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How to Become a Professional Travel Photographer
Photo by Matthew Nolan

How to Become a Professional Travel Photographer

Published on April 7, 2022
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A sense of neverending wanderlust is a feeling near and dear to many, but on its more professional side stands a brand new type of exploration; one of inspiring wanderlust for others. If you've ever wondered how to become a travel photographer, then one thing should be clear at the outset—your work has to be far more than a pretty image, it should tell an alluring story.

A travel photographer creates images that encapsulate the culture and the sense of a place alongside its light and landscape. The profession serves to showcase a unique perspective of a location, one that'll make people want to jump on a plane and experience that exact moment you captured with your camera. How does one get around to doing that? Well, we hope this article will be of help.

Photo by Jakob Owens

Understand Your Goals

Daydreaming about traveling the world and taking pictures is actually key to understanding what you want to do with travel photography. Let us explain.

When you’re thinking about these things, what types of images do you picture yourself capturing? Are they landscapes or natural wonders? Does your lens gravitate more towards wildlife or people? Art or cultural landmarks? Modern life or ancient traditions? Or maybe it’s all of the above.

Point is, it’s important to ask yourself questions like this so that you can narrow down the type of travel photographer you want to eventually become. And while you are free to change gears and objectives, picking an initial direction like being published in the National Geographic or running your own gallery is a good place to start.

Learn Photography by Taking Courses

This step seems fairly straightforward, but you'd be surprised how many fail to take it seriously. If you are truly keen to work in the travel photography industry, then you absolutely need to know your camera; inside and out.

Study the settings and image quality standards to develop an eye that sees the world creatively. It is also very valuable to have a solid grasp of photo editing. If you’re good with self-discipline, this kind of education does not have to require formal education either; almost everything is available online these days. Alternatively, you can take a photography course to further your existing skills or learn all the necessary basics. These courses shouldn’t be too hard to find—living in a big city or a town that has a community college opens up many possibilities.

Taking courses online is also a possibility. There are short classes that focus on one particular skill as well as full-length courses that specialize in travel photography as a whole. Don’t knock Youtube How-Tos either.

Photo by Walter "CheToba" De Boever

Find Your Niche

Contrary to what you might think, travel photography as a paid and profitable profession is highly competitive, because who doesn’t want to travel the world and take pictures for a living? The key to breaking into the industry is to seriously stand out.

Similar to any other art form, photography is a means of expression—it’s a lens into how you see the world. Your vision of the world is unique to you, and the challenge here is to find a way to reflect that worldview into beautiful works of art.

Finding your niche and specializing in a specific subject matter, technique, aesthetic, or realm as a travel photographer can help you create your own artistic signature. It will also help you stand out among the masses and even break into stock photography.

Start with an Internship

A well-rounded, truly enriching, and exciting way to learn about the art of travel photography is to study under someone who is already a master. There are myriad techniques, skills, and perspectives you can learn by closely following the path of a professional; a lot of times even their enthusiasm about the artform proves to be infectiously inspiring. And while you must apply and be accepted first, photography internships offer a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experiences in the field you’re truly passionate about.

Photo by Cafer Mert Ceyhan

Build a Portfolio

Building a professional portfolio is about compiling a collection of your best work; it's a way to visually pitch yourself without a lengthy introduction. You want it to highlight what you do, and how good you are at doing it.

The actual format of your portfolio is up to you. It can be in the form of a PDF booklet ready to be emailed to clients or publishers, an online gallery, or on sites that let you build a portfolio like Flickr or Wirestock. 

Above all else though, there are three key things to keep in mind:

You should keep a folder containing your best shots and curate it regularly. Having a folder keeps things organized, and allows quick access in case you need to show something to a client.

You should approach your work critically. No matter how much we'd like to believe people get stuck spending hours gazing in awe at our work, the reality is it takes a few seconds for someone to scan your work and make a judgment. Make those few seconds meaningful and present only the best of the best.

You should sort your images based on destination, color, or style. Another organizational trick that'll save you plenty of time and headaches.

How to Make Money as a Travel Photographer

Photo by Vadim Berg

Sell Your Photos Online

One of the most popular ways to make secondary income as any type of photographer is to sell your work online. There is a myriad of stock content marketplaces that constantly want beautiful, authentic shots of travel and lifestyle. There’s also an opportunity to sell photography prints on a multitude of platforms, and most of them take care of the printing and shipping needs for you.

Have a Website or Blog

Being a master of your craft also opens up the possibility to share your expertise with the world; and making some money while you’re at it. A lot of travel photographers run blogs on the side, writing extensively about what they love. The passion does often time prove infectious, with readers inquiring more, or asking the photographer to write similar content for them.

Submit to Travel and Lifestyle Magazines

Landing a job as a travel photographer for a publication is no easy feat. Competition’s tight and guidelines are strict. However, that is not to say that the goal of being published is unattainable, it’s just one you’re going to work hard to achieve. Focus on bettering your work, and pay close attention to the requirements of revered publications; you never know!

Teach Photography

This one’s more of a byproduct. Teaching a skill once you’ve mastered it yourself isn’t only pretty lucrative, but it’s also a very good way to inspire up and comers (like you once were). And the beauty of teaching is that the field’s diverse, meaning you can technically teach anything from photography skills to understanding and running your own photography business.

Try Advertising and Marketing Companies

Travel sells—literally. Exotic destinations, beautiful landscapes, vibrant cities with luminous skylines; these types of photographs are commonly used in ad and marketing campaigns. Usually, the idea is to capture the attention of potential buyers or clients or to promote a place or a type of lifestyle.

Seeking out work with an ad or marketing firm might be a profitable way to travel, capture the work you love, and sell photos online.