How to Become a Professional Travel Photographer

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A Guide to Getting Started as a Travel Photographer

The title of ‘Travel Photographer’ is the pinnacle for many creatives with that ever enduring sense of wanderlust.

You would think all you need is a camera and a plane ticket to become a travel photographer, right?

In theory, yes. But in practice, you’re competing with a world filled of talented creatives all vying for the opportunity to be a full time travel photographer.

That said, there is so much room in the industry for skilled photographers as the need for quality content is at an all time high.

Social media and online publications are soaking up visual content like a sponge. The urge to publish engaging and unique imagery, viral videos and inspiring posts means photographers are in demand right now!

Are you ready to get involved?

Read below to find information on the following steps to starting a career as a travel photographer:

– Setting Goals
– Learn Photography
– Create a Niche Style
– Build a Portfolio
– Create a Website
– Finding Clients
– Getting Published
– Build Your Social Media Presence
– Master the Art of Self Promotion

Quick note – This November I’m hosting a travel photography + blogging workshop in Japan from Nov 20-28th, more details here.

1. Set Goals

Before you even look at your camera or think about the amazing places you’ll visit take a step back and look inside.

Write down exactly why you want to be a travel photographer. Is it to get your photo on the cover of National Geographic? To travel for free? To visit far away places and document them as a photojournalist? Or is it simply because you love taking photos and seeing new places?

Setting goals and thinking about the reason you want to be a travel photographer sounds like a pretty easy step to skip but believe me, you want those goals to look back at one day. When you’ve had a bad few months without work, when you’re knee deep in mud because you took the term ‘getting the shot’ a bit too far…you want to be reminded of why you’re doing it.

Writing a set of achievable goals will also give you a path to follow. Travel photography has no real set career path so be sure to write some short term goals and long term goals to work towards.

How To Become a Travel Photography by Lisa Michele Burns of The Wandering Lens


2. Learn Photography

So this step may seem obvious but you’ll be surprise how many fail to take it seriously. If you are really keen to be a full-time travel photographer you need to know your camera inside out.

Having 500 people ‘like’ your photo on Instagram doesn’t cut it in the world of media and publishing if that photo doesn’t print sharp above 1000 pixels wide.

Knowing the right settings, image quality standards and having the eye to see and capture the world creatively will put you ahead of the pack.

I’m not a big believer in getting a formal education for a creative skill (different for everyone!) but if you prefer to learn from books there are a number of courses online that will help you out.

MatadorU offers a great travel photography course that’s really thorough and provides some real world advice for getting published!

Another way to learn photography is to take your camera out and use it until you know how it operates in various lighting conditions, landscapes, indoors, outdoors, upside down, underwater, looking up, looking down. You probably get my drift here.

Knowing how to use your camera is essential to success as a travel photographer because more often than not, it’s those spur of the moment shots that generate the goods. If you can quickly adapt to the surroundings and know what settings to change in a split-second in order to capture a moment, you’re in with a pretty good shot of becoming a professional photographer.

Practice taking photos of friends, pets, your local surroundings, basically anything and everything in order to expand your knowledge of photography. I’ve set some challenges here to get you started.

Some articles from my site that might help you out…all can be found in the Photo Tips section but here are some more specific posts –
How To Creatively Compose Travel Images
Landscape Photography: Tips for Wide Angle Landscape Photos
Learn How to Take Underwater Split-Level Photographs

Once you’ve got the hang of your camera, then you need to learn some editing skills to give your images a professional edge. Programs like Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop (Click here for Adobe Creative Suite Photography Subscription) work wonders in giving your images a little oomph. You can download my personal collection of presets here that allows you to do quick edits at the touch of a button.

I’m still learning 10 years after my first professional photography gig and that’s all part of the fun! Staying eager to learn means photography won’t ever get boring!

How To Become a Travel Photography by Lisa Michele Burns of The Wandering Lens


3. Create a Niche Style

With the world of social media creating a never ending sea of content, standing out is essential.

It’s not about risking your life in order to be the only one doing it, it’s about creating a consistent quality within your portfolio.

You want people to see a shot and say ‘I know who photographed that’, or at the very least to view your portfolio be wowed by your unique perspective of the world.

Creating a niche style is about developing a vision that portrays your view of the surroundings. Some people specialise in drone aerials, others underwater photography or travel portraits. Whatever your niche is, stick with it and find a way to stand out within the arena.

