable experience in the field and do what you are truly passionate about.
Internships.com is an amazing resource for finding photography internships.
Find your travel photography niche
Travel photography as a paid and profitable profession is highly competitive. Who doesn’t want to travel the world and take pictures for a living? The key finding a way to stand out.
Like any other art form, photography is a form of expression. In this case, your shots express the way you see the world. Your vision of the world is unique to you, and the challenge is to find a way to reflect that worldview in your photographs.
Finding your niche and specializing in a specific subject matter, technique, aesthetic or realm within travel photography will help you create your own artistic signature. You will also stand out among the masses who are more generalized.
Always have a camera
If you want to become a professional travel photographer, you must live and breathe photography! Traveling includes anything that happens after you walk out your front door. You should always have a camera on you if you plan on doing any sort of traveling.
National Geographic Travel asked photo engineer Tom O’Brien for his top recommendations for cameras that are well-suited for travel and travel photography. The Fujifilm X-T2, Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 rated high on his list.
Every photographer has their personal preferences when it comes to types of cameras and lenses, but all of these top-rated choices are high-quality, light and compact cameras.
This tip falls in line with always having your camera on you. As with any craft or specialized skill, you can only improve with practice. You should be taking photographs all the time. You need to learn how to shoot various subjects and scenes in all different conditions and lighting.
The beauty of practicing photography is that it includes an element of play and spontaneity. It also involves a lot of trial and error. Learning through these methods is a highly effective way to develop your own unique photography style that works for you.
Study other travel photographers
The best people to learn from are the ones who are successfully and masterfully doing what you have set out to do. Study the work of the photographers who inspire you to click the shutter button.
What types of cameras, lenses and techniques are they using? What makes their images stand out? You can even try to mimic the work of the masters as a way to practice and improve your own abilities and style.
Photographers like Paul Nicklen, Palani Mohan, Stephanie Sinclair, Blake Gordon and Maggie Steber are a few that will likely inspire you!
You surely cannot be a travel photographer without traveling! However, do not think that you always have to be off in faraway, exotic destinations to take travel photographs. You can still take travel photos in your hometown, because your hometown could be a travel destination for someone else.
One of the goals of taking phenomenal travel pictures is to transport people who are looking at your photos to the very moment in time that you froze.
So open your front door, step outside and start shooting!
How to Promote Your Travel Photography
Create an online portfolio or blog
Your portfolio is everything. It is crucial that you build your own personal website or blog to showcase your best shots and any work you have had published. No one is going to hire you based on your word that you are an incredibly gifted photographer. You must prove it.
Seeing is believing!
Wix and Weebly are two free and easy-to-use website builders. They even offer pre-set templates that are created specifically for travel photographers.
Develop a strong social media presence
If you are on a quest to become a travel photographer, social media can be your best friend. People love looking at beautiful photographs taken in places they have only dreamed about visiting. This is where you can really shine and start to develop a following of dedicated fans.
Instagram is an especially valuable tool for building an audience and attracting attention to your work. You never know who will stumble across your pictures and decide to hire you.
Social media is also a great way to connect with other travel photographers, brands and publications. In the creative world, connections are priceless.
Enter photography contests
Entering and winning a photography contest could actually help you get your big break! As an aspiring travel photographer, you need all the exposure you can get.
A photography contest is also a marvelous motivating force. Knowing that you have a deadline and specific parameters to adhere to is fantastic practice for your future as a successful travel photographer.
How to Make Money As a Travel Photographer
Sell your prints
Your personal website or blog is an excellent platform to sell prints of your photographs. You can also try to sell your prints at a local art festival or boutique.
This is also a nice way to make a little extra income while you are working your buns off to make a profitable name for yourself as a professional travel photographer. This is not a get-rich-quick career choice, and camera equipment is not cheap.
You can even get creative and print your photographs on pillowcases, coffee mugs, magnets, totes and t-shirts. The holidays are an ideal time to sell these types of creative and one-of-a-kind gifts!
Post in stock image libraries
Stock image websites like iStock, Shutterstock and Adobe Stock will pay for your photographs. You pictures must be exceptional, but you will receive a royalty every time one of your pictures is purchased for use.
While selling your shots on these sites might not provide enough income to make this your only gig, you can certainly earn some regular cash flow.
Submit to travel and lifestyle magazines
Landing a job as a travel photographer for a travel or lifestyle publication is no easy feat. Most travel photographers want their work published in these magazines. That is not to say that this is an unobtainable goal, it is just one that you have to work hard to achieve.
To work for a revered publication like National Geographic, not only do you have to be accomplished and experienced, but you must truly be the best of the best.
By following the above steps, though, you can make your print photography publication dreams come true. It all comes down to how hard you are willing to work to reach your photography goals.
Seek out paid blog posts
You may have heard of successful blogs hiring writers to create content. Similarly, some blogs hire talented photographers to help with visual content. You can search for this type of work on a freelance forums like Freelancer, Simply Hired and Upwork.
Search these job listing sites and regularly apply for listings that appeal to you. The more you apply and the more experience you gain, the better your chances of getting hired.
Try advertising and marketing companies
Travel sells. Exotic destinations, beautiful landscapes, vibrant cities, luminous skylines, rare wildlife and natural phenomena are often used in advertising and marketing campaigns. These types of photographs are commonly used in campaigns that are not even directly related to the location or event in the picture.
Usually, the idea is to capture the attention of potential buyers or clients or to promote a type of lifestyle to sell a particular product or service. In an era where most people’s attention span is but a few seconds, a captivating photograph is highly valuable to all different types of companies and businesses.
Seeking out work with an advertising or marketing firm might be a profitable way to travel and take the types of photographs you are passionate about taking.
If traveling the globe, taking photographs and making a livable wage are your goals, get out there and make it happen!
Everyone has to start somewhere. There is no day like today to take that first picture of your new travel photography career.
Jenn Parker is a native Floridian who has been living in Costa Rica since 2010. She is an avid surfer, writer, traveler and nature lover on a mission to surf the earth and share her stories. She writes for multiple publications, including a collaborative blog called Ocean and Oak.