7 Things You Have To Know Before Becoming A Travel Photographer

Ahhh, the good life.

Imagine hopping on a plane on Thursday morning, off to some far away location. You have a great flight, check into a wonderful resort, and spend the next few days touring a place you’ve never been before. You eat at the finest restaurants. You visit the local tourist attractions. And you leave a few days later relaxed and ready to take on the world.

Sounds good, right?

When most people hear the term “travel photographer”, that is what they think. They think “travel photographer” means you have an amazing life with very few bumps along the way.

And while it can be true in some circumstances, it isn’t always that way … especially if you haven’t carefully thought out your plan of action.

Just like any other business model, you have to have every aspect of the business planned out BEFORE you start taking action. Without it, you’ll never make the money you need to succeed in the travel photography world. Especially know in this more difficult economy.

Yet don’t let it deter you. It still is a great life and one with a lot of potential. Ready to learn more? Let’s get started by going through the 7 questions you need to build up your travel photography plan.

What do you want to do?

This probably sounds like a trick question. “I want to travel,” you may be thinking. But in order to succeed, you need to look at it from a different viewpoint. In your overall business plan, how will travel photography fit into your lifestyle?

Some people sell their images to microstock houses. Some photographers create fine art and sell it to galleries. Some people run online art stores and sell directly to the public. Some people offer photo tours. Some people shoot weddings. Yep, the list can go on and on.

Have you really thought about what travel photography means to you? Do you want to interact with people on a regular basis? Or do you prefer to be in a remote location where your only interaction is with nature itself? Sit down and define how you can see spending your 365 days of the year.

How much money do you need to sustain this lifestyle?

There are different desires when it comes to travel. Some people want to be on the road 365 days of the year. Some people prefer long weekends once a month. And some prefer longer trips – maybe 6 weeks at a time – with long periods at home in between.

Each type of travel requires a different budget. If you’ll be on the road 365 days of the year, you don’t need a large house back home. In fact, other than maybe a small storage unit, you probably don’t need anything at all. Yet if you’ll only be away for long weekends, you’ll need to cover normal living expenses and a healthy allowance for your weekend travel.

In either case, work out a budget for what you’ll need. Start with what you are spending now and won’t change – your house payment for example. Then add in a travel allowance for the type of travel you wish to do. Include airfare, hotels or apartment rental, food, tour costs and more. A better understanding of your final costs will help you realize what you need to sell and how much you’ll need to make every year.

What do you want to sell?

What will your clients be buying from you? Will they be purchasing a wedding package? Will they be buying a 30×40 to hang on the wall? Will they be investing in a week long training course? Or a combination of things?

In some cases you may have put a lot of thought into this. And I’ve met plenty of photographers who haven’t – they simply think about the travel part and not the final output. In either case, you have to think with the end in mind.

If you need $100,000 to pursue this venture, what will you sell and how much will you charge for it? In this case, 10 destination weddings at $10,000 each would do the trick. Or 100 people taking you up on your $1,000 photo training package. Or 1,000 people purchasing a $100 fine art piece from your gallery.

When you see the numbers, it becomes more believable.

Where do you want to visit?

Being a travel photographer doesn’t necessarily mean you travel the world. It simple means you don’t head to an office job 15 minutes from home every day.

For us, when we first started with destination weddings, we focused in on Arizona. It was a way for us to escape the cold snowy winter months in Colorado and warm up in Scottsdale, Arizona for a while. We put our focus in on Scottsdale, and ended up with many, many clients within that section of the world.

We defined what travel meant for us at the portion of our lives and put our focus in on it. And it grew from there.

For you, it could be discovering the South of France. It could be safaris in South Africa. Or it could be discovering remote places in South America.

Travel is what you want it to be. But you have to define it first.

How are you going to build your portfolio?

The hardest part in the process is building your portfolio when you’ve never done it before. Yet if you have a desire to do it, you have to start somewhere.

If your goal is to shoot destination weddings, hopefully you’ve photographed weddings in your own location first. Use those to move to your new location. Yet switch your marketing around so you capture attention in your new locale. We used a Colorado portfolio the first time around, while letting people know we shoot in Scottsdale. All you need is one wedding to be able to extensively add to your portfolio. And it builds from there.

The same holds true with any other type of travel related photography. Prove you’re an exceptional photographer by showcasing what you have. And build from there.

Who will you sell to?

No, your client focus isn’t “everyone who breathes”. Think about the one person you would love to have as your client. The more you can “see” him or her, the more likely you are at finding him or her.

If you are selling photo training tours, who would invest in it? A retired 60 year old male that has always wanted to photography castles through Europe? Or a 40 year old female who wants to make a career switch?

Really see that person in your mind. From there it’s easy to start reaching out and selling to that one person. And the rest will come.

How will you reach your clients?

I love attending the local fairs around town. A couple of weekends ago we headed over to Festival Italiano – a food and wine festival with several dozen booths and lots of activities.

As we came around one corner, we ran into a fabulous booth showcasing the works of two photographers, the husband and wife team Pat and Emi Kanan. They spend several months every year at their home in Hungary photographing all over Europe, including Italy. As a part of their business plan, they sell their work through galleries and festivals like Festival Italiano. And they also host travel tours to a select few people every year who want to travel and see the sites in Italy and learn a little about photography too.

Great life, right?

With a quick Google search, you can easily find festivals based on whatever it is you love. I found access to hundreds of Italian Festivals right here in America with a quick search. This means if my focus is selling Italian fine art, I now have the potential of finding new customers any time I choose. It’s a matter of picking the festivals that gives me the greatest exposure, yet still allows me to travel when I choose to do so.

Yep, it really is that easy. But only if you have a plan.

What’s your plan?

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We're the co-founders of VirtualPhotographyStudio.com and have been writing on this blog since 2004. We started Virtual as a way to help photographers stretch beyond a part time income, and develop strategies to become a Five Figure Photographer or a Six Figure Photographer. Ultimately its all about lifestyle, and if your goal is to live as a photographer 24/7, we think you should have the knowledge and the tools to do so. Welcome!