Putting together a list of things your interested in, then brainstorming a way to creatively capture them will kick things off. You’ll soon notice the way to capture them might blur together and become very similar, your niche style will then take on a mind of it’s own.

Developing a niche is a matter of trial and error. You want to be passionate about your niche and have a real desire to continue with it. The more effort you put into creating, the more results you’ll see appearing professionally.

How to be a Travel Photography by The Wandering Lens


4. Build a Portfolio

I’ve read before that it takes at least 10,000 photos before you can really start to call yourself a photographer. I don’t agree.

Building a professional portfolio is about compiling a collection of your best work, whether that was your first shot or 6,428th shot.

A portfolio is your go to link for sharing your work. You want it to highlight what you do and how good you do it.

It can be in the form of a PDF booklet that’s ready to email clients or publishers, an online gallery or you can use sites like Flickr or 500px.com

A few tips on creating a great portfolio:
– Keep a folder of your best shots and curate regularly
– Be your own worst critic
– Sort images based on destination, colour or style

Having a folder of your best shots for each destination will allow you to quickly access them when you need to grab them for a client.

Personally I have a PDF booklet that contains just 20 of my best shots that I believe represents my style of photography. I find it’s quick for people to browse through and it gives them a good feel for what I shoot and what the results can be if we were to work together.

Online portfolios are also great as they can be nice and easy to link to in forums, social media and emails giving people fast access to your work. Just be sure to curate your online portfolio as much as possible, quality over quantity!

No matter how much we’d like to believe people get stuck spending hours gazing in awe through our portfolio, the reality is it takes a few seconds for someone to make a judgement. Make those few seconds count and wow them from the beginning.

How To Become a Travel Photography by Lisa Michele Burns of The Wandering Lens


5. Creating a Website or Blog

Separate to having a portfolio, publishing your own content on a website or blog is a fantastic way to showcase your abilities.

By creating your own space online you can publish your content in the way you want it to be seen. Fancy becoming a photojournalist? Publish articles in that style on your own site!

Having a collection of published articles, whether they are self published or not, is a great way to show editors and clients what you are capable of.

Even if you can’t write and only want to be a travel photographer, put together a photo feature article showcasing a particular destination or experience. Keep the words to a minimum and all eyes will be focused on your images.

With your own blog or website you have the ability to promote your unique photography style and perspectives to anyone, anywhere in the world. Tools like Google Analytics allow you to see who is checking out your site and where, giving you a great insight into how your photography is getting seen and what the most popular content is on your site!

To create your own website it’s simply a matter of registering a domain name, finding a host, signing up to a free site such as WordPress.org, deciding on a template and uploading your work. It sounds like a lot but you can get it going within a few hours, sometimes even less.

The sites I use and recommend are listed below if you’re keen to get started quickly –

If you’re interested in creating a travel blog to showcase your travel photography The Blogger Course is the best thing you can invest in! It’s a 12 week course sharing all the secrets to making money and finding an audience created by Monica of The Travel Hack. I’ve also contributed a weeks lesson on Advanced Photography. Sign up and you’ll also get access to a secret Facebook Group that’s invaluable for sharing advice and getting feedback.

Domain Registration – Crazy Domains (look for .com domains to rank better)
Web Host – Bluehost (hosting from $3.95 per month)
Wordpress Templates – Themeforest (look for themes with changeable features)

How to be a Travel Photographer by The Wandering Lens - Photo Credit WordPress


6. Finding Clients

Once you’ve developed your photographic skills to the point where you believe it will benefit clients, it’s time to begin the approach.

Most travel photographers work on a freelance basis meaning they’ll have a variety of clients ranging from print media and stock libraries to local tour operators and businesses. There really is no limit to who your client can be because everyone needs images for visual marketing!

Think of all the hotel photos you browse through when choosing somewhere to stay. Someone has to take them and most of the time hotels are looking to update their image library, the same goes for tour operators and local tourism boards.

Approaching a new client can be a lot easier if you happen to be visiting that region, or if it’s where you are based. Start local and contact businesses who you regularly use or that have less than desirable images on their website…put together a proposal and they’ll more than likely say yes if it benefits them! If they’re just starting out on social media you can offer to create a library of social media images they can use over a 3-6month period to generate interest in their product/region.

Once you’ve got a client, be sure to over deliver and get creative in finding ways you can work together on an ongoing basis.


Stock Libraries

One way to generate a regular income as a photographer is via stock libraries. To be straight up, not all stock libraries will benefit you and are worth your time. Some pay out a teeny tiny 10cents per sale however others follow industry standards with professional pricing guidelines.

