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Get paid to travel: become a travel photographer

Expert advice on how to be a successful travel photographer

Issue 78 | 78 march 2006

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 it 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 classic travel experience because you’re too busy taking classic travel photos are just a few of the downsides.

Fancy a fun introduction to travel photography? Why not join Wanderlust's Travel Photography Workshop in Marrakech, Morocco, in autumn 2014? The trip – hosted by acclaimed photographer Paul Harris and Wanderlust editor-in-chief Lyn Hughes – will give you an introduction to this sought-after career path, and allow you to develop your photography skills under expert tuition. Click here for details...

Can you do it?

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 sell shots.

The easiest route is to build up a portfolio of travel images and approach an image library – an organisation that holds thousands of images by hundreds of photographers, which publications can search through. 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 to 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.

Another approach is to enter travel photography competitions. Wanderlust’s annual Travel Photo of the Year competition is specifically for amateurs; the winners 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 impact.

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.”

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.

I am currently working on a global honey-hunting book, and one of my favourite jobs was sitting up a 30m-high tree in Zambia, surrounded by thousands of angry bees!”

Top tip: “The market is almost saturated so you need to provide something special. Look around for unusual angles or something quirky.”

Ever been On Assignment with Wanderlust? Join us for our next trip where you'll research, write or photograph in a professional environment on location, with some of the industry's leading experts, including Lyn Hughes, Wanderlust's editor-in-chief. Look out for upcoming trips on Wanderlust Journeys.

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 Your Comments (1)

  • 30th April by photo-pro

    Great article - do you charge a fee for travel days when you're heading on assignment for a magazine?  I thought maybe a fractional fee of a day rate but not sure what's standard practice?


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