The travel photographer is a collector and curator of experiences. A good travel photographer will show the emotions and sensations of a destination, evoking a sense of enviable wanderlust. Travel photography is not just about snapping photos of smiling faces on the beach, however. It is about observation, research, and thoughtful composition. While becoming a professional travel photographer requires dedication to the craft, the reward of frequent travel to new, exciting, and beautiful destinations is certainly worth the effort.
Research is the most important component of travel photography. Do your research before going to a destination. Read different guidebooks from an array of publishers, bookmark travel blogs, peruse the local tourism board’s website, ask friends and friends of friends if they have any tips. Instagram is also a vast resource for travel photographers; search destinations by tags or city names and make a list of all the intriguing sights you wouldn’t want to miss. Instagram is also great for gleaning tips on where to eat and drink, like a local. Vimeo, which has a repository of user-generated videos, is an excellent way to
Take time to understand the culture and customs of the place you are visiting. How do people greet one another? What are the predominant religions and traditions? What is the general way of life? Try to learn some of the language basics before landing, so you can easily say hello and goodbye, ask permission to take photos, and most importantly, say thank you.
A travel photographer should always carry a notebook to jot down experiences. For example, that moment you step off the plane into a remote, hot, desert airport and your glasses fog up and sand swirls around you, and the punch of humidity and heat and the smell of spice and diesel fumes overwhelms you, you step out into your new world. Write all of it down, because acknowledging these emotions and sensations through writing will help you better convey them visually.
Be open as you arrive and experience your destination. Try new foods, go new places, be spontaneous, talk to new people. Be open to the culture and the customs that may be different from yours. Wander into new places or go down a road that has less tourists. You do not always need to go to every tourist site, and in fact it may be in your best interests to skip them, opting instead to immerse yourself in the local culture (while snapping some photographs, of course). As a travel photographer, always have your eyes open, your mind focused, and your camera ready
As a travel photographer, there is no better camera than the one you already own. Travel photography is about capturing the essence of a destination, be it for yourself or for others. Travel photography, overall, is about your skill as a photographer, your ability to see the right moment and capture it, your innate creativity and artistic ability. There are a few tips, however, that can help improve your travel photography skills.
The first tool for travel photography is a small, lightweight tripod. Look for a little pocket-sized tripod, or one that you can fit into a carry-on. Full-sized tripods are heavy and awkward, so if you do feel the need to get a larger tripod, get an expandable one that is made from aluminium and telescopes from a small size. Tripods are great for composing a beautiful image—they take the camera out of your hands and allow you to focus on adjusting the shutter speed, aperture, and other manual settings. A tripod is also excellent for taking pictures in low light situations, where you need the shutter to remain open for a long time, or for creating a lens-blur effect, where people are just whips of light flying past a building or through a street.
The best gear to take with you while on a travel photography journey is whatever you have to make your photographs. If you are using simply an iPhone, be sure to bring a charger (of course) and that your phone has enough memory to store all the photos you will be taking.
If your photographic work has moved into a more professional realm, there are a few gadgets you could bring to make reduce your workload when you get home, and to be sure you have enough space to keep taking pictures. Always bring sure to bring extra SD Cards (those Secure Digital cards that you pop into cameras to add storage). These little cards are generally cheap in the United States, but can be very pricey abroad, so stock up before you go, and be sure to keep them organized while you are on the go.
You could also bring your computer, so you can edit images as you shoot. You will certainly be grateful to yourself that you did this work while abroad, but be careful not to spend too much time in the editing bay and not enough time out in your destination soaking it up and taking pictures. As well, you should be careful when travelling with a laptop, as they are targets for theft.
To protect against the damages of theft, invest in a few external hard drives. You can store all of your unedited and edited images on there for safe keeping. You could even mail hard drives home as you fill them up, so they are less likely to be stolen. In addition, you could also invest in a cloud storage service for your images. This requires a strong WiFi connection, but is more convenient than hauling around many different pieces of equipment.