I’ve been signed up to Imagebrief for over two years now and love it. As an approved photographer, you get access to client briefs where you can submit your work direct to the client, meaning they’ll consider you for the project and see your profile. There’s also a marketplace to upload your images and have them added to collections based on themes, destinations and seasons.

Other stock libraries include Shutterstock, Alamy and istockphoto, I haven’t had any person experience with these so can’t offer too much judgement on these.

How to be a Travel Photographer - Stock libraries


7. Getting Published

Now lets talk about the fun stuff. The part where you call your family and tell them to rush to the newsagent and buy every copy of the magazine because your photo is inside!

Having your photography published is one of the biggest achievements as a professional travel photographer. I think it’s a key sign that firstly, your work is worthy of publishing and secondly that you are being seen as a working professional.

Getting published isn’t actually as daunting or elusive as it sounds. It can be a matter of contacting an editor with a great story idea, self-publishing on sites like BoredPanda.com and having editors contact you to republish the article or you might find gigs on sites like freelancer.com.

Ever since I started out as a journalist 12years ago (yikes, old!), I dreamt of having my images published in Lonely Planet guidebooks. That was my goal and I was pretty narrow minded about it.
I was so focused that I entered every competition, submitted author applications, photographer applications and compiled folders of my Lonely Planetesque images ready just incase they called me one day. Just to note, social media wasn’t around then…now you can totally just tag them or use a hashtag to get noticed, ha!

It took one competition entry to change my life one year after starting out as a journalist, a series of my photographs from Marrakech were published on lonelyplanet.com and the rest as they say is history. If I can do it, anyone can!

To start out, put together a list of the publications you want your work in. Take a note of the style of photography they publish, the amount of images per editorial and even go as far as checking out the photographers who get published in those magazines.

Most photographers who are published in travel magazines are regulars, they will have built up a reputation with the editor or a journalist and are someone they can call on for great shots. You want to be one of those people they call!

Contacting editors via email can be the best way to have your work seen. Be sure to know the publication before you approach them, and then send through an email with a story/photo feature idea that you believe will fit their publication perfectly. Make sure your pitch is relevant, straight to the point and time sensitive; most print publications will have issues ready months in advance so it’s worth checking their advertising cut-off dates in order to work out what type of content they’ll be after at what time of year. Pitching a summer photo feature when they’re working on winter destinations won’t get you very far!

I really can’t stress enough the importance of researching a publication BEFORE contacting them. You don’t want to be seen as unprofessional in your first email, you want to wow them and make them wonder why they’ve never heard of you before.

If you want to build a portfolio of published work before contacting the bigger publications, look at sites like Matador Network that allow you to submit stories or respond to requested articles. Or as noted above, create your own website and self-publish.

How to become a Travel Photographer - Travel Magazine


8. Build your Social Media Presence

When I first started out in photography and journalism, social media didn’t exist. I know, crazy.

Now though, social media is actually an essential element to becoming a travel photographer and having your work seen.

It can be as simple as creating an Instagram account, sharing your work and tagging a tourism board so they can see what you’ve been photographing in the region. Simple little social media techniques will lead to future work and if you do it right, you might even find the work comes to you.

Social Media Tips:

– Curate your work, don’t publish every single photo
– Research destination relevant hashtags (#seeaustralia, #NZMustDo, #TravelFrance, #inspiredbyiceland)
– Tag relevant brands, tourism boards or tour operators
– Focus on building relationships with destinations or brands you want to work with (comment, like and share their content)
– Build your social following by engaging with your audience. Ask questions in the caption, reply to every single comment you receive, follow other photographers!

Social Media Don’ts:

– Don’t obsessively tag brands and tourism boards if your work isn’t up to scratch yet. Wait until your content is professional enough to wow them.
– Don’t ask for freebies if you don’t have an audience to benefit the brand, always think of how you can add value
– Don’t get cocky because people start following, be humble, grateful and professional πŸ™‚

Take a look at my post The Best 6 Social Platforms for Photographers, here you’ll find links to social platforms that work best to showcase your work.

Personally, Instagram and Steller are my favourites because they are all about the visuals and you’ll find a great community of creatives.

The Wandering Lens on Steller


9. Master the Art of Self Promotion

This little section may be the most important part of all. It’s something I never realised was necessary when I had dreams of being a travel photographer and I wish someone had told me this so I’m sharing it with you all now…

You need to sell yourself.

