9 Ways to Make Money as a Travel Photographer
So you want to travel the world and get paid to do it, huh?
Well, you’re not the only one (Note – the screenshot below is but one travel photography hashtag).
It’s the dream job, right? Exploring new places, snapping mind-boggling photos, and blogging about your experiences sounds like a never-ending holiday.
Add in the copious amounts of tequila on the beach, and that’s livin’ the best life.
It looks easy, too, thanks to people like Matthew Karsten at Expert Vagabond. He’s been doing it for years and has a wealth of pictures, guides, and, well, wealth as proof.
So, let’s get down to it: these are the tried and tested ways to make money as a travel photographer.
How Do Travel Photographers Make Money?
The question of our age – how can I get paid to travel the world, take some photos, and blog about my experiences.
Seriously, travel photographers don’t provide goods, and they don’t really offer a service (feel free to hate me in the comments). So, how can travel photographers make their money?
The answer is more complicated than you may think. Read on to find out exactly what we mean.
Smartphone Travel Photography Tip #1 – Direct Client Relationships
Direct client relationships are potentially the most lucrative option, but also one of the most difficult to jump into.
Like all things business, it’s not about what you know – it’s about who you know.
And travel photography is a business.
Which brings me to a point I’ve wanted to make for about 500 words:
You don’t have to be a good photographer to succeed in travel photography. You only need to market yourself and your relationships correctly.
On the one hand, I’m sorry for shooting down any dreams. World-class photographers are a dime-a-dozen. That’s an unfortunate truth – you’ll never get recognized for your art alone.
On the other hand, though – that opens up travel photography as an opportunity for many more people! You don’t have to spend your whole life honing your craft; you only need to be good enough and get a little lucky.
Smartphone Travel Photography Tip #2 – Meet People, Meet People, and Meet More People
You get jobs by talking to people.
That’s what the Dean of Students and the Office of Student Services said during every speech when I was in college, and it holds true in regards to travel photography.
Photographers tend to be loners for whatever reason. Get that idea out of your head right now. To make the most of your travel, personally and financially, you need to be outgoing.
- Talk to people at your hotel/hostel/Airbnb.
- Talk to your taxi driver.
- Talk to other travelers.
- Talk to people in bars.
Those people all have lives and stories that you can learn from and possibly leverage.
I met a guy at a bar who worked for an online travel magazine. I didn’t know what he did until after we talked, but that was when he offered me a chance to publish on their site.
More exposure and a tidy payout?
Every person you meet is a potential business opportunity, so always put your best foot forward.
Smartphone Travel Photography Tip #3 – Make Money With Stock Photos
Stock photos are perhaps the most obvious way to monetize your travel, and lucky for you, we wrote a whole post on the topic. Every travel photographer of every stripe looks into this at some point in their career.
Most, though, skip over it.
Why? There is certainly money to be made. This article interviews a successful stock photographer.
The consensus is that it is not a get-rich-quick scheme, nor an avenue to long-term passive income. And considering you often have to forfeit your rights to a picture, it might not be worth it.
The problem is that stock photo sites aren’t just a photo dump opportunity. You have to curate your pictures, choose the best ones, add relevant (researched) keywords, then upload them.
Like anything, if you apply yourself consistently, you can make it work.
123rf.com has one of the best commission rates for photographers. LightStalking.com has a list of 7 stock photo sites to consider.
The verdict: don’t ignore stock photography, but also don’t count on it. It’s an excellent method to diversify your income, though!
Smartphone Travel Photography Tip #4 – Use Affiliate Programs
If you’ve got a website, this one is easy to implement.
Affiliate programs are a significant way to monetize websites these days. The way they work is simple – you click on a link you see on this site. It leads you to Amazon or somewhere. If you buy a product there, the website gets a small cut.
Affiliate programs are usually a win-win-win. The customer gets something they were interested in (for the same price), Amazon – or whatever – gets business they wouldn’t have otherwise, and sites like this one get to keep the lights on.
Here’s an (honest) example:
I really love my iPhone telephoto lens kit from ARORY. It’s compact, versatile, and even came with a little tripod so I can get those nice long-exposure shots.
Did you click that link and buy (anything) from Amazon? If so, PhotosWithPhones earned about 2% of your sale. Thanks!
It’s possible to be spammy, of course, and nobody likes that. But if you’re recommending gear you use, you’re going to link to it anyway. Might as well get a couple of bucks, too.
There are loads of options for the aspiring affiliate. Amazon Associates is a big one and is very versatile. Many big websites, or online stores, have their own affiliate programs. Google “yourpreferredwebsite” + “affiliate” to see if your preferred site has one.
