So you want to travel the world and get paid to do it, huh?
You’re not the only one.
It’s the dream job, right? Exploring new places, snapping cool pics, blogging about it… not to mention the copious amounts of tequila on the beach. That’s livin’ the good 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.
Let’s get down to it: these are some ways to make money as a travel photographer.
Direct Client Relationships
This is 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 been wanting to make:
You don’t have to be a good photographer to succeed. You only need to market yourself and your relationships.
On 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 be 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.
Photographers tend to be loners for whatever reason. Get that idea out of your head right now. In order 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.
This is perhaps the most obvious way to monetize your travel. 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. A good method to diversify your income, though!
If you’ve got a website, this one is easy to implement.
Affiliate programs are a major 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 exact 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 5% 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 gonna link to it anyway. Might as well get a couple bucks, too.
There are loads of options for the aspiring affiliate. Amazon Associates is a big one, and very versatile. Many big websites, or online stores, have their own affiliate programs. Google “yourpreferredwebsite” + “affiliate” to see if your preferred site has one.
Whaaat? Why are we talking about writing on a website about travel and 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 for others.
Start a blog. If you’re a photographer, you need a portfolio site anyway. It’s especially important 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, 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 very strong 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.
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 a great 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!
Freelance Travel Writing
Your photographs can often be complemented by an accompanying story. One with words, in case not everyone can interpret your story through image 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 good pay rates). If you’re already journaling about the place you’re in, you might as well submit it there, too.
Here’s an awesome list of travel writing freelance opportunities.
You could certainly find similar opportunities for photography sites as well. Those, however, tend to be (understandably) more interested in the visual aspect of your travel photography.
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 a good 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 difficult, 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!”
I don’t mean publish as in eBook. I mean 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 means big effort.
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 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 to the aspiring travel photographer? How did you make it?