You’ve got your dream job in mind – flying across the globe, seeing breathtaking sights, and capturing incredible images. While working as a travel photographer may sound like a dream, it is truly possible to make money doing it if you know where to look.
How can you work as a travel photographer? To work as a travel photographer, you have to:
- Consider your options
- Prepare and build your portfolio
- Build your portfolio and income through stock photos
- Build a social media following
- Know how to find work
- Know options for generating income
- Adjust your expectations to startup mode
- Consider your personality and work style
If you want to work as a travel photographer, this guide will help you determine where you’d like to make your money, what supplies you need, how to build your portfolio. Let’s get you ready to begin your new life as a travel photographer!
How to Work as a Travel Photographer
In order to know what your travel photography business will look like, you need to think about your own goals and expectations. You also need to start building your portfolio, kit, and business plan.
Consider Your Options
Ask yourself some questions, to get to the root of what your business will entail:
- What kind of photography do you want to do – stock photos, social media work, a blog?
- How will you find work?
- Will you freelance or contract, or both?
- How will you establish a digital and social media presence?
Before you land your first travel photography jobs, you’re going to have to take time to consider what’s ahead. It’s exciting – and similarly to other photography options, it’s a lot of work.
it’s time to build your portfolio, create some beautiful photos, and establish your online presence. If you want to get hired, you have to have some dynamite samples for future clients to see. You’ll have to rough out some type of business plan and learn how to make money or have a strong enough side hustle to keep you afloat. And finally, you'll also have to adjust yourself to the startup mentality. Are you ready?
On your marks, get set – go see the world!
Can I Make Money as a Travel Photographer?
The short answer is yes! Let’s be real — travel photography opportunities won’t come knocking at your door, but work abounds if you’re ready to proactively seek it out. If you hone your skills and put yourself out there, you can find success as a travel photographer.
You can make money dozens of different ways, like approaching local businesses, doing destination marketing, compiling eBooks, and much more. Options for making money as a travel photographer include:
- Stock photo work
- Social media
- Freelance work
- Contract work
- Searchable website
- Sell your prints
- Other valuable content
It's truly amazing how many opportunities there are to monetize traveling. Really, you will want to have your hands in as many pots as possible to maximize your income. You know you’ve found the right balance when you’re working hard and making money without feeling consistently overwhelmed.
Marketing and advertising yourself are key components of becoming a travel photographer. If you are willing to network in-person and online, you can achieve that thrilling nomadic lifestyle while still getting paid.
What are the ways you can really make money as a travel photographer, and how can you start?
Preparing and Building Your Portfolio
If you’re just starting out, you can sharpen your skills by working pro bono. You’ll need to build your portfolio with some breathtaking travel photos, so it’s time to plan some trips and take some pics.
Offer free photography to friends, family, and associates. Take as many shots as possible so you can improve your skills and extend your portfolio.
Once you have a great following on social media, an outstanding portfolio and plenty of experience, you’re ready to start charging for your skills. Here are a few places to start:
- Shooting for smaller websites or blogs
- Shooting for Instagram businesses
- Offering free images to lodges or hostels
Need more help getting started with photography in general? Here are some pointers for true beginners.
- Plan and take a trip (doesn’t even have to be out of the country).
- Pick a stunning scene that says something special about your location.
- Get to shooting image after image at different angles.
- Review your images and select a few of your best.
- Edit them slightly but keep it real.
- Put your final images in a Dropbox or Google Drive.
- Write a caption (about 500 words) about the image and why you believe it captures the essence of your location or tells a story.
These images tell a story and work to build and expand your portfolio and your job opportunities.
Once you are pleased with your portfolio, bring it to small businesses and individuals in your area who you believe could make use of short-term or long-term photography services. You can also offer any other skills, like blog post writing, pamphlet design, and more depending on your technical and creative skill set.
Right after college (undergrad) I had the opportunity to work with a real estate investor. I was hired to create a website to list and offer deals on condos and beach houses. One of the reasons why I was hired was due to my track record making successful websites and engaging in other entrepreneurial work (my portfolio and work experience).
What sealed the deal was my eye for capturing the right photos. Not only did I take pictures of the inside and outside of the condos and beach houses, I also took pictures of the beach and other surrounding areas! This was great because I lived pretty close to these locations.
If you live near a metropolitan area or a tourist attraction, leverage that as a great starting point before you travel afar.
