Income generated from your photography can be as diverse as the landscapes we photograph. With visual media required from brands, businesses, publishers, and creative clients, there’s a world of opportunity awaiting those seeking a career as a freelance photographer.
If you’ve considered blending your love of travel with a photography career or are just keen to dabble by licensing the odd image, getting photos published, or working on creative campaigns, this article will share a few insights into how you can get started.
Firstly, one common misconception surrounding a freelance photography career is that you must be on the road all year, living out of a suitcase and rarely at home. While this is a viable option and will help to quickly build your portfolio, it’s also possible to align a photography career with your current lifestyle, working from home whilst having another career, pairing opportunities with your annual holidays, or making use of images from past travels with only a trip to your hard drive needed!
The Importance of a Travel Photography Portfolio
When starting out seeking work as a photographer, it’s important to build a portfolio that represents the type of work you want to do and the skills you have. Clients will want to see what you can do for them and what separates you from every other photographer.
If you want to work with hotels and hospitality, begin by photographing interiors, lifestyle imagery and detail shots of food, outdoor activities and people. Research your ideal clients and see what type of photographs they’re using; if you can replicate a similar style but go one step further and add a little creative boost, you’ll likely get their attention.
For landscape photographers, your ideal client could be an outdoor clothing brand, an adventure tour operator, or perhaps you want to document and compile photo features for magazines like National Geographic. Creating a photography portfolio that highlights how you capture landscapes and shows a consistent style will go a long way toward attracting interest from the right people.
Having a well-curated portfolio that immediately lets someone know what you photograph and how will help when pitching clients and sharing your ideas and potential projects with them.
Income Streams and the Importance of Diversifying
Asking any two freelance photographers how they make their income will likely result in two very different answers. Some photographers love the process of selling prints and will generate an income from dropshipping their work to clients around the world, whereas others will work with tourism boards, publications, brands and create social content.
Recommended Reading: 8 Crucial Steps to Prepare Images for Printing
How you set up your photography income streams should suit your lifestyle and goals as a photographer. Selling prints, for example, can require a lot of logistics management and customer assistance, whereas producing an image library for a hotel or brand can be a fun way to experience a destination and work with a creative team in a beautiful environment.
Examples of Freelance Travel Photography Income Streams
Image Licencing – The images we see in advertisements or used commercially have likely been licensed, and the photographer has been paid a fee. Licensing your work can be done via stock agencies, or you can work directly with a client or create a licensing section on your website. Fees differ depending on usage, restrictions, and content. You may receive over $5000 for a single image used globally on a marketing campaign for a major brand, or $50 if it’s a local one-off advertisement in the newspaper.
Selling Prints – With many print labs offering dropshipping services, it’s possible to set up a print store and sell prints to customers globally without the need to print, package, and post the item yourself. Your store can operate in the background as you travel and continue adding photos to it. The key to a successful print store is SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), marketing, and knowing your audience. Research the type of prints that sell, or if your work is abstract, know your ideal customer, and ensure they’re aware your store exists!
Content Creation – Having an ongoing supply of content is essential for most businesses to show up on social media. As a photographer, you can create UGC (user-generated content) for brands and sell them packages of photographs. Alternatively, you can partner with a brand or business and work on a creative brief, producing content that fits their experience, location, or audience. You don’t need to be a social media superstar and have millions of followers to generate an income from content creation, turn the tables and create photographs brands can use themselves.
Brand Campaigns – This is quite a varied income stream as it can include annual ambassadorships in which you photograph and produce content for a brand based on a fixed annual fee, or you may be engaged to photograph for an upcoming product release or experience. Tourism clients like airlines, hotels, tour companies, or even suitcase brands will likely have several campaigns each year that require fresh imagery to suit the season, product, or offer. To ensure you’re in line for work on a campaign, it’s important to network, connect with industry contacts, keep your portfolio updated, and pitch, pitch, pitch!
Publishing – Seeing your work in print is one of the best feelings you can have as a photographer. Nothing beats turning the page of a magazine and seeing your image! To work with publications, start to read and research where your photographs will fit. Getting published can result in being paid to use a single image in a collaborative piece or being commissioned, paid, and sent on a trip to photograph for an upcoming story. Ensuring your images are professional, print well, and work to document a scene or subject is the key to being ready to work in publishing.