As with much of photography, the best times to photograph are early in the morning and from the early evening to night. Not only is this when the light is best, but this is also when people and places are at their most active. You can document a city as it transitions from empty streets to open storefronts and bustling sidewalks, all the way through the end of the day, when locals go home and get ready to go out and have some fun. Or, if the destinations you are photographing are mostly natural landscapes, the early morning light and the golden hour evening light will provide the best results with their soft, romantic tones. It is important to scout your locations before shooting, to get the most out of your visit. If you can afford to physically location scout, arrive at your desired scene and survey the lay of the land. Take notes, and even a few test shots. If you cannot physically be at the location before the shoot, have no fear: conduct a virtual search online or through social media, like Instagram, and create a shot list before your arrival.
Some things to factor into your location research: How do the shadows look in the morning? In the afternoon? In the evening? Which way is the sun rising and setting? Do people wear special clothes to come here? If you are in a place of historical or spiritual significance, do your research and understand the context so you can convey that through your images. Scouting and understanding a location does not just mean the destination as a whole, but also specific sites, villages, monuments, town squares, or cities that you may be visiting.
The composition of your images is also important.The Rule of Thirds is a useful principle that, when applied properly, creates an aesthetically pleasing and well-composed photograph. Use grid mode on your viewfinder to split the image into thirds horizontally and thirds vertically. Place your subjects along the intersections of these points. The horizon line can sit in the bottom third of the image, and the focal point can be in either the left or right third of the image.
Photographing people within a landscape or scene is an interesting way to add extra depth to an image. Observe the locals and capture them in their everyday lives (with their permission, of course), or, if you are traveling with a group, feel free to direct a few volunteers in your shots. Avoid the standard family-portrait style photos by showing people in motion. Place people in interesting locations, like the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea, or walking into a tall redwood forest. One of the best ways to draw a viewer into your image is to photograph a person’s back, as though they are oblivious of the camera, walking towards or even within the gorgeous landscape you are photographing. This almost tricks the viewer into thinking they themselves are the subject in the photo.
Being a travel photographer certainly seems like a glamorous and fulfilling career. Travel photography is more than a career, however, it is really a way of life. There is no nine-to-five when you are on the road, on assignment for a magazine or corporate client.
A travel photographer needs to be someone who is curious about the world around them—someone who always wants to move and explore. They are someone who has a natural empathy for others and can use that to easily show the essence of humanity. Travel photographers are patient people, who love being around other people, and who find the discovery of life and humanity to be an adventure.
Instagram is the best place to get started as a travel photographer. Find other photographers you admire on Instagram, follow them and like their work. Keep posting images, post stories, like other people’s images, comment, and keep going until you’ve built a decent enough following to be noticed by editorial outlets or potential clients. It helps to have your website in your bio, so people can go there to find out more about you as a photographer. A few things to note about using Instagram: hashtags can certainly increase your likes on a specific photo, but their conversion rate to followers is low, so use them sparingly. Additionally, maintain your profile as a “personal” profile versus a “business” profile so that your followers are more likely to see your posts.
Once you have built up a decent following on instagram (15k or more) and have a portfolio you are proud of on your website, you can start seeking clients armed with a portfolio of work (if they haven’t already started seeking you!). When traveling to a new destination, contact the local tourism board beforehand and see if they will cover the cost of part of your trip in exchange for licenses to some of your photos. Something like this could even lead into a longer-term contract.
With a large portfolio of photographs in your arsenal, you could also apply to license your images through a large licensing agency, like Getty or Corbis. Many editorial outlets, website, advertising firms, and book publishers use these agencies to obtain imagery for magazines, newspapers or ad campaigns because it is markedly cheaper than hiring a photographer to create custom content. For the photographer, it is a great deal as well because someone else handles the negotiations while you are free to do what you love—photograph. Be aware that you may be making less money per image because the agency can take a large cut, and that they may own the rights to your image indefinitely.
While it may seem that many people make amazing careers out of travel photography, the reality is that 10 times that many people have tried and not succeeded in their professional travel photography endeavors. The average salary for a travel photographer is quite low (about $32,000 per year), so you may need to learn to supplement your work as a travel photographer, be it other photographic work or something else entirely. If you can build yourself up to the level of photographer who may work for a publication like National Geographic, you might be able to demand higher fees for your work. But getting to that level will require not just skill, but hard work and a keen marketing acumen.
Enjoy your time as a travel photographer, learning about new cultures and new photographic techniques. The most important part of this job is to have fun, because that’s what this job is—fun!
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