How You Get to That Point
Before you land your first paying job today, here’s what you will likely have to have accomplished the following:
- Start your own website
- Brand yourself
- Have a complete portfolio you love
- Have a business plan and a niche
- Be organized and punctual
- Be bold with advertising, marketing, offering your services
- Have your visa or passport lined up
- Have your rates and services nailed down
- Get all of the great photography gear you’ll need
- Have a large network of contacts
When negotiating with your first potential employer, ask questions. Be open-minded.
Build Your Portfolio and Income Through Stock Photo Work
If you love photography, you’ve probably been to a few stock photo websites in your time. These sites create large libraries of beautiful photos taken by thousands of different photographers.
The premise is simple enough: you submit your photos, and if the stock site likes them, they will temporarily purchase the rights to the photo. You get a cut of the cash whenever the photo sells or a piece of the action when the photo is downloaded.
Clearly, the more stock photos you sell, the more passive income you begin to collect. Some travel photographers are even able to live off selling stock photos exclusively.
Destination photos sell well. You can even start selling stock photos today with some of your existing work. Some of the websites where you can begin selling your photos include:
- iStock (Getty)
- Adobe Stock (Fotolia is closed)
- Canva (not just illustrations!)
There are plenty more where that came from. There instructional programs that teach selling stock photography, as well.
Becoming skillful at stock photography takes time for some people. It is a specific niche with a particular vibe. The competition is stiff, and you must be technically sound.
How to Get Your Work Accepted on Stock Photo Sites
There is a lot of competition out there. You have to show your best. Nothing except excellent images will sell on stock photo sites. Make sure:
- Images are 100% sharp
- There are no blown-out highlights
- There are no chromatic aberrations
- There are no other technical problems
Use a Model
Hiring a model and placing them in your photos can help your stock photos sell better. If you’re just getting started and you’re not sure how much money you will be able to make with stock photography, you may just want to ask a significant other or friend to be your model. So long as your model signs a release, you should be good to go.
Remember, you can also sell stock videos if you’re a videographer as well. Simple and quick clips, as long as the quality is excellent, can sell well on stock sites.
Building a Social Media Following
Not everyone can make money posting photography on social media. Competition is explosive, and with so many travel Instagramers to follow, you’ll have to stand apart from the rest.
However, whether you plan to make money on social media or not, it is critical to building your social media accounts and followings simply to put your art and branding into the world. You need excellent content online and on social media to get a great job!
Making money as a travel photographer on social media can be a whole blog post on its own, but here are some starting pointers to gain a following on Instagram.
- Pick the Right Username
Simple and memorable. That is what you want out of a username. Avoid symbols and numbers when possible. Keep your username short, sweet, and unique. And of course, search around to make sure it’s not taken. Consider it holistically – is it available across multiple platforms?
Once you’ve got it, make sure your username is consistent throughout all your travel photography branding.
- Perfect your Branding
Ownable and relatable. Your branding should be memorable and real. It should reflect the authentic you. This may sound like a lot, so if you haven’t gone through the branding process yet, it’s going to take a lot of brainstorming and maybe even some help from your loved ones. However, with a little thought, those golden ideas will strike you!
- Stand Out in Your Niche
Set your self apart. You have to shine the light on something unique about you or your photography to stand out among other travel photographers. You could focus mostly on a very specific location, or a particular natural phenomenon or cultural event.
Do your research on other travel photographers and consider your experiences and interests to get the ideas rolling.
- Engage with Your Followers
One way to start gaining committed followers is by responding to your audience. Reply to your audience’s comments. Share personal stories. Reply to DMs. Social media must be “social” – you have to engage.
Ask your audience questions about what they would like to see and follow through with their ideas. “I got a request for this – what a great idea! Here it is!” Your followers will begin to feel loyal to you when you engage with them, and in turn, they might share your work with their network as well.
Provide value to your faithful followers. In addition to your stunning photos, include personal stories and advice about travel. Make every post engaging and exciting for those who follow you.
- Engage with Your Genre
As you research other travel photographers and anyone else in your niche, engage with them. Follow other photographers, comment on their posts, and become a true fan of theirs.
By doing this, you are getting ideas for your own social media and attracting followers from fans of the genre. Other people who are following this travel photographer may see your comment and become interested in seeing what you have to offer on your social media.
Always be genuine in your follows likes and comments. You could even reach out to your fellow travel photographers to set up collaboration opportunities either online or IRL.
- Connect to Other Social Media
Develop a Facebook fan page. Consider Twitter, YouTube, and other social media opportunities to grow your business. If this seems overwhelming, consider working with a site like Buffer, Sprout Social or Hootsuite to help consolidate your efforts across multiple platforms.
- Utilize Fitting Hashtags
Did you know somewhere around a hundred million posts are shared on Instagram each and every day? One way to stand out from the rest is by using the right hashtags.