I’m not talking about being a sell out, I mean you need to be confident in sharing your work, getting it seen and knowing who to show it to. No one is going to do it for you (unless you pay an agent!), mastering the art of self promotion will shape your career.

By using social media, your website, your portfolio, connections you meet, people you know through your mothers friend’s daughter…being confident to promote your work to anyone you meet is essential.

A little tough love…if you aren’t confident that your work is good, why should anyone else be?

Own it. Be proud of the work you are creating and it will shine through.

Throughout your career you’ll find some people don’t take a liking to your work, and that’s totally fine. Photography is a subjective medium so not everyone is going to love every photo you take and I’m pretty sure you don’t like every photo you see on your Instagram feed either!

Knowing how to sell yourself and your photography portfolio is about finding how YOU can create the best content for a brand. How YOU can photograph the best shot of a hotel room. Whatever job you’re applying for, own your style and be confident in showing the client why they should hire you, try not to compare yourself to others too much.

Side note – I still get those anxious butterflies before a meeting, I still stumble my words when meeting a client for the first time and I still have doubts that maybe my work isn’t good enough.
But masking those doubts has become easier over time and I can now put on a professional outside appearance, even if on the inside I’m shaking like a polaroid picture.


So there you have it. If you’re serious about becoming a travel photographer I really think there’s nothing stopping you.

Set your goals, get studying on how to use your camera then begin creating your online portfolio to showcase your photography to the world!

While 1 in 1million may get catapulted to instant globe trotting glory, the road to becoming a full time travel photographer is long and at times frustrating. Success isn’t determined by how many likes you get or your follower count, it’s in whether or not you achieve your individual goals as a photographer.

Celebrating the small things will go a long way to creating happiness and the feeling of success in a creative industry!

Mentoring with The Wandering Lens:

If you’re interested in a professional mentoring program, I offer monthly subscriptions that include creative challenges, assignments and feedback in order to improve your photography. Mentoring also includes direct access to ask as many questions as you want about anything related to being a travel photographer. Email me at hello@thewanderinglens.com for further details.

Get Involved!

Because social media is one of the important steps listed above, be sure to share your work using the hashtag #thewanderinglens so I can follow along on your journey!
You’re welcome to leave a link in the comments section below to share your photography story and include a link to your portfolio…

Pin it ↓

How to Become a Travel Photographer by Lisa Michele Burns of The Wandering Lens

– Please note there are Affiliate Links to my preferred websites/brands/editing programs in the above article. All links are for programs and sites I personally use and recommend!

Lisa Michele Burns

Lisa Michele Burns

Photographer at The Wandering Lens
Lisa is the founder and photographer behind The Wandering Lens. As an Australian currently based in France she's never in one place for too long and is always looking for the next destination to photograph whether it be above or below the water. With 10+yrs as a professional photographer, all advice found on this site is from Lisa's personal experience on the road.
Lisa Michele Burns

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22 Comments

  1. Lindsay

    November 30, 2016 at 11:14 pm

    Thank you for sharing this, I have a wordpress site already but maybe this will help make me actually do something with it! Love your site by the way πŸ™‚

    • thewanderinglens

      December 1, 2016 at 11:28 am

      So lovely to hear Lindsay, definitely keep going with the WordPress site, once the hard work is done it’s so easy to add content and make your work visible!

  2. Jess

    December 1, 2016 at 12:44 am

    This is a great resource! It’s packed with so much info. Thanks for sharing!!!!

    • thewanderinglens

      December 1, 2016 at 11:27 am

      Great to hear Jess! Good luck with your photography πŸ™‚

  3. Thekiwifrog

    December 1, 2016 at 4:58 am

    Great article Lisa. Super informative and with a great progression.

    Just a note on the side. There is a tiny typo for steller that you spelt stellar. I wouldn’t mention it normally but in that case people might get confused if they look for it.

    Let me know if you are still around the South Island. We could go for a shoot or coffee.

    Cheers
    Nico

    • thewanderinglens

      December 1, 2016 at 11:24 am

      Thanks Nico, just fixed that up…I always confuse myself into thinking it’s with an ‘a’ πŸ™‚
      I won’t be back in NZ until later in 2017, I’ll definitely let you know once I’m heading that way though, can’t go a year without photographing the beautiful South Island!
      Cheers,
      Lisa

  4. Alex

    December 8, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    Wow, thanks for the Tips! These are incredibly useful to know and I have already started some of these!

