The rise of Instagram has not only inspired us to travel more, it’s also inspired us all to become better photographers. We’ve also seen the creation of the social media influencer, a potentially lucrative career that didn’t exist just a few years ago.
While the number of professional photographers was once quite limited and mostly employed by large publication companies, there is now a wide array of travel photography jobs available with many photographers simply working for themselves.
The idea of a photojournalist covering a war-torn region or capturing images of rare wildlife for National Geographic used to be the picture of a travel photographer, however today people are successfully combining their passion for travel and photography to make money in all sorts of ways.
Whether you’re interested in photographing food, landscapes, architecture, wildlife, people and cultures, products, or big events, there’s a place for you in the travel photography market.
You can score contracts working for tourism boards and hotels, make money from photographing the cuisine and interiors of restaurants for promotional purposes, become a destination wedding photographer, do studio portraits while working on a cruise ship, or even become a paparazzi who chases celebrities around the world.
If interested in monetizing your travel photography, here’s my informative guide to everything you need to know about starting down the path towards becoming a professional travel photographer.
How to Become a Professional Travel Photographer
What You’ll Need to Start
More important than having the proper equipment and skills to be a professional travel photographer is having the passion and drive to become one. It goes without saying that you need to enjoy both travel and have the patience that photography requires.
While seeing gorgeous photos in social media feeds make the job seem glamorous, it fails to showcase all the hard work, stress, and sometimes miserable conditions that went into producing such shots.
There are often a lot of sacrifices involved with being a travel photographer. It often means being away from your friends and family and can involve long-haul flights and constantly living out of a suitcase.
In addition to simply loving to travel and photograph things, become a professional photographer will require you to develop effective marketing skills, communicate well with people and businesses, budget finances, be self-reliant at times, and become highly adaptable.
Proper Travel Photography Equipment
Once you’ve decided that you want to commit to becoming a professional travel photographer, it’s then time to think about investing in proper equipment.
Going professional means upgrading your camera from your simple point-and-shoot and acquiring a number of accessories. Before you even begin to start making expensive purchases, you should do thorough online research on what type of camera and gear you’ll need for the nature of travel photography you wish to do.
Remember, there are many different areas travel photographers can work in and the camera setup that works for one photographer may not be ideal for another.
The first step is deciding on a camera.
There are DSLR cameras which are the most popular professional cameras on the market, as well as lightweight mirrorless cameras, action cameras such as GoPro, and drone cameras.
Even smartphone cameras have become so advanced that they are now being used by professional photographers to create stunning high-quality images.
Having a DSLR camera body that allows you to switch out different lenses will allow you much more flexibility when it comes to shooting various subjects in different conditions.
However, it’s important to understand that you may not need a wide array of lenses depending on what you are planning to shoot.
We often think of giant long-range telephoto lenses as being what a professional lens looks like, but these are only advantageous for photographers that shoot subjects like wildlife and sporting events, and of course by paparazzi hiding in bushes.
For example, you may only require a small 50mm lens when taking portraits or food photography, or a wide angle lens for landscape and architecture shots. Decide which lens focal lengths you will require for your chosen subject field as well as if you will require a lens with a low f-stop to allow for shooting in low-light conditions.
Other important elements to consider when investing in camera lenses include the quality of the glass, its bokeh effect, and the minimum focus distance a lens offers.
A professional travel photographer also usually incorporates a number of accessories to their gear list which vary depending on what they plan to shoot.
Wildlife and sports photographers often require a well-built sturdy tripod to support their telephoto lenses, while portrait and landscape photographers may utilize a number of filters such as polarizing, neutral density, UV/haze, and warming cooling filters to achieve various effects like reducing glare, altering white balance, or improving contrast.
Another important photo accessory that many travel photographers pack are external flash units and photography backdrops. While you may think both may only be used in established studios, a number of travel photographers create portable backdrops and “traveling studio setups” to photograph everything from restaurant meals and various consumer products to even wildlife.
Backdrops are also used by photographers working on cruise ships as portrait photographers, as well as destination wedding photographers that either work from popular destination wedding locations or travel with couples who are looking to tie the knot somewhere exotic.
Backdrops are versatile, affordable, and durable, coming in various sizes and materials including canvas, microfiber, and wrinkle-free muslin.
Laptop & Editing Software
Digital photography has allowed us to edit our photos and market our photography online while sitting in bed if we wish, but you will need a decent laptop and editing software to achieve this.
An ideal laptop for photo editing is one that offers a fast processor, large storage drive, and decent RAM for optimal system performance.
Learning how to use all the useful functions of editing software such as Adobe Photoshop will allow you to turn good photos into high-quality professional photos.
Understanding all the tools and capabilities of your photo editing software takes time can be equally as difficult as learning all the technical aspects of a camera.
Batteries, Memory Cards, and a Portable Hard Drive
You won’t be able to take any photos if you have a dead battery or no space for more shots. So it’s vital to always carry additional charged batteries, as using various camera elements can drain power quickly, as can shooting in colder weather.
You may also not have access to electricity to continuously keep a single battery charged when embarking on various safaris or trekking experiences.
