10 Ways to Make Money as a Travel Photographer
The market may be saturated with cost-effective, high-quality cameras which have directly led to a lessened demand for qualified photographers, and the argument could be made that traveling and photography is no longer a feasible option as a result. With stock photography sites supplying high-resolution pictures from around the globe at the click of a mouse, any hopes for you becoming a travel photographer have seemingly been dashed.
However, I would provide the counterargument that rather than being impossible, making a living through travel photography in the age of the internet is attainable through using the “octopus” approach; applying your image creation skills to earning several smaller income streams that all add up to a livable wage.
If you’re interested in learning how to make money as a travel photographer, here are some ways that you can go about your business:
- Stock Photography
- Photography Blog
- Online Course
- Workshops and Tours
- Instagram (And Other Social Media)
- Selling Prints
- Travel Writing
The world of websites is an ever-changing landscape, and as new posts and websites are created, they’re looking for unique pictures a specific essence. Stock photography is a difficult income stream to attain because most people see very little returns for their efforts in the early stages and they give up. To become a successful stock photographer, you need to exhibit patience as you slowly build up an image gallery that will eventually gain some traction.
Another feature that many stock photographers share is their ability to spot trends early on and take photos based on them. For instance, if the international community were to push to create more sustainable practices to save the rainforests, the demand for pictures depicting elements of rainforests – trees, wildlife, streams, etc. – would rise and those people had the foresight to submit related images would see a positive bump in their revenue streams.
Although you’re unlikely to start churning out enough quality stock images to completely support your lifestyle, a few hundred dollars per month from your stock photo portfolio is a nice side income stream to keep you going.
With so many wannabe photographers out in the world, there is a huge demand for information on how to take better pictures. If you can build up an attentive audience through the combination of your photography work and your writing ability, there’s no stopping you!
By creating a photo blog, you’ll find yourself writing about your experiences working as a photographer, tips on how to create better compositions or reviews of some of the gear that you’ve used in your career.
The question then arises: how do you make money from a photo blog?
There isn’t one answer; just as making money from photography requires you to use the octopus approach by sustaining several sources of income, running a photography blog means dipping your hands into several different pots as well. Here are some ways to create income through a blog:
- Gear reviews are a great way to implement affiliate marketing – referring readers to purchasing products that you’ve recommended.
- Sponsored posts
- Discount codes – which are another form of affiliate marketing
- Selling branded merchandise
To start up a successful photography blog, you’re going to find yourself in need of a good website that can bring in some of that sweet organic search engine traffic.
Do you have enough technical savvy to create videos based on how you go about creating your images? This could include how-to’s on composition, post-processing, or even how you finance your travels using photography. There’s a large market of photographers out there looking to fine-tune their skills, and if you’re able to create a course that’s up-to-snuff, you’ll be able to charge a decent fee for your work.
In a best-case scenario, you will be creating a course on your own website that’s only accessible to paying members. If you’ve created a blog, this would be a great way to integrate another income stream into your site.
Offering your course online can be a tall task though, as you’ll have to deal with online payments, creating a membership-style website, and dealing directly with customers. There are services, such as Udemy, that will take care of the online selling which will make life easier for you, but remember that they will charge a significant fee.
Why get your students to pay you when you can take that money from advertisers instead? Photographers have found themselves a captive audience in the world of Youtube, particularly in teaching the ins-and-outs of post-processing. Many new photographers are constantly bombarded with amazing photos from social media, some of which have even been taken on camera phones, and they can’t figure out why they can’t produce their own images with the same quality. So they take to Youtube with queries like, “how to edit like @doyoutravel” and find the best ‘how-to’ videos on the subject.
As I covered in my 25 Ways to Work and Travel article, a well-known Youtuber, Peter Mckinnon, has established himself as an expert by providing helpful videos such as, “Take Better Pictures With Your iPhone“, and his audience has grown by leaps and bounds. By providing helpful advice with a smile, he’s managed to build up an audience of ~1.5 million subscribers in less than a year. Of course, he’s not the norm, but by providing quality, helpful content, you too can start earning a little Youtube income on the side.
Workshops and Tours
Once you’ve established yourself as a proficient photographer with a (hopefully) large social media following, you can start offering your services rather than just your photographs for sale. With the massive growth in the number of photographers over the past decade, demand for professional photographs has decreased, but the demand for teachers has risen exponentially.
Rather than pitching travel journals or tourism boards, pitch your fanbase! They’re much more likely to be open to hearing your proposal. If you’re personable and you have the proper skillset, this is a fantastic opportunity to share your craft while meeting new contacts.
How much can you charge? Here are a couple of examples to give you a taste:
- Johan Lolos, a Belgian-born photographer with ~460,000 Instagram followers, charges $3,400 for an 8-day photography course in Lofoten, Norway. With his maximum of 8 students, that’s $27,200 in revenue in just over a week. This does include 7 nights in a nice hotel in Norway which isn’t cheap, but the profit margins are still significant.
