How to Make Money As A [Travel] Photographer
There's a ton of discussion about this topic on the internet and even more different opinions. “Photography is dead” on one side and “photography is alive and kicking” on the other. What I think? Well, I've been working hard in the past year and I do have some things to say about making money from travel photography. The most important thing? The age of digital media, internet and social media creates a ton of opportunities for photographers.
I'll talk about a few of the options for (traveling) photographers to earn money online:
Writing / blogging about photography
Selling photography online
Selling photography products and affiliate marketing
Patreon / Workshops
Skip the blabber and jump to the interesting part: How to make money
What kind of photographer do you want to be?
‘Being a photographer’ can mean a dozen different things depending on whom you ask. Photojournalist? Weddings? Fashion? Travel photographer? I think the old job description is slowly dying but photography is absolutely not dead. Professionals hate to admit it and say it makes it difficult for them to earn a living but...
Everybody is a photographer these days!
Everybody who owns a smartphone is a photographer, whether you like it or not. You don't need a degree to call yourself a photographer.
Sounds bad? Depends on how you look at it. Social media and the internet is all about photography and video. Millions of photos are taken every day. So, why not take advantage of that? Yeah sure, media companies are getting rid of staff photographers and social media turned photography into a mass consumer product but photography still exists and it’s strong. And while there's is indeed a lot of junk out there; good photography is not dead and you can still make money as a photographer… just not like in the old days.
Learn more than just photography to earn a living
If you really want to be successful in the business, you'll have to expand your horizon and be creative. Only a few lucky ones can make a living by just accepting the freelance photography jobs magazines throw at them. All other photographers wanting to make money need to be creative and work hard. Of course, I'm not saying those ‘lucky ones’ don't work hard! The thing is: Learn more than just your niche in photography. Or even better, learn more than photography.
Steve McCurry shoot fashion now. If one of the greatest traveling photographers feels like he has to turn to other fields of photography to keep his business going, it means it's difficult to earn a living as a photographer these days. OK, maybe he doesn’t HAVE to but you get the point… And not everyone is lucky enough to shoot for National Geographic and other big ass magazines on a regular basis. Let alone a starting travel photographer… You also can't expect to put up a website and sell photos online like hot buns.
So, how to run or start a successful photography business in 2019? It's absolutely necessary to be creative and try to find new ways to make money online and finding freelance jobs. Especially if you want to earn a living with the kind of photography you love. A travel photographer at heart is going to be very unhappy and unmotivated when he has to start shooting weddings to make a living and vice versa. It's every photographer's dream to make money by doing what he or she loves.
I’ve worked as a photographer and graphic designer in a company for a long time shooting pet products. Pack shot after pack shot after pack shot... And in my free time, I worked hard on personal projects: Portrait, documentary, travel, ... That's what I love to do and after ten years of being ‘stuck’ in that company, I decided to make a change.
I wanted to start my own project, business, company or whatever you’d like to call it... Just trying to find a way to combine traveling and photography and make money doing it... Are all those years in that company lost years? Not at all, I learned graphic design and how to create logos. It taught me a thing or two about websites and marketing and all of this helped me a lot to set up this blog and website. I would't have been able to do that if I only knew how to take photos.
Expand your horizon
I decided to start traveling and photographing the world in February of 2018. In the back of my head I had the idea of setting up a small business to see if I could make some money from my travel photography. I didn't know back then if it would work and I still don't know a hundred percent sure but slowly The World Ahead Of Us² is growing and a little bit of money is rolling in by doing what love to do: Travel the world & Photography! Only thing is, I had to use and learn a lot more skills to get to this point.
TWAOU² made me write stories and articles about photography. I never thought I would like it so much. Writing has expanded my skill set even further. And now, people are starting to ask me to write for them because they read some of my personal stories and photography articles. I never thought it would be possible but I'm now writing about photography and I get paid for it... It keeps me motivated to work even harder and learn more to be better at what I do because at the moment, I create photography for myself. I only shoot what I like to shoot while traveling the world.
Will it last? I have absolutely no idea but I'm willing to work hard. The point is:
Don’t limit yourself to photography and learn new skills.