    After spending the last 6 years fiddling and learning photography, my wife and I are about to move to Cambridge, UK from Melbourne. We are planning to post and write about our European trips in a capacity that is more than just telling our family what we are doing with the goal of allowing our work to eventually pay for our travel. Our first real post will be up soon, looking at our short weekend trip into the Wimmera/Mallee to visit the new Silo Art in the region. My Wife is a much better writer than I am and is currently editing!

    I guess the hardest thing is getting a consistent style in your photos but we’ll just keep at it!

    Thanks again for the advice and the inspiration

    Alex

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  7. Nick Zupancich

    January 14, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    Nice write-up! I’m in the middle of this journey myself. It has had it’s fair share of bumps in the road and every day is an adventure. You were spot on when you mentioned that there is no predetermined set path to follow in becoming a travel photographer. Maybe that’s why this career choice is so interesting πŸ™‚

    My work can be found on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/nazpicture/
    and also here: NAZpicture.com

    • thewanderinglens

      January 14, 2017 at 7:18 pm

      Hi Nick, thanks for sharing, I absolutely agree, it’s definitely what makes it so interesting! Great to hear you’re on the same path, I just had a peek at your work and love the landscapes! Where are you based? Also…Mikko is adorable!!

      • Nick Zupancich

        January 15, 2017 at 10:47 am

        Thank you! I’m currently based out of Colorado but will be moving into a custom sprinter van with my girlfriend in July. We will be living nomadically throughout the US and Canada after that! Should be a very exciting transition. Glad you love MIkko too! We just can’t get enough of him.

  8. Jan MiΕ™ackΓ½

    February 24, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    Another useful and very good content. This self-publishing on websites like Bored Panda is my greatest take-away from your article.
    Can you perhaps share how to manage your social media / business sites (like imagebrief.com) on a daily and weekly basis? What you do every day, what you check just let’s say once a week, etc. If you use any automation tools like Buffer or Later… That would be a great read without any doubts πŸ˜‰

    Cheers,
    Jan

    • thewanderinglens

      March 1, 2017 at 3:57 am

      Hi Jan, so happy to hear this article was useful. I’ll be sharing more on how I manage my photography business over the coming weeks in various articles…typically for Instagram I try to post once daily and for ImageBrief I simply respond to relevant briefs that suit images I already have on file. Keep an eye out for new posts weekly and hopefully I’ll cover something of interest to you πŸ™‚

  9. Claire

    May 3, 2017 at 1:31 am

    Hi, thanks for all the good information.
    For us beginners in social media, you fail to mention that it is not possible to upload photos from one’s computer to Instagram. That would be good information to know. I generally do not store my good images on my phone. Perhaps I should re-think the process.

    • thewanderinglens

      May 3, 2017 at 1:56 am

      Hi Claire, thanks for your message. That’s correct, it’s not possible to upload photos from your computer to Instagram however it’s quite popular to get around this by emailing the photos to yourself, then opening the email on your phone and storing the attached image in your phone’s library. This then allows you to post to Instagram. Alternatively there are a number of apps or plugins that allow you to upload to Instagram, most however will require payment. This is one I suggest looking at ‘LR/Instagram‘ but I can’t promise anything as I don’t personally use this method.

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  11. Michaela

    July 13, 2017 at 5:06 am

    Hi Lisa,
    Great summary! It shows you that we travel photographers actually have to be jacks of all trades: sales agents, web designers, marketing and PR people, … and besides that we should find time to be photographers πŸ˜‰
    But in my opinion, this is what makes it so fun and interesting. Everyday is full of new challenges, and life doesn’t get boring.
    Keep up your great work, and maybe you are interested in following me along on my journey around the world as well:
    http://www.michaelaurban.com (you can find links to my facebook and instagram account in the top left corner of my homepage – can’t post them here as it’s considered spam πŸ˜‰ )
    Cheers,
    Michaela

    • thewanderinglens

      July 19, 2017 at 6:40 am

      Hi Michaela,
      Thanks for your comment! Photographers definitely have to be a jack of all trades, so much goes into each shoot before it’s even time to click the shutter!
      Your work is absolutely beautiful, I just had a peek at your website and Instagram. Really impressive!
      Where are you travelling to next?

  12. Katherine

    July 24, 2017 at 8:03 am

    I read in the comments that you will be on the south island of NZ later this year? I live in Alaska and will be moving there in just a couple months! Are you conducting any workshops while there? I am trying to take the next step in photography and currently enjoy shooting landscapes. It would be wonderful if our paths crossed! Cheers πŸ™‚

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