How To Become a Paid Travel Photographer

Discover essential tips for aspiring travel photographers: mastering skills, gear selection, social media strategies, and turning passion into a profession.

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It feels like a dream.

I travel to faraway places, photograph exciting experiences and beautiful landscapes, and am always on the move toward new adventures. There's more than one way to make a living from your passion. A crucial question is: "Do I want to do this professionally"?

While being a professional travel photographer is attractive, pursuing photography as a hobby for sheer enjoyment may be more appealing. Without the constraints of client expectations, there's more freedom in your projects. Yet, embracing photography full-time as a freelancer offers unique opportunities.

Improvement in any field involves what's known as the 'compounding effect.' Initially, small and seemingly insignificant efforts accumulate to yield significant results. So, what elements have propelled my personal growth and skill development as a travel photographer?

Well, that's why I'm here to give you some advice.

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1. Be Passionate About Photography

It might seem obvious, but a valuable question is, "What am I passionate about?"

For some, the passion lies in the genuine interactions with people met along the way, while for others, it's about capturing the stunning landscapes in various regions. I view photography as a means to an end. It's a tool that allows me to meet new people and explore different places.

Merging photography with teaching it to others is where my passion truly lies. During my photography expeditions, I guide people to fascinating locations; we take photos, edit them, share moments in the cold yet breathtaking scenery, and collectively enhance our skills.

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2. Shoot What You Want to Be Hired For

When reaching out to potential clients, showcasing the type of work you want to get hired for is crucial. By setting up a project as if you were shooting for a client, you can present them with relevant material, making it easier for them to decide in your favor. This principle applies whether you're into travel photography or any other photography genre. The more detailed your proposal with comparable imagery, the higher the likelihood of a client wanting to work with you.

Imagine simplifying the client's decision to just a 'yes' or 'no' rather than having them spend significant time conceptualizing – aim to make things as straightforward as possible for the client.

It's always better to try and secure the job than to hold back due to low self-assessed chances. The worst-case scenario is not getting the project but still getting your name out there. The best-case scenario? You land the project! There isn't a downside. If you never try, you won't see any positive outcomes.

3. Building Your Photography Portfolio

This ties in with shooting the work you aim to get hired for.

The more relevant your portfolio is, the more compelling it will be when you pitch your ideas. In travel photography, which can encompass a variety of subjects such as cultural events, landscapes, or even interior photography for hotels — it's crucial to tailor your portfolio accordingly. Create distinct sets of your work to present to others rather than having a single portfolio that includes everything. Demonstrate to your clients the effort and thought you've put into curating your gallery of work.

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4. Community Over "Networking"

The typical image of networking often involves corporate events where various people mingle around tables, and you find yourself trying to approach others to sell your skills. This self-promotion approach can be practical if you're a natural at sales, but can be intimidating for even someone like myself.

Thus, my perspective on networking changed when I started to see it as building relationships and being part of a community. This shift made networking more exciting and felt more authentic. Engaging genuinely with others, finding common interests, and actively listening to their concerns and projects foster meaningful connections. While it may take time to land you a job, these sustainable relationships are more beneficial than brief, sales-focused interactions in the long run.

Plus, you might be part of a fun new group of like-minded people!

5. Your Presence on Social Media

Social media holds a dual significance for many. It can be a wellspring of inspiration and a viable means to earn a living. Yet, there's a complexity to it: on one hand, it's a rich source of ideas if you know where to look. On the other, it can be overwhelming, leading to self-doubt about your art and a tendency to limit your tastes to the confines of your feed.

That's why, as mentioned below, it's important to seek inspiration from various sources.

Despite these challenges, engaging on social media, showcasing your portfolio, and updating your profiles are crucial to landing your desired travel photography job. Clients often don't stumble upon your website by chance and instantly book you. Instead, a strong portfolio becomes a pivotal point for potential collaborations, often after initial email interactions. Social media can serve a similar purpose. While some find it easy to constantly post stories and behind-the-scenes content, even sharing a few moments each week can significantly boost your visibility.

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6. Gear and Techniques

For travel photographers, the right gear is crucial. Often outdoors, I must carry all my necessary equipment. A durable backpack, versatile lenses, and water-resistant gear are essential. While high-quality gear can be costly, it's a worthwhile investment due to its longevity with proper care. I treat my camera equipment as tools, emphasizing regular cleaning and maintenance to avoid unexpected failures. Shooting in extreme conditions, such as cold winters or deserts, tests your gear's durability, making insurance a wise choice for peace of mind.

Mirrorless cameras, such as the Sony a7 IV and the Fujifilm X-T5, have significantly advanced, offering longevity and quality I rely on without regret. Staying informed about the latest advancements in photography, especially with AI's rapid development, is vital. Modern editing tools now simplify previously time-consuming tasks, highlighting the importance of continuous learning to leverage these innovations.

Ensuring your equipment remains safe and dry is paramount when traveling frequently. The Shimoda X50 v2 backpack is an excellent choice for its durability, backloading panel, and numerous features.

Lens selection is a personal decision, influenced by your desired perspective, the scene, and the message you wish to convey in your photos. Whether you're aiming for abstract close-ups with a telephoto zoom lens, capturing vast landscapes with a wide-angle lens, or achieving beautiful bokeh and low-light performance with a portrait lens, the choice depends on your creative goals and the specific situation.

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7. Develop Your Photographic Style

Developing a style in photography is something that takes time. Over the years, I often pondered, "What is my style?" Without being able to specify the exact elements that define my photography, a retrospective look at my work reveals consistent themes in how I approach locations, the colors I emphasize, and my editing focus points.

This direction evolves, sometimes even unconsciously. As a photographer, you don't need to seek a style actively; instead, shoot what captivates you and draw inspiration from various artists. With time and practice, your unique style will naturally emerge.

8. Gathering Inspiration from Others

No, it's not good to copy photos from specific locations, though I have also visited places inspired by stunning images on Instagram. There's a delicate balance between imitation and drawing inspiration.

To enhance your photography, seeking inspiration is crucial: from fellow photographers to landscape painters for composition, portrait painters for lighting techniques, and graphic artists for series cohesion. Learning from these diverse sources enriches your 'passive knowledge,' equipping you with innovative poses or compositions for future shoots.

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9. Develop a Broad Skill Set

In freelance travel photography, taking photos is just one aspect of the job. Much time is spent on project preparation, researching locations, and sorting out logistics. Questions like the easiest way to reach a destination, obtaining necessary permits, and timing for the best lighting are crucial. While preparation may not always be the most exciting, its successful execution is vital for the project.

Once you return from a shoot, managing your data becomes paramount. A reliable backup system, whether through cloud services or a Network Attached Storage (NAS), is essential for long-term file safety. Then comes another skill altogether – editing your photos. After delivering a project, there's the ongoing task of managing current and potential clients, maintaining your web presence, and handling the administrative side of your business. It's essential to broaden your horizons and embrace learning new skills.

Having your photos backed up on a NAS is both safe, as well as your work is always accessible through the internet. Taking a high-quality and sturdy SSD when traveling can be a lifesaver; resistant to falls, damage, yet high-speed enough for your backup while on the road. The Sandisk Extreme Pro is another excellent option to take with you if you have the space in your bag.

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We've covered numerous topics that resonate not just with travel photographers but with all photographers and freelancers alike. Continuously question your passion for your craft, enhance your abilities, and invest in opportunities that align with your desired income streams. You could be well on your way to becoming a professional travel photographer. In my view, the privilege of experiencing the world's natural wonders and capturing their essence is a victory in itself.

You can join me on an exciting photography expedition to the Arctic this year, both to Iceland and Greenland!

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