Get paid to travel: become a travel photographer
“Every muppet with a camera and a plane ticket thinks that they can be a travel photographer”. Steve Davey, Wanderlust’s photo expert, and author and photographer of Unforgettable Places To See Before You Die,
is discouraging, but he’s got a point. You might like the sound of
swanning around the world, clicking the shutter now and then, but
there’s more to being a travel photographer than that.
Getting up at stupid o’clock to catch the perfect sunrise, carrying a
camera that’s heavier than four backpacks, and missing out on the
travel experience because you’re too busy taking photos are just a few
of the downsides.
Do you have what it takes?
Loving travel and having an eye for a great shot are not enough. You need patience, both in waiting for (or creating) that perfect shot, and in terms of your career: you’re unlikely to make it overnight.
You need stamina to cope with hectic schedules and long days; you need a
business brain to market your work successfully; you need to be
creative and come up with new angles to stand out from the crowd; and
you need to have the right equipment.
What work is there?
The design and advertising industries pay the highest – you could
earn thousands if your images are used in a high-profile campaign.
However, this work is hard to come by and only available to those who’ve
already proved themselves.
Books, magazines, newspapers, calendars, cards and websites all need
travel images. Having an area of expertise will help you to sell shots.
The easiest route is to build up a portfolio of travel photography
and approach an image library – an organisation that holds thousands of
images by hundreds of photographers, which publications can search
The downside is that most libraries already have enough travel shots –
if you are submitting to a library you need a good range of high-quality
images that are different from the library’s current selection.
Libraries will also take a cut of the money you make from selling your
images, so your earnings may be lower.
“See BAPLA [The British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies]
for relevant library requirements,” says professional photographer Paul Harris in our travel photography Q&A. “Also, NGOs like OXFAM often use photographers to document their work. Some pay basic expenses and/or day rate.”
Another approach is to enter travel photography competitions. Wanderlust’s annual Travel Photo of the Year competition has a category specifically for amateurs, as well as professionals – and it’s open for entries now.
The winners of the competition get a photo commission to an exotic
destination – great experience and priceless exposure, as the images are
printed in Wanderlust and The Independent. Many of the past winners of this competition have gone on to become professional photographers.
What makes good travel photography?
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
Pictures for editorial features are more than decoration – they need
to help tell the story. An image can be stunning but if it has no
relevance to the text it will be discarded. The image has to fit the
brief. For example, the image on a Wanderlust cover must make the reader think: “I want to be there”.
Photographer at sunset (Shutterstock)
How to get that job
Be committed. Like any job for which competition
is tough, you have to stick at it. “The only way to make a living from
travel photography is if you make it a full-time job,” says Richard
I’Anson, travel photographer and founder of Lonely Planet Images.
Don’t undersell yourself. You might be doing your
dream job, but you can’t do it for love alone – that won’t pay the bills
and it will undermine your status as a professional. If clients are
buying your work they should pay the going rate. I’Anson advises: “Don’t
give pictures away in return for an airfare or hotel accommodation.
It’s much harder to charge once you’ve set a precedent like that.”
Be objective. Try to see your work through the eyes
of potential clients. I’Anson says: “You have to separate the travel
experience from the pictures. How you got the picture is not of any
interest to photo editors or clients – they just want good pictures.”
Be original. There must be hundreds of near-perfect shots of the Taj Mahal – what will make yours stand out?
Find a speciality. Carving yourself a niche – as a
bird expert or underwater specialist, for example – might make it
easier to make a name for yourself. Ideally find one that interests you.
Hone your skills. Get your photography to a high standard, both technically and creatively, before you head off on an expensive trip.
Get the gear. With camera equipment you get what you
pay for – and it’s expensive. The minimum you’ll need is a 35mm film or
digital SLR with a high-quality lens.
A word from a pro… Steve Benbow
Steve Benbow’s work has appeared in many newspapers, but how did he get it there?
“I left photographic college in 1989 – a good technical grounding is
essential, be it on a photography course or as a photographic assistant.
However, finding a travel photographer willing to take you under their
wing is almost impossible. Most work alone and fast, with little time
to explain things.
After college I got a job with Raleigh International as a full-time
expedition photographer. This came about thanks to a retired colonel who
liked my diverse portfolio – and because I had a lot of front. I was
very lucky and have no front anymore…
My seven expeditions with Raleigh enabled me to produce an extensive
range of travel images, some of which are still in my portfolio today.
I’ve since been involved in various ad campaigns, and I’ve had many
photojournalism commissions – everything from work for World Vision in
Uganda to a feature on naked rambling in Palm Springs.
Top tip: “The market is almost saturated so you need to provide
something special. Look around for unusual angles or something quirky.”
Taj photographer (Shutterstock)
Want more expert advice?
We’ve got lots of photography tips and industry insight on wanderlust.co.uk – here’s a handful to get you started…
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Main image: Hiker travel photographer (Shutterstock)