The Dream vs Reality of Freelance Photography
To succeed as a freelance photographer, it’s important to define how your interests, skills, and services can combine to form various income streams. Writing down ways you can contribute as a photographer to a brand’s marketing efforts, to magazines, or how you can create content that can be licensed for advertising or commercial purposes will start to reveal where you need to focus your time.
Essentially, as a freelancer, you’re responsible for navigating and finding your own opportunities. This fact alone puts a lot of people off pursuing a career in photography. However, breaking down where the opportunities exist and knowing how to pitch and approach clients can make this process a whole lot easier… even exciting!
As a freelance photographer, you’ll spend a lot of time researching, finding contacts, and putting together pitches in order to approach brands, editors, or marketing managers for work. The reality is you may strike it lucky and get a positive reply on your first email, but a lot of us will see either no response, or rejections quite often. This isn’t something to stop you in your tracks; it’s simply because a lot of editors or marketing managers are approached by a lot of photographers, and as such, they either don’t have the time to reply if you’re not a good fit, or sometimes, haven’t even seen the pitch.
To reduce your chances of rejection, it’s important to do as much research as you can to be confident your photographs align with the brand or publication and that you can offer them the imagery they need.
An Insight into a Travel Photography Career
Since starting my career as a freelancer back in 2007, I’ve photographed for a mix of clients, from Richard Branson and his island home to remote lodges in Greenland and wildlife conservation projects in South Africa.
From the early days of taking photos for a backpacker magazine in Dublin, to working freelance for Lonely Planet in Morocco, it’s a career path that’s been anything but linear. The destinations I’ve been able to visit whilst working as a photographer have been beyond my wildest dreams. That’s where the excitement and fulfillment of this career lie for me; I never start the year knowing where I’ll end up.
I’ve had years where I’ve been on the road for months at a time, hopping from tropical islands to frozen wonders, and other years, like 2023, where I spent about 10 months at home, working on projects from the previous year or generating freelance opportunities in publications from my home office. In 2022, a project took me all around Australia, photographing the landscapes from the east to west coast and making it very obvious just how huge my home country actually is!
From 2009 until today, I’ve managed to generate a full-time income from my photography and have built a business, The Wandering Lens, a publishing and creative studio in which I’m the photographer, editor, and creative director. I work in the business myself, but also hire various photographers when required to shoot for hotels, tourism boards, and brands. Through the website, I publish travel guides for other photographers and sell resources and online courses. It’s filled with varied income streams that keep me busy but, more importantly, creatively inspired and connected with other photographers.
Finding Your Direction as a Photographer
If you’re reading this and wondering what your next step should be in pursuing freelance opportunities, I’d encourage you to browse through the photos you’ve taken and start to identify what areas you may need to work on, how your work could benefit a brand or fit within a magazine.
- Do you want to work in producing image libraries?
- Do you want to sell prints?
- Is sharing your favorite locations and hosting photo tours an option?
- Are you keen to see your work published?
Self-assessment is crucial when starting out, and the more insight you have into what services you offer and how your work can benefit future clients, the more chances you’ll have of succeeding as a freelancer.
Once you’ve got an idea as to where you’d like to take your photography career, the next step is preparing your portfolio and pitching relevant clients! Pitching in itself is an art form and one you’ll get more confident with the more you do it, but that’s a story for another day.
If you’d like to kickstart a career in travel photography, join The Freelance Travel Photographer Course with The Wandering Lens. An 8-module online course offering self-paced learning that guides you through the process of portfolio development, pricing your services, working with clients, pitching strategies, and creating a career with longevity and ongoing opportunities. It’s filled with industry insights, interviews, creative challenges, and steps to take so you can make those freelance dreams a reality. Readers of Capture Landscapes can use the code CAPTURE25 for $25 off the course fee (applied at checkout).
DID YOU ENJOY THIS ARTICLE? THEN DON’T FORGET TO SHARE!
Author: Lisa Michele Burns, editor and photographer of The Wandering Lens and educator at Travel Photography Courses, home of The Freelance Travel Photographer Course. Lisa is an OM SYSTEM ambassador and has been working as a travel and landscape photographer for over 18 years with a focus on luxury lodges and environmental wonders.