Becoming a travel photographer is the ultimate way to expand your photography business across borders. Whether you want to see beyond your city, state, country, or continent, travel photography can make that adventure part of your job description.
Becoming a travel photographer isn’t just wanderlust, though. This career involves a lot of hard work and a fair amount of logistical planning. But if you’re willing and able to go through these steps, then you could very well set up a successful travel photography business.
Here is your ultimate guide on how to become a travel photographer.
What is travel photography?
Travel photography, at its core, is the act of documenting scenes of travel. This basic travel photography definition can look like countless different things when put into practice, though. Becoming a travel photographer could mean photographing people, animals, landscapes, buildings, art, or any combination of the above. Though every travel photographer will have their specialty, you should get ready to hone your skills in photographing a wide variety of subjects if you want to become a travel photographer.
How to become a travel photographer
As a profession, travel photography could prove to be a difficult role to break into. Traveling to photogenic places for work is certainly a desirable job description. So, you’re not the only person wondering how to become a travel photographer. That said, if you’re willing to diligently work towards a travel photography career, then you could very well be part of the small proportion to actually make it happen.
To help you get there, we’ve compiled five crucial steps on how to become a travel photographer:
1. Start Small and Nearby
Depending on who you ask, anywhere can be a destination. Try to see your home base as a visitor would, and start thinking about how a travel photographer might approach documenting the scenes you see during your day-to-day routine. Does your neighbor want a portrait? How does that new development look through your camera lens? Perhaps the neighborhood stray cat is particularly photogenic.
Start approaching your photography practice as if you already are a travel photographer. And if luck has it that you already have travel planned for the future—say, for instance, a family vacation or a work trip for your day job—you’ll already have a solid amount of practice under your belt. As you travel, carve out time to seek out shoot-worthy people, places, and things. The products will be your first official travel photographs.
2. Build Up Your Travel Photographer Portfolio
Once you’ve captured your first images, start building an online travel photography portfolio. If you’ve already set up a more general portfolio website for your photography business, create a tab specifically for your travel photographs.
Keep plugging away at your travel photography until you feel proud of your portfolio. If you have the means, consider investing in trips specifically designed to diversify and amplify your portfolio. You could even consider selling prints to subsidize your travel.
3. Set Up Your Social Presence
Now that you’ve built up your online portfolio, it’s time to start making your presence known. Setting up your social presence is one of the best ways for a travel photographer to do that. Take to Instagram and start posting your portfolio. All of the general guidelines for expanding your Instagram reach will apply to your travel photography Instagram account.
If you’ve already set up an Instagram account for your general photography business, use that profile to make an announcement that you’re breaking into travel photography. Create a story highlight specifically for your travel photography, and start interacting with travel-centric hashtags. The more followers you gain, the more credibility you’ll be able to demonstrate to potential clients in subsequent steps of becoming a travel photographer.
4. Reach Out to Tourism Boards
Now that you’ve solidified your presence as a travel photographer through your online portfolio and your Instagram, getting in the door with potential travel photography clients will be much easier.
One easy way to break into the travel photography industry is to reach out to tourism boards. If you’re lucky, they will have work to commission from you. But even if they don’t, they will have lengthy lists of hotels, attractions, and travel companies who will need hard working and talented travel photographers to work for them. These commissions can jumpstart your travel photography career as you might have imagined it initially: getting paid to travel and document cultures other than your own.
5. Start Pitching Your Photography to Publications
Once you’ve landed some solid commercial work, use what you’ve produced through these jobs as clips to go after more editorial work, if that’s your end game. Reach out to publications to pitch yourself as a travel photographer. Provide links to previous projects so that potential editors can get a sense of your talents and experience. Again, starting small could be a good idea here. Reach out to smaller publications for travel photography commissions and then gradually work your way up to publications that can send you around the world for your photography.
Becoming a travel photographer: important logistics
Figuring out how to become a travel photographer won’t be all fun, games, and traveling the world. You’ll also need to tend to a fair amount of housekeeping to make sure your travel photography business is a successful one. It will be tempting to shirk these crucial responsibilities so that you can dedicate more attention to the photography itself. However, you’ll need to set a solid foundation for yourself before you drive straight into it all.
1. Register Your Business
If you don’t already have a formally registered photography business, then you might need to go through the process of registering your travel photography business. Unless you’re running your travel photography business as yourself under your legal name, then you’ll need to register your business name with state and local governments.
2. Get General Liability Insurance
Travel photography can often involve unforeseen accidents and expenses. With the active nature of the job, getting General Liability insurance for every shoot is particularly prudent for travel photographers. Also be sure to access a Certificate of Insurance to prove your coverage in case any of your travel photography clients require you to have it.
Thimble makes it easy for you to tailor short-term coverage to each travel photography assignment you shoot for. Our app even lets you purchase coverage on-the-go, so it’s easy to fit into your jet-setting lifestyle.
3. Set Up Your Finances Well
Even if you’re running your travel photography business as a freelancer or consultant, it’s crucial that you separate your personal and business finances. Mixing your personal and business finances will make tax season a nightmare and could lead to audits and fines.
As soon as you start spending on and earning from your travel photography business, set up a separate business bank account, open a business credit card account, and use accounting software to track your finances. This financial setup will make it much easier to accurately track and pay quarterly tax estimates for your travel photography business.
Becoming a travel photographer: the upsides
The advantages of becoming a travel photographer are well-known. Being a travel photographer typically carries all of the perks of working freelance—setting your own schedule and working remotely make a travel photographer’s lifestyle ideal for those who want flexibility.
But the benefits of freelancing are just the tip of the iceberg. Working as a travel photographer means expensable flights, accommodations, and transportation. You’ll be able to experience and document cultures other than your own, at no cost to you.
Of course, during the early stages of your travel photography career, this luxury is not a given. Most aspiring travel photographers will need to build up their portfolio and references before they’re able to land jobs that involve all-expenses paid trips. That said, this end goal can be something to work towards and look forward to.
Becoming a travel photographer: the downsides
Because the benefits are so appealing, there’s a lot of competition among aspiring travel photographers. As a result, this industry is relatively tough to break into. Becoming a travel photographer might require an initial out-of-pocket investment on your part. Overhead costs could include building a website, maintaining a strong digital presence, and some initial travel costs as you lay the foundation for your portfolio.
Not to mention, becoming a travel photographer will entail most of the downsides that come with freelancing. Be ready to do without predictable income patterns, healthcare benefits, or office space. Even more, depending on what kind of travel photographer you become, this job could very well prove to be more dangerous than your average photography occupation, much less your average office job.
How to become a travel photographer: next steps
Now that you’ve made it through our guide on how to become a travel photographer—what’s your next move?
If you’ve decided that the upsides of becoming a travel photographer outweigh the downsides, then it’s time to get started! Be sure to tend to the exciting and the not-so-exciting steps of how to become a travel photographer in equal parts. For every new journey you get to document, be sure to insure your business and record your expenses.