Earn Money With Travel Photography

Jeff Colburn

Taking travel photographs is fine, but it’s even better if you can sell them for a fair chunk of change. There are the usual outlets, book publishers, magazines, newspapers, stock photo agencies, web sites, travel agencies, writers who don’t have a camera and advertising agencies, just to name a few, but there are also many overlooked markets.

My former photography instructor, Al Belson, would travel to various places around the world every year. He would spend at least one month a year on these trips, and it never cost him a penny. He paid for his trips by marketing his photography skills.

Several weeks before he went on a two-week trip to Italy, he started visiting local businesses in Southern California with his portfolio. He chose businesses that would be interested in pictures of Italy, including banks (lobby pictures), Italian restaurants, an Italian import car dealer and several magazines that could use pictures and/or articles.

All of the businesses that wanted photographs signed a contract to buy X number of prints, and they each gave him an advance of about 50%, which paid for all of his film, processing, printing and much of his travel expenses. When he returned he showed each of these businesses contact sheets and they selected their prints. Within a week Al delivered the prints, picked up his checks and went happily to the bank.

However, before you head out to exotic locals, or even into your own neighborhood, there are some things you need to do.

Create a checklist of things to bring. Some of the things you will want to have are:

  • Lens tissue, brush and fluid
  • A small tripod and cable release
  • Extra batteries for everything that uses them
  • A pencil and notepad (notes made with a pen will run if they get wet)
  • More film, or memory cards, than you think you need (it’s better to have too much than not enough)
  • An on camera flash with a four-foot PC cord, to achieve different lighting
  • Model releases and a pen (you need a signed release for every recognizable person in a photograph)

There are also some photography basics which you should know:

  • If you shoot film, use transparency or black and white, publications can’t use negative film.
  • Never send in your originals.
  • Shoot everything both vertically and horizontally, if composition allows.
  • Take photographs with space at the top, or down the side, for magazine covers. This leaves room for the publication’s title, and other copy.
  • Check what postcards the local shops are selling, and be sure to get pictures of the same places they show. The Eiffel Tower in Paris, Windmills in Holland, etc.
  • Carry your film, in their canisters, in a clear plastic ziplock bag, so they can be easily hand inspected. Lead lined pouches, available at camera stores, may help if hand inspection is not allowed. However, if the person running the x-ray machine can’t see through something, they usually just turn up the power on the machine until they can.
  • Follow the basics of good composition, and take photos early in the morning and late in the afternoon for pictures with warm or cool light.

Almost every market likes to have photographs with people in them. It lets the viewer relate to the photograph more. But as I said above, you need to have a signed model release for every recognizable person in a photograph. You can get model releases from most camera stores and photography organizations. Many also carry them in various foreign languages. In foreign countries you often have to pay someone before they will let you photograph them. This usually costs only a few dollars, just be sure to have them sign a release at the same time. The only exception to this is photographs of a newsworthy event. You don’t need a release of an athlete at an athletic event, or a person at a public event, unless the photographs will be used to promote a product or service. However, if you can get a release in these situations, then do so.

You may also want to consider specializing. There are photographers that specialize in the Southwest, eagles, rainbows, lightening, ancient ruins and wild flowers. Specializing lets people locate you more easily when they are looking for a specific type of photograph.

If you are thinking of signing up with a stock agency, check into several of them. They will usually have you sign an exclusive contract though. Check their guidelines to see what format they prefer. I’ve seen anything from 35mm to 8 x 10 transparencies, with most preferring digital files. Magazines prefer digital, with some wanting 35mm to 2 ¼ inch formats. Check the photographer’s guidelines to magazines that interest you to get a better idea.

You should always be ready for the unexpected. One night, while in Hawaii, I was in a restaurant, where I was seated on a balcony looking over a canal. On the other side of the canal was a row of fifteen unlit Tiki lamps. About five minutes after I sat down a Hawaiian, dressed in traditional garb, walked to the end of the row of lamps. I instantly grabbed my camera and placed it on the railing next to my table. When I saw the man light his torch I pressed the shutter release to make a time exposure. He ran down the row of lamps, swinging his torch in a large circle. Each time his torch completed a circle it hit a lamp and ignited it. In the span of a minute he had lit all fifteen torches. I now have a wonderful picture of a row of fifteen torches, all lit, and connected with a long spiral of orange flame.

It’s always a good idea to plan ahead before you go on any trip. Know what the weather will be like, and where you can shoot if the weather is bad, such as inside museums, shops and other places protected from rain, snow and other nasties.

So have fun on your trips, but remember to let them pay your way, and never miss a chance to make a sale. Bon Voyage!

Have Fun,

If you’re interested in Fine Art Prints or stock images of Arizona, visit JeffColburn.com