If you're not one of the few chosen ones, you'll have to be creative to make money with travel photography. Only then, you'll have a chance of earning a living by doing what you love to do.
How to make money with travel photography
I strongly believe that if you want to be a travel photographer, photojournalist, street photographer or any other kind of photographer wanting to make a living these days, you can't just be a photographer and try to sell your photos online. Learn how to write, shoot video, set up a website, edit videos, marketing and promoting your work,... Create different income streams and be as creative as you possibly can. Keep learning.
I’m trying to make money by combining two of my passions: travel and photography. So, being able to work location independently is an important factor for me too. Does that make it more difficult to make money as a photographer? It all depends on what you can do and how hard you’re willing to work for it…
I’m trying to teach people everything about my photography and business. For example, I’ve written two e-books about my photography and how I work in the field. I sell them on this blog and Amazon.com. This blog also teaches readers about photography and traveling. The great thing is, I'm learning a lot myself while doing it!
And why not try to teach photography in a real school? Years ago, I taught beginner's photography and Photoshop to adult students. It was a half time job so it was perfect to combine with personal projects.
2. Writing / blogging
The World Ahead Of Us² is my photography and writing business card. People read what I write about our travels and my photography and they ask me if I could write for them. A blog is perfect to start writing about what you love and it will get you opportunities to make money. I've written for Digital-Photography-School.com and recently, I started writing for ExpertPhotography.com.
3. Selling your photos online
Ever tried to sell your photos online to make money? Lots of website allow you to upload your photography and they will print and take care of shipping. You keep a percentage. How large that percentage is depends on the website. I tried out Society6 but recently I switched to Saatchi Art because they let you keep a larger percentage. Check out my prints here.
Now, it sounds easy to sell your photos online because it seems like you don't have to do anything. Well, you're wrong. Very wrong! It takes a lot of work to sell your photos online. People have to know about your work and they don't come just like that. The website that sells your photography only does that. You have to make sure that people find it. You'll have to take care of all the marketing involved. Especially when you're starting out, that's a lot of work. Building up a fanbase first makes it easier to sell prints later on...
4. Affiliate marketing and selling photography products
The possibilities to make money and market your photography online are endless if you’re creative and hard working: Selling eBooks, workshops, prints, guides. You can even sell guided photography tours around the world or set up affiliate marketing (earning a commission on selling certain products). Just find the things that work best for you.
5. Patreon - Workshops
Patreon is an easy way for those interested in creative work and people to see exclusive content and updates before anyone else. By contributing as little as $1 per month, patrons will enable creatives to dedicate more time to creating by helping cover the many costs incurred from their work.
I just launched my Patreon page where I’ll post exclusive content for photographers and people interested in my photography and work so they can learn everything I know and learned over the years. From analyzing my photos to marketing insights and what it takes to grow a brand and website. Look at it as an ongoing online workshop.
At the same time, people can just take a look behind the scenes of TWAOU² and my photography and be part of a community of like-minded people where I’ll also answer all questions they might have regarding my work.
6. Building a brand
Probably the best and most Important tip I can give you, which combines all of the above. Build a brand. Building a photography business is more than just taking awesome photographs. You need to get your name and work out there. People have to know you, see your photography and read about you.
The only way to do that is building your own brand. A website, blog, community,… Doesn’t matter but it has to put your name out there. It takes a lot of work but only then will you be able to build a photography business and brand that will last.
Final piece of advice
Start now and don’t give up in the early stages. It’s hard in the beginning and money doesn’t come rolling in over night. It’s not a sprint but a marathon when it comes to making money, especially as a travel photographer, photojournalist or street photographer. We’re almost a year later since I set up my business and only now I see some results of the hard work that goes into it. Does that mean that I just lost money in the past year?
No, it was all about learning and getting better. My photography improved more in one year than over the past ten years because I learned tons of thing that they didn’t teach me in photography school. Traveling teaches you a lot about the world but also yourself. Then there is the technical side: Online marketing, working location independently,… The past year was totally worth it because I learned so much about making money as a photographer besides just trying to sell your photos online.
Making money from street photography, travel photography or photojournalism is damn difficult but still possible and setting off on this adventure is probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. No matter what happens next…
Let me know your point of view in the comments!