How to Get Started as a Professional Travel Photographer
It has been a dream of mine to get paid to take stunning images of beautiful places. Unfortunately, making it in the travel photography industry is easier said than done. After speaking with my instructors, mentors in the field, and photography colleagues, I have come up with a roadmap, which I myself intend to start following. While it is a widely accepted fact that this industry is extremely competitive, I am convinced that this road should not be a lonely one and that there is room for many a determined talent at the top – especially if we capitalize on our own unique strengths.
#1 Invest in Professional Equipment
While some may be discouraged when their smartphone snaps a “better shot” than its DSLR counterpart, or when an amateur photographer’s iPhone or Android image goes viral on social media, becoming a professional who sells their images commercially depends on HIGH RESOLUTION image formats. It’s time to buckle down and invest in professional equipment. Here’s what I recommend as must-haves:
- A full-frame camera body.
- Landscape lenses (both 14-24, 24-70, 70-200)
- Lens filters
- A sturdy tripod
- A remote shutter release
- Spare batteries
- A small flashlight
- A camera rain cover
- Image editing software
- Back-up hard drives
- A portfolio web site
- Outdoor GPS
- Smartphone Apps: weather, light pollution, sunrise/sunset
*Pro Tip – Whenever possible, seek out high quality used equipment to save money. Online, try B&H or Amazon; don’t forget to check with your local camera store once a month to see what used equipment they might have available. Lastly, consider renting – BorrowLenses.com and LensRentals.com are two great places to start.
#2 Build Your Portfolio to Attract Clients
As much as we love to pursue our passion for photography, ultimately we’d like to start securing clients and count ourselves among those lucky enough to say we haven’t worked a day in our lives because we love what we do. This is the part where you may need to step outside your comfort zone and out from behind the camera lens to build your portfolio and your client list. Try some of these ideas:
- Volunteer at national parks or community events
- Create challenging, self-motivated assignments
- Practice replicating what you admire, what has been featured or published in ads or other media
- Shoot a variety of subject matter
- Choose only your strongest work to highlight
- Seek professional, healthy, productive, criticism from a variety of sources in the field
#3 Be Confident and Promote Your Work!
If you want to show up on the map, you need to focused and multitasking at the same time. I know, this sounds counter-intuitive, but trust me, it makes sense. Vary your tactics for promoting your work between online and in-person with a targeted approach and you’ll thank yourself later. Here are a few ways to approach promoting your work:
- Use social media. There’s no use in fighting our favorite digital frenemy. Instagram, Flickr, VSCO, 500px, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, GooglePlus – the channel possibilities are practically endless. Don’t let the options overwhelm you. Choose a few to focus on and post. It goes without saying social media is extremely effective for building a community of followers, networking with other industry professionals, establishing credibility, and attracting clients.
- Enter photography contests
- Submit your images (in low resolution format) to different publications and stock photo agencies
- Start face-to-face dialogues with owners of local cafes, travel agencies, art co-ops, ethnic restaurants, tourism boards, etc.
*Pro Tip – Don’t be bashful about promoting your work and if you do need a little boost in confidence, I highly recommend you read, The Artist’s Way. You’ll be glad you did.
Cheers to our success, fellow travel photographers! Meet you at the summit.