You’re going to want to select hashtags that people are searching for. However, don’t choose the most popular and obvious hashtags like #travel (or at least not exclusively), because your post will likely be difficult to find amongst all of the other posts using the same popular tags.
Do your research through the other popular travel Instagram accounts you follow, or any Instagram accounts at all. Learn from their hashtags, search them on Instagram, and see if it’s a good fit for your next photo.
- Share More with Each Post
When it comes to travel, you’ve got to use those geotags! Some users search by location, and as a travel photographer, that’s a great way to build your following for those people who want to see photos of places anywhere from Poland to Hawaii.
You can also make your posts specific by tagging the activity and region. The more info you share, the more people are able to find you.
- Utilize All of Instagram’s Features
Instagram adds new great features all the time, like Instagram Stories and Instagram Live. You can share personal stories, advertise your other money-making strategies (eBooks, online courses, YouTube videos, website, prints, blog posts, etc.) You can also feature polls and Q&As to engage your followers and make your page fun for your followers.
- Develop Regular High-Quality Posts
Aim for one high-quality post every day. Don’t spam your followers by bombarding them several times daily, but you do want to provide them with excellent content and posts that make them think, “I’m glad I’m following this account.” Once a day should be enough to start picking up more followers without irritating your current ones.
When you’re on a trip, and your followers want to see what’s going on. However, you might want to post more often.
Know How to Find Work
Once you’ve established yourself on social media and have developed a sizeable portfolio, you’ll want to start outreach for new clients. There are a few types of jobs you can go after.
Are you ready to seek out your own clients? This can be a lucrative form of travel photography. However, you do need to build your online presence and your portfolio and get ready to market and sell yourself if you really want freelancing to become your career.
Freelance travel photography will require some face-to-face conversations. Approach people who might need high-quality images. Do you know someone with a blog or business? They could probably use your skills. Featured images for blog posts are basically requirements these days and businesses would love professional pictures of their area.
Maybe at the beginning of your career, you exchange your photos for networking. You provide pictures; they tell their network about your excellent photography. Or you could work together – if you both have blogs, have them write up a fabulous post for your blog, and you can send them some original images they can use.
Utilize your connections. Let your friends, family, and associates know what you do and how good you are at it. Make new connections, too. A business owner has to get out there.
Consider approaching any business in the travel or tourism industry and offer your services. Look up local businesses like small travel agencies or AirBnB owners. If you’re just getting started, you could offer some free photos in exchange for some promotion on their end.
You’ll get some “no thank you”s. Don’t get discouraged. You will hear “no” more often than “yes.” Just keep pushing until you have the job of your dreams.
I offered my share of free work when building up my side hustles. Then I eventually moved to premium rates!
Full-time contract work is probably the ideal occupation for the travel photographer. This is going to provide the steadiest income, but keep in mind you won’t have the same kind of freedom you would as a freelance photographer.
It is possible to land work with a tourism or photography company and take photos exclusively for them. There aren’t many of these jobs out there, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your best to get their attention.
Consider reaching out to hotels in your area, tour operators, travel agencies, etc. Look around your town and city and see who might need photography long-term. Make sure to bring your A-game when it comes to your portfolio.
Remember that you can also reach out to people on social media that might need long-term photography as well.
Know Options for Generating Income as a Travel Photographer
Once you’ve got the portfolio, the social media following and are doing outreach for new clients, you’ll need to know how you’ll sell your prints.
Sell Prints on Your Own Searchable Website
You can advertise and sell all of the services you offer on your own searchable website.
- Make sure your website looks good and is functional. It sounds silly to mention this but you'd be surprised how many photographers get this wrong. Doing this alone will get you most of the way there.
- Study up on whitehat SEO and how to attract people to your site. If people can find your site, they can see your images and even contact you to buy them.
- Try to make your images easy to find on Google. And who knows? Perhaps someone will see your work on a Google search and decide to hire you as a photographer for an extended period of time.
A searchable website is probably the best way to sell the prints of your best photos. You can also advertise your social media, any YouTube videos you have, your photography and videography services, etc.
Other Ways to Sell Your Prints
Of course, you can always sell your prints in person. You could try advertising your work at galleries, farmers’ markets, on Etsy, or community events of all kinds.
Here are some other ways to sell your prints:
- ArtPal: This free gallery is a place to sell and buy art with no membership fees and no commission. They help you market your art and get some sales.
- Singulart: This online original art gallery also strives to help aspiring artists and collectors find one another.
- Displate: This global art marketplace gives you opportunities to expose your art. Membership is completely free, and they take care of the printing and customer service for you for a commission. They are currently sponsoring a lot of content creators on YouTube and Twitch.