Smartphone Travel Photography Tip #5 – Write (because it’s almost as important as the photos)
What? Why are we talking about writing on a website about phone photography?
It’s because you’re here to make money. And content, writing especially, is what makes the Internet go ’round.
If you don’t mind jotting down your tricks of the trade, you can actually make a bunch of money writing online – be it for yourself or others.
How? Well, freelancing or blogging, of course!
Smartphone Travel Photography Tip #6 -Build a Bomb Blog
Seriously, start a blog.
If you’re a photographer, you need a portfolio site anyway. It’s especially essential for those who want to be a travel photographer.
Once you’ve got one, and you’ve written some content, you have lots of options to monetize.
Affiliate programs, advertisements, or your own services – the list goes on.
Here are some popular options for photographers who want their own site:
Wix: Very prevalent among artists because it’s dead simple to set up and has a solid visual-centric design. Wix is great if you don’t want to waste time designing your own site.
Bluehost: This is a hosting company, which means you purchase your domain name and then pay these guys monthly/yearly to host it. Bluehost is probably the cheapest option on the web, and great for beginners. It’s what I started with. They also have 1-click WordPress integration, which makes getting started quite easy.
Smartphone Travel Photography Tip #7 – Write an eBook or Two!
Everyone wants to publish a book at some point, right?
Being an author in the traditional sense is very difficult and time-consuming. We’re fortunate enough to live in an era where you can self-publish your book in a few days.
eBooks are an excellent opportunity for some truly passive side-income. Don’t expect to make a living off of it – that would require many dozens of eBooks. That’s just a full-time job.
However, if you’re already writing about your experiences and the things you learned, you’re already 90% of the way there. You can stick a bunch of those articles together, wrap ’em up, and publish an eBook in a few hours.
It’s not quite as easy as I’m making it sound, but it’s true that you can recycle old content.
Give it a look!
Smartphone Travel Photography Tip #8 – Try Freelance Travel Writing
An accompanying story can often compliment your photographs. Become one with words, in case not everyone can interpret your story through images alone.
Travel magazines and websites understand this – that’s why they contain more than just pretty pictures of destinations.
Those same magazines and websites occasionally have long-term, contracted positions for writers. Almost all those places also accept one-off articles (usually with reasonable pay rates). If you’re already journaling about the area you’re in, you might as well submit it there, too.
Here’s an impressive list of travel writing freelance opportunities.
You could undoubtedly find similar opportunities for photography sites as well. Those, however, tend to be (understandably) more interested in the visual aspect of your travel photography.
Smartphone Travel Photography Tip #9 – Take Part in Tutoring/Workshops
Here is an idea you probably haven’t thought of before:
Why don’t you try teaching travel photography?
After all, if you’re at the point where you’re trying to make money from it, you’ve probably got a good handle on it.
And as a travel photographer, you are in an excellent position to appeal to the high-end/premium audience. These people are on vacation – they’re already spending lots of money. What’s a little bit more?
Many established photojournalists, travel photographers, and full-time adventurers offer a one-on-one coaching experience. Often it’s a weekend out in the sticks following around a leader in the field, learning from the masters themselves.
Since we’ve already decided that traveling photographers like yourself have to be social, what have you got to lose?
Before you can offer a workshop or the like, you need to have an audience. Building your brand is a challenging, but crucial, part of travel photography.
Once you’ve got followers, though, it’s as simple as saying:
“Hey all! I’m in the Peruvian Amazon in the Madre de Dios region for the next two months! Come out and learn how to get awesome arboreal shots like you see on Animal Planet!”
Smartphone Travel Photography Tip #10 – Get Your Work Out There (EVERYWHERE)
I don’t mean to publish it in an eBook, I mean to publish your photos.
This is the end-goal for all photographers, right? Get your work in National Geographic, or something equally prestigious.
Publishing photos means big payouts, but it also involves significant effort. Selling prints of your work is a great place to start!
From there, you’ll need to scour the net for magazines and journals that accept contributions. You should be on the hunt for competitions that have cash or equipment prizes.
You’re now a photographing bounty hunter. Never let your quarry (or deadline) slip past without you noticing.
This level of organization is a daunting task, though; it’s like college applications all over again.
You need to persevere, however, since publishing in authoritative journals and magazines is the best way to increase your own authority (and build your brand).
TechRadar made this nifty guide to getting your photos published, but there are plenty of other sources out there if you care to look.
Well? What are you waiting for? Get out there and make some money!
Or, if you’ve been around the block, do you have any suggestions for the aspiring travel photographer? How did you make it?