Being a travel photographer is a dream job for many people. After all, there are few jobs which allow you the freedom of adventure matched with creative expression. And it’s a pretty cool job, right?
Let me be honest with you. You’re unlikely to make a full-time living as a travel photographer.
I’m a professional photographer and video producer, but not all of my income is from travel photography. I do a wide range of commercial work, and I’ve worked hard to get to where I am. In my 20s, I spent two years travelling around the world learning how to take better photos, having fun with my camera and not making a cent! And I wouldn’t be a professional now if I hadn’t taken the time to learn the craft.
But don’t let that discourage you! There are plenty of ways to make money from travel photography, and while publishing is changing, digital technology has made it easier to sell work directly to customers and clients. Here are six ways to make money as a travel photographer.
Stock Photography Sales
One of the biggest ways you can make money as a travel photographer is through stock photography sites. Having sat on the other side of the news desk in design, I was always looking for great stock images to illustrate stories. If you’ve got an amazing photo of a travel destination, chances are you can make money from it.
There’s two types of stock agencies – premium stock sites like Getty and Alamy, and microstock sites such as Shutterstock and iStock. If you’re just starting out, it’s probably easier to start on a microstock site, however the royalties and payments are lower for non-exclusive images (exclusivity means you only sell an image through one site, not multiple sites). My photography is available for sale through Getty and iStock.
Check out some of the major sites to see their requirements for contributors:
Do your research
When I’m going to a destination, I’ll research on these sites to see what’s missing in their collection. Do they have photos of this landmark? Is this a well photographed destination? For example, I’m going to Belgrade later this year, and because Serbia isn’t as popular a tourist destination as say, Paris, there aren’t as many good quality images. Similarly, I’ve photographed less-popular national parks, because there are heaps of photos of Yellowstone, but how many have you seen of Cuyahoga National Park, Ohio?
Sell stock photography of your home town
You don’t need to travel far to take photos that will sell. Chances are, there are local landmarks in your home town that could be photographed. My secret trick is to look up TripAdvisor for the top destinations in a town and make a shot list from that.
Stock photography tips
When you’re photographing a destination, research local laws and permits, and make sure you get signed model and property consent forms, because you won’t be able to sell your images if they’re not released.
Finally, to make sales, you need amazing photos – only upload your best images!
Another way to make money as a travel photographer is to sell your images as prints. You probably have some beautiful photos of landscapes or travel destinations. How many times has someone seen your work and said I’d love to get that as a print? Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could just send them to your print store?
There are many options for selling photography prints, however if you’re selling your images through stock sites, make sure the licensing agreement doesn’t conflict with your print agreements.
Online Print Sales
Print on demand stores
You can sell prints through print on demand sites like Redbubble, who take care of orders and shipping for you. They’ll also take a percentage of the sales, and if you live outside the US, it can get expensive for shipping.
Self-hosted photography store
If you’re on WordPress, you can set up an online store using several plugins such as Sell Media and Woocommerce Photography. If you’re keen to manage the printing, payments and postage yourself, then this might be the option for you. However it’s a steep learning curve to set these up if you’re not a tech person.
Third-party photography sites
Another option is to use a third-party photography website and store builder such as SmugMug or Fotomerchant. While they still take a percentage of your sales and charge a monthly fee, it might be worth it if you don’t have time to look after postage and sending out prints.
Art Galleries and Markets
Although it’s hard work, there’s nothing like seeing your artwork on the walls of a gallery! If you’re starting out, see if a local café or gallery would be interested in hanging some of your work. They’ll most likely take a commission, so you’d need to price accordingly.
Some photographers who live and photograph a specific tourist destination set up their own galleries to sell work. Others sell pictures at markets on the weekends. In these cases, photographers often sell prints pre-mounted in mattes and plastic ready to go at a cheaper price point, and larger framed prints for more-expensive sales.
Magazines and blogs
Yes, you can still make money from selling your images directly to magazines and blogs. Some publications publish single image spreads or photo essays. These might be different to what you’d sell for stock or prints, as you’re trying to tell a story with your images. Even if you’re not a writer, it helps to take notes or keep a journal as a photographer, to write down how you were capturing the photo, the experience of being in a destination and who you were photographing. Write down names and details from the place to create richer photographic captions.
Although I’m also a writer, my preference is to sell photography through stock sites, rather than approach magazines directly. However if I’m writing an article, I’ll separate out some images to sell with the piece.
A good deal of photography competitions have cash, camera, trips and gallery exhibitions as prizes. The biggest prize I won in a photography competition was a new DSLR and a trip to Vietnam!
My favourite newsletter on photo competitions is Photo Contest Insider, who send out regular updates on competitions and exhibition opportunities.
Always read the terms and conditions before entering a competition and check that you keep your rights as a photographer.
Commercial work and assignments
Commercial assignments are scarce in the travel industry, but not impossible to get. Think outside the box for potential clients – hotels, tour operators and tourist attractions all need photography to sell their services. Most freelance roles are landed by who you know, so attend networking and informal meetups to meet people. Sign up to sites like Travel Massive and TravMedia to hear about opportunities and make online connections.
I’d recommend having significant professional experience and/or a significant social media following before approaching businesses. You need to deliver a professional service, be an expert on set and meet the client’s expectations.
Have a promotional postcard or business card featuring your best work with contact details on the back so that people can get in touch with you. And don’t undercut the photography industry by doing work for free or giving cheap quotes.
Print books and e-books
If you’ve photographed a specific location for many years, what about making a book about it to sell in local tourist shops and bookstores? Westography is a great example of a location specific photography book documenting the Western suburbs of Melbourne.
If you’re self-publishing, you can make a print book straight from Lightroom using Blurb. If you’re wanting to go down the traditional coffee table book route, you’ll need to send a proposal and portfolio to a publisher. Make sure you look at their submission guidelines before sending it off.
Are you an expert on a certain destination or type of photography? Is there something you do that’s unique to your style of photography? If you’ve got a niche area of expertise, you can turn that into an e-book to sell online through sites like Amazon. I won’t go into the rabbit-hole of self-publishing here – there are plenty of sites which do it better.
Phew! That’s a huge list of ways to make money as a travel photographer. While you might not be able to make a full-time living from one of these, if you combine multiple income streams, you’ll hopefully earn some money to put towards your next adventure!