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The job of a travel photographer appears glamorous and exciting—traveling around the world, photographing some of the most luxurious and unique locations. But, while it can be an incredibly rewarding career, it is also very challenging. Whether you choose to become a freelance travel photographer or work for any kind of organization, you first need to make a name yourself.
Although contracted positions do exist, the freelance travel photographer path is the most frequently trodden. While all successful freelancers will have had to traverse a slightly different route, we have outlined 15 steps that you can follow to hopefully forge your way as a travel photographer.
“Travel photographer” is an umbrella term that encompasses lots of different areas of photography. You could work for a hotel chain, getting photos from some of their locations, or you could become a humanitarian photographer, highlighting social issues from around the globe. Alternatively, you could become freelance and sell photos from some of the world’s most beautiful destinations. Set your goals early because these will help guide you down your chosen path.
Photography requires certain equipment, but as a travel photographer, you will find that you are unable to pack everything you have for every trip you take. At the very least, you’re going to need a bag, at least one camera, a wide-angle lens, and a tripod. Don’t forget the filters to ensure the most appealing shots. The exact equipment you need will vary according to the type of photography you specialize in.
Take photography courses and read photography books. No matter how good a location or how perfectly a photo is set up, if you don’t have the photography skills, the best you can hope for is a decent picture. The best photographers continue to learn throughout their careers, and you should do the same.
Photography isn’t the only skill you will need to really succeed as a travel photographer. If you’re going to freelance, you will need to be well versed in business management, self-promotion, and marketing. You will also benefit from learning some foreign languages, assuming that your work will take you abroad.
We’re not suggesting plagiarism, but you can draw inspiration from other travel photographers. Look at their work, try to figure out how they got the shots you love, and think of ways you can emulate their process and how to introduce it into your own work.
Even if you don’t have the resources to travel yet, you can still be a travel photographer. Visit local events and landmarks or travel the less-trodden path and start taking pictures. As well as giving you practice photographing, remember that your hometown is a travel destination to others, and it enables you to start developing a portfolio.
A portfolio is a collection of photos that you can show to potential clients, display on your website, and use to help sell your skills. A portfolio shouldn’t be so expansive that it puts people off, and it should concentrate on the types of photography that you want to specialize in. A portfolio can be physical or digital. It can be placed on a website or even uploaded on social media. Or, ideally, all the above.
Once you have the start of an early portfolio, it is time to look at developing the business side of your freelance career. This means having a logo created and developing a website. Your branding should be relevant and uniform, and it should be used on everything from your portfolio to your email signature.
There are a lot of ways you can market yourself. Go to exhibitions and trade fairs and take your portfolio with you. Market your website using search engine optimization (SEO) and look for companies and websites that are actively putting out calls for photographs.
Social media can be an incredibly powerful tool if used correctly. Set up profiles on image-based social media sites like Instagram. Post links to published work and share some of your images. Do bear copyright laws in mind, though, and save your best shots for magazine and website submissions. Some clients won’t accept images that have been published elsewhere, even on your social media.
Competitions are a great way to get recognition for your work. They also allow you to check out other photographers’ work and see what competition organizers are really looking for. Do check the rules and terms and conditions of any competition you enter, though, to make sure you aren’t signing away all of your image rights.
There are tons of websites and magazines that need travel photographs but don’t necessarily have the budget or the need to directly employ one. They will often turn to stock photography websites for their content needs. It’s difficult to make a full-time wage selling stock photography, but it can get you publications, links to your portfolio and website, and gives you credibility, not to mention the buzz of seeing your published work.
Magazines do buy photographs directly from photographers, but they are most often interested in those pictures that have a story to accompany them. Consider paying for a professional copywriting service to help put words to your story if you struggle with the writing aspect. Pitch to magazines, follow their guidelines, and be prepared for multiple rejections or, more likely, being ignored since editors of some magazines receive hundreds of pitches a day.
There are other ways to make money from your travel photographs. Have your images printed on canvas or even on items like tea towels and t-shirts and sell them. There are websites and services that will deal with the printing and shipping of these items while giving you a storefront to promote, taking on at least some of the work for you.
Possibly one of the most important things for a freelance travel photographer to do is to travel. Get out there, take some photos, and expand your portfolio. As well as giving you more opportunities to take pictures, it will enable you to further perfect your craft and may open new doors for your career.
The way of the travel photographer can be lucrative and can provide an exciting and potentially profitable venture, but it does also require hard work and diligence. Be prepared for the fact that you will likely have to learn other skills, including some business management and marketing skills, and be prepared for some rejection along the way.
Featured Image Credit: Samuel Rios, Unsplash
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Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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