When it comes to memory cards, you need to consider things like storage capacity, fast read and write speeds, and compatibility. While SD cards may be the most widely used, your camera may require the use of a microSD, compact flash, CFexpress, or XQD card.
The more storage a memory card has, obviously the more photos you can take. However, regardless of storage size, you will still want to invest in a portable hard drive to backup all your photos. Memory cards can get lost or can get corrupted.
This is where having memory cards with fast read and write speeds will come in handy, as they will allow you to quickly transfer photo files from your card to your hard drive or computer in addition to allowing you to utilize the full potential of your camera’s burst mode.
Travel Camera Backpack
It also pays to invest in a quality backpack specially designed for holding camera gear. Camera backpacks not only keep your gear well-organized but also keeps it safe.
A good choice is the Peak Design Everyday Laptop Backpack (pictured above). This is a beautiful and sleek camera backpack, with the unique benefit of a main compartment which opens from either side so you can easily access anything in the bag, even if it’s at the bottom.
Plenty of pockets for storing cards, cords, and additional accessories like harddrives. And it’s weatherproof and waterproof which means your camera is not getting wet if you’re in a place where the weather changes every 5 minutes!
A quality camera backpack should be one that offers customizable dividers, tripod storage, a laptop compartment, a raincover, and is generally protective from dust, sand, and water.
Develop Professional Photography Skills
There’s a lot that goes into taking professional looking photos, and sadly Instagram “likes” aren’t necessarily a good measure of what makes a quality marketable photograph.
There is stiff competition in the business of travel photography, meaning you’ll have to be on top of your game if you want to grab the attention of companies and individuals looking to pay you for your photography skills.
You don’t necessarily need a special degree to become a professional photographer, but you will need to learn the many skills it takes to consistently take quality photos.
You may get lucky once in awhile using your camera’s auto settings, but learning to adjust settings manually will give you much greater flexibility to create stunning images in a range of unique situations.
There are a wealth of photography tutorials you can access online which will teach you a great deal of what you need to know to start taking professional-looking photographs. The rest comes from simply getting out in the field and taking photos yourself, learning which techniques work for you and which don’t.
You’ll need to learn photography elements like composition, lighting, color, and using unique angles through the understanding of things like ISO, aperture, depth of field, and white balance.
Making Money from your Travel Photography
As I stated before, there are ample ways you can monetize your travel photography skills these days. No longer are you restricted to pleading to a magazine or newspaper to earn a living from your photography.
In fact, these days many of the photographs that appear in popular magazines are actually given up free by photographers simply in exchange for name or brand exposure.
Today, you can easily take things into your own hands when it comes to your career in travel photography thanks to social media and the internet.
Yes, you can create a portfolio and draft a resume listing all your skills to land a job as a full-time photographer working for a single company, but you can also create your own website where you can market your photography and attract the jobs you’re most interested in doing.
Here are some additional ideas for you:
Ways to monetize your travel photography skills:
➤ You can make money from advertising and affiliate sales by creating a travel or photography blog, creating “how to” or “best new camera products” style posts or YouTube videos. You can look to social media to gain a large enough following where companies will seek you out to offer you cash or free travel in exchange for posts that showcase their brand.
➤ You can also organize your own photography tours whether they are focused on shooting birds in the Amazon or visiting historic Roman ruins in Europe.
➤ You can even work as a destination wedding photographer or get hired by a cruise company. Some small-group adventure cruises like those that go to the Arctic or Antarctic often hire professional photographers that act as special guides for photography-based excursions and activities.
➤ You can become a freelance photographer working for tourism boards, hotels, restaurants, and tour operators. All are in constant need of updated photography for their websites, brochures, and other marketing.
➤ You can also upload some of your photos to a stock photography site like Shutterstock to earn additional income from companies looking to use your popular images or possibly upload your work to free platforms like Unsplash.
While photos on Unsplash are free for people to use, it can still help you build name and brand recognition through linking back to your website and social media channels as well as potentially benefiting from the occasional donation that people using your photos can gift you via the platform.
The key is to build up a quality portfolio of what you have to offer and create a strong online presence where businesses and people can find you.
A professional-looking website can make you look more legit to a company and gives you the opportunity to sell your photos, books, and other merchandise
Additional Tips for Success
Successful professional travel photographers are ones who are persistent and realize that a lucrative career won’t come overnight. You probably won’t want to quit your day job until you are confident you will have the work and income from your photography to support your lifestyle.
It often takes being creative and looking for an unusual niche or shooting common subjects in a whole new way to get noticed. Just look at how popular drone shots were when the technology was first developed.
It pays to do your research both on your travel destinations and your subjects. Knowing the best times to travel and the habits of your subjects will allow you to maximize the opportunities for capturing captivating images.
Be sure to develop you own style and keep your portfolio consistent so as clients can get a feel for what you offer.
Realize that your work may not appeal to everyone and to not get discouraged when you do get turned down for jobs. Income from travel photography is often largely inconsistent, so you may need to budget accordingly.
Finally, because both travel and photography equipment are often expensive, you should always purchase travel insurance and insure your expensive items like cameras and laptops since they are your money-makers after all and your income will depend on them.