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.
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.
"Back when we started Wanderlust, we would invite photographers in with their portfolios. Nowadays, although we do commission some work, we increasingly use online stock libraries to find images for this website and for our magazines. On the one hand, they libraries have a wide range and make it very easy to search. On the other hand, we can find ourselves wading through pages of very average shots that don't offer anything different or fresh. And, so often we struggle to find what we need due to poor tagging by the photographers."
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.
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 deeper you travel into distant lands and cultures, the more varied the people you'll encounter. It can be fun and intriguing to meet people of vastly different cultures. It can also be alienating and even dangerous. I've seen women treated poorly, child labourers hard at work, and helpless animals suffering in the streets. Tolerance for other cultures is necessary to access these places and document the realities within them. Our job as photographers is to observe, with the hope that our images may influence positive social change.
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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 patrician-looking (and rather taciturn) sadhu in the top photograph did tell me that he had a family, had held a managerial position in the Indian Railway from which he earned a pension (now paid to his wife), but had decided to detach himself from temporal life and was currently studying the Vedas. These are the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. He was the embodiment of a real sadhu who had really espoused the Vairāgya, and was far different from the "sadhus" I encountered on the ghats of Varanasi (below) almost 8 years later.
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.
That's a terrible route. You should be able to fly to Heathrow and then it's only 12 hours to Cape Town. We don't spend 36 hours in the air. Hawaii to Atlanta is 9 hours and then 18 hours on one flight to Joburg. The best time I've ever had is 34 hours door to door total travel time from Kona to Joburg but it's not fun. I've met people on the Atlanta flight that do it every month. They normally work for some charity or in Oil & Gas. With that many miles they get business or first so that makes it a lot easier but I'm sure it still takes its toll. I enjoyed looking at your work. I need to spend more time on the road.
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.
This is a wonderful write-up. My wheels are turning and although you’ve told me just where to start, I feel overewhelmed already. I’ve been shooting for a while now, self taught, but have realzed the several areas I need to streghten, from techincal, to the business side of things. I have so many questions. Ultimately, i feel in love with travel photography when I took my first international and solo trip to the Philippines about 5 years ago. I love to just capture whats happening around me, the people, the culture, the food. And I absolutely love to talk to people about travel, inspire them to try it themselves. I just started taking myself seriously as a photographer 3 years ago. However, I feel lost on how to get the type of clients I want and the type of work I want. In the mean time I just shoot for me. who to reach out to, how to find them, what to say. And putting together that PDF portfolio. Are my best my best? and so on. This one page has already helped and Ill be reaching out to you via email. in the meantime here are some links to my work.
Stock photography: Shooting for stock photography is a subject for a different article (or five of them) but you can see stock agencies as the middle man between provider (the photographer) and buyer (magazines and websites). In order for news agencies or image bank websites to send you on assignment, you’re required to be a contract photographer. Each organization has its own contract and demands. But some photo agencies will be willing to pay for your independent travel images if they are sellable. Do not expect large amounts. But hey, it’s better than nothing.
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.
Taking the first step: Approach the client with already made photos. Visited a nice hotel during your last vacation? The hotel’s management will probably be very happy to publish your images if they are good. Most likely they won’t pay you as they did not order the images from you, but they will give you a credit under the photo. But this would be a good start as you’re now published and have a working relationship with a known brand for your CV.
My still-embryonic idea is to enlist the help of a local acquaintance who would wear a cheongsam (aka qi pao), and take the role of a sing-song girl. The photo shoot would take place in the streets of Yau Ma Tei, and in the parlor itself. Whether the parlor would allow it or not is an open question that will be answered when I'm there. The owners and clients seemed very laid back when I made these photographs.
The second image is of Feng "Lisa" Lee, a tea cultivator and business woman from Taipei. It's one of the images of Lisa that was shot in the confines of a photo studio owned by Timothy Huang in mid December 2018. A selection of these studio shots along with other exterior images at the beautiful Lin Ben Yuan Family Mansion (林本源園邸) in Taipei were woven into a photo film titled The Fairy & The Erhu. There is no narration in this audio slideshow....just the lovely sound of the erhu; the traditional Chinese two-stringed bowed musical instrument.
However I didn't realize that he had done lovely work documenting a rural Chinese opera troupe in Sichuan featured on the International Business Times..thus providing me with valuable inspiration for my own long term book project involving Chinese opera of the Diaspora. My primary focus in this project is on the "rural" or provincial troupes who perform their art during Chinese celebrations and religious observances.
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.
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!
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.