- Christopher James, an American photographer with ~85,000 Instagram followers, charges $750 for a 2-day photography course. With his maximum of 8 students, that’s $6,000 in revenue in just over 2 days. And considering this trip consists of camping outdoors, aside from the initial investment in camping gear, there is very little cost per trip.
Of course, achieving a large Instagram following isn’t mandatory. Potential clients are looking to learn their craft from an expert, so if you can establish yourself through awards or having your work shown in large publications, you can leverage that to market yourself to people looking to improve their photography skills.
Instagram (and other social media)
TV viewership has been in a steady nosedive for the last few years, with a drop of 35% in the young adult demographic, businesses are looking elsewhere to spend their advertising budgets. So what’s a company to do when their largest advertising platform is dying off? The first answer companies chose was look to the internet. Unfortunately, as they tend to do, advertisers took internet advertising too far with popup ads, autoplay videos, and every other attention-grabbing tactic in the book. Users pushed back at these aggressive advertising methods by creating ad-blockers, and the advertising industry subsequently lost $22 billion in 2015 and they’ve been losing more every year since.
So the next question for companies then became how to subvert ad blockers to get their products in front of potential customers. Enter social media ‘influencers’, users that have built up a fanbase and are able to influence them through their social media posts.
By building up a following – ~10,000 or more people – you’ll find yourself in the unique position of being able to get paid to take photos and post them. Product placement, where a company – sunscreen, soft drink, clothing brand, etc. – will pay a set fee for showing off their product in a post and tagging the company. Choosing your brands wisely is important, as they should have a direction similar to yours and the products should be applicable to the main demographic of your following.
Even if you’re only in the process of building up a followership, you should actively be reaching out to brands in the hopes of building mutually beneficial partnerships.
Aside from making money from sponsors, you can use your Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. followings to promote your own websites and products. What are some personal products that you can offer for sale?
Selling Lightroom Presets
Since Adobe has changed their monetization scheme from selling software to a subscription model, Adobe Lightroom has seen a massive increase in installations. Lightroom is a post-processing tool used by professional photographers to edit their photos. It has some similar tools to Photoshop, but it differs in the sense that it’s created a faster workflow for photographers to get through their images, and it also makes categorizing files simpler with a user-friendly tagging and organization system.
A preset is essentially just a custom filter created by you in Lightroom. Let’s say you go out shooting for an hour in the middle of a bright day and you come back with 20 suitable images. You can work on editing one photo and you can save the settings in a ‘preset’ which you can then apply to the other 19 images. Lightroom allows you to export those presets to individual files.
Popular photographers create what are called ‘preset bundles’ which they usually sell for anywhere between $15-$30 for a package of 5. They’re especially popular for photographers that have created a particular style, whether that be the orange and teal look of Sam Kolder, or the cold blues and desaturated style of Dylan Furst.
Do you have an active audience that loves your work? If your photography skills have reached the point where people are actively contacting you to purchase your photos, maybe its time that you created an eCommerce store to take advantage of that. The beauty of art is that due to not having any objective standards, there is no set price that you can charge. If you’ve been able to fashion an image of yourself as a premier photographer in the field, you should be able to charge premium prices for printed work.
Basic prints are only the tip of the iceberg; you can produce calendars with 12 of your favorite captures, books with pictures and stories from your adventures, or you could take it to the next level and open your own gallery! If there is a format where your work will connect with your audience, chances are that there is some way to monetize it.
Have you done any negotiating recently? Well, if you haven’t, get ready to take those negotiating skills out of the closet and dust them off because, with the constant demand for media content due to marketing over social channels, businesses are always in need of new pictures to publish. You can look for AirBnB’s with poor photos and offer to exchange a set of brand new pictures for a few nights stay, and you can extend that to hostels, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses that you might find yourself using.
This can also extend to travel companies; you may find yourself going on a safari in the Serengeti in exchange for a few high-resolution wildlife shots for the safari company to publish on their Facebook account, or you could sign-on as a tour photographer traveling the world with adventure tour companies in exchange for pictures of the guests and some of the included excursions.
Technically more of a writing job, if you want to publish successful travel articles, you’ll need some top-notch photos to accompany them. Although it is one of the less profitable writing niches, if you spend enough time on creating awesome original articles complete with high-quality photos, you can make money through selling them to both print and online institutions that pay for content.
People often associate travel writing with crazy adventurers penning stories about their wild escapades swimming with the manta rays over the Great Barrier Reef, or hitching a ride on a charter fishing boat in Alaska. Although those stories are often interesting, publications tend to try to find unique takes on normal activities, whether that be an article on little-known swimming holes in your state or travel budgets for tourist hot spots.
Even though the practice isn’t strictly photography related, it’s often a field where traveling photographers venture as a means of supplementing their income. Having the necessary skills to take amazing pictures to present to the editors and readers will serve to push your article pitch to the top of the pile.
If you’ve got some ideas for travel articles, here’s a list of the top 34 travel magazines that pay freelance writers.