Nearly a month into 2016, and winter’s in full swing—those sandy palm laden beaches in the tropics have never looked better. If you love to travel, chances are good you took advantage of the spirit of the new year to add some exciting new locales to your bucket list of vacation destinations. Vacations are nice, but wouldn’t it be great if you could get paid to travel the globe and take pictures? It turns out you can—by becoming a professional travel photographer. Here are 5 tips on how you can take your photography level from tourist to professional.
1) Upgrade your Gear
Ditch that selfie stick and stow that iPhone in your pocket—if you’re going to become a serious travel photographer you’ll want to upgrade your gear. Smartphones and advanced point and shoots will only take you so far, you’ll want the bigger light sensors and better lenses on DSLRs
or mirrorless cameras
to compose the type of pictures that can earn you a living. If you already own a DSLR or mirrorless camera
, a great way to improve the quality of your pictures is to invest in new lenses
—for travel photographers, that means wide angle lenses for stunning landscape shots and fast zoom lenses for zooming in on landmarks. For better close-up shots of small things like insects, a macro lens will do nicely. It all depends on what type of travel photographer you want to be, invest in a set of lenses that will allow you to be ready for anything as you traverse the globe.
2) Leverage Social Media
In 2016, social media is essential for anyone looking to start their own business, and that includes travel photographers. Chances are high you already own an Instagram account or post regularly on Facebook. If you’re particularly social, you may have already generated a following for your above average vacation shots and selfies. Social media platforms can be a great way to grow your portfolio, develop a following and build your own personal brand. The bigger your online presence the easier it will be for you to get noticed, land gigs and pursue new opportunities. Just remember that social media is a double edged sword—if you’re going to go pro, it pays to purge your social media account of unflattering selfies, drunken escapades, overexposed photos and awkward angles—anything you wouldn’t want a famous travel photographer to stumble upon.
3) Get Comfortable Shooting in Manual Mode
Learning how to bring the best from a new camera, is one of the most rewarding experiences of being a photographer—and that means mastering manual mode. We’ve covered before how to start shooting in manual mode, but it’s worth repeating here because getting paid for photographs you take while you’re traveling the globe means you’ll need to be comfortable enough with your gear to handle a wide variety of lighting and weather conditions. Sometimes, a client will request a particular shot in a particular style, and understanding your camera’s settings is the only way you’ll be able consistently deliver images to your customer’s satisfaction.
4) Learn to Play the Stock (Photo) Market
Ever wonder how websites, businesses and blogs get the bulk of the images they use for their posts? Bigger brands can afford to hire professional photographers for custom content, but a majority of the internet sources images from sites like ShutterStock and iStock. Stock photos are the easiest way to license your work and set up passive residual income streams. Start with micro stocks, the art of selling stock photos for low prices (a dollar a piece). As you build your portfolio work your way up to full exclusive license stock photos for higher prices—bigger brands are willing to pay a lot more for exclusive rights to an image.
5) Start a Blog
These days being a travel photographer is less about taking steady wages from an established magazine or newspaper and more freelance web entrepreneur. Having a sizeable social media presence will help you get started in building a following, but investing in your own personal website or blog is best way to accelerate the growth of your business. You can set up an ecommerce store to sell your own prints, direct potential clients you meet at conventions to your portfolio, and generate income from affiliate marketing or AdSense. As an independent, self-employed profession, finding multiple income streams is critical to a travel photographer’s success.