- Saatchi: This large marketplace sells art and organizes art fairs. It can be harder to gain visibility on this site, but if you are able to, this can be a great step forward in your career.
- Society6: This special print-on-demand site allows you to turn your artwork into products! Attach your artwork to t-shirts, shower curtains, posters, and more, and find out if selling these products can put some money in your pocket.
- Kite.Ly: Like Society6, you can create products with your art on it, from mugs to tote bags, and sell it directly on your Kite.Ly website.
- Art Please: On this site, collectors can request specific pieces from their favorite artists.
Create a Blog
Blogging can bring in significant income for any travel photographer. You can make money blogging through advertisement and affiliate marketing. You use your site to help sell the related goods of other people.
You can introduce advertisements through Google Ads, and affiliate marketing comes from people buying things through your site. You might encourage them to buy camera equipment or travel extras, or anything you truly love and use. Affiliate marketing can be a good tool if you stay honest, and your audience can trust your recommendation.
Blogging is a somewhat natural next step after your photography. Show your photography on your site and write about the experience you had while photographing it. This can be immensely helpful to current or future travelers.
Provide Other Content to Boost Sales and Income
If you’re creative, you can come up with all sorts of value; you can provide your followers and boost your income. Some ideas include:
- Destination Shoots: You can offer to photograph people on their vacations, and simply go along with them. Who doesn’t want gorgeous photos taken during their dream vacation?
- Travel Classes and Workshops: When you know everything there is to know about popular travel destinations, you can offer workshops online or in-person. Teach them about the area where to stay, where to find inexpensive airfare, where to eat, and where to take stunning photographs.
- Travel Tours and Classes: Is there a place you really love? How could you bring value to that particular location? You might consider providing photography classes in the area, or offering tours plus photography to tourists.
- Publish YouTube Videos: There’s so much value you can provide to YouTube as a travel photographer. You can provide photography or travel tips and hints. You could simply upload the stunning videography you record in various destinations.
- Create Courses: You can use online course market places like Udemy to teach others how to take stunning photos or how to maximize their upcoming trip and sell the course for a reasonable price.
The possibilities are endless when you leverage your skills and promote yourself.
Adjust Your Expectations to Startup Mode
You will want to be frugal with your expenditures, while still having the tools necessary to actually become a great photographer. You will absolutely have to invest in the right supplies, so only go through with it if you’re serious about doing this as a career.
Here are some costs that you should plan on.
- A reliable camera with a brand like Canon, Nikon, or Sony with a series of lenses and accessories (around $4000)
- A portable tripod
- Travel costs
- Business costs like subscriptions and insurance
- A good laptop
- Dependable bag(s) for your gear
Is Travel Photography the Right Job for Me?
Before you buy the right gear and get out there in the world, make sure that becoming a travel photographer is the right fit for you. It’s not easy to create a job out of a hobby in a competitive field.
Here are some of the qualities of a great travel photographer.
|Quality||Explanation (The Why)|
|Resilience and Spirit||There will be rejection. Some people will love your work, and some won’t. You’ll also have to be resilient physically with constant flights, buses, and unfamiliar places. Keep your spirits high.|
|Flexibility and Open-mindedness||Embrace change. You’ll need to flex or change your plans anytime for work. You have to be flexible as you immerse yourself in places with different cultures, food, and languages.|
You have to have an open mind to what potential clients and followers might expect of you.
Prepare to take a few turns on your way to figuring out what kind of photographer you are, and how you can do what you love while still making money.
|Boldness and Confidence||When you’re trying to market yourself and your work, there’s no time to be shy. Network like crazy, and reach out to anyone and everyone who could help get you started. Don’t be afraid to show off your work and offer your services whenever possible.|
|Uniqueness and Creativity||You’ll have to find your own niche and specialty as you embark on your travel photography journey. Follow the creative spark that got you here in the first place and trust yourself.|
|Talent and Yearning to Learn||Whether your talent comes naturally or through hard work, you will have to hone your craft as you go. Continue to make changes and find ways to improve and become a better photographer each and every day.|
|Curiosity and Wanderlust||Travel photography is not a business for those who easily get homesick. You have to have the burning motivation to travel and be your own boss to find success in travel photography.|
I love this type of photography and it probably shows. One of my favorite possessions is my photo album of photos I've taken overseas. Not only is this type of photography fun, it's also profitable.
If you're looking at this type of photography as a line of work and the listed attributes above describe you, you might be ready to be your own boss and enjoy the excitement of travel. There are so many ways to have fun and put cash in your pocket!